Caesar and God |

Hunt, Dave

Every Sunday-school child knows the story well. Hoping to entrap Him, the Pharisees and Herodians publicly confronted Jesus with an apparently unanswerable question, "Is it lawful [under the law of Moses] to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give?" They had cleverly plotted to place Christ in an impossible position. If He answered "yes," He would be a stench to the Jews, who hated Roman taxes. If He answered "no," He would be fomenting rebellion against Caesar, and the Romans would crucify Him.

Jesus, "knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them...bring me a penny...." When someone presented the coin, Jesus asked whose picture was on it. When they told him it was Caesar's, Christ spoke these oft-quoted words, "Render [give] to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Mk12:13-17). His brilliant avoidance of the trap that had been carefully laid for Him left the rabbis speechless. To their chagrin, they found themselves unable either to denounce Him to the Romans or to discredit Him with the Jews.

Hatred, of course, corrupts the soul and has no scruples ("They hated me without a cause" - Jn:15:25). Thus when the Sanhedrin and their lackeys brought Jesus to Pilate after the mock trial before Caiaphas the high priest, they knowingly made this utterly false accusation: "We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King" (Lk 23:2). Not true. In fact, He had told His disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Messiah: "Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ" (Mt 16:20).

Christ is equally misrepresented today by extremists who, in His name, advocate not paying taxes because the United States government is corrupt and the money is used for ungodly purposes. Such radicals are, themselves, guilty of the very crime with which Christ was falsely accused. Clinton and associates are no more immoral than were many of the Caesars—or popes, for that matter! Nor is the United States government any more wicked and corrupt than was the Roman government in Christ's day—and He did not allow that wickedness as an excuse to avoid taxes. By Christ's command we are obliged to "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's." What is included in "the things that are Caesar's" is the only question that remains.

That Christ's reply was not crafted in order to avoid offending the Romans and Jews but was spoken in transparent truth and love is evident. In fact, had Christ feared men, He would not have been able to escape the rabbis' trap. Solomon said it well: "The fear of man bringeth a snare" (Prv 29:25). Because He feared no one, Christ could not be ensnared. And His thrilling promise remains true for us today: "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn:8:31). The truth brings a holy fear of God; and he who fears God has no fear of man or his criticism, nor any interest in receiving man's praise.

Christ sought neither to appease nor to please either the Romans or the Jews, but only to please His heavenly Father: "I receive not honour from men" (Jn:5:41); but "I do always those things that please him [the Father]" (Jn:8:29). Moreover, Christ faithfully exposed to the religious leaders' hardened consciences (and to ours today) the very reason for faithlessness: "How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" (Jn:5:44). That piercing question must be faced in relation to "the things that are Caesar's."

Clearly one of the things that does not belong to Caesar, and which we are therefore neither to give to him nor to receive from him, is honor. Only God is worthy of honor and praise (Rv 4:9-11; 5:11-14, etc.); and true honor comes only from God. Caesar plays God when he pretends to bestow honor; and those who play the corrupting game of either giving honor to Caesar or receiving it from him have fallen into the very snare which Christ disdained. Yet it is a common practice today for Christian leaders to praise one another and even to give honor to the world and to receive it from Caesar in order, so they imagine, to be "more effective" for God—"having men's persons in admiration because of advantage" (Jude 16).

Tragically, the church of Christ has been deeply ensnared in the humanistic practice of seeking honor one of another and honoring one another. Of those who do God's work to be seen of men and thus to receive honor from them, Christ said, "They have their reward [here on earth]" and have thereby forfeited the reward which could have been theirs in heaven (Mt 6:1-6,16-18,24) had they sought honor "from God only." Christians honor celebrities and "key leaders," thinking they can advance the cause of Christ by getting the ungodly to wield their influence for God. To that end, Christian media makes heroes even of the enemies of the gospel, cultivates them, and caters to them, especially to the rich and famous.

Our Lord, in contrast, though without partiality, devoted Himself largely to the lowly and downtrodden. He was not tempted to avoid offending the high and mighty with an unpopular response to the ticklish question put to Him by the rabbis. In fact, His bold answer was an even more powerful condemnation of Rome than any disavowal of its taxes could have been: "Render to Caesar...and to God...." The Romans worshiped Caesar as God. Jesus was saying, "Caesar is not God!"

Christ's response delivered a stinging rebuke to Caesar for making such a claim. At the same time He condemned those who gave this mere man the honor that belongs to God alone. Rulers have a limited sphere of authority under God; while God's authority is over all and extends everywhere and eternally. The distinction Christ drew between Caesar and God carries an equally powerful rebuke for leaders of our day, both political and religious.

True, today's civil authorities make no open claim to deity. Yet God's right to rule in the affairs of men is usurped by most governments. In North America God has been expelled from public schools and is increasingly being crowded out of public life, while the government plays God, and men acquiesce. At the same time, many who claim to be Christians have devoted themselves to establishing a partnership between Caesar and God—a partnership which Christ utterly rejected.

Ever since Reagan won the Republican nomination for president, Christianity has been equated with conservative politics, and Christians have been chasing the illusion of somehow getting Caesar, though he cannot be converted, to support God's side. To celebrate Reagan's nomination and to make certain he won the November election, about 15,000 conservatives (including several thousand pastors) gathered at the National Affairs Briefing Conference in Dallas in September 1980, determined to Christianize America by getting Christians voted into high political office. Gary North, who was a key speaker on that occasion, sees the responsibility of Christians to "rebuild our apostate civilization into the kingdom of God...."1 Yet Christ expressed no such interest and bluntly declared, "My kingdom is not of this world" (Jn:18:36).

The incident we are considering is the only time that our Lord even mentioned the name of Caesar. Never once did He speak out against the Roman oppressors or against that evil tyrant Herod, much less organize His disciples to reclaim the world for God. The world involves "the things that are Caesar's," and is not of God. Christ saved His denunciations for the religious leaders, whom He reproved publicly in the severest terms because they misrepresented God. Christ's example is a rebuke to the time and effort spent by today's Christians on lobbying and political and social action in concert with unbelievers—while neglecting to oppose apostasy and the heresy within the church.

Christianity is commonly equated with Americanism and conservative politics. The promises God gave to Israel as His chosen people, who were to be separate from the world, are erroneously applied to the United States. Leading evangelicals seem unaware that "my people" refers to Israel, not to the church; and "I will heal their land" (2 Chr:7:14) refers to the promised land of Israel, not to the United States. There is a deliberate denial of the clear distinction between Israel and the church. And that Christians are "not of the world" but have been called "out of this world" to be in it but not of it (Jn:15:19;17:6,14,16) seems to be forgotten by evangelicals.

Reconstructionist George Grant writes, "The army of God is to conquer the earth, to subdue it, to rule over it, to exercise dominion." 2 David Chilton insists, "Our goal is world dominion under Christ's lordship, a 'world takeover' if you will. ...We are the shapers of world history. ...[Christ has] commissioned us to take over the world."3 Gary North writes, "God wants Christians to control the earth on His behalf...."4 Even J. I. Packer says Christians are called to "re-Christianize the North American milieu...[and] rebuild the ruins...[of] North American culture...."5

North explains that the church is not trying to convert the world but to persuade "the whole world [to] experience cultural blessings as a result of the spread of the gospel." He faults those who emphasize "saving souls" while neglecting "the healing of the institutions of the world...."6 Jay Grimstead agrees: "[It] is our task to get the view of reality in the Bible, and the view of morality in the Bible imposed upon our culture for the glory of God and the well-being of mankind, Christians and non-Christians alike."7 Simply put, such ambitions are unbiblical!

A similar delusion lies behind the annual "National Day of Prayer," which was observed once again on May 6. On that special day all are urged to join together in prayer to whatever god they believe in—and well-meaning Christians naively imagine that the true God will respond with blessing upon America! Elijah might just as well have invited the prophets of Baal and the priests of Molech to join in prayer for God's blessing upon Israel and upon the surrounding pagan nations. Instead, Elijah denounced the enemies of the true God and rescued their followers from destruction. But it is not considered politically correct to be that biblical today, so those of any "faith" are encouraged to continue on their way to eternal destruction.

While those promoting this day of prayer are well-intentioned, it is utter folly to call an ungodly nation to prayer when God has clearly said, "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination: how much more, when he bringeth it with a wicked mind" (Prv 21:27). The leadership for this occasion that attempts to unite all religions in "prayer" is clearly evangelical (it has been chaired for years by Shirley Dobson and Vonette Bright) and the highest profile church leaders join in with enthusiastic approval—which only demonstrates how deep the compromise has become. For daring to take this stand, we will be criticized for "criticizing" by those who miss the point. Does it mean nothing that Christ specifically said, "I pray not for the world" (Jn:17:9)?

Why should we expect God to pour out blessing upon a godless America? Sadly, today's evangelicalism has fostered the belief that God will bless the plans of anyone who calls upon Him to do so—including godless nations as incentive for Caesar to make a concession or two to God.

Prayer breakfasts often promote this appealing lie. Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and atheists are all welcomed and nothing must be said at such ecumenical gatherings that might offend those of "other faiths." Therefore, speakers generally offer the same self-centered gospel which is being preached from many pulpits today—a gospel which leads the hearers to imagine that sin is not our problem, we just have messed-up lives which God is eager to mend. This "God's" sole purpose is to make us happy and successful. The "converts" of such endeavors are excited that by their "decision for Christ," God is now on their side and will bless their lives. God's justice, integrity, honor and glory have no part in this humanistic "Christianity." One is given the distinct impression that God is just as eager to bless Caesar if we but ask.

Christ has not commissioned us to improve this evil world, but to call out of the world for heavenly citizenship repentant sinners who are stricken with the awful guilt of their rebellion against God. He has not commanded us to "dialogue" in order to come to a mutually advantageous arrangement with the enemies of the Cross, but to preach the gospel and uncompromisingly contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. May He enable us, with pure hearts, to glorify Him and not man, and to seek the honor that comes from God only. TBC


  1. Bibliotheca Sacra, July-Sept. 1988.
  2. George Grant, Bringing in the Sheaves (American Vision Press, 1985), 98.
  3. David Chilton, Paradise Restored: An Eschatology of Dominion (Reconstruction Press, 1985), 214-19.
  4. Liberating Planet Earth, vol. 1 of Biblical Blueprint Series (Dominion Press, 1987), 24, 178.
  5. Christianity Today (Dec. 12, 1994), 36.
  6. Gary North, Is The World Running Down? Crisis in the Christian Worldview (Dominion Press, 1988), 225.
  7. Jay Grimstead, Sept. 18, 1987, speech to group of pastors, from tape of the meeting.