The Question Respecting Tribute.
15 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle
him in his talk. 16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the
Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the
way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest
not the person of men. 17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it
lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? 18 But Jesus perceived their
wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? 19 show me the tribute
money. And they brought unto him a penny. 20 And he saith unto them, Whose
is this image and superscription? 21 They say unto him, Caesar's. Then
saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's;
and unto God the things that are God's. 22 When they had heard these words,
they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
It was not the least grievous of the sufferings of Christ, that he endured
the contradiction of sinners against himself, and had snares laid for him
by those that sought how to take him off with some pretence. In these verses,
we have him attacked by the Pharisees and Herodians with a question about
paying tribute to Cæsar. Observe,
I. What the design was, which they proposed to themselves; They took
counsel to entangle him in his talk. Hitherto, his encounters had been
mostly with the chief priests and the elders, men in authority, who trusted
more to their power than to their policy, and examined him concerning his
commission (ch. xxi. 23); but now he is set upon from another quarter;
the Pharisees will try whether they can deal with him by their learning
in the law, and in casuistical divinity, and they have a tentamen novum--a
new trial for him. Note, It is in vain for the best and wisest of men to
think that, by their ingenuity, or interest, or industry, or even by their
innocence and integrity, they can escape the hatred and ill will of bad
men, or screen themselves from the strife of tongues. See how unwearied
the enemies of Christ and his kingdom are in their opposition!
1. They took counsel. It was foretold concerning him, that the rulers
would take counsel against him (Ps. ii. 2); and so persecuted they the
prophets. Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah. See Jer. xviii.
18; xx. 10. Note, The more there is of contrivance and consultation about
sin, the worse it is. There is a particular woe to them that devise iniquity,
Mic. ii. 1. The more there is of the wicked wit in the contrivance of a
sin, the more there is of the wicked will in the commission of it.
2. That which they aimed at was to entangle him in his talk. They saw
him free and bold in speaking his mind, and hoped by that, if they could
bring him to some nice and tender point, to get an advantage against him.
It has been the old practice of Satan's agents and emissaries, to make
a man an offender for a word, a word misplaced, or mistaken, or misunderstood;
a word, though innocently designed, yet perverted by strained inuendos:
thus they lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate (Isa. xxix. 21),
and represent the greatest teachers as the greatest troublers of Israel:
thus the wicked plotteth against the just, Ps. xxxvii. 12, 13.
There are two ways by which the enemies of Christ might be revenged
on him, and be rid of him; either by law or by force. By law they could
not do it, unless they could make him obnoxious to the civil government;
for it was not lawful for them to put any man to death (John xviii. 31);
and the Roman powers were not apt to concern themselves about questions
of words, and names, and their law, Acts xviii. 15. By force they could
not do it, unless they could make him obnoxious to the people, who were
always the hands, whoever were the heads, in such acts of violence, which
they call the beating of the rebels; but the people took Christ for a Prophet,
and therefore his enemies could not raise the mob against him. Now (as
the old serpent was from the beginning more subtle than any beast of the
field), the design was, to bring him into such a dilemma, that he must
make himself liable to the displeasure either of the Jewish multitude,
or of the Roman magistrates; let him take which side of the question he
will, he shall run himself into a premunire; and so they will gain their
point, and make his own tongue to fall upon him.
II. The question which they put to him pursuant to this design, v. 16,
17. Having devised this iniquity in secret, in a close cabal, behind the
curtain, when they went abroad without loss of time they practised it.
1. The persons they employed; they did not go themselves, lest the design
should be suspected and Christ should stand the more upon his guard; but
they sent their disciples, who would look less like tempters, and more
like learners. Note, Wicked men will never want wicked instruments to be
employed in carrying on their wicked counsels. Pharisees have their disciples
at their beck, who will go any errand for them, and say as they say; and
they have this in their eyes, when they are so industrious to make proselytes.
With them they sent the Herodians, a party among the Jews, who were
for a cheerful and entire subjection to the Roman emperor, and to Herod
his deputy; and who made it their business to reconcile people to that
government, and pressed all to pay their tribute. Some think that they
were the collectors of the land tax, as the publicans were of the customs,
and that they went with the Pharisees to Christ, with this blind upon their
plot, that while the Herodians demanded the tax, and the Pharisees denied
it, they were both willing to refer it to Christ, as a proper Judge to
decide the quarrel. Herod being obliged, by the charter of the sovereignty,
to take care of the tribute, these Herodians, by assisting him in that,
helped to endear him to his great friends at Rome. The Pharisees, on the
other hand, were zealous for the liberty of the Jews, and did what they
could to make them impatient of the Roman yoke. Now, if he should countenance
the paying of tribute, the Pharisees would incense the people against him;
if he should discountenance or disallow it, the Herodians would incense
the government against him. Note, It is common for those that oppose one
another, to continue in an opposition to Christ and his kingdom. Samson's
foxes looked several ways, but met in one firebrand. See Ps. lxxxiii. 3,
5, 7, 8. If they are unanimous in opposing, should not we be so in maintaining,
the interests of the gospel?
2. The preface, with which they were plausibly to introduce the question;
it was highly complimentary to our Saviour (v. 16); Master, we know that
thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth. Note, It is a common
thing for the most spiteful projects to be covered with the most specious
pretences. Had they come to Christ with the most serious enquiry, and the
most sincere intention, they could not have expressed themselves better.
Here is hatred covered with deceit, and a wicked heart with burning lips
(Prov. xxvi. 23); as Judas, who kissed, and betrayed, as Joab, who kissed,
Now, (1.) What they said of Christ was right, and whether they knew
it or no, blessed be God, we know it.
[1.] That Jesus Christ was a faithful Teacher; Thou art true, and teachest
the way of God in truth. For himself, he is true, the Amen, the faithful
Witness; he is the Truth itself. As for his doctrine, the matter of his
teaching was the way of God, the way that God requires us to walk in, the
way of duty, that leads to happiness; that is the way of God. The manner
of it was in truth; he showed people the right way, the way in which they
should go. He was a skilful Teacher, and knew the way of God; and a faithful
Teacher, that would be sure to let us know it. See Prov. viii. 6-9. This
is the character of a good teacher, to preach the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth, and not to suppress, pervert, or stretch, any
truth, for favour or affection, hatred or good will, either out of a desire
to please, or a fear to offend, any man.
[2.] That he was a bold Reprover. In preaching, he cared not for any;
he valued no man's frowns or smiles, he did not court, he did not dread,
either the great or the many, for he regarded not the person of man. In
his evangelical judgment, he did not know faces; that Lion of the tribe
of Judah, turned not away for any (Prov. xxx. 30), turned not a step from
the truth, nor from his work, for fear of the most formidable. He reproved
with equity (Isa. xi. 4), and never with partiality.
(2.) Though what they said was true for the matter of it, yet there
was nothing but flattery and treachery in the intention of it. They called
him Master, when they were contriving to treat him as the worst of malefactors;
they pretended respect for him, when they intended mischief against him;
and they affronted his wisdom as Man, much more his omniscience as God,
of which he had so often given undeniable proofs, when they imagined that
they could impose upon him with these pretences, and that he could not
see through them. It is the grossest atheism, that is the greatest folly
in the world, to think to put a cheat upon Christ, who searches the heart,
Rev. ii. 23. Those that mock God do but deceive themselves. Gal. vi. 7.
3. The proposal of the case; What thinkest thou? As if they had said,
"Many men are of many minds in this matter; it is a case which relates
to practice, and occurs daily; let us have thy thought freely in the matter,
Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar or not?" This implies a further
question; Has Cæsar a right to demand it? The nation of the Jews
was lately, about a hundred years before this, conquered by the Roman sword,
and so, as other nations, made subject to the Roman yoke, and became a
province of the empire; accordingly, toll, tribute, and custom, were demanded
from them, and sometimes poll-money. By this it appeared that the sceptre
was departed from Judah (Gen. xlix. 10); and therefore, if they had understood
the signs of the times, they must have concluded that Shiloh was come,
and either that this was he, or they must find out another more likely
to be so.
Now the question was, Whether it was lawful to pay these taxes voluntarily,
or, Whether they should not insist upon the ancient liberty of their nation,
and rather suffer themselves to be distrained upon? The ground of the doubt
was, that they were Abraham's seed, and should not by consent be in bondage
to any man, John viii. 33. God had given them a law, that they should not
set a stranger over them. Did not that imply, that they were not to yield
any willing subjection to any prince, state, or potentate, that was not
of their own nation and religion? This was an old mistake, arising from
that pride and thathaughty spirit which bring destruction and a fall. Jeremiah,
in his time, though he spoke in God's name, could not possibly beat them
off it, nor persuade them to submit to the king of Babylon; and their obstinacy
in that matter was then their ruin (Jer. xxvii. 12, 13): and now again
they stumbled at the same stone; and it was the very thing which, in a
few years after, brought final destruction upon them by the Romans. They
quite mistook the sense both of the precept and of the privilege, and,
under colour of God's word, contended with his providence, when they should
have kissed the rod, and accepted the punishment of their iniquity.
However, by this question they hoped to entangle Christ, and, which
way soever he resolved it, to expose him to the fury either of the jealous
Jews, or of the jealous Romans; they were ready to triumph, as Pharaoh
did over Israel, that the wilderness had shut him in, and his doctrine
would be concluded either injurious to the rights of the church, or hurtful
to kings and provinces.
III. The breaking of this snare by the wisdom of the Lord Jesus.
1. He discovered it (v. 18); He perceived their wickedness; for, surely
in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird, Prov. i. 17. A temptation
perceived is half conquered, for our greatest danger lies from snakes under
the green grass; and he said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Note, Whatever
vizard the hypocrite puts on, our Lord Jesus sees through it; he perceives
all the wickedness that is in the hearts of pretenders, and can easily
convict them of it, and set it in order before them. He cannot be imposed
upon, as we often are, by flatteries and fair pretences. He that searches
the heart can call hypocrites by their own name, as Ahijah did the wife
of Jeroboam (1 Kings xiv. 6), Why feignest thou thyself to be another?
Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Note, Hypocrites tempt Jesus Christ; they
try his knowledge, whether he can discover them through their disguises;
they try his holiness and truth, whether he will allow of them in this
church; but if they that of old tempted Christ, when he was but darkly
revealed, were destroyed of serpents, of how much sorer punishment shall
they be thought worthy who tempt him now in the midst of gospel light and
love! Those that presume to tempt Christ will certainly find him too hard
for them, and that he is of more piercing eyes than not to see, and more
pure eyes than not to hate, the disguised wickedness of hypocrites, that
dig deep to hide their counsel from him.
2. He evaded it; his convicting them of hypocrisy might have served
for an answer (such captious malicious questions deserve a reproof, not
a reply): but our Lord Jesus gave a full answer to their question, and
introduced it by an argument sufficient to support it, so as to lay down
a rule for his church in this matter, and yet to avoid giving offence,
and to break the snare.
(1.) He forced them, ere they were aware, to confess Cæsar's authority
over them, v. 19, 20. In dealing with those that are captious, it is good
to give our reasons, and, if possible, reasons of confessed cogency, before
we give our resolutions. Thus the evidence of truth may silence gainsayers
by surprise, while they only stood upon their guard against the truth itself,
not against the reason of it; Show me the tribute-money. He had none of
his own to convince them by; it should seem, he had not so much as one
piece of money about him, for for our sakes he emptied himself, and became
poor; he despised the wealth of this world, and thereby taught us not to
over-value it; silver and gold he had none; why then should we covet to
load ourselves with the thick clay? The Romans demanded their tribute in
their own money, which was current among the Jews at that time: that therefore
is called the tribute-money; he does not name what piece but the tribute
money, to show that he did not mind things of that nature, nor concern
himself about them; his heart was upon better things, the kingdom of God
and the riches and righteousness thereof, and ours should be so too. They
presently brought him a penny, a Roman penny in silver, in value about
sevenpence half-penny of our money, the most common piece then in use:
it was stamped with the emperor's image and superscription, which was the
warrant of the public faith for the value of the pieces so stamped; a method
agreed on by most nations, for the more easy circulation of money with
satisfaction. The coining of money has always been looked upon as a branch
of the prerogative, a flower of the crown, a royalty belonging to the sovereign
powers; and the admitting of that as the good and lawful money of a country
is an implicit submission to those powers, and an owning of them in money
matters. How happy is our constitution, and how happy we, who live in a
nation where, though the image and superscription be the sovereign's, the
property is the subject's, under the protection of the laws, and what we
have we can call our own!
Christ asked them, Whose image is this? They owned it to be Cæsar's,
and thereby convicted those of falsehood who said, We were never in bondage
to any; and confirmed what afterward they said, We have no king but Cæsar.
It is a rule in the Jewish Talmud, that "he is the king of the country
whose coin is current in the country." Some think that the superscription
upon this coin was a memorandum of the conquest of Judea by the Romans,
anno post captam Judæam--the year after that event; and that they
admitted that too.
(2.) From thence he inferred the lawfulness of paying tribute to Cæsar
(v. 21); Render therefore to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's;
not, "Give it him" (as they expressed it, v. 17), but, "Render it; Return,"
or "Restore it; if Cæsar fill the purses, let Cæsar command
them. It is too late now to dispute paying tribute to Cæsar; for
you are become a province of the empire, and, when once a relation is admitted,
the duty of it must be performed. Render to all their due, and particularly
tribute to whom tribute is due." Now by this answer,
[1.] No offence was given. It was much to the honour of Christ and his
doctrine, that he did not interpose as a Judge or a Divider in matters
of this nature, but left them as he found them, for his kingdom is not
of this world; and in this he hath given an example to his ministers, who
deal in sacred things, not to meddle with disputes about things secular,
not to wade far into controversies relating to them, but to leave that
to those whose proper business it is. Ministers that would mind their business,
and please their master, must not entangle themselves in the affairs of
this life: they forfeit the guidance of God's Spirit, and the convoy of
his providence when they thus to out of their way. Christ discusses not
the emperor's title, but enjoins a peaceable subjection to the powers that
be. The government therefore had no reason to take offence at his determination,
but to thank him, for it would strengthen Cæsar's interest with the
people, who held him for a Prophet; and yet such was the impudence of his
prosecutors, that, though he had expressly charged them to render to Cæsar
the things that are Cæsar's, they laid the direct contrary in his
indictment, that he forbade to give tribute to Cæsar, Luke xxiii.
2. As to the people, the Pharisees could not accuse him to them, because
they themselves had, before they were aware, yielded the premises, and
then it was too late to evade the conclusion. Note, Though truth seeks
not a fraudulent concealment, yet it sometimes needs a prudent management,
to prevent the offence which may be taken at it.
[2.] His adversaries were reproved. First, Some of them would have had
him make it unlawful to give tribute to Cæsar, that they might have
a pretence to save their money. Thus many excuse themselves from that which
they must do, by arguing whether they may do it or no. Secondly, They all
withheld from God his dues, and are reproved for that: while they were
vainly contending about their civil liberties, they had lost the life and
power of religion, and needed to be put in mind of their duty to God, with
that to Cæsar.
[3.] His disciples were instructed, and standing rules left to the church.
First, That the Christian religion is no enemy to civil government,
but a friend to it. Christ's kingdom doth not clash or interfere with the
kingdoms of the earth, in any thing that pertains to their jurisdiction.
By Christ kings reign.
Secondly, It is the duty of subjects to render to magistrates that which,
according to the laws of their country, is their due. The higher powers,
being entrusted with the public welfare, the protection of the subject,
and the conservation of the peace, are entitled, in consideration thereof,
to a just proportion of the public wealth, and the revenue of the nation.
For this cause pay we tribute, because they attend continually to this
very thing (Rom. xiii. 6); and it is doubtless a greater sin to cheat the
government than to cheat a private person. Though it is the constitution
that determines what is Cæsar's, yet, when that is determined, Christ
bids us render it to him; my coat is my coat, by the law of man; but he
is a thief, by the law of God, that takes it from me.
Thirdly, When we render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's,
we must remember withal to render to God the things that are God's. If
our purses be Cæsar's, our consciences are God's; he hath said, My
son, give me thy heart: he must have the innermost and uppermost place
there; we must render to God that which is his due, out of our time and
out of our estates; from them he must have his share as well as Cæsar
his; and if Cæsar's commands interfere with God's we must obey God
rather than men.
Lastly, Observe how they were nonplussed by this answer; they marvelled,
and left him, and went their way, v. 22. They admired his sagacity in discovering
and evading a snare which they thought so craftily laid. Christ is, and
will be, the Wonder, not only of his beloved friends, but of his baffled
enemies. One would think they should have marvelled and followed him, marvelled
and submitted to him; no, they marvelled and left him. Note, There are
many in whose eyes Christ is marvellous, and yet not precious. They admire
his wisdom, but will not be guided by it, his power, but will not submit
to it. They went their way, as persons ashamed, and made an inglorious
retreat. The stratagem being defeated, they quitted the field. Note, There
is nothing got by contending with Christ.