Render Unto Cæsar

By Stephen Green

(First published in Christian Voice: May 2005)

Matt 22:15 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. 16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. 17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not? 18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? 19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. 20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? 21 They say unto him, Cæsar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. 22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

It was one of those occasions where hostile Pharisees in Jerusalem tried to trip Jesus up with a seemingly impossible dilemma.  The woman in adultery was another such. (See article in index) The woman and the brothers in the resurrection which was demanded immediately after this of Cæsar was one as well, although it was a much poorer test.

THE PROBLEM

Here, if the Lord had said, “Yes, it’s just fine to pay taxes,” he would have put the people against him, and if he had said, “No, don’t pay it,” he would be reported to the Roman Governor.  So what can he do?  The answer startled them, and echoes down the ages.

“Whose is this image and superscription?” he asked. The only possible reply was “Cæsar’s.”  The coin was the denarius, worth a day’s wages.  Then he said, “Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

There are those who maintain that this verse limits God.  There is the realm of Cæsar, which is the material world, or the political world, in this way of thinking, and this realm of Cæsar is over here.  Then there is the spiritual world, which is what God is concerned with, and that is over there.  Never the twain shall meet and God should just butt out of what appertains to Cæsar.  More particularly, they argue, you Christians, or even, sad to say, some of them say ‘us Christians’, must keep our noses out of anything political and keep our focus on those higher, spiritual matters, which is what God is interested in.

HOW MUCH BELONGS TO GOD?

Does that for a moment stack up?  I don’t think so.  For a start, we have to render unto God the things that are God’s.  So how many things are God’s?  A quick look at Psalm 24 shows that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”  That seems to be everything.  Or is it just inanimate objects that are the Lord’s?  No, “the world, and they that dwell therein.”

So every single thing and every single person belongs to God, and if we render unto God the things that are God’s, we render unto God everything.  We are to give to Cæsar merely the coins which enable him to govern.  This verse does not limit God at all.  It limits Cæsar.

Indeed, if Christians had to keep out of talking about public affairs, then what were the prophets doing?  Isaiah was in the government.  Jeremiah was at home in the company of kings and not shy to pass on the advice which the Lord had given him.  The idea that they should keep quiet about the big questions of their day would have shocked Amos and Hosea, and would have made no difference to them – in fact they would have prophesied against it, just as Zephaniah did:

Zeph 1:12 And it shall come to pass at that time, that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The LORD will not do good, neither will he do evil.

The men spoken of by Zephaniah had the same approach to those who say today that God is not interested in the realm of ‘Cæsar’.  They thought God was far distant, if alive at all, and was not in any way involved with the affairs of men.

GOD’S PLUMBLINE HASN’T CHANGED

It is possible to find really high-up evangelicals, let alone ministers of the established church and all shades in between, talking of ‘the secular’ or our ‘liberal democracy’ as if the public domain owes nothing to God whatsoever.  But if God is capable today of doing good and doing evil to a nation, as Zephaniah says He was then, we Christians ought to be out there with Amos’s plumbline, measuring our laws and our practices to see if they accord with those of God, mindful of what He did to the gentile cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the gentile nations of Canaan, and the empires of Nineveh and Babylon.  And we should be warning our nation.

Paul gave a description of the functions of rulers in Romans 13, writing under Roman occupation: 

Romans 13:3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. 7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

STATE SEPARATE FROM CHURCH, BUT NOT FROM GOD

Paul is speaking of the keeping of law and order almost exclusively.  Government today tries to do a lot more, and gets a lot more wrong.  Cæsar is interfering into things which are not his concern, and we have a duty to say so. And when the state actively starts to do evil, it is certainly time to warn that Cæsar is overstepping his mark.

It is interesting that Matt 22:15-22 was the Gospel reading at Her Majesty’s Coronation.  Its very presence shows an understanding that God is indeed interested in the affairs of men, and demands obedience to his laws from every human institution of government.

Just as each individual is responsible to God for his actions, and every family, and every church, so is every nation state.  Each of those “spheres”, to borrow from Abraham Kuyper’s idea of “sphere sovereignty”, derives its authority from Almighty God alone.  Church might in one important sense be separate from State, but neither can separate itself from God.

So keep in your place, Cæsar, stay out of what is not your business, and stick to what God has ordained you to do.

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  1. liz

    Cesar is not due any taxes – see Act of Settlement s 1701,sections 1 & 2

    1. Stephen

      You will have to expound on that, quoting the Act of Settlement, because I cannot see that in it. In any case, the Act of Settlement does not take any kind of precedence over the word of God.

  2. Martin Horan

    I certainly agree with much of what you say.
    However, Isaiah lived under the reigns of five kings of Judah, Jeremiah specifically lived to deal with the wicked King of Israel and the one of Babylon, Hosea spoke mainly to the northern kingdom and sometimes to Judah. Amos was a prophet of Judah in the reigns of Uzziah at the time of Jeroboam in the north. He also had a message for the north.
    These prophets had specific callings for specific times. I cannot see that they were getting involved in politics in the way we think of politics now. They had clear cut messages to give. And they openly castigated the wicked rulers. Any government Isaiah was in, he was there to tell it to keep to God’s Word not encouraging them to lean to their own understanding.
    I would think that if Christians had any messages to give it would be–like those of the prophets–straight and clear from the word of God. John Knox did it and so did other Reformers. We know that our politicians–most of whom are professional liars and cheats–and our media ridicule such people who stand up for God’s Word.
    The ecumenical “churches” are steeped in politics.
    Note the bridges towards Islam which the Catholics (one of the world’s most powerful political groups and has been for centuries), Anglicans and several protestant groups have been making for almost three decades. These churches condemn Israel for having the termerity to defend themselves against psychopathic rulers and terrorists. Many among these ecumenists even claim–in spite of being contradicted many times by Scripture–that the Israelis have no right to be in the land where God said they would be in these end times. Indeed, these very preterists, who do not even believe we are in the end times, are prophesied of in 2 Peter.
    It is no use saying that it is only some in those churches who do this. The fact that these churches have permitted clergymen to take this stand makes them complicit. Paul rebuked Peter and made him change. They should do likewise or expel these heretics–for that is what they are.
    Their political involvement definitely is not helping them in setting a good Christian example.
    In fact, it displays their outrageous hypocrisy: We belong to a nation which has occupied more territories on earth then probably any nation has done throughout history; and these churchians do not even get the irony.
    We invaded lands which were never even a remote threat to us and yet minute Israel is surrounded by nations that openly threaten they are going to annihilate her. Yet, whenever she defends herself she is condemned by virtually all of our parties and all sides of our media (as prophesied).
    This is while Israel’s enemies have terrorists who train their OWN children to be suicide bombers. (Can anything be more perverse?) Moslem terrorists particularly single out the unarmed, infirm, aged and the young children.
    Does our media or do our politicians condemn these people? No they do not, and neither do many of the mainstream churches. Worse, they give succour to those Islamic terrorists and their supporters.
    They do so when we have former Arab terrorists like Wallid Shoebat, Tass Saadra and Mosab Hassan Yousab who have left Islam to become Christians and testify to Israel’s goodness towards the Arabs.
    Other former Moslem Arabs remind us that all Arabs in Israel have the vote. They have seats in the Knesset and it is Arabs from who the Israelis rent the Knesset. You will not hear those things from any of our politicians or from any journalist.
    Those churchians–I do not deign to call them Christians–get their ideas from this fallen world, steeped in religion and politics. Rather than standing up against the media and politicians, they give them the thumbs up. They are without excuse.
    I wonder that God has not rained fire and brimstone on these self-righteous, smug hypocrites who claim to be liberal, tolerant and inclusive. The only people they are tolerant and inclusive towards are those who think like themselves. They are as hostile to wards Bible-believing Christians (and Jews) as any Moslems, communists or fascists are. Indeed their favourite slogan for any and all who disagree with them is “Fascist.”
    We have just seen an example of that with the Edinburgh rent-a-mob yobs towards Nigel Farage. They disgusted most of us decent Scots. They called Farage a racist and yet made anti-English comments! Farage is a racist and they are not .Duh! They are not far removed from our ecumenists
    I suggest, Stephen that you read “Prince and the Paranormal” by the occultist John Dale. It is a thoroughly researched book which deals with the spiritualism of the British Royal Family and others in positions of power in this country. The book is far from a critique, as Dale himself writes as a spiritualist. In fact, he extols these leaders for their spiritualism. I suggest you check how many of the royals, aristocrats and politicians are Freemasons. (Freemasonry is witchcraft.)
    While the Bible states clearly that ALL the nations will come against Israel–when God’s fury will finally rise in His face against them [Ezek 38:18]–Christians are getting involved in politics!
    We are told to be separate from this vile world and come out from among them. Why should we get embroiled among politics? I think they wisest thing any Christian can do is give these ecumenical churches the widest possible berth and politics and even wider one.
    Those who do not may end up partakers of the strong delusion that God is going to send that will make them followers of the Antichrist [2 Thess 2:11].
    Yes, we have to be subject to all our rulers. But we should disobey them went they are against God and make clear to all the side we are on. Yuu are spot on there. Why do you think the martyrs became martyrs? It was not for taking political sides. Had they taken one side or the other they would have been accepted. They had one king and He was Christ.

  3. Michael C

    I agree and applaud Martin Horan’s pro-Israel stance. The anti-Israel stance of many churches and even Christians seems to me to be the natural product of Amillennialism. Those who have a pre-Millennial stance are Israel’s firmest suporters.
    Anyway my main intention is to agree with Stephen’s article. God is Lord of all. As the Creator God, everything belongs to Him. It is worth noting that in the past Christians have guided governments and like Wilberforce have promoted legislation that has benefited Mankind. If only there were more like him today in our Parliaments! The Church should influence the State, but the State is not to interfere with the Church – that was the original intention of separation of Church and State.
    Re Caesar’s coin. An additional point; one preacher, sometime ago, pointed out that the coin had Caesar’s image, so it was due to Caesar. We are in the image of God, so we must render our dues to God, in accordance to Paul’s plea in Romans 12:1

  4. Ashley DICKENSON

    I broadly agree with Martin’s stance, however as a practising Christian who subscribes to the CPA (Christian Peoples Alliance) party I see it as my duty to challenge, in Christian love, the laws passed in the Queen’s name these last sixty years that have led our nation deeper into sin. Certainly the Conservative Party (not sure about the other two main parties) seems to have taken leave of its Judeao-Christian roots, witness the apparent attempt to force the same-sex marriage bill through Parliament. We are bringing judgement on ourselves. Judgement begins with the house of God, as I was reminded on Tuesday, while joining in with a pro-marriage demonstration & prayer.

    We preach / proclaim a comfortable, non-challenging Christianity. Too much of ‘Gentle Jesus, meek & mild’. We sing love songs to Jesus, instead of encouraging Christians to march ‘as to war’, to paraphrase Sir A Sullivan’s great hymn. We dare to challenge someone’s lifestyle or criticise an issue, in Christian love, yet we are met with the response ‘Who are we to judge?’

    When will the churches nationwide call the faithful to a genuine, deep repentance leading to turning away from one’s past life (or indeed challenging one’s present life, eg, if living in sin with a partner) coupled with the warning that unless one turns to Jesus in true repentance there will be eternal consequences .. Jesus spoke about heaven but He also warned of hell, the eternal consequence of non-repentance and turning to Him: ‘I am the Way, the Truth & the Life, no-one comes to the Father but by Me’.

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