Luke 20:21

I. A SNARE LAID. This tribute money (κῆνσος)was the poll or capitation tax payable to the Roman Government, from the time Judaea became subject to the Roman power. Judas of Galilee headed a revolt against this tax, but perished with his followers. If our Lord allowed the lawfulness of paying tribute to Caesar, it would have compromised him with the Jewish nationalists, who would not have been slow to charge him with contempt of the Law of Moses for the words of Deuteronomy 17:15, "Thou mayest not set a stranger over thee," were explained by them as forbidding the payment of tribute to a foreign power. If he acknowledged the unlawfulness of such payment, he came into direct collision with the Roman authorities. In the one case, he offended the Judaean patriots and his own Gaiilean followers; in the other, he incensed the Herodian royalists who acquiesced in Roman rule. On the one side, it was treachery to national and patriotic aspirations and Messianic prospects; on the other, it was treason against the Roman Caesar and Pilate his governor. Such was the snare laid for him; such was the trap they set in order to catch him. Thus they thought to entangle him, rather, ensnare (παγιδεύσωσιν) him, in his talk, as a fowler ensnares a bird.


1. They put the question in such a categorical form as seemed to them to necessitate a simple "yea" or "nay; "thus, "Is it lawful to give tribute, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?" The double question is to emphasize their earnestness, and to invite a prompt reply, affirmative or negative; though the first question may refer to the lawfulness of the payment, and the second to its expediency or advisability.

2. The motive which actuated them to interrogate our Lord so peremptorily was most sinister and insidious. The evangelists, viewing their conduct from different standpoints, characterize it differently. This difference, which we discover by comparing the parallel passages, is most instructive. Their conduct in propounding this ensnaring interrogatory was wickedness according to the first evangelist; it was craftiness (πανουργίαν), according to the third; while, according to the second, it was hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισιν). Their question had a close connection with and combined all these three elements; it was conceived in wickedness, cradled in craftiness, and cloaked by hypocrisy. Thus the interrogators acted as spies, or "liers in wait" (ἐγκαθέτους), as St. Luke calls them, while they feigned themselves just men. Our Lord tore off their mask, exposing them in their true colors, and addressing them in their real character, when, according to St. Matthew, he says, "Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?"

3. The object they had in view was to embroil the Savior with the royalists, and so compass his destruction. For this purpose it is plain they desired a negative answer, as appears suggested by the words, "Thou regardest not the person of men," implying such fearlessness as would enable him to reject foreign authority as inconsistent with acknowledging God as their King. Their ulterior object, as stated by St. Luke, was "that they might take hold of his speech, so as to deliver him up to the power and to the authority of the governor;" in other words, to deliver him to the Roman power, rule, or magistracy (ἀρχῇ), and to the lawful authority or jurisdiction (ἐξουσία) of Pilate, the Roman procurator.

4. Necessity brings together strange companions. The Pharisees were as mean as they were unprincipled, and as untruthful as they were unprincipled and mean. They proved their want of principle by the unnatural coalition which they formed with the Herodians - the patriots so called who opposed foreign dominion with the elastic politicians who owned the Roman power; the foes with the friends of Caesar; sticklers for the Law with the supporters of an authority deemed inimical to the Law. Their meanness was manifest in the fulsome flattery with which they addressed our Lord; while in their base untruthfulness they pretended to approach him with a quasi-case of conscience, though in reality they were carrying out the counsel for his destruction.

III. THE SAVIOUR'S REPLY. Had he replied in the affirmative, he would have forfeited his popularity; had he answered in the negative, he would have forfeited his life. The latter was the consummation wished for by the members of this unholy alliance of superstition with political expediency. To give vividness to the transaction, our Lord ordered the production of a Roman penny, or denarius, a small silver coin of the value of sevenpence halfpenny, or eightpence halfpenny at most. On that coin was an image, the head of the then reigning sovereign, Tiberius, while round it ran the usual superscription or inscription, consisting of the name and titles of the emperor. Our Lord, as if in surprise, asks, half in irony and half in indignation, what all this meant, and whose it was? Their unavoidable answer was, "Caesar's;" and this very answer broke the snare, and the bird escaped out of the net of the fowler. Then said our Lord - Give back (ἀπόδοτε) to Caesar what belongs to him; pay back to Caesar what you acknowledge to be his. The coinage proves the king, the currency affords evidence of his property; while, on the other hand, you render to God the things that are his.

IV. IMPORTANT PRINCIPLE. This principle, so important and far-reaching, though plain enough in its general bearing, has been differently understood. Some have regarded the two parts of the answer as entirely distinct, as though belonging to different spheres, or placed on different planes, and so incapable of clashing or even coming in contact; as though he said, "Pay your taxes, and perform your religious duties, but keep the two things apart." More usually they are understood as two separate departments of human duty, coexisting and compatible; or as standing to each other in the relation of the part to the whole. According to the second of these three views, the payment of civil dues and the observance of religious duties stand side by side together, and as equally obligatory: that is, render to Caesar, as civil ruler, the obedience that belongs to him, and to God, as spiritual Sovereign, the homage of the soul stamped with the Divine image, and therefore his due; or, in a more literal and narrow sense, according to some, pay the civil taxes to the government of Caesar, and the didrachma, or temple-tribute, for the support of the sanctuary and service of God. We understand it in the larger sense of obedience to our earthly sovereign and duty to our heavenly King, as co-ordinate and coexistent, perfectly compatible but not competitive; or, according to the third view, the former may be regarded as part of the latter. This great principle, properly understood and acted on, would have prevented many an unseemly collision of Church and State, and many a sinful encroachment of one on the domain of the other. It would have prevented the papal power from trampling the crown of kings in the dust, as in the reign of John, and it would have prevented, on the other hand, the persecution of the Church by the State, as in the days of the Puritans. Our Lord intimated by his reply, that so long as the Jews were allowed to worship God according to his own appointment, and enjoyed the protection of the Roman power therein, they were under obligations to contribute to the taxes that supported that power. But these obligations to civil government were not to suspend, or set aside, or in any way interfere with the higher and holier obligations which they owed to God. Duty to God must be the regulating principle of duty to civil rulers; the latter is then part of, or rather part and parcel with, the former. Thus our Lord clearly indicated the respective provinces of civil rulers and of religious teachers - the relative positions of secular authority and spiritual power. Thus he solved the problem of two kings and two kingdoms in one realm; thus he taught obedience to civil governors in temporal things, while in spiritual their duty to God was paramount. No doubt many nice points may present themselves, and many delicate questions may arise in practically carrying out the principle stated; but we are not without light from other parts of Scripture to guide us in the application of this principle, even in cases of greatest difficulty. - J.J.G.

They watched Him.
The chief priests and rulers of the Jews watched Jesus, but not to learn the way of salvation. They watched Him with the evil eyes of malice and hatred, desiring to take hold of His words, to entangle Him in His talk, that they might accuse Him, and deliver Him up to die. He loved all men, yet He was hated and rejected of men; He went about doing good, yet they tried to do Him harm. The enemies of Christ are ever watching for our fall, eager to hear or to tell any evil thing about us, ready to cast the stone of slander against us. You know that the whitest robe first shows the stain, let us remember whose purity we wear if we have put on Christ. Let us strive "to walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." If we are tempted to say or do something which is equivocal, though the way of the world, let us pause and ask ourselves whether it will bring discredit on our faith, whether it will dishonour our Master. But there are others who watch us, and in a different manner. The Church in Paradise watches the Church on earth and prays for it. Our path of life is compassed by a great cloud of witnesses; the saints who have fought the battle and won the crown, they watch us. St. Paul, resting after his good fight, and his many perils, is watching to see how we are fighting against sin, the world, and the devil. St. Peter, restored to the side of Jesus, watches to see if any of us deny their Lord. St. Thomas, no longer doubtful, watches to see if our faith be strong. Holy Stephen watches us when the stones of insult and persecution assail us; the forty martyrs, who died for Jesus on the frozen pool at Sebaste, watch us when the world looks coldly on us, and many another who passed through fire and water watches us in our battle and the race that is set before us. Thus with the enemies of God watching for our fall, and the saints of God watching for our victory, let us watch ourselves, and let our cry be, "Hold Thou me up that my footsteps slip not."

(H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)

Cowards are like cats. Cats always take their prey by springing suddenly upon it from some concealed station, and, if they miss their aim in the first attack, rarely follow it up. They are all, accordingly, cowardly, sneaking animals, and never willingly face their enemy, unless brought to bay, or wounded, trusting always to their power of surprising their victims by the aid of their stealthy and noiseless movements.

(Dallas, "Natural History of the Animal Kingdom.")

Whose image and superscription hath it?
1. The Divine image ought to be our highest glory.

2. Let the Divine image which we bear be a constant exhortation to serve God.

3. Never defile the Divine image by sin.

4. Endeavour to increase every day the beauty of the Divine image.

5. Respect the Divine image in your neighbour.

(Bishop Ehrler.)

More than all visible things, we ourselves, with the faculties of body and soul, are God's. Man is God's image, God's coin, and therefore belongs to God entirely.


1. On creation. Man is God's property.(1) As God's creature. All that is created belongs to God, by whose omnipotence it was made.(2) As God's creature he bears the Divine image.

2. On redemption.(1) The soul of the first man was a supernatural image of God, created in original justice and sanctity.(2) In consequence of the first sin, the soul was deprived of sanctifying grace (Romans 5:12).(3) God had compassion on man, and found means (through the Incarnation) to restore His image in the human soul.


1. We should render to God our soul.(1) Our understanding.(2) Our will.(3) Our heart.

2. Our body and all its members.


One day, when Martin Luther was completely penniless, he was asked for money to aid an important Christian enterprise. He reflected a little, and recollected that he had a beautiful medal of Joachim, Elector of Brandenburg, which he very much prized. He went immediately to a drawer, opened it, and said: "What art thou doing there, Joachim? Dost thou not see how idle thou art? Come out and make thyself useful." Then he took out the medal and contributed it to the object solicited for.

Render unto Caesar the things which he Caesar's
I. THAT KINGS AND PRINCES HAVE A CERTAIN RIGHT AND DUE PERTAINING TO THEM BY GOD'S APPOINTMENT, WHICH IT IS NOT LAWFUL FOR ANY MAN TO KEEP FROM THEM. This is plain here as if Christ had said: "It is of God, and not without the disposing and ordering of His Providence, that the Roman Emperor hath put in his foot among you, and is now your liege and sovereign: you yourselves have submitted to his government, and have in a manner subscribed unto that which God hath brought upon you; now, certainly, there is a right pertaining to him respectively to his place. This he must have, and it cannot be lawful for you, under any pretext, to take it from him." So that this speech is a plain ground for this. But what is Caesar's due?

1. Prayer for him (1 Timothy 2:1).(1) That he may be endowed with all needful graces for his place.



(c)Temperance, i.e., sobriety and moderation in diet, in apparel, in delight, etc.

(d)Zeal and courage in God's matters. This it is which will make kings prosper (1 Kings 2:2, 3).(2) That he may be delivered from all dangers to which he is subject in his place. Kings are in danger of two sorts of enemies.

(a)Enemies to their bodies and outward state. Traitors. Conspirators.

(b)Enemies to their souls. Flatterers.

2. Submission to him. By this I mean "an awful framing and composing of the whole man respectively to his authority."And now here, because I mention the whole man, and man consisteth of two parts; therefore I will declare, first, what is the submission of the inner man due to a king by the Word of God; and then, what is the submission of the outward man.

1. Touching the submission of the inner man, I account the substance of it to be this — "A reverent and dutiful estimation of him in regard of his place." "Fear the Lord and the king," said Solomon. As the "fearing of God" argueth an inward respectiveness to His Divine majesty, so the fearing of the king intends the like, the heart carrieth a kind of reverent awe unto him. And this is that honouring the king which St. Peter giveth charge of (1 Peter 2:17). Honour is properly an inward act, and we honour a superior when our respect is to him according to his dignity. That this reverent estimation of a king, which I term the substance of inward submission, may be the better understood, we must consider touching it two things.(1) The ground of it is a right understanding of the state and condition of a king's place.

(a)Its eminence.

(b)Its usefulness.(2) Now the companion of this reverent esteem of Caesar is a ready and willing disposition to perform to him and for him any service he may require.

2. I come now to speak of the outward submission, which is that which is for the testification and manifestation of the inward. An outward submissiveness without an inward awfulness were but hypocrisy; to pretend an inward respect without giving outward evidence thereof, were but mockery. This outward submission is either in word or in action. It includes —(1) Conformity to the laws.(2) Yielding of the person in time of war.(3) Furnishing supplies.

II. THAT IT IS NOT LAWFUL FOR ANY MAN TO DEPRIVE ALMIGHTY GOD OF THAT WHICH IS HIS DUE. "You are careful," saith our Saviour, "as it seemeth, to inquire touching Caesar's right, as if you were so tender conscienced that you would not keep ought from him that were his. It becometh you to be, at the least, as careful for God; there is a right also due to Him, look you to it, that you give it Him." Thus is the doctrine raised, God must have His due as well as the king his. Nay, He is to have it much more; "He is the King of kings, and Lord of lords. By Him it is that earthly kings do reign. He beareth rule over the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whosoever He will." Let me begin by explaining what is here meant by the Lord's due. The conscionable performance of any good duty is in some sense the Lord's due, because the same is required by Him; and so even that which was spoken of before, by the name of Caesar's due, is God's due, because the law of God binds us to it. When we speak, therefore, of God's due, we intend thereby that which is more properly and more immediately be, longing to Him. For example's sake — in a house, whereof every room and corner is the master's, yet that where he lieth himself is more particularly called his; so whereas all good services, even those which appertain to men, are the Lord's, He being the commander of them, yet those are more precisely and specially termed His which belong to Him more directly. And of the dues of this sort we are now to treat; and these may justly be referred to two general heads. The first I may call His "prerogative," the other His "worship." Under God's" prerogative" I comprehend two things.

1. "That the things which concern Him must have the pre-eminence."

2. "That He must have absolute obedience in all things." And now I come to the next part of His due, "His worship." By His worship is understood that more direct and proper service which we do to God for the declaration of our duty to Him, of our dependence on Him, and of our acknowledgment both to expect and to receive all good and comfort from Him.Here the particulars to be considered of, under this head of worship, are —

1. "That He must be worshipped."

2. "That He must be so worshipped as Himself thinks good."

(S. Hieron.)

"Go with me to the concert this afternoon?" once asked a fashionable city salesman of a new assistant in the warehouse. "I cannot." "Why?" "My time is not my own; it belongs to another." "To whom?" "To the firm, by whom I have been instructed not to leave without permission." The next Sabbath afternoon the same salesman said to this clerk, "Will you go to ride with us this evening?" "I cannot." "Why?" "My time is not my own; it belongs to another." "To whom?" "To Him who has said, 'Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy." Some years passed, and that clerk lay upon his bed of death. His honesty and fidelity had raised him to a creditable position in business and in society, and, ere his sickness, life lay fair before him. "Are you reconciled to your situation?" asked an attendant. "Yes, reconciled; I have endeavoured to do the work that God has allotted me, in His fear. He has directed me thus far; I am in His hands, and my time is not my own."

(W. Baxendale.)

It is a common saying that religion has nothing to do with polities, and particularly there is a strong feeling current against all interference with politics by the ministers of religion. This notion rests on a basis which is partly wrong, partly right. To say that religion has nothing to do with politics is to assert that which is simply false. It were as wise to say that the atmosphere has nothing to do with the principles of architecture. Directly nothing, indirectly much. Some kinds of stone are so friable, that though they will last for centuries in a dry climate, they will crumble away in a few years in a damp one. There are some temperatures in which a form of a building is indispensable, which in another would be unbearable. The shape of doors, windows, apartments, all depend upon the air that is to be admitted or excluded. Nay, it is for the very sake of procuring a habitable atmosphere within certain limits that architecture exists at all. The atmospheric laws are distinct from the laws of architecture; but there is not an architectural question into which atmospheric considerations do not enter as conditions of the question. That which the air is to architecture, religion is to politics. It is the vital air of every question. Directly, it determines nothing — indirectly, it conditions every problem that can arise. The kingdoms of this world must become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. How — if His Spirit is not to mingle with political and social truths?

(F. W. Robertson.)

Our Lord here recognizes no division of allegiance. He does not regard man as under two masters — as owing duty to Caesar and duty to God. Is there a trace in all His other teaching that He contemplated such a division? Did ever a word fall from Him to indicate that He looked upon some obligations as secular and others as sacred? No; God is set forth by Him always and everywhere as the sole Lord of man's being and powers. Nothing man has can be Caesar's in contradiction to that which is God's. Christ claims all for the Sovereign Master. Body, soul, and spirit, riches, knowledge, influence, love — all belong to Him; there is but one empire, one service, one king; and life, with all its complexity of interest, is simple — simple as the Infinite God who has given it. Rightly understood, therefore, the great precepts of the text are in perfect accord with the doctrine of God's sole and supreme lordship over every thought, and faculty, and possession of man. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." Why? Who enacts it? Who has the right to require it? The answer is "God." It is a part of your religious obedience to be a loyal citizen. Within the sphere that belongs to him Caesar claims your service as the ordained representative and minister of God. Civil obedience is an ordinance of the Church; civil society is the creation of God Himself. It is He who, through the earthly ruler, demands your tribute. The result, the order, and the progress of society are His work; and thus the principle of all duty is ultimately one. The inclusion of the lower obedience in the higher has been well illustrated from the world of nature. The moon, we know, has its own relation to the earth; but both have a common relation to the sun. The moon's orbit is included in the earth's orbit, but the sun sways and balances both of them; and there is not a movement of the moon in obeying the inferior earthly attraction, which is not also an act of obedience to the superior spheres. And just so, God has bound up together our relation to " the powers that be " in this world, with our relation to Himself. He has set us under rulers and in societies as a kind of interior province of His mighty kingdom, but our loyalty as subjects and our duty as citizens are but a part of the one supreme duty which we owe to Him.

(Canon Duckworth.)

I. Our secular and spiritual relations are coexistent and co-relative in fact.

II. The obligations which arise from each are to be recognized equitably, and the respective duties performed faithfully.

III. They ought not to be in conflict, but mutually helpful. Both are of God, and with Him are no discords.

IV. Application of the principle to —

1. Secular business, society, politics, etc.

2. Soul culture, worship, Christian work.


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