"Watching for a chance to get Him, they sent spies who posed as honest enquirers, hoping they could trick Him into saying something that would get Him in trouble with the law. So they asked Him,...'Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?'
"He knew they were laying for Him and said, 'Show me a coin. Now this engraving, who does it look like and what does it say?'
"'Caesar,' they said.
"Jesus said, 'Then give Caesar what is his and give God what is His.'
Try as they might, they couldn't trap Him into saying anything incriminating. His answer caught them off guard and left them speechless." Luke 20:20-26 (The Message)
Got them again!
Jesus was no push-over. These so-called 'spiritual' men had still not learned not to mess with Him. They always came off second best. This time it was about taxes. The Jewish people chafed at their Roman overlords' taxation on top of the tithes, offerings and temple taxes they had to pay. It was a heavy burden on them and brought many of them into poverty.
But there was a more sinister issue at stake. Jesus was a rabbi with authority which meant that His disciples were obliged to copy everything He said and did. What He said about paying taxes would reveal His heart attitude to the Roman government which He would pass on to His disciples with possible serious results.
If He showed any antagonism towards Rome, He would be suspected of treason. His opponents were trying to catch him off guard so that He would unwittingly incriminate Himself and open Himself to arrest by the Roman soldiers.
But Jesus was too smart to be caught out. His response was not a spur-of-the-moment reaction. He was not only on guard, He was also well-prepared because of His complete understanding of God's kingdom and how to live in it in the earthly environment. In every situation He faced as an earthling, He viewed His life from God's perspective and taught His disciples to do the same.
Unlike us, who easily forget God, He lived His life with His Father in the centre. Everything He thought and did came out of His union with the Father. His answer to their question gives us insight into the way we should live in the kingdom of God so that we best represent Him in an ungodly environment.
In His high-priestly prayer He put in a nutshell what our attitude should be to the world system in which we live. "'My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.'" John 17:15-16 (NIV).
As long as we live in the world, we are subject to the systems humans have put in place, including submission to earthly government, and God expects us to fulfil our obligations as unto Him. However, we have a different disposition from the people of the world, the nature and presence of God infused into us by the Holy Spirit. Not to be 'of the world' implies that we bring the disposition of Jesus into the way we live.
He showed us how by the way He honoured and respected all people, treating them with compassion and generosity and revealing the love of the Father by His loving and caring attitude.
To 'give to Caesar' implied civil obedience while to 'give to God' meant not only submitting to His supreme authority over everything, but also living in such a way that we make 'up there' come 'down here'. We are, first and foremost, representatives of the way God runs things, and that includes loyally submitting to the government in everything that does not clash with God's kingdom and His ways.