Luke 20:20-26: “Foolish Flattery and A Firm Answer”
“So, they watched Him, and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words in order to deliver Him to the power and authority of the governor. Then they asked Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?’
“But He perceived their craftiness and said to them, ‘Why do you test Me? Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?’ They answered and said, ‘Caesar’s.’ And He said to them, ‘Render therefore the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ But they could not catch Him in His words or in the presence of the people. They marveled at His answer and kept quiet” (Luke 20:20-26, NKJV).
The days are winding down on Jesus’ public ministry, and He has spent His time teaching the crowds within the confines of the Temple in Jerusalem. He is fully aware of the coming agony of taking on the task of providing our redemption from sin and its eternal consequences. The pain from what He will have to undergo physically, along with becoming the bearer of our sins and the spiritual agony, is no doubt starting to weigh in on Him.
If that was not enough, He has also borne the religious and government officials’ incessant questioning and harassment. They have been following Him around all this time in a vain attempt to outsmart Him or corner Him with a dilemma or question that would ruin His standing before the people if answered a certain way. This would give His enemies the opportunity they have been seeking, which was to have Jesus imprisoned on set charges, have Him tried, found guilty, executed, and get rid of Him once and for all.
Jesus’ enemies believe that they have come up with what they see as a sure-fire way to get the job done. They will set Him up with a question that they will ask Him in public, and then watch Him be unable to give an effective answer. The question would deal with an issue that would bring down wrath and disgrace on Him, or so they believed. The issue centered on the Jewish population being made to pay taxes to the hated Roman authorities under Emperor Tiberius Caesar. If Jesus answered “Yes,” then He would immediately lose all favor with the people. If He said, “No,” He could be accused of being an insurrectionist against the Empire and arrested. It looked on the surface that this scheme would be the nail in the LORD’S casket.
No one else in history has undergone or been the subject of scrutiny, criticism, questioning, skepticism, and outright persecution as has the Lord Jesus. No one who has either read about Him or was actually in His presence ended with a neutral assessment of Him, His teachings, miracles, or the claim He made about His relationship with God the Father and His claim of Divinity for Himself. People have either loved or hated Him throughout the annals of time. He either brought about revival or sparked a riot; if not in the street, it was started in the soul of those convicted of their sin but unwilling to let go of it, remaining content in self-delusion that all was well with them.
There have always been those individuals who think that they can challenge Almighty God and His ways and walk away in triumph, smug and arrogant over what they believe has once and for all silenced Him as far as His existence, power, or nature is concerned. Their plans and alleged dilemmas have impressed gullible and deluded crowds who felt the same way about the idea of being subject and accountable to no one but themselves and see skepticism as the best idea for what is really nothing more than a pitiful game of wishful thinking. What is missing in this narrative of foolishness is the horror that his or her journey of unbelief will bring them to when the time comes for their last breath. It is at this moment where, too late, they start to worry, panic, and question whether their rebellion was of any significant worth and that maybe there is something or Someone that exists beyond the grave.
Stories abound with the final words of atheists, skeptics, and infidels who spent their last minutes in abject terror of what they were about to face and cries of regret over their acts of defiance, only to discover that all the efforts they put into their rebellion were for nothing and a useless waste of time and talent. Look up this topic of the last words of unbelievers on your computer or tablet, and be prepared to shudder. If you are in this group of what the Scripture refers to as “fools,” you have been given mercy and time from the God in Whom you have not believed or acknowledged to make things right, repent, and surrender your life to the Lord Jesus Christ NOW.
Jesus saw right through this plot and its intentions, and immediately rebuked the officials and their spies for their treachery and deceit. He puts them in their place by asking them for the same coin that they were to use as a weapon against Him. The coin was known as a denarius, the daily wage given to a laborer or indentured servant as a means of paying off a debt and to care for their families’ daily needs. These units of currency had the image of the emperor in power at that time, being Tiberius Caesar (14-37 A.D.). Archaeologists have uncovered coins bearing the images of other emperors such as Claudius (41-54 A.D.), Nero (54-68 A.D.), and their respective successors. The existence of the denarius is solid and is a piece of evidence that gives us a portrait of life in ancient Rome and other areas of the known world at that time.
As Jesus holds the coin in His hand, He asks His adversaries if they recognize the image on it. They reply that it is of Caesar. What is Caesar owed, besides tribute? He is owed civil behavior by obeying the laws and living a peaceful life. He will not interfere with you or your business if you operate within the confines of the law and its regulations. Caesar is also owed support in our prayers and intercession that he may rule wisely and well, and that He might be redeemed by God (Romans 13:1-8; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14).
Now then, what do we owe God? We owe Him our worship, our lives, our devotion, our love, our gifts and talents, our prayers, our thanks, our salvation, our first fruits, and our livelihood. Unless the governing powers insist and demand that all worship, honor, and total obedience be given to them in place of God, we are to be good examples of citizenship towards those who are over us in places of authority. Only when they openly turn against the authority of God do we then possess the right to protest and take action that would result in either a new, more righteous government with changes in leadership, or to stand firmly for Jesus Christ and be as one of whom the world is not worthy.
Nowhere in Scripture is there any support for anarchy or violent revolutions which produce nothing but tyranny and confusion. We have the right to defend ourselves, but not to live in an atmosphere of national recklessness and the absence of authority. We should not be the cause of planting sin and sorrow in the minds and hearts of others who would end up openly violent towards the government.
The Lord Jesus is the rightful King of all creation, and that includes this world, in which He will soon return to claim and rid us of all those, including the architect of rebellion, Satan and his hordes. He will cast them into the eternal Lake of Fire as the just and absolute punishment for their sins and wickedness that have spawned anarchy against not just the governments of nations, but against God’s total and absolute authority over the souls of people and the universe in which they dwell, both now and the future to come.
Those of us who are the followers of Jesus Christ are the heirs of the new heaven and earth that is arriving sooner than many of us would like to think. Until then, let us be good examples of citizenship and godly behavior in this country. Pray for our leaders and keep looking up, for our redemption is truly drawing close. The Caesars and their descendants are gone. Only Jesus is forever. Amen.