We are in a very charged political season this year, and it is causing a lot of division. This is nothing new. If you want to divide a room, shout out your support for either presidential candidate. Matthew records that the Pharisees “went and plotted how to entangle him (Jesus) in his words” (Matthew 22:15 ESV). The Pharisees sent both their followers and the Herodians, a sect of the Hellenistic Jews who were loyal to Herod Antipas, a Roman tetrarch in Galilee.
Their question was attempting to divide Jesus’ loyalty between God and the Roman emperor. They said, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:16-17).
Jesus was not falling for their trap. Jesus’ loyalty was to God. But that loyalty doesn’t mean that believers were exempt from Rome’s tax. Jesus asked them to pull out a coin. They did, and Jesus asked who’s image was on the coin. It had the likeness of Caesar on it. Jesus answered, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are God’s” (vs. 21). In answering, Jesus was remaining neutral. His allegiance wasn’t about to be pledged to Caesar. At the same time, Roman law required all citizens to pay taxes. And those taxes were very high. It put a strain on the poor.
We can still remain loyal to God and neutral towards political leaders. Our identity is not tied to any one political candidate. Regardless of who “Caesar” is, God is still God.