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Turning Jesus over to Caesar

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By Ransom - Posted on 24 May 2010

Here Jesus is confronted with one of the most direct political questions that we see addressed in the entire New Testament. Do the Israelites need to pay taxes to the Roman government that has set itself up as God? How will Jesus answer this question?

What is important to understand about this situation is that Jesus finds himself in a difficult situation. First of all, a strict observer of the Torah would not have even had the type of coin required for the tax because it had an image of the Caesar on it. All such coins would have been considered to be a graven image. But, they were of the impoverished and dominated peoples of the Roman Empire (all with the exception of the Jewish elite who had compromised their standards by becoming in “cahoots” with Rome so to speak), so what option did they have? Jesus’ answer to “…give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s…” basically meant, as Joel Green has said: “Give to Caesar what is his already." Because for Jesus, there was a greater issue at stake. We must give to “God what is God’s.”

Many have assumed that this passage is an attempt by Jesus to split life into two spheres: the spiritual and the public. This would be a great mistake! This principle has been used to justify many things in the name of government and empire (especially war) because that kind of activity fits into the public/political box, not the spiritual one. But the passage here doesn’t allow for any such thing. Such an idea would be completely foreign to someone hearing this passage in the first century. But this does beg a question that we have not yet clarified: what exactly are the things that are God’s?

If you remember the way the bible starts God’s story, Genesis 1.26-27 sets up humanity as his true image bearer. If this is true, then Caesar’s claims to allegiance are weak compared to the claim that God has on his image-bearers. And what are image-bearers to do? They are called to live to reflect the love of God into the world, in such a unique way that it looks completely different than any nation ever could! Bearing God’s image means that we are showing the world what God is like. Greg Boyd paraphrases this passage in the following way:

Why should we who bear the image of God fight over what to do with coins that bear the image of Caesar? The only thing we should worry about is giving God everything that bears his image—namely, our whole self.

And when we do so, we will be demonstrating to the kingdoms of this world, the Caesars of this world, that only through Christ will this world be saved. Not through the power of the sword, but through the power of the cross! Not through the threat of military might, but through peace.


Steve's note:
The rest of this blog post is found here, part 3 of a series called "Whose Kingdom, Which Lord? Jesus & Nationalism". Christian libertarians will find his concluding remarks in this post amusing (if a little frustrating). Check it out, and interact if you feel so inclined. Kurt's a good guy. Here's a tip, though -- I'm not sure trying to win him over from partial preterism is the best way to go about it. ;-)

groansfromwithin's picture

Wow... I am honored that you posted my article here :-) We may have some disagreements on some applications (politics, etc) and I may not be a "full preterist" but I sure appreciate your ideas. For my view on Mark 13 that may vibe with many in this community, check out this link and my series: Earthquakes... Signs of the Times? Here is the final post, which also contains links to all the others:

PS - I should add that Stephen D is a good guy and Kurt just happens to know this good guy ;-)

Virgil's picture

The take Jesus has on the Denarius is brilliant, of course. It's really disturbing to see how many evangelicals conclude the exact opposite when reading the temple encounter; not only that, but they actively attempt to use the State for their own purposes, like forcing the payment of taxes, wars, State education, etc. There is no hesitation whatsoever in bowing before the modern Caesar.

Thanks for posting this Ransom.

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Hey Phil,

That is a great point.

Did you see the Part 36 here?

It's amazing how futurists take Jesus in such a non-literal manner. As if "Ceasar" is the Obama Administration or the Bush Administration or whatever nonsense happens to be in vogue at the time. As I showed, that rips the entire story out of the original context and covenant setting for Israel (in context with Daniel).

Preterism solves this. Someone needs to write a book on it!

Tim Martin

Starlight's picture

I say let the Amish run Washington and become the leaders of the free world.
Concerning whether we have a split physical and spiritual issue going on I’ll quote Jesus.

Joh 18:36 Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."

I often wonder what happened to Cornelius after his conversion. Did he have to renounce his allegiance to serving Rome’s brute military force? He was a very pious man that God recognized because of his helping the poor so what does that commentary tell us about separation of the spiritual and physical?

davo's picture

It tells me Norm that the "spiritual" IS very much "grounded" in the tangible-ness of this world – it being the fulfillment of Jesus' prayer "Your kingdom come… on earth as in heaven" and so, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men…".

groansfromwithin's picture

I encourage you to read: Moral Vision of the NT by Richard Hays. He walks through this in his chapter on war!

Starlight's picture


I would be more interested in a concise summarizing from you to see if it would make sense to invest time in such. It may be that I've seen these arguments before and would like a real world application scenario that is practical and not idealist to get to the bottom line. Practical application today is the question at hand. Can I be a good soldier and still be a Christian?


Starlight's picture

Davo, I believe that was what I meant as well. Which gets back to my question about Cornelius and why we often don't want to think about the implications surrounding his pre conversion and post conversion relationship with the Spiritual Kingdom while in the tangible service of Rome. AD70 was a destruction of both physical Israel and Romes captivity over God's people but it didn't remove us from their physical world. It ushered us in through the twinkling of an eye into a new mode of existence with God outside of their dominion.

The defeat of the beast of Rome and of Israel (Rev 13:1,11)was a defeat that clarified our New Covenant. Rome didn't physically disappear for 300 years later and Israel is back with us? Unless we are hybrid Preterist we should recognize that the physical isn't the reality of the New Kingdom otherwise Cornelius if he continued in service to Rome would challenge many a Preterist idea of allegiance. So again I ask are we called to rule physically or spiritually? If physically my premise about the Amish being the best suited to run Washington still stands as a challenge to this application.

If spiritually then how then shall we live and rule? I suppose each member of the body of Christ is called to make a difference depending upon ones gifts.

groansfromwithin's picture

I want to invite you to see the other posts in this series on the original site. They are found here:

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