Wisdom from the Treasure Chest: Should we Pay Taxes to Caesar 

“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:1-3 

Christians should love wisdom and knowledge. In the section cited above, Christ is said to have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. If we love Christ, the treasure trough of wisdom and knowledge, then we should indeed love wisdom and knowledge. We should understand that we must be renewed in our minds to think like Christ and take every thought captive to obey him in order to gain wisdom and knowledge. We can’t love wisdom or knowledge outside of Christ because, well, it’s hidden in him. We can’t love Christ without loving wisdom and knowledge because he’s filled with it. When we submit ourselves to Christ and get to know him more we will become more knowledgeable and gain more wisdom. When you read the Bible it becomes blatantly obvious that Jesus is exceptionally wise. That being said, let’s take a look at a specific example of Jesus Christ’s wisdom as he answers the question: Should we pay taxes to Caesar?

We’ll look at a section from the Gospel of Luke. A little background info will catch us up and provide the context for one of the wisest answers ever given. The Gospel of Luke is a book written by Luke, a physician, concerning the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Luke dedicates his account of Jesus to the “most excellent” Theophilus. Who this Theophilus was, and what made him “most excellent” isn’t all that important. What is important is the point of Luke’s historical collection of eye witness testimoneies: “that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Luke went around interviewing eye witnesses of all kinds and at some point was himself converted to being a follower of Jesus Christ. We know that he originally joined up with the apostle Paul in Troas because in the book of Acts (his second book, also dedicated to Theophilus) in verses 16:6-10 Luke transitions from writing “they” to “we” now including himself indicating that he was now part of the missionary work of the Apostle Paul. 

Throughout Luke’s account of the gospel we see that Jesus is the protagonist and the Jews, namely the scribes, chief priests, Pharisees and Sadducees, are the antagonists. Jesus is preaching on the New Covenant, the Kingdom of God, the forgiveness of sins, and salvation for Jews and Gentiles alike.The antagonists are focused on works righteousness, earning a right standing before God, and a hierarchy of prominence based on religious and political standing in the Jewish community. They didn’t like the idea that Jesus was going to forgive sinners who haven’t worked as hard as they had, especially not the uncircumcised Gentile scum. They didn’t like that Jesus had gained such a following amongst the people since he hadn’t gone through the proper channels that they had. And they definitely didn’t like the fact that he was equating himself with God. So they set out to destroy him first by setting verbal traps for him in order to get him in trouble with the people and the government then when that didn’t work they plotted to kill him. 

This brings us to Luke chapter 20. In one of their last attempts to trip Jesus up with words, the scribes and chief priests sent spies to a gathering to pose as curious questioners so they could make him say something worth punishment from the governor:

 “so they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” (Verses 21-23). 

This question is really crafty when you think about it. They have already pigeon held him by flattering him at the outset: “Oh teacher you are soooo wise, we know you would neeeever lie, you only speak the truth as God as your witness, and we know that you would never show any kind of favoritism for one side or the other but you must speak the truth even if it costs you a great deal”. Then the bombshell: “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?”. This question is doubled edged. If Jesus flat out says “no don’t pay taxes to Caesar” then he wins the crowd. The crowd would all be happy because they were sick of paying taxes to the occupying government that was ruling over them. They were being gouged by taxes that were then used to pay for the solders that ended up abusing them. So Jesus would have won the crowd but if he flat out said don’t pay Caesar then Caesar would have arrested him and had him killed, thus the Jewish religious leaders would have won. 

On the other hand if Jesus would have flat out said “yes, pay your taxes” he would have lost the crowd. They would have been disappointed in him at the very least and they would have sought to kill him themselves in the worst case scenario. If their new hero would have flatly sided with their oppressors then the crowd would turn on him and the Jewish religious leaders would have succeeded in turning public opinion away from him, his teachings would have been discredited and they would no longer have to worry about him. Do you see how crafty this seemingly simple question really was? 

So if Jesus can’t say no and he can’t say yes, what does he say? Well perceiving their craftiness he said to them: 

 “Show me a denarius (a coin worth a days wage for a laborer). Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. (Luke 20:24-25) 

Wow. The rest of the passage goes on to say that they marveled at his answer and became silent. Jesus’ answer brilliantly staves off the attack. Instead of jumping into the trap and giving an answer, he asks them a clarifying question in order to reframe their question. From what I’ve learned about debates, it’s very important to ask clarifying questions to avoid assuming the premises framed by the questioner, Jesus gives us a great example of this. But there’s even more to his brilliance. 

Instead of just answering their question or simply reframing their question in a way that’ll allow him to avoid a solid answer, Jesus gives them an answer they weren’t looking for. He could have stopped with, “who’s image is on the coin? Oh, Caesars? Then give to Caesars that which is his”. That’d be an adequate answer. It would effectively stave off attack and keep everyone happy but Christ isn’t about that, he’s about the Kingdom of God so of course he adds more. Jesus says: then render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are God’s.” The implication here is the amazing part. The coin should be rendered to Caesar because it bears his likeness and image on it. What then belongs to God? Well Genesis 1:26 says: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”‘. We are made in God’s likeness, in His very image, and his law is inscribed on our hearts. So just as the Jews were to render to Ceasar that which bears his likeness they were also to render themselves to God, who’s image they are made in. By that same token we, who have also been made in God’s image are to give ourselves to God. 

Jesus is about that Kingdom life. In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge so of course when he takes the time to answer a question, he does so with wisdom and knowledge and his answer is gospel centered. He doesn’t just give an answer for the sake of giving an answer. Even in his defense he’s preparing people’s hearts to hear the good news that his life, death and resurrection will allow all those who trust in him to render themselves to God. 

I have to give credit to Ravi Zacharias, it was through him that I first realized the awesome implications of Jesus’ wise answer to this crafty question. We can all learn from the Divine Treasure Chest, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. As you get to know him you will grow in wisdom and knowledge, which will point you back to him again and again.



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