Should you pay your taxes, yes or no? Most evangelical Christians would simply answer “Yes”. The question that Jesus is being asked in Matthew 22 is a bit more complicated than that. It’s a trap. How do I know it is a trap? There is a subtle hint in Matt. 22:15 when it says “Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.” (NIV) This question is so politically explosive that the people who set the trap don’t want to be tainted by it. They don’t go to Jesus themselves, they send some young men to do their dirty work. These young men arranged for the Herodians to be present to witness Jesus’ answer. Now the Herodians were those Jews who were of pro-Roman rule and would report to the Romans anything Jesus would say that would be deemed rebellious. So if Jesus answers “No, don’t pay your taxes” then these Herodians would probably drag Jesus bodily to the Romans to be killed.
Now the Jews are God’s chosen people. And God’s chosen people are being oppressed by the Roman army. And the Roman army is financed by the paying taxes to Caesar. So by paying your taxes you are financing the oppression of God’s chosen people. The religious Jews believed this would be morally wrong. So if Jesus says “Yes, pay your taxes to Caesar”, the Jews following him as the Messiah would cease following him. Jesus will be in a bind whether he answers yes or no.
This scene takes place just a few days before Passover (see this article) and just as the Passover lamb was to be inspected for a few days before it was sacrificed to ascertain its worthiness (Exodus 12:3-6), so Jesus was to be inspected before His crucifixion. The inspection of Jesus in Jerusalem is in the form of a series of probing questions by different religious and political groups all who wish to discredit Him.
So this one question appears to put Jesus in a no win situation. So what does Jesus do? He asks to see one of these coins by which they pay taxes to Caesar and then asks whose image and inscription is on the coin. These young men answer “Caesar”. Jesus answers, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” These young men leave amazed at the answer Jesus gave and they asked no more questions. Jesus reframed the question so that we see that they are just giving back to Caesar what was already his.
By leaving early these young men showed that they were not interested in the amazing teachings of Jesus. And we lost out in hearing the obvious follow-up question that begged to be asked. That question would be: What should be given to God? I know there are many out there that would say we should tithe 10 percent. But I think Jesus again would answer with a question: Whose image is on you? We read in Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God expects all of us, not just a 10 percent tithe. We are all set on this earth to be God’s image.