Friday, February 22, 2008

The Kingdom of Divine Authority

Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:21)
Stinging from the truth of the parables Jesus told about them, the Pharisees seethed and plotted how they might “entangle Him in His talk” (Matthew 22:15). So they sent their disciples, along with the political/religious group known as the Herodians, to set Jesus up for a takedown.

First, they tried to oil Him with smooth words: “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (v. 16-17).

This was a very controversial matter. The Herodians wanted authority over Jerusalem to be fully restored to the Herods, as it once had been, instead of being governed by Pontius Pilate. They were not much interested in paying Roman taxes. On the other hand, there were the Zealots, who completely despised Rome, and certainly wanted no part of paying her taxes.

But Jesus knew what they were up to. “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.”

They brought Him a foreign coin minted with Caesar’s image. Coins minted in Judea, though they were Roman, bore no such image. Paying Roman taxes with a coin bearing Caesar’s inscription would have been all the more offensive.

“Whose image and inscription is this?” He asked.

“Caesar’s,” they said.

“Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This was not merely a clever answer to avoid a direct response. It drove home an important point they had hoped to avoid: there are indeed governing authorities to whom we owe certain obligations.

The Jews had long recognized that God is the one who establishes kingdoms and authorities, as well as brings them down. Indeed, the history of Israel, particularly Babylonian captivity and exile, had proven that God would raise up authorities over her when she strayed from His ways. Now they were living under Roman rule and forced to pay Caesar’s tax, and they divided over whether it was right, according to their law, to do so.

The Pharisees and Herodians had already answered it for themselves; it was no mere coincidence that they had the coin with Caesar’s inscription at hand. But were they willing to confess that they had once again strayed from the Lord? That was the question Jesus’ answer now posed. They were stunned. His answer was a wonder to them, forcing them to either surrender to Him or else deny what they knew to be the truth. The only response they gave was to walk away.

Jesus’ statement raises questions for us as well. How does the kingdom of Heaven on Earth relate to governing authorities on earth? Exactly what obligations do we, as subjects of His kingdom, owe them?

First, we must understand that God and Caesar are not equal authorities in our lives. Not by a long shot. God is sovereign over all, but in His sovereignty He has chosen to set up rulers and governments. That Caesar has any authority at all is completely dependent on God. That we render anything to Caesar at all is because we first render everything to God. Any obligation we might owe Caesar is merely a small part of the obedience we owe God. Where there is a conflict between the commandments of God and the laws of men, we must always obey God. For the authority of God is absolute, the authority of men is subservient to divine sovereignty.

In addition to the words of Jesus, here is more of what the Bible has to say about how we are to relate to government:
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God's ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7)

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13-14)
What then is our obligation?
  • Pay your taxes. We do receive benefits from God-ordained government and it is only right that we should pay our fair share. Better yet, give your taxes. Don’t sent it in grudgingly; bless it to the government. Pray over it and task it with the purpose of heaven. Let it proclaim that our God is mighty. Let it prophesy the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. This requires faith.
  • Obey the government in every good thing. God ordained it to not to terrorize good but to protect from evil. Therefore, keep doing good in all things. We cannot submit to doing evil, but we can always do good.
  • Pray and intercede for the government and its leaders. Praise God for them and for the purpose for which He ordained them. If they are not obeying that purpose, pray for God to bring them to repentance and spiritual awakening. Ask and believe God to raise up righteous leaders who hear His voice and walk in His ways, in all three branches and at all levels of government.
We must yield, first and always, to the authority of God. But we must also yield to the subservient authorities He has established among men, except where they are in conflict with His ways. For the kingdom of God is all about His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.