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.
Was Jesus’ prophecy accurate?
Biblical prophecy is a powerful thing. It serves multiple purposes. One is that it shows God’s power and control in this world. This gives us comfort. Another is to show that the speaker of the prophecy is truly from God. A prophet was required to be 100% correct (Deuteronomy 18:21-22, 1 John 4:1, Jeremiah 28:9). If the prophet’s prophecy did not come to pass, the prophet was false and would be disregarded.
In Matthew 12:38-42 Jesus prophesied about his upcoming death and resurrection. Jesus said “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jesus references Jonah 1:17. To see how this prophecy was 100% fulfilled, let’s first look at God’s definition of day and night. Genesis 1:5 says “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” And we find in Matthew 27:45 that there were three hours of darkness on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, an additional night. Luke 23:44-46 tells us that Jesus breathed his last right after the end of this darkness; this was beginning of a new day. So the day of the crucifixion had an additional night followed by an additional day as defined by Genesis 1:5, making it a week with eight days and eight nights.
To understand the next three days we need to understand the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, two feasts that were right next to each other. Read Leviticus 23:4-8 which describes the feasts. Passover is a one day feast that occurs on the 14th of the month of Abib (also called Aviv). On the Jewish calendar the Passover starts at sunset as does any day on the calendar. The Feast of Unleavened Bread immediately follows on the 15th day of the month and lasts 7 days. Both the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the last day of the feast are Sabbaths, days with no work done. Some people refer to these two combined feasts as Passover week even though Passover is technically one day.
Jesus was crucified on Passover day, the 14th day of the first month. The 14th day of the month could occur on any day of the week based on the year. The Feast of Unleavened Bread commemorated the days that the Israelites fled the Egyptian army that pursued them. The 15th of this month would be the first day of this feast and therefore a holy day where no work was done (a High Sabbath day) and the 21st day would be the last day of the feast, also a Sabbath (22 Abib if outside of Israel). This Sabbath day on the 15th or 21st day of the month could occur on any day of the week based on the year. This explains why the day following the crucifixion was a Sabbath no matter what day of the week that the Passover occurred.
We can find which day of the week that the crucifixion occurred by going to Luke 24. In verses 13 through 32 Jesus walks with two men on their way to Emmaus. This happens on the first day of the week, the day of His resurrection. During this trek to Emmaus, these men describe the events of the crucifixion. And in verse 21 the one named Cleopas says that this happened “three days hence”. One day hence would be Saturday; two days hence would be Friday. Three days hence would be Thursday. The crucifixion and Passover occurred on Thursday.
So Jesus was 100% correct in his prophecy. Thursday after the crucifixion was a full day because of the darkness at noon. Thus Jesus was in the grave Thursday day and then night, Friday day and then night, and then Saturday day and then night (three days and three nights just as prophesied). Also these two consecutive Sabbath days explains why the disciples did not check on Jesus’ body until the first day of the week (Sunday).
So it took a miracle to make the prophecy come true, that extra night in the middle of Thursday. But it was overshadowed by a bigger miracle: Jesus resurrection from death.