“Emmanuel’s Compliance” – Matthew 22:15-22

May 15th, 2016      PENTECOST Sunday

Matthew 22:15-22 (see also Mk 12-13-17; Lk 20:20-26)

“Emmanuel’s Compliance”

Auxiliary Text: Romans 13:1-7

Call to Worship from: Psalm 115


Service Orientation: Don’t fall victim to the erroneous mindset that there is a secular realm and a sacred realm. “. . .there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, “Mine!”  (Abraham Kuyper)


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.  The authorities that exist have been established by God.  —Romans 13:1


Background Information:

  • (v. 16) The Pharisees and Herodians who approached Jesus usually were parties in conflict, with one side against Rome and one side pro-Rome. They were young men, sent in the hope that Jesus would not suspect them of trickery.  They addressed Jesus as a mediator, inviting him to settle their dispute.  Their true purpose, however, was to discredit him.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 432)
  • (v. 16) These disciples are most likely those in training to become full initiates to the brotherhood of Pharisees and have been immersed in the Pharisaic commitment of the oral law and rigorous practice of their traditions. But since they are not legal experts yet, on the surface they would not appear to be as much of a legal threat to Jesus.  It is a seemingly innocuous group that approaches him with fawning deference, attempting to disarm him so that they might entrap him.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 719)
  • (v. 16) The Greek used here (NIV “pay no attention to who they are) literally means Jesus was not a “face looker.” In other words, He did not spin His words according to the reactions of His audience.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 632-3)
  • (v. 17) There were, in fact, three regular taxes which the Roman government exacted. There was a ground tax; a man must pay to the government one-tenth of the grain and one-fifth of the oil and wine which he produced; this tax was paid partly in kind, and partly in a money equivalent.  There was income tax, which was one per cent of a man’s income.  There was a poll tax; this tax had to be paid by every male person from the age of fourteen to the age of sixty-five, and by every female person from the age of twelve to sixty-five; it amounted to one denarius–that is what Jesus called the tribute coin–and was the equivalent of the usual day’s wage for a working man.  The tax in question here is the poll tax.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 317)
  • (v. 17) The Pharisees were against these taxes on religious grounds; the Herodians supported taxation on political grounds. Thus, either a yes or a no could get Jesus into trouble.  If Jesus agreed that it was right to pay taxes to Caesar, the Pharisees would say he was opposed to God, and the people would turn against him.  If Jesus said the taxes should not be paid, the Herodians could hand him over to Herod on the charge of rebellion.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 434)
  • (v. 17) Although the poll-tax may not have been the most costly tax for most people, it was the most resented by Jews. Perhaps it was because they considered themselves as personally belonging to God rather than to Caesar.  It was the census tax that incited the insurrection of Judas of Galilee in A.D. 6 that was instrumental in the deposing of Herod Archelaus and his replacement by a Roman governor.  Judas’ rallying cry was that, because God was their only God and Lord, the census tax would not be paid to Rome.  As Gamaliel reminded the Sanhedrin when Peter and the other apostles were being questioned in Jerusalem, the rebel Judas “perished, and all those who followed him were scattered” (Acts 5:37).  It was the nationalistic, anti-Roman sentiment of Judas on which the Zealot movement was built and that was behind the rebellion of A.D. 66 that eventuated in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple four years later.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 319)
  • (v. 18) A hypocrite says one thing but means something else. He pretends to do one thing but intends to do another.  He is play-acting, dissembling.  He is hiding his real face under a mask.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 802)
  • (v. 19) The coin itself is quite a visual aid to their hypocrisy. In this silver coin Jesus wants them to see their hypocritical reflection.  “Most pious of pious Jews, what are you, most separate of the separatists, doing with pagan money in God’s holy temple?  How is it that you hold in your holy hands idolatrous images with blasphemous inscriptions?”  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 638)
  • (v. 21) Apodidōmi (“give back”) carries the idea of paying back to someone that which is his or her due. The tax collected by the emperor was not a gift but a payment for benefit received.  In approving payment of the tax, Jesus indicated his disapproval of the extreme attitude held by the Zealots.  The act would show that a person could pay tax to a foreign dignitary who was accorded divine status by some without compromising the first two commandments.  (Robert H. Mounce, New International Biblical Commentary: Matthew, 208)


The question to be answered is . . . Why is this encounter between Jesus’ opponents and Jesus crucial for our day?


Answer:  We live in fear, worry, and bondage because we are blind to the fact that our loving Almighty God is sovereign over all; even the financial interests, the political process, the legislative agendas, and judicial courts.  


The subject unquestionably is one of great difficulty and delicacy.  It is certain that the church must not swallow up the state; it is no less certain that the state must not swallow up the church.  On no point, perhaps, have conscientious people been so much tried; on no point have good people disagreed so much as in solving the problem where the things of Caesar end, and where the things of God begin.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 207)



The question was politically loaded.  “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?”  If He said yes, He would be abdicating His Messianic claims.  The Messiah, they thought, would never agree to pay tribute to a Gentile power, especially one so ruthless and rapacious as Rome.  He was to be a deliverer.  He was to set up the glorious global empire that was the theme of so many OT prophets.  Jesus had been heralded in those temple courts as the Son of David, but if He said yes, He would be discredited as the Messiah.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 421-2)


The Word for the Day is . . . Sovereign


What is this encounter with Jesus telling us?:


I-  We are obligated to submit to God-established governing authorities as far as their authority extends and as far as your Holy Spirit-sensitive conscience will allow.  (Mt 22:15-17, 22; see also: 2 Kgs 18:19-19:37; 2 Chr 32:19-23; Isa chps 36-37; Jer 29:4-14; Dn chps 4-5; Mk 12:14-17; Lk 20:20-25; Jn 19:11; Acts 4:19; 5:28-29; Rom 13:1-7; 1 Tm 2:1-6; Ti 3:1-2 ; 1 Pt 2:13-17; Rv chps 13, 18)


The Jews hated to pay taxes to Rome because the money supported their oppressors and symbolized their subjection.  Much of the tax money also went to maintain the heathen temples and luxurious lifestyles of Rome’s upper class.  The Jews also hated the system that allowed tax collectors to charge exorbitant rates and keep the extra for themselves.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 434)


In the NT epistles–written at a time when the Roman government wasn’t chummy with the church–there are no Christian writings on revolution.  There aren’t even political gripes.  Instead we find calls for prayer, subjection, and respect.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 640)


Of course, Jesus’ reply is not a legal statute resolving every issue.  Where Caesar claims what is God’s, the claims of God have priority (Acts 4:19; 5:29; much of Rev).  Nevertheless Jesus’ pithy words not only answer his enemies but also lay down the basis for the proper relationship of his people to government.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 460)


We must be law-abiding citizens, rendering to those who govern the state that which they have a constitutional right to demand.  We do not have the right to disobey lawful authority, even when, as in the case of the Jews, the authority is a kind that we naturally detest.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 423)


He was not evading the issue, but was clearly saying, “Yes, pay the tax.”  Honoring God does not mean dishonoring the emperor by refusing to pay for the privileges–a relatively orderly society, police protection, good roads, courts, etc., etc.–one enjoys.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 803)


Because Christians recognize the authority of the state, they should be the very best of citizens.  They should obey the state in all areas of its legitimate authority.  They should obey the speed limits, pay their taxes honestly, vote in elections, support worthy civic endeavors, speak well of their rulers, and support and pray for them.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 476)


Christians should also be the very best of citizens by opposing the state verbally and even by acts of noncompliance whenever the government strays from its legitimate God-given function or violates the moral law of God.  We are to do this chiefly by words, that is, by rational argument, not by coercive power.  The power of the sword is the state’s, not ours.  However, we must resist and even disobey the state when necessary, such as if the state were to forbid us to evangelize, since the command to evangelize has been given to us by Jesus Christ himself.  It is also necessary in matters of morality, such as if the state were to command us to do something contrary to the revealed law of God.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 476)


Every Christian has a double citizenship.  Christians are citizens of the country in which they happen to live.  To it they owe many things.  They owe the safety against lawless people which only settled government can give; they owe all public services.  To take a simple example, few are wealthy enough to have a lighting system or a cleansing system or a water system of their own.  These are public services.  In a welfare state, citizens owe still more to the state–education, medical services, provision for unemployment and old age.  This places them under a debt of obligation.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 319)


Because Christians are men and women of honor, they must be responsible citizens; failure in good citizenship is also failure in Christian duty.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 319)


We are to pay our taxes and obey the law if doing so does not conflict with our obedience and loyalty to God.  In such matters of conscience, no one has the right to tell another person where his duty lies.  But in most cases, our duty to the rulers of our land is in no way incompatible with our duty to God.  (John Phillips, Exploring the Gospels: Matthew, 423-4)


He was qualifying his “yes” answer by stating that the emperor should be paid (given back) only what was his due.  Hence, the divine honor which the emperor claimed but which is due to God alone must be refused.  How could the Pharisees find any fault with that?  Besides, this word was a warning to all–from the most exalted emperor to the subject lowest in rank–not to claim undue honors.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 803)


By drawing a distinction between “what is due to Caesar” and “what is due to God” Jesus was rejecting the very claim of Caesar, a claim made on the coin and otherwise, to the effect that his was not only a physical kingdom but also a spiritual.  (William Hendriksen, NT Commentary: Matthew, 804)


II-  We are obligated to submit to God in all things.  (Mt 22:21b; see also: 1 Sm 2:6-8; 1 Chr 29:11-12; 2 Chr 20:6; Job 9:12; Ps 24:1; 47:2-8;  Prv 8:15; Isa ch 40; Jer 27:5; 32:27-28;  Dn 2:20-21, 35-38; Mk 12:17; Lk 20:25; Acts 17:24-25; 1 Cor 6:20; 10:31; 1 Tm 6:15-16)


I believe the point of what Jesus is teaching here is that you need to be spiritually sensitive so you can recognize and submit to the authority structures that God has ordained for you to be under.  Whose image is on the coin?   Who minted the coin?  Who has rightful authority over the use of that coin?  Give to him whose image the coin bears what you owe him.   Whose image do you as a person bear?   Who made you?   Who has rightful authority over the use of you?  Give to Him whose image you as a person bear what you owe Him.  What do you owe God?  Why?  — Pastor Keith


Citizenship in the kingdom of God doesn’t lessen commitments.  In fact, it often intensifies them!  Marriage duties, parental roles, church involvement, earthly citizenship–all take specific place under God’s authority.  Make sure your commitment to God stays strong, then all your priorities will be under his authority.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 433)


So the idea (and application) is:  if you should freely give a few denarii to Tiberias Caesar Augustus, son of the so-called “divine” Augustus, shouldn’t you then give everything to the Most High God?  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 641-2)


Caesar had the right to claim their tax money, but he had no claim on their souls.  The Jews had a responsibility to render to God the things that are God’s.  While they lived in the Roman world, the Jews had to face the dual reality of subjection to Rome and responsibility to God.  Jesus explained that they could do both if they kept their priorities straight.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 435)


For giving back to God what is God’s cf. the parable of the vineyard, which focuses on the importance of “giving back” (21:41, using the same verb as here) to God the fruits which are his due (21:34, 41, 43); is there the implication that in their concern over what is demanded by the emperor they have forgotten their more important obligation?  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 834)


There are matters of religion and of principle in which the responsibility of Christians is to God.  It may well be that the two citizenships will never clash; they do not need to.  But when Christians are convinced that it is God’s will that something should be done, it must be done; or, if they are convinced that something is against the will of God, they must resist it and take no part in it.  Where the boundaries between the two duties lie, Jesus does not say.  That is for our own consciences to test.  But real Christians–and this is the permanent truth which Jesus here lays down–are at one and the same time good citizens of their country and good citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  They will fail in their duty neither to God nor to society.  They will, as Peter said, “Fear God.  Honor the emperor” (1 Pt 2:17).  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 319-20)


Should we give time and attention to our families or our work?  Can we communicate our relationship with God through the work we do or by setting our work aside and engaging our fellow workers in conversation?  Should we support our church or other worthy causes?  According to Jesus’ handling of this situation, these problems are issues of timing and priority, not right and wrong.  The real challenge for most of us concerns whether or not we are doing what we should be doing at the appropriate time.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 433)


III-  Pride quenches the work of the Holy Spirit to allow us to repent and begin seeing the truth of God’s sovereignty so we might be free.  (Mt 22:16, 21a; see also: Ps 10:4; Prv 11:2; 16:18-19; 18:12; 21:4; 29:23; Mt 15:14; Mt 23:16-19, 24-26; Mk 12:14; Lk 20:20; Jn 1:4-9; 3:19-21; 2:25; 8:31-47; 9:39-41;  Rom 1:18-32; 3:9-21; 1 Cor 1:18-2:16 ; Eph 5:8-13; Jms 4:6; 1 Pt 5:5; 2 Pt 1:9)


The hypocrisy of the Pharisees is laid out in Matthew 23, as Jesus offers a blistering critique of these self-righteous rulers.  They did not want to submit to Jesus because that would have meant losing power in the eyes of the people; their egos would have been crushed.  This happens today as well, as some reject Jesus because they want to retain power over their lives and over the lives of others.  They may claim to know God, but they are really two-faced hypocrites.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 293)


What is so interesting here is that their buttering him up is both irrational and ironic.  It’s irrational because if they really believed that Jesus couldn’t be moved by the opinions of others (i.e., by being buttered up), why then butter him up?  Their sweet talk makes no sense.  It’s irrational.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 637)


The irony is that their hypocrisy unmasks both their true identity and Jesus’.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 637)


Clearly they did not understand whom they were dealing with.  This was the only Man to walk the earth whose brain had not been clouded by the effects of sin.  The God-man was the most brilliant genius who ever visited this planet, but these men thought they could trap him.  It was their hope to impale Jesus on the horns of a dilemma, to confront Him with a question that would land Him in trouble with someone no matter how He answered it.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 632)


True to what they had said, Jesus had been sincere, showed no deference or partiality, and truthfully taught God’s way even when asked about a hotly debated topic.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 435)


What brought about the ruin of Samson?  Not the armies of the Philistines, but the pretended love of a Philistine woman.  What led to Solomon’s backsliding?  Not the strength of outward enemies, but the blandishment of his numerous wives.  What was the cause of King Hezekiah’s greatest mistake?  Not the sword of Sennacherib, or the threats of the field commander, but the flattery of the Babylonian ambassadors.  Let us remember these things, and be on our guard.  Peace often ruins nations more than war; sweet things occasion far more sickness than bitter; the sun makes the traveler cast off his protective garments far sooner than the north wind.  Let us beware of the flatterer.  Satan is never so dangerous as when he appears as an angel of light:  the world is never so dangerous to the Christian as when it smiles.  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 206)


Alister Begg on people who ask all sorts of questions about issues that are not dealt with from the Bible (Cain’s wife, Noah and the flood, Jonah and the whale), “They are not conducting an investigation, they are mounting an opposition.” (Alistair Begg message, The Authority of Jesus).


When you come face to face with the undeniable Truth, don’t walk away; submit. — Pastor Keith



Worship Point:  Almighty God is love and sovereign.  When these two truths sink in you realize there is no longer any reason to worry or fear.   Worship the God Who brings you life in all of its abundance.


Jesus’ answer in v. 21 calls into question the basic presupposition behind their question, that there is an essential incompatibility between loyalty to the governing authority and loyalty to God.  This was precisely Judas’ position as explained by Josephus in War 2.118 (cf. Ant. 18:23):   to pay the tax was to tolerate a mortal sovereign in place of God.  Jesus asserts that this is not necessarily so:  it is possible to pay one’s dues both to the emperor and to God, to be both a dutiful citizen and a loyal servant of God.  This principle, more fully expounded in Rom 13:1-7 and 1 Pt 2:13-17, has now been so widely recognized for so long that it causes no surprise to many of us in many parts of the world, but in first-century Palestine under Roman rule it was not at all so obvious.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 830)


I am very concerned today about Christian political animosity.  We live in a republic, and living in a republic gives us greater freedoms to express our views through petitions, voting, letters, and so on.  But I wonder how many evangelical Christians today pray for our government leaders, including (and especially) our President.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 640)


Jesus was remarkably indifferent to those who held political power.  He had no desire to replace Caesar or Pilate with His apostles Peter or John.  He gave civil authority its due, rebuking both the Zealots and Peter for using the sword.  This infuriated the religious right of His day.  Eager to discredit Jesus, the Pharisees and Herodians tried trapping Him over the question of allegiance to political authority.

“Tell us,” they asked, “is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

The question put Jesus in the middle:  If He said no, He would be a threat to the Roman government; if He said yes, He would lose the respect of the masses who hated the Romans.

Jesus asked them for a coin.  It was a Roman denarius, the only coin that could be used to pay the hated yearly poll tax.  On one side was the image of the Emperor Tiberius, around which were written the words Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the divine Augustus.

“Whose portrait is this?” He asked.  “And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied impatiently.

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” replied Jesus, handing the coin back to them.  They stared at Him in stunned silence.

Not only Had He eluded the trap, but He had also put Caesar in his place.  Christ might simply have said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”  That’s all that was at issue.  It was Caesar’s image on the coin, and Caesar had authority over the state.

What made Him add the second phrase, “Give…to God what is God’s”?

The answer, I believe, is found on the reverse face of the coin, which showed Tiberius’ mother represented as the goddess of peace, along with the words highest priest.  The blasphemous words commanded the worship of Caesar; they thus exceeded the state’s authority.

Jesus’ lesson was not lost on the early church.  Government is to be respected and its rule honored.  “It is necessary to submit to the authorities,” wrote the apostle Paul.  “If you owe taxes, pay taxes.”  But worship is reserved solely for God.  (Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, 116-7)


Gospel Application:  We enjoy a life that is free of worry and fear, not on the basis of our own merits or accomplishments, but on the merits of Christ through Whom we have access to God.  If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed (Jn 8:36).


Spiritual Challenge:  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight (Prv 3:5-6).


Matthew tells us that they “left Him and went their way,” not God’s way.  We need to search our hearts and make sure we are going God’s way, not just in paying our taxes and our tithes, but in all things.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 635)



So What?:  Jesus wants you to know the truth so the truth can set you free (Jn 8:31-32).  Realize that to the extent we ignore or disobey Jesus’ teachings and the Holy Spirit’s leading, we will be torn by the ambiguities of life with the result being worry, fear, and bondage.   


 So if the Son sets you free,

you will be free indeed.— John 8:36



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