Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not? This is the question they wanted an answer. This was a seemingly innocent question that was so tricky, because it was politically loaded.
First, it demanded a, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Clearly any other answer could appear to be evading the matter.
Secondly, whatever answer provided, Jesus was going to be between a rock and a hard place. For if Jesus answered, ‘Yes, by all means pay taxes to Caesar’ He would be setting himself against every ordinary Jew. For paying taxes was resented, because it was the mark of the Roman occupation, as well as an evidence of their slavery to Rome. The Zealots, had refused to pay and were regarded as the heroes. Jesus had a Zealot in his company (Simon the Zealot!)
But on the other hand, if the Lord said, ‘No, you must never pay a mite to the Caesar’ then they would charge him with treason to the Romans authorities be rid of him! The Pharisees and the Herodians had effectively planted the trap, or so they thought. "No way he can escape" so they thought. While they were in this state of glee, the Lord read through their hearts and minds – hypocrisy was written all over them!
How do you like that phrase, “But, He knowing …?” These men thought they would pull a fast one over on Jesus. They thought they could outwit Him and trap Him in His words. They never realized that He could see through them as through a transparent glass, exactly what they were. He could see the very condition of their hearts. He knew they were nothing more than “hypocrites”. Did you know that He knows your heart as well? Jesus knows everything there is about you. He knows if you are saved. He knows if you are just playing church. He knows if you are just playing a part so others will think well of you. He knows where you truly stand with God! He knows you, Heb. 4:13.
He responded, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” Nothing is hidden from the Lord, even the currency in the pocket! This question and the demand for a coin was directed to the questioning party. The word the Lord used for ‘put to test’ could also be translated 'tempt' is ‘peirazo’ which means to try or ensnare or trap. This is the same thing that Satan had done earlier on with Jesus. They were Satan’s agent, for they were doing devil’s bidding! However, Jesus responded with Scriptures and confounded them just as He had confounded the devil.
One denarii was about a day’s wage for a common worker. Let’s assume it is about a thousand Kenya Shilling. The Lord then asked them, whose image and inscription does it bear? They quickly responded that it had the image of Caesar. Remember Caesar is the title and the man reigning as emperor at the time was Tiberius. One side of the coin had his portrait with the words, Tiberius Caesar Augustus Son of the Divine Augustus and the reverse side had his inscription seated on a throne, wearing a crown of diadem and dressed as a high priest. This side was written, Pontif Maxim or Highest Priest.
He was claiming both political and religious authority. Here was a human government that was laying a claim on the Kingdom of God. Caesar wanted to be regarded as God! When it comes to the Christian and government, there are four basic attitudes:
a) God alone is our authority – There have been people who would totally separate themselves from all worldly associations and go off to live apart from the world, from sinners and from human government. The monks in the ancient monastic systems come to mind here. These are like the proverbial ostrich that buried its head on the sand. They disregard the reality of the human government.
b) The state alone is our authority – This is the view of secularism like the Herodians. In this view that state is the sole authority in a person’s life. This is the most dangerous of the four. Many civil and political entities think that only the government, with its constitution is supreme. How far from the truth! This is a deliberate attempt at suppressing the reality of God. Many governments support atheism.
c) God and the state are both authorities, but the state is dominant – People who hold this view pay God lip service, but believe the word of the state has more authority than the Word of God. This is the view of most politicians, even 'Christian' politicians.
d) God and state are both authorities, but God is supreme – This is the biblical view. This was the view articulated by Jesus in these verses. Those who hold this view obey the state as long the demands of the state do not violate the clear teachings of God. When God and the state are in opposition, God is the final authority. When the state stands in opposition to the Word of God, (i.e. When we are commanded to perform an immoral act; go against our conscience; stand against the clear Word of God, etc.) - we have a clear duty to oppose the state and obey the Lord, regardless of the personal costs. This is what Peter said to the Sanhedrin, "We shall obey God rather than men!" (Acts 4:18-20)
Is there anything we can do NOT to pay taxes? How can things work so that you don’t have to pay Value Added Tax, Pay As You Earn, Duty, etc.? This may so much interest you, because tax is in a sense an evil that you would want to avoid! But the passage before us gives the most clear answer that you ought not to be thinking in that way. The Lord said, “Yes, pay taxes!” It is in your best interest to pay tax because your Master and Saviour has said so.
Your allegiance is first of all to God and as long as you live. However, the Lord expect you to be subject, for His sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme or to governors as sent by Him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Honour everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the emperor (1Peter 2:13-17). Even if under the most draconian government and you are wondering if it is God’s will, then know for sure that all human institutions, whether emperor, governor, president, chief, captain, prefect, inter alia, all are sent by God. This passage clearly says that this is the will of God.
This is what the Lord has given as instruction for His people:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honour to whom honour is owed. Rom 13:1-7
It is the duty of every citizen and especially of Christian to be law abiding. This is because
(1) all authorities are instituted by God. They exist by the will of God, they have His mandate and blessing. Therefore acts of rebellion against the state are to be regarded as rebellion against God who appointed them.
(2) all authorities are for your welfare. God has put authorities in place for two purposes – to punish evil and to reward the good. It is the high time that Christians regarded all authorities as God’s servant for good.
(3) be in subjection for the sake of your own conscience. How can your regenerated conscience allow you to take glee in wickedness and rebellion?
For this reasons, you are to pay taxes to the government, faithfully as one who is paying to God! Pay to all what is due – whether taxes, subjection, honour, revenue etc. Remember also that this is the way of funding the government operations. Do you want good roads, and healthcare, and police protection and order in the society? You have to pay taxes get these services. After all the government mints or produces money – give it back to them, you will not need it the heaven where you are going.
With this in mind, let every good citizen, especially Christians show their godliness by paying taxes and filing their annual returns ASAP. Thank God that for Kenyans the closing date is at the end of April! I was shocked by one of the assistant commissioners at Kenya Revenue Authority two years ago when he said that pastors and churches are the most notorious when it comes to tax evasion in Kenya. Pastors for one don't even pay PAYE! We have to be careful not to preach water and drink wine! You have to remit all your taxes promptily in view of what your Master, the Lord has said. After all He paid taxes when he got the denarii from the mouth of the fish, so you have no excuse. If Christ is your Lord Lord, then you will follow Him duly, closely and faster this year by paying your taxes, won't you?