You are hereTurning Jesus over to Caesar
Turning Jesus over to Caesar
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.
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. ;-)