Luke 20:25 (ESV) … “He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus knew that the men who questioned Him were spies sent by the Pharisees and the Herodians (Mark 12:13), but He patiently listened and replied. These two groups were usually fighting each other, but now they had a common enemy, and this brought them together. They wanted to discuss taxes and Roman authority, hoping to provoke Jesus into offending either the Jews (“Pay the poll tax!”) or the Romans (“Don’t pay the poll tax!”). But Jesus lifted the discussion to a much higher level and forced the spies to think about the relationship between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men.
Governmental authority is instituted by God and must be respected (Prov. 8:15; Dan. 2:21, 37–38; Rom. 13; 1 Peter 2:11–17). Yes, our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and we are strangers and pilgrims on earth, but that does not mean we should ignore our earthly responsibilities. Human government is essential to a safe and orderly society, for man is a sinner and must be kept under control.
Jesus was not suggesting that we divide our loyalties between God and government. Since “the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1), we live as good citizens when we obey the authorities for the Lord’s sake. When obedience to God conflicts with obedience to man, then we must put God first (Acts 4:19–20; 5:29), but we must do it in a manner that is honorable and loving. Even if we cannot respect the people in office, we must respect the office. The counsel that Jeremiah gave to the Jewish exiles in Babylon is a good one for God’s “strangers and pilgrims” to follow today (Jer. 29:4–7): “Seek the peace of the city!”
Caesar’s image and name were on the coins, so it was basically his currency. To pay the poll tax meant simply to give Caesar back that which belonged to him. God’s image is stamped on us; therefore, He has the right to command our lives as citizens in His kingdom. We should seek to be such good citizens that God will be glorified and the unsaved will be attracted to the Gospel and want to become Christians (1 Peter 2:9–12; 3:8–17).
It is unfortunate that some Christians have the mistaken idea that the more obnoxious they are as citizens, the more they please God and witness for Christ. We must never violate our conscience, but we should seek to be peacemakers and not troublemakers. Daniel is an example to follow (Dan. 1).