Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." Then He said to them, "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's." And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away. Matthew 22:15-22
What really happened here? And what is it that foiled this carefully laid trap? What caused these conspirators to walk away in amazement? More importantly, how is it that most modern teachings have made this story - as well as the rest of the miraculous life of Christ - so pathetically UN-amazing?
Well, I'm here to tell you that the answer is no deeper than the simplicity of Christ. For the only thing you have to dig through is the crusty layer of religious bondage that has been piled on top of the simple distinction between life and death.
This was a clever attempt by two groups hoping to trap Jesus in a legal game. Consider the players: the disciples of the Pharisees (who were the religious leadership) and the Herodians (who were the political followers of Herod, the regional puppet-king of Caesar). Strange bedfellows indeed! After all, the Herodians represented Caesar, the ruler of the known world, while the Pharisees portrayed themselves as representing GOD, the judge of all the world. But both sides foresaw a payoff in joining forces against a common enemy.
To the Pharisees, Jesus was the wrong deliverer. After all, as they had claimed, He was impartial, and deferred to no one - especially to them! He exposed their hypocrisy and challenged their authority. As they saw it, His movement could ruin the fragile power granted to them by Caesar.
To the Herodians, the problems created by Jesus might move Rome to depose Herod and appoint a new king, which means they would lose their positions.
Caesar held the power, and both sides knew it. So, even though their political and religious agendas were in opposition they let each other enjoy the illusion of being in control.
It could easily be missed because it failed, but their trap had been masterfully planned out - Was it "LAWFUL" to pay taxes to Caesar? Here's what was at stake: A "Yes" would mean that Jesus recognized another authority - that is, another GOD; while a "No" would have been a public defiance of Caesar. Either answer would have been punishable by death! The fact that the Pharisees had ALREADY acknowledged Caesar's authority would have been publicly denied by both Pharisee and Herodian.
It turns out that the simple truth is what baffled them all. What truth? Money? No. What Jesus did was to make a clear distinction between what is "of man" and what is "of God".
Now, don't make the mistake of thinking "spiritual vs. physical" because God created the physical world, and at each stage said, "It is very good!". No, it's found in what happened to the creation when sin entered the world.
Don't get complex on me now, because I'm telling you, this is so basic that we trip over it. For being made in the image of God, man became the EXPRESSION OF GOD in the physical realm. In other words, God's character was understood by examining a human being. But something has obviously gone wrong, and it's called sin - which is something else we have grossly misunderstood. Why? Because we think it is defined by comparing and rating individual sins according to a standard of degree.
Two tragic things have happened through sin. Not only is God's character not expressed through man, man's character has also been lost in the transaction. For every soul born of man has been destined to a life of desperation in the futile pursuit of expressing itself. And it has left a trail of death and destruction in the process.
You see, after sin entered and God removed His life from man, all that was left was merely the HINT of God. I don't mean to say that God left a little bit of Himself still in there, but that His ABSENCE has been impossible to ignore. Human history is a declaration to all that some key ingredient is missing from humanity, which if discovered, could have the power to change its entire course.
Here is the insanity of humanity. In its emptiness and delusion, it has taken credit for the appearance - or hint - of the goodness, strength, nobility, etc that PRETENDS to be more than just superficial. Man has attempted to remake the world in his own image, making his mark on everything, like a wolf urinating to mark its territory.
Back to the story. Jesus asks for a coin. As He takes it, He holds it up and asks,
Whose IMAGE is on this coin? Whose inscription is written on it? Matthew 22:20
There, for all to see, was the IMAGE of a MAN - with an inscription that designated HIM as being God. I'm told that on the other side of that coin was the image of the emperor's mother, claiming her to be the mother of God. I wonder how long and intense that silence must have lasted before one of them finally said, "Caesar's."
Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's. Matthew 22:21
This has been taught as being "practical", but not as being "amazing". Why? Because we've turned it into an INSTRUCTION that needs to be obeyed instead of seeing it as a REALITY that cannot be avoided.
Do you see why the conspirators left in amazement? First of all, Jesus somehow got around their surefire plan to destroy Him. But more importantly, it was HOW He did it. You see, He not only answered them with a wisdom beyond their understanding, but they could not argue this obvious insinuation: That their whole existence was defined NOT by the image of GOD, but by the image of MAN!
Do you want to know what else? Every one of your dilemmas, every one of those impossible situations in your life has its roots in the same insanity. That insanity still hopes to find the elusive ingredient to bring about some kind of real change. BUT THERE IS NO SUCH SECRET THAT MAY BE FOUND! All such attempts - no matter "righteous" sounding - are found within the false image of MAN. This is the "rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar's". And if you have died with Christ then you are no longer obligated to the old futile existence.
The reality of God has been declared in CHRIST. For in Him the life of God has been restored - for HE IS THE IMAGE OF GOD, HE IS THE PERFECT EXPRESSION OF GOD. And all who are in Christ have been made NEW in this reality! In HIM we "render to God the things that are God's", so let us live as those who have been remade in the image of God!