Jesus Is an Anarchist
on Taxes: Nothing is (Rightly) Caesar's!
The story of Jesus
commanding us to give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's (Matt. 22:15-22;
Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26) is commonly misrepresented as His commanding
us to give to Caesar the denari which he asks for (i.e., to pay taxes to
government) as – it is assumed – the denari are Caesar's, being that they
have Caesar's image and name on them.
But Jesus never said
that this was so! What Jesus did say though was an ingenious case of
rhetorical misdirection to avoid being immediately arrested, which would
have interfered with Old Testament prophecy of His betrayal as well as His
own previous predictions of betrayal.
When the Pharisees
asked Him whether or not it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar they did so
as a ruse in the hopes of being able to either have Him arrested as a
rebel by the Roman authorities or to have Him discredited in the eyes of
At this time in
Israel's history it was an occupied territory of the Roman Empire, and
taxes – which were being used to support this occupation – were much hated
by the mass of the common Jews.
Thus, this question
was a clever Catch-22 posed to Jesus by the Pharisees: if Jesus answered
that it is not lawful then the Pharisees would have Him put away, but if
He answered that it is lawful then He would appear to be supporting the
subjection of the Jewish people by a foreign power. Luke 20:20 makes the
Pharisees' intent in asking this question quite clear:
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 the authority of the
Thus, Jesus was not
free to answer in just any casual manner. Of the Scripture prophecies
which would have gone unfulfilled had He answered that it was fine to
decline paying taxes and been arrested because of it are the betrayal by
Judas (Psalm 41:9; Zech. 11:12,13), and His betrayer replaced (Psalm 109:8
– see Acts 1:20); see also Acts 1:15-26 and Psalm 69:25. Here is a quote
from Peter on this matter from Acts 1:16:
"Men and brethren,
this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by
the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who
In Matt. 26:54,56 and
Mark 14:49 Jesus testifies to this exact same thing after He was betrayed
by Judas. As well, Jesus Himself twice foretold of His betrayal before He
was asked the question on taxes – see Matt. 17:22; 20:18; Mark 9:31;
10:33; and Luke 9:44; 19:31. See also John 13:18-30, which testifies to
the necessity of the fulfillment of Psalm 41:9, as Jesus here foretells of
His betrayal by Judas.
In addition, it
appears that the only reason Jesus paid the temple tax (and by
supernatural means at that) as told in Matt. 17:24-27 was so as not to
stir up trouble which would have interfered with the fulfillment of Old
Testament Scripture and Jesus's previous prediction of His betrayal as
told in Matt. 17:22 – neither of which would have been fulfilled had Jesus
not paid the tax and been arrested because of it.
Jesus Himself supports
this view when He said of it "Nevertheless, lest we offend them . . ." (NKJV),
which can also be translated "But we don't want to cause trouble" (CEV).
He said this after in effect saying that those who pay customs and taxes
are not free (v. 25,26) – yet one reason Jesus came was to call us to
liberty (Luke 4:18; Gal. 4:7; 5:1,13,14; 1 Cor. 7:23; 2 Cor. 3:17; James
It should be
remembered in all of this that it was Jesus Himself who told us "Behold, I
send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as
serpents and harmless as doves." (Matt. 10:16). Jesus was being wise as a
serpent as He never told us to pay taxes to Caesar, of which He could have
done and still fulfilled Scripture and His previous predictions of
But the one thing He
couldn't have told people was that it was okay not to pay taxes as He
would have been arrested on the spot, and Scripture and His predictions of
betrayal would have gone unfulfilled.
Yet the most important
thing in all this is what Jesus did not say. Jesus never said that all or
any of the denari were Caesar's! Jesus simply said "Give to Caesar that
which is Caesar's." But this just begs the question, What is Caesar's?
Simply because the denari have Caesar's name and image on them no more
make them his than one carving their name into the back of a stolen TV set
makes it theirs. Yet everything Caesar has has been taken by theft and
extortion, therefore nothing is rightly his.