And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
The spiritual principle expressed in this verse is that man needs to follow civil and moral laws in his country, but that he should do so from spiritual principle and motivation. Civil laws are necessary in the community of Man, and in general these are good to follow. One can do it for different reasons though; those who are evil, or external minded, do it for appearances. They do it so they are accepted and for the sake of reputation, but inwardly they have selfish motivations. When the motivation is spiritual ,in general, one does it from care for others, and love to God.
Historically, the Jews were chafing under the yoke of Rome. The Jews wanted to make Jesus a political King that would bring about their liberation. For them there had risen one worthy to be had hailed as the promised deliverer; who, a few days before, had been greeted with palms and jubilation like a king. But Jesus made no alliances with nationalistic plotters. Jesus rejected all the efforts of those like Barrabbas, the zealots, and Judas who wanted to make him a political king. He also exposed and rejected the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and others in high places. He made scathing statements exposing the real, evil intentions of the pharisees and Sadducees. This includes the Herodians who had joined hands with the Romans.
The religious leaders common hatred of the Lord moved them publicly to challenge Him, “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar?” If He should say Yes,” they hoped to shame Jesus’, and undermine his influence with the people. If He counseled against paying tribute, the Herodians could charge Him with sedition.
The culture of the time is known as agnostic, which means confrontational and competitive. When these public confrontations take place between parties of equal status, the loser is considered publicly shamed, and the winner rises in status.
But against their cunning the Lord had the depth of His Divine wisdom. He asked them to show a piece of tribute money, and questioned them whose image and superscription was imprinted on the coin. When they answered, “Caesar’s,” He retorted, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”
When they heard these words, they knew that their plot to entrap Him had failed. For this saying of the Lord was pregnant with undeniable truth. Our Lord neither sanctioned nor condemned the rule of the Romans. He merely showed that as long as the temporal power, the control of commerce, and the decisions of peace, were Caesar’s, so long the tribute money must be paid.
But He added, “And render unto God the things that are God’s.” For the law of God is the higher law and outlasts the rule of men. Caesar, to the Jews, did not mean only the Emperor, but that dominion which by force of arms and by improved industrial methods had imposed new conditions over the Mediterranean world. Rome, on the whole, was a tolerant mistress who permitted the conquered nations to follow their customs of worship and life culture. But she insisted upon the tribute by which the vassal states acknowledged their submission to the authority of Rome.
So Jesus obeyed the laws of the Land. There are often difficulties with the governmental authorities but the laws have use in the community of Man. At the same time Jesus fought the corruption of the leaders practically and spiritually, changing the hearts and conscience of the people. It is key to understand in dealing with corruption that we expose them, and fight them according to the law, but never become like them. We keep our integrity, and in our hearts are fighting for the good of the people and for God to win in our country.