The chief priests and elders have challenged Jesus’s authority to teach and act the way He has in the temple complex. In response, Jesus told three parables directed at the chief priests and elders in view of the crowd. In response, the chief priests and elders, now identified as Pharisees, plot together to entrap Jesus.
15 Τότε πορευθέντες οἱ Φαρισαῖοι συμβούλιον ἔλαβον ὅπως αὐτὸν παγιδεύσωσιν ἐν λόγῳ. 16 καὶ ἀποστέλλουσιν αὐτῷ τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτῶν μετὰ τῶν Ἡρῳδιανῶν λέγοντες· Διδάσκαλε, οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀληθὴς εἶ καὶ τὴν ὁδὸν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν ἀληθείᾳ διδάσκεις, καὶ οὐ μέλει σοι περὶ οὐδενός, οὐ γὰρ βλέπεις εἰς πρόσωπον ἀνθρώπων· 17 εἰπὸν οὖν ἡμῖν τί σοι δοκεῖ· ἔξεστιν δοῦναι κῆνσον Καίσαρι ἢ οὔ; 18 γνοὺς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὴν πονηρίαν αὐτῶν εἶπεν· Τί με πειράζετε, ὑποκριταί; 19 ἐπιδείξατέ μοι τὸ νόμισμα τοῦ κήνσου. οἱ δὲ προσήνεγκαν αὐτῷ δηνάριον. 20 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· Τίνος ἡ εἰκὼν αὕτη καὶ ἡ ἐπιγραφή; 21 λέγουσιν αὐτῷ· Καίσαρος. τότε λέγει αὐτοῖς· Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῷ θεῷ. 22 καὶ ἀκούσαντες ἐθαύμασαν, καὶ ἀφέντες αὐτὸν ἀπῆλθαν.
The sin of entrapment (v. 15-17)
Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians…
The Pharisees, previously identified as the chief priests and elders in the temple (21:23), did not take kindly to Jesus’s parabolic pronouncements against them. They now desire to entrap Jesus in His own words. Such is the worldly response when others point out our sin, religiosity, or pride. We react with resentment and plot against those who testify to the truth. Instead of listening and understanding, the Pharisees contrive a plan. They will send their disciples to Jesus with the Herodians in order to entrap Him.
In AD 6, Judea became a Roman province complete with Roman coinage with Caesar’s face depicted thereon. By the 30s AD the coinage bore the words, “son of the gods,” to indicate that Caesar was the only lord to be obeyed and paid. The Herodians in Judea were those who supported the Jewish regime that was dismantled in AD 6—though it is unclear whether or not they sympathized with Rome. The Pharisees, though, almost certainly sympathized with the Jewish Zealots, who desired liberation from Rome. If the Herodians sympathized, we see two groups represented—the Pharisees who do not want to worship Rome and break the first two commandments by paying Rome’s tax and the Herodians who might recognize the political advantages of paying the Roman tax. Thus, Matthew includes the Herodians purposefully and in juxtaposition with the Pharisee disciples.
…saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?”
The Pharisee disciples lead their question with compliments that their own teachers would not agree with. For, if they believe Jesus is truthful and impartial, they would not seek to entrap Him. They ask Jesus a thirty-year politically inciting question. If you want to entrap anyone, ask him or her a political question in front of a mixed politically charged crowd. This is a lose-lose predicament for Jesus, which is what the Pharisees planned. Is it wrong to break the first two commandments and worship Caesar as a son of the gods? Or, is it wrong to not honor the government that God had placed? The Pharisees and Herodians drew quite the inciting dichotomy. Deny Rome or God. Either way, Jesus’s ministry is over. The poll-tax will be one of the issues that leads to the war in AD 66 and the destruction of the second temple—which Jesus alluded to in His third parable (22:7).
The godly response (v. 18-22)
But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”
Jesus recognized their motivation. They had a vendetta and meant to entrap Him because their teachers’ pride had been hurt. Jesus calls them out, “Why are you testing Me?” and identifies the Pharisee disciples and Herodians as hypocrites. What exactly makes them hypocrites? Notice how the term connects to the entrapping question according to Jesus. Something about their trying to entrap Jesus makes them hypocrites. Jesus reveals their hypocrisy in HIs answer, “Show me the coin used for the poll-tax.” As soon as the bring Jesus a denarius, it is revealed that they carry the coin in question and Jesus did not. They are carrying what the Pharisees have identified as an idolatrous coin instead of the copper alternative minted by the Jews. Yet, they try to entrap Jesus on the basis of idolatry. They are idolaters according to their own standards. They are trying to entrap Jesus in their idolatry for the purpose of entrapment. That’s hypocrisy—condemning others according to a standard that we don’t even live up to.
Jesus asks them whose image and inscription is on the coin.
They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
They reply. Caesar’s image and inscription, “sone of the gods,” is on the coin—a confession to which Jesus replies, “then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus does two things. 1) He shows that the kingdom of Caesar is not the kingdom of God. 2) He shows that the love of mammon is a love the world has and God does not need.
1) The kingdoms of God and Caesar. Jesus’s standard is not the same as the standard of the Pharisee disciples or Herodians. Their standard is politically motivated. They correctly identify the image of Caesar and his inscription to violate the first two commandments:
You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth (Exodus 20:3-4).
Yet, as is natural for worldly people, they extruded to mean that the image or a coin upon which was the blasphemy could not be carried or used. In this case, Caesar was the idolater and blasphemer, not everyone who carried or used a coin. Such a statement helps us to think about the plethora of graven images in our own day. Those who erect such images in worship to anything or anyone other than Christ and those who use the images for worship are idolaters. This includes, as we see explicitly in the text, the monetary systems of worldly nations—which means both capitalist and communist monetary systems are idolatrous graven images. Christ does not, however, condemn anyone for carrying Caesar’s blasphemous coin.
The kingdom of God is not Caesar’s kingdom. The Jews are in the midst of a kingdom that is not the kingdom of God. It is no coincidence that Matthew includes this part of the story after the parable of the wedding feast. In that parable, those clothed in anything other than the imputed righteousness of Christ, meaning the money and other means of the world, will either reject the invitation or be thrown out of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God is set against the kingdoms of this world and their systems, which means that the worlds systems are all passing away. God has no use for Caesar’s coin. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Pay your taxes to the state. God’s kingdom is higher.
2) The love of mammon. All of Christ’s teaching throughout Matthew’s Gospel is summarized in the Sermon on the Mount. We find Jesus’s teaching about money in His famous sermon:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth (6:19-24).
Money is a treasure on earth, not in heaven. It is not worth enough to debate about. The world can have its money along with all the stresses that come with it. Our treasure is more lasting. This goes for all the other treasures of the world as well. The Pharisees are trying to entrap Jesus because their pride got hurt. They are trying to defend their pride, another worldly treasure that will not last. The world can have its pride. Our treasure is higher. No one can serve both God and wealth, or mammon—referring to physical and non-physical sordid treasures like money, pride, status, reputation, identity, self-perception, etc… In this case, even under an oppressive Roman government, failure to pay taxes resulted from a love of money like entrapment resulted from a love of pride. Hypocrites, who claim to love God but live only in love to self through their religious and political systems and philosophies.
And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away.
The students did not respond like their Pharisee teachers. Their teachers planned to use them to entrap Jesus. They feasibly did not know what they were walking into and believed their teachers were just in their hypocritical entrapment. When Jesus answers, they are amazed—a word meaning they marveled at what was said. They contemplated it and tried to understand it unlike their Pharisee teachers. They departed.
In this passage, then, we see two different responses to the accusations that Christ brings against people—all of whom first tried to entrap Jesus. The Pharisees responded by trying to entrap Jesus again. They could not humble themselves and needed to create controversy. Such is the one who lives an unrepentant life and needs to be perceived as good, holy, or religious. Their disciples, however, considered Jesus’s accusation and teaching. They did not try to defend their own pride. When Jesus pointed out their sin, they departed in amazement. Such is the one who lives a repentant life and recognizes Christ as the only righteous one. When we are converted to be like children, dressed in Christ’s righteousness alone, we no longer have need to defend our own righteousness. We are free to consider others more important than ourselves, marvel at the teaching of Christ, and repent when we sin—even unintentionally. Many times, our hypocrisy is unintentional. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven are marked by repentant hearts. If we have not repentant hearts, we are like the Pharisees in this part of the narrative—who will not enter the kingdom of heaven (cf. 21:23-2214). There are a few related verses meant to guide the Christian’s lifestyle:
The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. A man’s gift makes room for him And brings him before great men. The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him (Proverbs 18:15-17).
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need (1 Thessalonians 4:3-12).
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith… Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:1-3, 9-21).
If we find that we are pugnacious, quick to find fault, and generally not peaceful, then we are not following Christ. As Christians, we bear the fruit of repentance, consider others to be more important than us, live at peace with all people as much as it depends on us, and strive to be of humble mind (not thinking too highly of our self-perceived virtues). Such is how we come to love without hypocrisy, which is a concept entirely foreign to the world and its degenerate ways. There are many religious people, like the Pharisees, who are not capable of such a lifestyle because they are not actually in Christ and have not been delivered from the consequences and power of their sin. False faith produces haughty religion.
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