What did Jesus really say to Christians about paying taxes?

Should Christians vote based on where tax dollars go?  I know many Christians who think they do exactly that.  As in give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  You know the issues.  Abortion.  LGBT.  Immigration – illegal immigrants, emphasis on “illegal.  These topics and many others are hot button issues for many on the so-called Christian-right.  While they may be “right, in the sense that “right” indicates conservatives / Republicans – are they “right” as in the sense of right and wrong?  We’ll get to the liberal left in a moment.

Should Christians vote based on where tax dollars go?  Give to Caesar and give to God.What did Jesus really say to Christians about paying taxes?

I’ve written about the tendency of religious leaders to promote voting Republican.  And I’ve questioned why they do it.  Not to mention, why so many who claim to be Christian also insist on voting Republican.

But something hit me the other day.  Remember this scenario?

Paying Taxes to Caesar

22:15-22 pp — Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26

Mt 22:15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Mt 22:18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”

Mt 22:21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Mt 22:22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

What was said to Jesus about Himself

Let’s look first at what happened here.  The Pharisees were trying to set Jesus up.  They wanted Him to say something that could be used against Him.  Today, in our legal system, that’s known as entrapment.

Do you know, that the police today are allowed to lie to a suspect?  The analogy is appropriate since the Pharisees were acting as the religious police – they used their disciples as agents of the religious police, much like an intern today – and those disciples went to speak with Jesus.  To lay the trap.

Look again what those disciples said.  And realize that they were doing what the Pharisees told them to do.  Just like in a police trap today.

“Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.”

Just how much, or how little, of that do you think was true?

we know you are a man of integrity – they didn’t believe that at all.  They thought Jesus was a blasphemer or the worst kind.  If you’re not exactly sure what a blasphemer is, here’s the definition from yourdictionary.comOne who commits blasphemy; a person who mocks or derides a deity or religion, or claims to be God. As the religious police, the Pharisees did not consider a person who was mocking God to be a man of integrity.  Worse yet, Jesus claimed to be God.  Therefore, as I said, He was considered to be a blasphemer of the worst kind.  By having their disciples tell Jesus we know you are a man of integrity, they were clearly lying to Him.

Moving along, we next read,

you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth – obviously, this is another lie. By now, the analogy between today’s police and the Pharisees acting as the religious police should be showing us something.  Today’s laws give permission for police to lie to suspects.  That’s not making a judgment on whether it’s morally right or wrong.  It’s just the way the law is.  

However, given that the Pharisees are acting, in essence, as the moral police for the religion of God’s chosen people, how can they justify lying?  How can they justify throwing away one of the original Ten Commandments in order to do anything?

And finally, we read,

You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are – which is probably a half truth.  Jesus wasn’t swayed by any man.  In fact, we see that Jesus wasn’t even swayed by Satan.  However, given that this phrase was used to set up the last part – even the truth of what they said seems to get lost in all the lies surrounding it.

That statement about Jesus not paying attention to who people are is so wrong.  The entire Bible puts that statement to the lie.  I shouldn’t need to, but let’s look at just one thing.  Two parts, but one “thing”.

Jesus Again Predicts His Death

20:17-19 pp — Mk 10:32-34; Lk 18:31-33

Mt 20:17 Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

and

Jn 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

If Jesus really didn’t care about people, He would have just stayed in Heaven and let all of us just, quite literally, go to Hell. 

Far from not paying attention to people, as the charge from the Pharisees said, Jesus went through the humiliation, the suffering and the death that He experienced – because He did, in fact, care a great deal about all people.

What was said to Jesus about Himself – why does it matter?

I bring all that up to ask you, the reader, a question that I ask myself.  Are you a card-carrying, or maybe a closet member of today’s religious police?  Do you believe Jesus has integrity?  Do you think that Jesus is truthful?  And do you believe that Jesus has a deep concern for each and every one of us?

For some, the answers are easy.  Of course – we believe all those things.  Anything else wouldn’t be “proper”.  But how about asking God to examine you?  You know, maybe, like David did?  See what He says.  It’s important.  We need to be true followers of Jesus, listening to what He said.  Believing what He said.  And doing what He said.  Accepting Jesus as He is.  Not making Jesus in our preferred image.

We’ll get into what that means, shortly.  But first, what about the liberals?

What did Jesus really say to Christians about paying taxes?

If you’re a regular reader on either of my sites – this one or godversusreligion.com – you’ve read plenty on how I feel about the so-called religious right.  They’re an easy target.  And let’s face it, according to all the pools, most voting Christians appear to be conservative.

But for this topic, the same questions apply to conservatives and liberals alike. 

Let’s be honest – in the middle of all that voting for Republican candidates, conservative Christians are doing a lot of damage to some of the people Jesus spoke of the most.  The poor.  The aliens (immigrants).  Children.  And more.  And let’s be honest about something else.  The liberal democrats tend to be the ones who appear to have much more concern for the people in that list. 

Say what you like about some of the other liberal views.  I don’t support all of them either.  But still, if we look at actions, who’s doing more for those groups of people I just listed.  For the groups Jesus said His followers should be concerned about?  And show compassion for them?  Hint:  It’s not the religious right.

The implications of what Jesus said about taxes

Now – consider this.  Think about it.  Hard.  Pray about it.  Even harder.

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

Guess what?  

Those taxes Jesus said His followers should pay?  They paid the soldiers who tortured Jesus.  They paid for the cross that Jesus was hung on.  And they paid the soldiers who stripped Jesus, Nailed Jesus to that cross, and killed Jesus.

And Jesus said His followers – us, if you’re Christian – should pay those taxes.

Jesus told His followers, the ones alive in His lifetime, to help pay for the instruments of His death.  And Jesus told them to help pay the salaries of those who would carry out His torture and death.

Why then do we, His followers today, seem to believe that His instructions for us would be any different?

What do we think we know today that overrides Jesus own instructions concerning taxes?  What is it that goes on today that’s worse than paying the taxes that contributed to Jesus’ own death?

And it’s not just His death.  Maybe somehow, we think that Jesus’ death was different.  That now we’re somehow supposed to be “better”?  “Smarter”?  More “caring”?

Tiberius was the Roman Emperor when Jesus was doing His ministry and when He crucified.  So when Jesus spoke about paying taxes to Caesar, that’s the specific “Caesar” at the time.  However, not long after, Paul appeared before another Roman Emperor – Nero Claudius Caesar.  Here’s a bit of history about him.

The Neronian persecution was vicious indeed. Tacitus (c. A.D. 60-120), a Roman historian, has preserved a record of this situation. We quote the following from his Annals (XV.44).

“And so, to get rid of this rumor, Nero set up [i.e., falsely accused] as the culprits and punished with the utmost refinement of cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. Christus, from whom their name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. Checked for a moment, this pernicious superstition again broke out, not only in Judea, the source of the evil, but even in Rome….

Accordingly, arrest was first made of those who confessed [to being Christians]; then, on their evidence, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much on the charge of arson as because of [their] hatred for the human race. Besides being put to death they were made to serve as objects of amusement; they were clothed in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight failed.

Nero had thrown open his grounds for the display, and was putting on a show in the circus, where he mingled with the people in the dress of charioteer or drove about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, even towards men whose guilt merited the most exemplary punishment; for it was felt that they were being destroyed not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.”  1)//www.christiancourier.com/articles/623-nero-caesar-and-the-christian-faith

In case you didn’t actually read the excerpt, here are the highlights.  Torn to death by dogs.  Crucified.  Set on fire at night to provide light.  

Those are some of the things Nero Caesar did to the followers of Jesus – Christians – during his reign.

But did Jesus say to pay taxes to Caesar for a few years, and then stop?  Stop because then other people would start to die?  No!  Jesus said no such thing.  What Jesus did say though, is that we would have troubles in this world.  And oh, by the way, Jesus was telling His followers to pay taxes to the very government that was going to bring many of those troubles upon them. 

Jesus said to pay taxes to the government that would kill quite a few of them.  Including all of His disciples, except for Judas and John.  And let’s not forget Paul.

What do we think we know today that’s different?

So I ask again – what do we think we know today that overrides what Jesus said nearly 2,000 years ago?  And what’s happening today that’s worse than what happened during the lifetimes of Jesus and His first followers?  

Have we become so accustomed to hearing these things about the early church that they don’t mean anything to us today?  Do we now realize just how horrible they were? 

Sure, we can maybe tell ourselves that Jesus had to suffer and die.  And then proceed to rejoice that we’re saved.  All the while not even thinking about exactly what He went through?

But even if, somehow, you manage to pull that off, can you even imagine walking down a street at night where some of your fellow church members are providing the lighting, as they burn from a post?  Just what’s worse today than that?

Conclusion #1 – What did Jesus really say to Christians about paying taxes?

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.

Yes, that’s what Jesus said.  I think there’s a reason for the “and” in there.  I have to say though, as I’m looking it up and after writing everything you just read, I’m surprised about what it means.  Why it’s there.  Here’s the Greek word that separates those two statements: giving to Caesar and giving to God.

2532 καί [kai /kahee/] conj. Apparently, a primary particle, having a copulative and sometimes also a cumulative force; GK 2779; 9280 occurrences; AV translates as “and” 8182 times, “also” 515 times, “even” 108 times, “both” 43 times, “then” 20 times, “so” 18 times, “likewise” 13 times, not translated 354 times, translated miscellaneously 46 times, and “vr and” once. 1 and, also, even, indeed, but. Additional Information: Frequency count based on 1894 Scrivener Greek New Testament.  2)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Note:  a copulative and sometimes also a cumulative force.

If you don’t know what copulative means, here’s the definition in this context:

(of a word) connecting words or clauses linked in sense.

So yes, “and” is clearly a connecting word between Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.  
Given the question, it’s reasonable to look at the two as being linked.

But then note, sometimes also a cumulative force.

That’s the part that surprised me.  But maybe not the way you expect.

Part of my “research” process is to pray about what I’m going to write.  Often times, I’m surprised about where the writing takes me.  This time, the surprise is that during my prayer – a two-way conversation with God – I kept getting a sense that somehow I should link this with times in the Old Testament where it says that God “raises up” leaders.  But I kept telling myself it made no sense to do that.

And now, after finally getting to this point, here I am staring right at the concept that giving to Caesar and giving to God are related.  And nut just somehow related, but that there’s a cumulative effect from the two.

Almost three years ago, I wrote something titled “Do we have the leader we deserve, need or both? Revisited“.  It needs to be updated.  But it makes a point that many people don’t realize.  When the Bible says, in English, that God raises up leaders it can mean two different things.  It requires a deeper study to know which applies in any given case.  One is that God does, in fact, step into our world in ways we don’t see and causes people to come to power.  However, other times, God allows events to take place without His intervention.  In either case though, the leaders we end up with are the ones God knows that we need.

Sometimes the benefit is obvious.  Other times, we look at what I just wrote and wonder what the heck was God thinking by allowing / raising that person to come to power?  There’s a reason.  One that we may not understand.  Maybe not now.  Maybe not later either.  But there is one.

So what’s the point of this cumulative effect from Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s?

We should know, as Christians, the reasons for and the importance of give to God what is God’s.

But do we realize that when we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s we also give to God what is Gods?  

Yes, the leaders are from God.  And God has His reasons for them being whatever position they occupy.  Therefore, when we pay our taxes we are giving to the leaders that God has ordained to be in power.  As I said, we don’t know why any of them occupy the positions they do.  God does, but we aren’t God, and so we don’t know.

But know this.  When we decide to do something at odds with what Jesus taught, we very much run the risk of putting ourselves in the position of trying to interfering with God’s plan.  I submit that’s exactly what happens when we, as Christians, try to vote based on where our taxes might be spent in ways that we think the Bible teaches are wrong.  Yes – I really said that.

How many times have you read about a situation in the Bible where you thought something was wrong?  There should be plenty of them.  Even some of the authors themselves thought things were wrong.  And were screaming at God to intervene.  For instance:

Habakkuk’s Complaint

Hab 1:2 How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?

Hab 1:3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.

Hab 1:4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

What if a modern-day Habakkuk started a movement to get people to vote for a leader who would make things better?  Where would that leave him, and those going along with him, when God says this:

The LORD’S Answer

Hab 1:5 “Look at the nations and watch— 
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days 
that you would not believe, 
even if you were told.

Hab 1:6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people, 
who sweep across the whole earth 
to seize dwelling places not their own.

Hab 1:7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves 
and promote their own honor.

Hab 1:8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, 
fiercer than wolves at dusk. 
Their cavalry gallops headlong; 
their horsemen come from afar. 
They fly like a vulture swooping to devour;

Hab 1:9 they all come bent on violence. 
Their hordes advance like a desert wind 
and gather prisoners like sand.

Hab 1:10 They deride kings 
and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities; 
they build earthen ramps and capture them.

Hab 1:11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
guilty men, whose own strength is their god.”

Say what!!??

Habakkuk is complaining to God that things are bad and He needs to fix them.  And God says, you haven’t seen anything yet.  Things are going to get a whole lot worse. 

Of course, later God will make them better.

But sometimes better comes later.  Like it’s darkest just before the dawn.  So the midnight kind of darkness has to get darker, before the sun finally comes up.

Sure – we can vote.  We’re fortunate if we actually live in a country where we’re allowed to vote.  But maybe there’s something other than right and wrong for the things we do.  Rather than vote based on abortion or taking care of the poor, we should look at something else?

How about something we looked at earlier.  Character.  Remember when we read,

we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.

What if we look at the character of the person, rather than the things we think God wants us to vote for.  There’s a reason I say that.  It’s because there’s something else God says a lot in the Bible.  This particular example comes from Jeremiah:

Jer 24:4 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 5 “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. 6 My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. 7 I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.

Yes, sometimes things have to get worse before many of us will actually call out to God for help.

For those of us who already trust God, try to follow Jesus, maybe bad leaders aren’t for us.  Maybe they’re God’s way of trying to reach out to more of His people.  And if that’s the case, and we’re out there trying to cram Christianity down people’s throats, turning them off to God even more than they already were, what do we think we’ve accomplished?

Maybe it comes down to this.  Do we really care about people?  Care, as in the way Jesus cared?  Or are we trying to be good religious police, Pharisees, thinking that if we pass laws then people will somehow come to know God? 

There’s nothing in the Bible to support that last position.  Absolutely nothing.

I’m not trying to tell you who to vote for.  I’m just trying to tell you that if you’re Christian, look at the privilege of voting from a truly Biblical point of view.  Look at our example – Jesus.  Consider that everything, including the government, belongs to God.  And God’s goal isn’t to punish – it’s to save.  God’s goal isn’t to turn people away from Him.  God’s goal is to bring people to Him.

Conclusion #2 – what does this all mean?

I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever had two conclusions.  I have to, really.  Because, if you didn’t notice, the first one’s impossible.  It’s not gonna happen.  Trying to find a candidate for political office in this country is a non-starter.  If it was ever really possible, it’s not anymore.  Our current president, Trump, has destroyed any chance for that.  

And maybe, no certainly, that’s because he’s exactly what we need and deserve right now.  

Remember what I said about crying out to God for help?  And the thing about They will be my people, and I will be their God.  And don’t forget about things being darker before they get better?

Those are the reasons my second conclusion is to think about all that stuff from the first one.  But while we’re at it, Christians really need to pray.  And no, I don’t mean pray for your chosen candidate.  I mean pray for this country to return to God.  Yes, return to the God we seem to have so proudly disavowed.

We all know, in words anyway, that we shouldn’t make God in our image.  We really should have the same feelings when it comes to everything in life.  God’s not our genie.  We don’t rub his tummy and he brings our chosen candidate to power.  Rather, we should be prying to God about who He wants to be our leader.

Of course, that would be God Himself.  The Old Testament tells us what happened with that option thousands of years ago.

Israel Asks for a King

1Sa 8:1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

1Sa 8:4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

1Sa 8:6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”

1Sa 8:10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day. ”

1Sa 8:19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

1Sa 8:21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Even though God warned the people what would happen if they had a human king, rather than the Lord as King – they chose the human king.  And they got exactly what they were warned about.  

If you’ve read the Old Testament, you probably also remember reading something along the lines of:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.

many, many times.

So, for the final conclusion, we should have learned by now that no human king (president or otherwise) will provide the same leadership / life that God would have.  Or will, should we make the choices involved in being in paradise in the next life.

In other words, what do we expect?  Again, what do we think we know today?  Everything in the Bible points to us being exactly where we are, given the choices we, as Christians, have made and are still making.

You may remember this verse from Revelation:

Rev 4:1 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

If we haven’t yet reached the point of what must take place, then there’s still a chance to change things.  Not by voting for a person to lead us.  By choosing God to lead us.

If we have reached that point, then, well – it’s all the more reason to turn / return to God before it’s entirely too late.

 

 


If this caught your attention, there’s more.  Things like

Rule over the earth: climate change, lies and money.

Is teaching the Bible in public schools a good idea?

Why does it matter that we’re not a Christian nation any more?


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

References   [ + ]

1. //www.christiancourier.com/articles/623-nero-caesar-and-the-christian-faith
2. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

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