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Matthew 22:21

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

They say unto him, Caesars - The image was the head of the emperor; the superscription, his titles. Julius Caesar was the first who caused his image to be struck on the Roman coin. Tiberius was emperor at this time.

Render therefore unto Caesar - The conclusion is drawn from their own premises. You acknowledge this to be Caesar's coin; this coin is current, in your land; the currency of this coin shows the country to be under the Roman government; and your acknowledgment that it is Caesar's proves you have submitted. Don't therefore be unjust; but render to Caesar the things which you acknowledge to be his; at the same time, be not impious, but render unto God the thing's which belong to God.

This answer is full of consummate wisdom. It establishes the limits, regulates the rights, and distinguishes the jurisdiction of the two empires of heaven and earth. The image of princes stamped on their coin denotes that temporal things belong all to their government. The image of God stamped on the soul denotes that all its faculties and powers belong to the Most High, and should be employed in his service.

But while the earth is agitated and distracted with the question of political rights and wrongs, the reader will naturally ask, What does a man owe to Caesar? - to the civil government under which he lives? Our Lord has answered the question - That which IS Caesar's. But what is it that is Caesar's? 1. Honour. 2. Obedience. And 3. Tribute.

  1. The civil government under which a man lives, and by which he is protected, demands his honor and reverence.
  • The laws which are made for the suppression of evil doers, and the maintenance of good order, which are calculated to promote the benefit of the whole, and the comfort of the individual should be religiously obeyed.
  • The government that charges itself with the support and defense of the whole, should have its unavoidable expenses, however great, repaid by the people, in whose behalf they are incurred; therefore we should pay tribute.
  • But remember, if Caesar should intrude into the things of God, coin a new creed, or broach a new Gospel, and affect to rule the conscience, while he rules the state, in these things Caesar is not to be obeyed; he is taking the things of God, and he must not get them. Give not therefore God's things to Caesar, and give not Caesar's things to God. That which belongs to the commonwealth should, on no account whatever, be devoted to religious uses; and let no man think he has pleased God, by giving that to charitable or sacred uses which he has purloined from the state. The tribute of half a shekel, which the law, ( Exodus 30:13, Exodus 30:14;), required every person above twenty years of age to pay to the temple, was, after the destruction of the temple, in the time of Vespasian, paid into the emperor's exchequer. This sum, Melancthon supposes, amounted annually to Three Tons Of Gold.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible
    Verses 15-22

    The Pharisees and Herodians endeavor to entangle Jesus - This narrative is also found in Mark 12:12-17; Luke 20:20-26.

    Matthew 22:15

    Then went the Pharisees - See the notes at Matthew 3:7.

    How they might entangle him - To entangle means to “ensnare,” as birds are taken by a net. This is done secretly, by leading them within the compass of the net and then suddenly springing it over them. So to entangle is artfully to lay a plan for enticing; to beguile by proposing a question, and by leading, if possible, to an incautious answer. This was what the Pharisees and Herodians endeavored to do in regard to Jesus.

    In his talk - The word “his” is supplied by the translators, perhaps improperly. It means “in conversations,” or by “talking” with him; not alluding to anything that he had before said.

    Matthew 22:16

    The Herodians - It is not certainly known who these were.

    It is probable that they took their name from Herod the Great. Perhaps they were first a political party, and were then distinguished for holding some of the special opinions of Herod. Dr. Prideaux thinks that those opinions referred to two things. The first respected subjection to a foreign power. The law of Moses was, that a “stranger should not be set over the Jews as a king,” Deuteronomy 17:15. Herod, who had received the kingdom of Judea by appointment of the Romans, maintained that the law of Moses referred only to a voluntary choice of a king, and did not refer to a necessary submission where they had been overpowered by force. His followers supposed, therefore, that it was lawful in such cases to pay tribute to a foreign prince. This opinion was, however, extensively unpopular among the Jews, and particularly the Pharisees, who looked upon it as a violation of their law, and regarded all the acts growing out of it as oppressive. Hence, the difficulty of the question proposed by them. Whatever way he decided, they supposed he would be involved in difficulty. If he should say it was not lawful, the Herodians were ready to accuse him as being an enemy of Caesar; if he said it was lawful, the Pharisees were ready to accuse him to the people of holding an opinion extremely unpopular among them, and as being an enemy of their rights. The other opinion of Herod, which they seem to have followed, was, that when a people were subjugated by a foreign force, it was right to adopt the rites and customs of their religion. This was what was meant by the “leaven of Herod,” Mark 8:15. The Herodians and Sadducees seem on most questions to have been united. Compare Matthew 16:6; Mark 8:15.

    We know that thou art true - A hypocritical compliment, not believed by them, but artfully said, as compliments often are, to conceal their true design. “Neither carest thou for any man.” That is, thou art an independent teacher, delivering your sentiments without regard to the fear or favor of man. This was true, and probably they believed this. Whatever else they might believe about him, they had no reason to doubt that he delivered his sentiments openly and freely.

    For thou regardest not the person of men - Thou art not partial. Thou wilt decide according to truth, and not from any bias toward either party. To regard the person, or to respect the person, is in the Bible uniformly used to denote partiality, or being influenced in a decision, not by truth, but by previous attachment to a “person,” or to one of the parties by friendship, or bias, or prejudice, Leviticus 19:15; Jude 1:16; Deuteronomy 16:19; 2 Samuel 14:14; Acts 10:34; James 2:1, James 2:3, James 2:9; 1 Peter 1:17.

    Matthew 22:17

    Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar? - Tribute was the tax paid to the Roman government.

    Caesar - The Roman emperor.

    The name Caesar, after the time of Julius Caesar, became common to all the emperors, as Pharaoh was the common name of all the kings of Egypt. The “Caesar” who reigned at this time was Tiberius - a man distinguished for the grossest vices and most disgusting and debasing sensuality.

    Matthew 22:18

    Jesus perceived their wickedness - This must have been done by his power of searching the heart, and proves that he was omniscient.

    No more man has the power of discerning the motives of others.

    Tempt ye me - Try me, or endeavor to lead me into difficulty by an insidious question.

    Hypocrites - Dissemblers. Professing to be candid inquirers, when their only object was to lead into difficulty. See the notes at Matthew 6:2.

    Matthew 22:19

    The tribute-money - The money in which the tribute was paid.

    This was a Roman coin. The tribute for the temple service was paid in the Jewish shekel; that for the Roman government in foreign coin. Their having that coin about them, and using it, was proof that they themselves held it lawful to pay the tribute; and their pretensions, therefore, were mere hypocrisy.

    A penny - A Roman denarius, worth about 14 cents =7d (circa 1880‘s).

    Matthew 22:20

    This image - The likeness of the reigning prance was usually struck on the coins.

    Superscription - The name and titles of the emperor.

    Matthew 22:21

    Render, therefore, to Caesar … - Caesar‘s image and name on the coin proved that it was his.

    It was proper, therefore, to give it back to him when he called for it. But while this was done, Jesus took occasion to charge them, also, to give to God what he claimed. This may mean either,

    1.The annual tribute due to the temple service, implying that paying tribute to Caesar did not free them from the obligation to do that; or,

    2.That they should give their hearts, lives, property, and influence all to God, as his due.

    Matthew 22:22

    They marveled - They had been foiled in their attempt.

    Though he had apparently decided in favor of the Herodians, yet his answer confounded both parties, and wholly prevented the use which they intended to make of it. It was so wise; it so clearly detected their wickedness and foiled their aim, that they were confounded, and retired covered with shame.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    The Pharisees sent their disciples with the Herodians, a party among the Jews, who were for full subjection to the Roman emperor. Though opposed to each other, they joined against Christ. What they said of Christ was right; whether they knew it or not, blessed be God we know it. Jesus Christ was a faithful Teacher, and a bold reprover. Christ saw their wickedness. Whatever mask the hypocrite puts on, our Lord Jesus sees through it. Christ did not interpose as a judge in matters of this nature, for his kingdom is not of this world, but he enjoins peaceable subjection to the powers that be. His adversaries were reproved, and his disciples were taught that the Christian religion is no enemy to civil government. Christ is, and will be, the wonder, not only of his friends, but of his enemies. They admire his wisdom, but will not be guided by it; his power, but will not submit to it.
    Ellen G. White
    Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 653

    Many have their hearts so fixed upon their earthly treasure that they do not discern the advantage of laying up for themselves treasures in heaven. They do not realize that their freewill offerings to God are not enriching Him, but themselves. Christ counsels us to lay up treasures in heaven. For whom? For God, that He may be enriched? Oh, no! The treasures of the entire world are His, and the indescribable glory and priceless treasures of heaven are all His own, to give to whom He will. “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Men whom God has made stewards are so infatuated by the riches of this world that they do not discern that by their selfishness and covetousness they are not only robbing the Lord in tithes and offerings, but robbing themselves of eternal riches. They could be daily adding to their heavenly treasure by doing the very work that the Lord has left them to do, and which He has entrusted them with means to carry out. The Master would have them watch for opportunities to do good and, while they live, apply their means themselves to aid in the salvation of their fellow men and in the advancement of His cause in its various branches. In so doing they only do that which God requires of them; they render to God the things that are His. Many willingly close their eyes and hearts, lest they should see and feel the wants of the Lord's cause, and by helping in its advancement should lessen their increase by detracting from the interest or the principal. Some feel that what they give to advance the cause of God is really lost. They consider so many dollars gone and feel dissatisfied unless they can immediately replace them so that their earthly treasure may not decrease. They exercise closeness and even sharpness in dealing with their brethren and also with worldlings. They do not scruple to overreach in deal in order to advantage themselves and gain a few dollars. 2T 653.1

    Some, fearing they will suffer loss of earthly treasure, neglect prayer and the assembling of themselves together for the worship of God, that they may have more time to devote to their farms or their business. They show by their works which world they place the highest estimate upon. They sacrifice religious privileges, which are essential to their spiritual advancement, for the things of this life and fail to obtain a knowledge of the divine will. They come short of perfecting Christian character and do not meet the measurement of God. They make their temporal, worldly interests first, and rob God of the time which they should devote to His service. Such persons God marks, and they will receive a curse rather than a blessing. Some place their means beyond their control by putting it into the hands of their children. Their secret motive is to place themselves in a position where they will not feel responsible to give of their property to spread the truth. These love in word, but not in deed and in truth. They do not realize that it is the Lord's money they are handling, not their own. 2T 654.1

    Many would love to see souls converted if it could be done without any sacrifice on their part; but if their property is touched, they draw back, for it is of more value to them than the souls of men and women for whom Christ died. If those to whom God has entrusted means understood their responsibilities as His stewards, they would retain in their own hands that which God has lent them, that they might faithfully perform the duty devolving upon them to do their part in helping carry forward the work of God. If all could comprehend the plan of salvation, and the worth of even one soul purchased by the blood of Christ, they would make every other interest of minor consequence. 2T 654.2

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    Ellen G. White
    Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 651

    These zealous searchers after truth risked their capital of strength and their all in the work of defending the truth and spreading the light. Link after link of the precious chain of truth has been searched out, until it stands forth in beautiful harmony, uniting in a perfect chain. These men of investigating minds have brought out arguments and made them so plain that a schoolboy may understand them. How easy now for men to become teachers of the truth, while they shun self-sacrifice and self-denial. 2T 651.1

    These searchers for truth have suffered for it and know what it cost. They value it and feel the most intense interest in its advancement. Self-denial and the cross lie directly in the pathway of every follower of Christ. The cross is that which crosses the natural affections and the will. If the heart is not wholly sanctified to God, if the will and affections and thoughts are not brought into subjection to the will of God, there will be a failure to carry out the principles of true religion and to exemplify in the life the life of Christ. There will not be a true desire to sacrifice ease and self-love, and the carnal mind will not be crucified to work the works of Christ. 2T 651.2

    There is a work to be accomplished for many who live at Bordoville. I saw that the enemy was busily at work to carry his points. Men to whom God has entrusted talents of means have shifted upon their children the responsibility which Heaven has appointed them of being stewards for God. Instead of rendering to God the things that are His, they claim that all they have is their own, as though by their own might and power and wisdom they had obtained their possessions. Who gave them power and wisdom to obtain earthly treasure? Who watered their lands with the dew of heaven and with the showers of rain? Who gave them the sun to warm the earth and awaken into life the things of nature, causing them to flourish for the benefit of man? Men whom God has blessed with His bounties clasp their arms about their earthly treasure and make these bounties and blessings, which God has graciously given them, a curse by filling their hearts with selfishness and distrust of Him. They accept the goods lent them, yet claim them as their own, forgetting that the Master has any claim upon them, and refusing to yield to Him even the interest that He demands. Riches cause the professed followers of Christ many perplexities and pierce them through with many sorrows because they forget God, and love and worship mammon. They allow worldly treasures to embitter their lives and prevent them from perfecting Christian character. And, as though this were not enough, they transmit to their children, to curse them, that which has proved the bane of their own lives. God has entrusted men with means to prove them, to see if they are willing to acknowledge Him in His gifts, and use them to advance His glory upon the earth. 2T 651.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 538

    Because these men can boast of but little earthly treasure, they may be looked upon as deficient in ability, in judgment, and in wisdom. They may be counted of no special worth, and their influence may not be esteemed by men; yet how does God regard these poor wise men? They are regarded precious in His sight, and, although not increasing their treasure upon earth, they are laying up for themselves an incorruptible treasure in the heavens, and in doing this they manifest a wisdom as far superior to that of the wise, calculating, acquisitive professed Christian as the divine and godlike is superior to the earthly, carnal, and satanic. It is moral worth that God values. A Christian character unblotted with avarice, possessing quietness, meekness, and humility, is more precious in His sight than the most fine gold, even the golden wedge of Ophir. 1T 538.1

    Wealthy men are to be tested more closely than they ever yet have been. If they stand the test and overcome the blemishes upon their character, and as faithful stewards of Christ render to God the things that are His, it will be said to them: “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou has been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” 1T 538.2

    I was then directed to the parable of the unjust steward: “And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?” 1T 538.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, 220-1

    *****

    I was pointed back to the children of Israel anciently. God required of them all, both poor and rich, a sacrifice according as He had prospered them. The poor were not excused because they had not the wealth of their rich brethren. They were required to exercise economy and self-denial. And if any were so poor that it was utterly impossible for them to bring an offering to the Lord, if sickness or misfortune had deprived them of the ability to bestow, those who were wealthy were required to help them to a humble mite, that they come not before the Lord empty-handed. This arrangement preserved a mutual interest. 1T 220.1

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