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(Luke 20:1-18) Paying Your Dues

(Luke 20:1-18) Paying Your Dues

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Luke
Ref: Luke 20:1–18

As Jesus continues holding court in the Temple during His final week on earth, He has humiliated the religious leaders yet again, calling them out for rejecting the prophets. And so, the Pharisees and the Herodians join forces to challenge Jesus with perhaps the toughest question He was ever asked during His earthly ministry. And Jesus’ response not only gives us several practical principles to apply today, it is one of the most profound political statements in human history.

Sermon Summary

In the Gospel of Luke, we encounter a profound moment where Jesus is confronted with a question designed to trap Him. The religious leaders, who were incensed by His parable that exposed their defiance against God's prophets, sought to discredit Him. They feared the people's support for Jesus, who had recently been hailed as the true king. In their desperation, they sent spies, pretending to be sincere, to catch Jesus in His words.

The spies were from two opposing groups: the Pharisees, who were nationalists despising Roman rule, and the Herodians, who supported Herod Antipas and were more accommodating to Roman authority. Their common ground was their disdain for Jesus, and they united in their attempt to ensnare Him. The issue at hand was the payment of taxes to Rome, a contentious topic that had caused much debate and even bloodshed among the Jewish people.

The question posed to Jesus was whether it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. This was a dilemma; if Jesus said no, He could be accused of treason against Rome. If He said yes, He would alienate Himself from the Jewish people who found the tax offensive economically, politically, and theologically. The tax was a reminder of their subjugation to Rome and was seen as an acknowledgment of a king other than God.

Jesus' response was masterful. He asked for a denarius and inquired whose likeness and inscription were on it. When they replied, "Caesar's," He said, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." His answer left His opponents marveling and unable to trap Him. Jesus acknowledged the legitimate role of government while affirming God's ultimate authority.

This interaction teaches us several lessons. First, we are to pay the taxes we owe. This is a command from God, and as citizens, we must fulfill our obligations. The government's use of our taxes is their responsibility, and they will be held accountable for it. We must submit to civil laws and ordinances as long as they do not require us to violate Scripture.

Secondly, we are to be a blessing to our community. We should not abandon the city of man but pray for it, care for it, and work for what is good and right. We are to demonstrate the law of love for the sake of the gospel.

Lastly, we must not lose sight of who is in charge. Our King is ultimately in control of all things, and one day, He will return to rule the nations in His glorious kingdom. We may feel like we are moving backward, but God is in control of the current, guiding it toward His eternal purposes. The empires of this world exist under the sovereign control of our Creator God.

As we live out the gospel and make disciples, we remember that we are stamped with God's image, redeemed by faith in the true Son of God, the true High Priest. We belong to the royal family, not Caesar's, and we await our soon-coming King.

Key Takeaways:

- The payment of taxes is not merely a civic duty but a divine command. As followers of Christ, we are to honor our obligations to government authorities, recognizing that they are instituted by God. Our compliance is a testament to our submission to God's ordained order, even when we may not agree with how the taxes are used. Our ultimate allegiance, however, is to God, whose image we bear and whose authority supersedes all earthly powers.

- Our engagement with the world should not be one of isolation but of active blessing. We are called to invest in our communities, to seek their welfare, and to contribute to the common good. This is not a passive existence but an active demonstration of God's love through our actions, mirroring the instructions given to the exiles in Babylon and exemplified by early Christians like Erastus in Corinth.

- The distinction between the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of God is crucial. While we navigate the temporal realm with its governments and authorities, our ultimate citizenship is in heaven. This perspective allows us to live with hope and purpose, knowing that the trials and tribulations of this world are temporary and that God's sovereign plan is unfolding.

- The concept of rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's is a call to discernment and wisdom. It challenges us to evaluate our priorities and loyalties, ensuring that we do not elevate any earthly ruler or system above our devotion to God. It is a reminder that while we participate in the systems of this world, our lives are ultimately a living sacrifice to God.

- The anticipation of Christ's return should shape our daily living. As we await our King, we do so actively, not retreating from the world but engaging with it as ambassadors of Christ. Our hope in His return empowers us to face challenges with courage and to live with a sense of urgency in fulfilling the Great Commission.

5-Day Devotional

Day 1: Divine Command in Civic Duty

Our obedience to government authorities, including paying taxes, is an act of submission to God's established order. As Christians, we are called to fulfill our civic responsibilities, recognizing that such structures are under God's sovereign design. This obedience is a witness to our faith and a reflection of our ultimate allegiance to God.

Romans 13:6-7 - "This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor."

Reflection: How does your attitude towards paying taxes reflect your understanding of God's sovereignty over human authorities?

Day 2: Blessing Our Communities

As believers, we are not to isolate ourselves but to actively seek the welfare of our cities and communities. By being a blessing where we live, we embody the love of Christ, contributing to the common good and reflecting the heart of God who cares for all.

Jeremiah 29:7 - "Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

Reflection: What is one practical way you can be a blessing in your community this week?

Day 3: Citizens of Heaven in Earthly Realms

While we navigate the complexities of earthly governments, our true citizenship is in heaven. This eternal perspective helps us to live with hope and purpose, understanding that our time here is temporary and part of a larger divine narrative.

Philippians 3:20 - "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ."

Reflection: How can the knowledge of your heavenly citizenship influence your engagement with current societal issues?

Day 4: Discerning Earthly and Divine Allegiances

The call to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's challenges us to discern our priorities. We must navigate our earthly responsibilities without compromising our ultimate devotion to God, ensuring He remains preeminent in our lives.

Matthew 22:21 - "They said, 'Caesar's.' Then he said to them, 'So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's.'"

Reflection: Are there areas in your life where you struggle to balance your earthly responsibilities with your spiritual devotion? How can you better align these areas with God's will?

Day 5: Anticipating the King's Return

Living in anticipation of Christ's return shapes our daily actions and attitudes. As we await our King, we engage with the world as His ambassadors, empowered to face challenges with courage and to spread the gospel with urgency.

2 Peter 3:11-12 - "Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming."

Reflection: How does the anticipation of Christ's return motivate you to live out the gospel and make disciples in your daily life?

Discussion Guide

Bible Reading:
- Luke 20:25 - "And he said to them, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.'"
- Romans 13:1 - "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God."
- Romans 13:7 - "Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed..."

Observation Questions:
1. In Luke 20:25, what distinction does Jesus make regarding the things that belong to Caesar and the things that belong to God?
2. According to Romans 13:1, what is the origin of the governing authorities, and how should individuals respond to them?
3. What specific obligations are mentioned in Romans 13:7, and to whom are they owed?

Interpretation Questions:
1. How does Jesus' instruction in Luke 20:25 guide us in balancing our civic responsibilities with our spiritual commitments?
2. Considering Romans 13:1, what implications does the divine institution of government have on our attitude towards authority, even when we disagree with it?
3. Reflecting on Romans 13:7, what does it mean to "pay to all what is owed to them" in the context of both government and God?

Application Questions:
1. Reflect on your current attitude towards paying taxes and other civic duties. How does it align with the teachings of Romans 13:1-7?
2. Identify a situation where you might struggle to submit to governmental authority. How can you apply Romans 13:1 to that situation while maintaining your commitment to God's ultimate authority?
3. Can you think of a practical way to be a blessing to your community this week, as a demonstration of rendering to God what is God's?
4. What is one action you can take this week to show that your ultimate allegiance is to God, especially in a society that often prioritizes secular authority?
5. Consider a conversation you might have about the role of government with someone who has a different viewpoint. How can you use wisdom and discernment from Luke 20:25 to engage in a respectful and insightful dialogue?


The hype has already begun for next week’s Super Bowl Game; more than 100 million people will watch it in this country alone.

This year it’s between the 49ers and the Chiefs. I’m pulling for the 49ers.

Actually, I’m not really a fan of the 49ers. But their quarterback is an underdog and I’ve heard he’s a Christian. I’m pretty sure the quarterback for the Chiefs is not—he needs prayer!

Now some of you are die-hard 49ers fans. Well, I’m with you on this one, not because you and I share the same opinion, but because we have a common enemy: the Kansas City Pagans—I mean, Chiefs!

If you’re visiting today for the first time, we actually love each other, except on certain occasions.

Now, believe it or not, two different fan bases are about to unite in the Gospel of Luke, not because they share the same opinions in life, but because they now have a common enemy.

So, they’re going to join forces to defeat their common enemy, to trap Him, to discredit Him, and the encounter is given to us in the Gospel by Luke, chapter 20.

Let’s pick it up where we left off last Lord’s Day. By the way, this is our 100th study in the Gospel of Luke as a congregation. Some of you are wondering if we’ll finish before the rapture; I don’t know. Now verse 19:

The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. Luke 20:19

Now, if you were with us in our last study, Jesus had told a parable that exposed the religious leader’s defiance against the prophets of God; they were rejecting the heir apparent, the Messiah, the cornerstone of the nation.

In that parable, Jesus also predicted that because of their unbelief, God’s judgment was coming, and it would crush them. You could literally translate that, “it will grind them to powder.” In other words, their unbelief and rejection of Him will one day be judged.

And, of course, this parable infuriated the religious leaders because they knew Jesus was talking about them, and so did all the people.

So, we’re told here now that at this very hour (after Jesus finished that parable) they wanted to seize Him.

But they knew they couldn't without causing a riot; the people are packing into Solomon’s porch to listen to Him. And remember, the people had only recently announced that Jesus was their true king.

So, they need to come up with plan B to shut Jesus down, and here it is in verse 20:

So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. Luke 20:20

Now this is the same cat and mouse game they’ve been playing for 3 years: trying to catch Jesus. In fact, this word for catch was used for catching a mouse. They’re trying to bait Jesus into saying something He will regret.

Now Matthew and Mark inform us that these spies were members of two competing parties in the land. The Pharisees and the Herodians. They didn’t like each other at all, but now they had this common enemy.

The Pharisees were what we would call today “Nationalists.” [R. Kent Hughes, Luke: Volume Two (Crossway Books, 1998), p. 265]

They were red-blooded patriots for the nation Israel, and they hated the government and the Roman authority they were under.

On the other hand, the Herodians were Jewish people who were loyal to Herod’s family dynasty; they thought the nation Israel was better off supporting Herod Antipas, who had even married a Jewess, much to their delight. [Charles R. Swindoll, Living Insights: Matthew 16-28 (Tyndale House, 2020), p. 169]

The Herodians were a political party, where the Pharisees were a religious party. They were constantly at odds with each other.

And one of their fundamental disagreements was about overpaying taxes to Rome.

Keep in mind that the Law of Moses didn’t give any counsel on how Israel was to pay taxes or tribute to a conquering nation, and that’s because in Moses’ day, Israel was the conquering nation.

So, for decades now, this issue had been hotly debated.

And what the Pharisees and Herodians are going to do is pretend that they want Jesus to settle the debate for the nation for both sides. [R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Augsburg Press, 1946), p. 985]

They’re wondering, “Since Jesus is effectively the new King of Israel, what’s He going to do about paying taxes to another King, the Emperor of Rome?”

So, they approach Him here in verse 21:

So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. Luke 20:21

Shouldn’t that follow everything they just said about Jesus? This shouldn’t be a trick question, this ought to be a moment of true conversion.

  • “Jesus, we know you’re right.”
  • “We know You speak the truth.”
  • “We know You’re a man of impartiality.”
  • “We know You’re telling people how to walk with God.”
  • “So we’re now going to try and trip You up!”

Well, the truth is, they really didn’t believe any of what they’d just said about Him—really. This was all flattery.

They were trying to butter Him up, so they could set Him up, so they could bring Him down.

I was reading the commentary by Kent Hughes on this passage, and he gave an interesting side-note on the difference between flattery and gossip.

He writes this:

  • Gossip is saying things behind someone’s back that you would never say to their face.
  • Flattery is saying things to someone’s face that you would never say about them behind their back. [Adapted from Hughes, p. 264]

And let me tell you, this group of men were not saying anything like this behind Jesus’ back.

Now let’s get to their trick question, verse 22:

“Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” Luke 20:22

Should the Jewish people pay taxes to Rome, or not? These are fighting words. Blood had been spilled over this very issue.

To give you an idea of how violently people felt about this debate, back when Jesus was a little boy, a Galilean Jew mounted a rebellion and it led to a national uprising in 6 A.D. His battle cry was “God’s land and God’s people will no longer acknowledge the Roman government; no more taxes!” [Adapted from David E. Garland, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Luke (Zondervan, 2011), p. 801]

This revolt was eventually crushed, but in the aftermath, it created the Zealot movement— a nationalistic, patriotic movement—among the Jewish people.

You might remember that when Jesus chose His 12 disciples, one of them was Simon— not Simon Peter. Luke introduced him back in chapter 6 as Simon, who was called a Zealot. Jesus brought one of these guys right into His discipleship training program.

Now here’s the tricky part to this ticking bomb of a question. I imagine everyone is leaning in to hear His answer. Why?

Because He’s obviously stuck.

If Jesus answers, “Don’t pay your taxes,” He could be charged with treason and arrested by the Romans. If He says, “Pay your taxes,” He won’t be arrested, but He will be alienated from the nation Israel. [Adapted from Hughes, p. 265]

He can’t be our King! What kind of King is He if He pays tribute to a foreign ruler? This doesn’t sound like the beginning of His kingdom; this sounds like political cowardice.

No matter which side of the debate you were on, this annual tax was offensive to the Jewish people.

  • It was offensive economically because it was one more financial burden;
  • it was offensive politically because it was one more reminder that their nation was subject to the Roman government;
  • but it was also offensive theologically because many considered it ungodly to give their money to any king but God. [Adapted from Garland, p. 800]

You see we need to understand that in this ancient world, the sign of kingship was currency. [William Barclay, p. 248]

Unlike today. We hold elections in our country and the results are broadcast simultaneously all around the country and the world. We soon know who holds the seat of power.

But in this ancient world, how did people know who their king was, and how far his territory extended? All you had to do was look at their money. Every new emperor had coins minted with their image stamped on front. [Adapted from Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke (Tyndale House, 1997), p. 458]

And throughout the life and ministry of Jesus, there was only one Roman emperor: Tiberius Caesar Augustus.

Now if you lived back in these days, you were to pay annually to Caesar a tax equivalent to one day’s wages, and you started paying it when you turned 14 years of age. Eventually, parents would begin paying it for each child when they turned 3 years of age. [Edwin M. Yamauchi & Marvin R. Wilson, Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical & Post-Biblical Antiquity (Hendrickson, 2017), p. 1551]

This was the currency of the king, you traded with it; you bought with it, and another sign of kingly authority was that fact that you gave some of it back to him in taxes.

Numerous coins under the reign of Tiberius have been excavated over the years.

Tiberius’ coin, in typical fashion, had his image stamped on the front, with his name and the added words that he was the son of the divine Augustus.

In other words, he declared that he was the son of a god; he was divine. And then on the back of the coin it reads: “Pontif Maxim” which means “Highest Priest.”

So, Tiberius not only claimed political supremacy but divine supremacy; he claimed the highest position of religious supremacy; he was announcing that he was the king of everything.

The Jewish people considered these coins to be idols; they violated the commandment to have no graven image of another god—a false god; they were not to acknowledge even the existence of any other God but Yahweh.

To pay Caesar this tax was considered by the Jews to be treason against God. To withhold this tax was considered by the Romans to be treason against Caesar.

Do they have Jesus pinned down or what?

Now here’s the Lord’s brilliant response in verse 23:

But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. Luke 20:23-26

Today, historians and theologians agree that Jesus’ answer has become the single most influential political statement ever made. It has been decisive in shaping western civilization, giving shape to the world we know today. [Hughes, p. 266]

In this answer, Jesus recognizes two divinely constituted spheres of authority, a delegated authority in government and the ultimate authority of God. [Adapted from J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (Zondervan, 1981), p. 388]

The apostle Paul will use the same word for tribute that Luke uses here, and Paul expands on this answer from the Lord.

Paul writes in Romans 13:1:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Romans 13:1

In other words, God has delegated authority to governments even when they predictably, as the prophet Daniel wrote, consist of “evil men.” Daniel 4:17 says that God “appoints the lowliest of men.”

And many times, we don’t understand why God allows or even appoints a government like that, or what God’s long-term plans and purposes might be, especially when the leadership is evil and oppressive, and people suffer under it.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the death of Vladimir Lenin. Under his brutal, Communist regime, 14 million Russians died, 5 million from starvation alone.

When he began his rule, there were 54,000 Orthodox churches and when he died there were less than 500.

The purposes of God are sometimes difficult to discern.

Even when the ruler is as wicked as Tiberius: a cruel man who enjoyed watching people thrown off the cliffs at his command, only because he grew tired of them; he enjoyed watching people tortured and he personally invented ways to inflict pain. He was a bisexual pedophile, abusing children without any legal restraint—his victims too numerous to record.

He set the evil standard for future emperors like Caligula and Nero and Domitian.

But it was under Tiberius that Jesus delivered this command; and it was later, under Nero, that Paul wrote further in Romans 13 and verse 7:

Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed. Romans 13:7

In other words, pay your taxes to Tiberius and to Nero.

This word for taxes (phoros) used by Paul and Luke covered everything from tax on houses, lands, properties, and even income tax. [Woodrow Kroll, Romans: Righteousness in Christ (AMG Publishers, 2002), p. 212]

For us today, in this country, it includes sales tax, utility tax, property tax, inheritance tax, and clothing tax.

You know that old saying: there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. Someone said, “I wish they came in that order.” [Joey Adams, Christians Reader, Volume 32, no. 3]

Now if Jesus had only answered here, “Pay your taxes to Caesar,” He would have been alienated immediately and tossed out of the Temple headfirst.

But what He does here is strategically diminish the rule of government, with respect, by reminding the people that God is the ultimate government.

Now follow this carefully. These spies posed a question that was an “either/or” question.

Verse 22 again:

“Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”

But Jesus answered with a “both/and” in verse 25:

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Luke 20:25

In other words, there is this dual reality and responsibility, to the city of man—under our government, and to the city of God—under the ultimate authority of our Lord.

So, pay your dues to Caesar and pay your dues to God. The verb here to render has the idea of paying back. [Garland, p. 801]

In other words, the people should give Caesar his little denarius; give him his little silver coin. Pay him back. It’s his likeness on the coin; it’s a reminder that he’s the king in the city of man.

But get this: the word Jesus uses here when He asks these men whose “likeness” is stamped on the coin, that’s the same word used by God in Genesis chapter 1. The Greek translation of Genesis 1:26 has the triune God saying, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

Look at that coin, who’s image is stamped on it? Caesar’s. Look at you! Everything about you: “God has stamped His ownership and His authority on you.” [Barton, p. 458]

You are His creation.

So, pay Caesar back his little coin. But pay God back with everything you are. Give Him yourself.

So, with this answer, the Lord provides several reminders that exist to this day; here they are:

First, pay the taxes that you owe.

Aren’t you glad we covered this at this time of year, right before tax season ramps up? This is a command, so you don’t even have to pray about it anymore. You don’t have to ask God to give you a sign.

As a citizen in the city of man, you pay your taxes, even to Tiberius.

I have read that the amount of income taxes withheld from the government in this country is more than $100 billion dollars a year.

My question would be this: “Is some of that money yours?”

We submit to civil laws and ordinances and taxes so long as they do not demand that we directly violate the Scriptures.

In fact, what the government does with our taxes is not under our direction, it’s under theirs, and they will give an account for what they did with it one day.

We submit to governmental regulations and ordinances so long as they do not reshape our gospel.

Even our city government has ordinances that tell us:

  • how many cars we can park out there in the parking lot;
  • how big the church sign can be out there on Tryon Road;
  • they even tell us the maximum seating capacity in here.

They can tell us how many we can seat in here, but they cannot tell us what to preach in here.

And they cannot tell us how to live out there. If they do and it violates the Word of God, we will stand like the apostles and say, “We will obey God rather than man.”

In the meantime, Caesar, you can have your little silver coins, but our hearts belong to God.

Secondly, I hear the Lord telling the believers in this answer to not only to pay your taxes, but to:

Be a blessing to your community.

Don’t abandon the city of man. Pray for it, care for it, work for what’s good and right. Demonstrate the law of love for the sake of the gospel every chance you get.

God told the exiled Jewish community there in Babylon to build houses, raise families, plant trees, and be a blessing to their city.

I think of one of Paul’s converts to Christ there in Corinth. His name was Erastus and in Romans 16:23 he’s identified as the Director of Public Works there in the city of Corinth. He was in charge of the roads and the public buildings.

Excavations unearthed an inscription near a theater in Corinth that said, “Erastus, in return for his position as magistrate, laid the pavement here at his own expense.” [Dictionary of Daily Life, p. 1552]

Be a blessing to your community. One more:

Don’t lose sight of Who’s in charge.

As we live out the gospel and make disciples of the nations, we remember that our King is ultimately in control of all things, and one day, He will physically return to rule the nations in His glorious kingdom.

That might sound like a slow solution; we’d like a faster solution, especially when your country seems to be sliding backward instead of moving forward.

Let me remind you of Robert Perry, who, on one of his polar expeditions, was traveling north with one of his dog teams.

At the end of the day, when he took a bearing on his latitude, he was so shocked to discover that he was further south than he had been at the beginning of the day, even though he had been traveling with great difficulty all day long, he was further behind than ever.

The mystery was solved when he realized he had been traveling on a gigantic ice floe. The ocean current had been pulling him south faster than he had been traveling north. [Erwin Lutzer, Twelve Myths Americans Believe (Moody Press, 1993), p. 181]

Let me encourage you, beloved, in the context of this passage and this direction from the Lord, the solution:

  • is not fewer taxes;
  • the solution isn’t a better Caesar;
  • it is not a better country;
  • the solution is in a wiser perspective.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that God is in control of the ice floe!

It’s speed and it’s course have been mapped by God who set it on its course and is guiding it toward the harbor of His eternal purposes.

The Roman Empire, and every empire before it and since, exists under the sovereign control of our Creator God.

So, what do we do?

Pay our taxes.

Be a blessing to our community.

And let’s not forget that we are stamped with His image; we are redeemed by faith in: the true Son of God—not Caesar. We have the true High Priest—not Caesar. We belong to the royal family—not Caesar’s.

We are waiting and watching for our soon coming King.

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