“Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17)
In His last week of earthly ministry, Jesus confronted efforts by religious leaders to discredit His teaching. Furthermore, they wanted to catch Him in such a clear violation of public policy that the Roman government would imprison Him and silence the impact He was having on the population of Jerusalem.
Matthew records the question asked by the corrupt scribes and teachers, but Jesus knew it didn’t reflect their real intentions. They flattered Him with platitudes about seeking truth, but they really wanted an excuse to not pay taxes and a way to accuse Jesus of rebellion against Rome.
“But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:18-21).
Both sides of this debate are brought up in churches today. Some would deny the government the right to tax its citizens to support policies that are not moral (abortion) or to pay for unjust wars (Vietnam, etc.). Jesus said that “Caesar” has the right to demand tribute whether or not we agree with its use.
Others insist that since the law is no longer in force under the New Covenant, our giving is not mandated, and the “tithe” amounts to whatever the conscience deems appropriate. Jesus told the Jewish leaders they ought to tithe all they were prospered by but not leave the “weightier” issues alone (Matthew 23:23). On this matter, we are to pay taxes to our Caesar and our tithe to God as commanded. HMM III
From Days of Praise