‘Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. ‘
Politicians and people who have influence may quickly get into trouble for what they say in the media. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time also tried to trap him by asking if a Jew should pay taxes to their occupier, the Roman emperor? The payment of taxes was humiliating for the Jews, especially when it went from the purse of the poor or laborer to the luxurious life of Herod, Pilate and their companions in the mighty palaces. If Jesus had publicly opposed the tax, many of his countrymen would have been satisfied. At the same time, Jesus would have given a reason to condemn him for opposing the emperor and inciting the people. If Jesus had defended Caesar’s tax, he would have been considered an unfaithful Jew. The image of the emperor on the coin meant that the emperor was worshiped as a god. To the Jew, worshiping an image was idolatry. Jesus knew that his words were intended to be used against him. A yes or no answer was a trap. That’s why Jesus’ answer is famous “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
In Lutheranism, we talk about the doctrine of the two kingdoms (regiments). God governs the world he created through spiritual and worldly (or temporal) governments. While the kingdom of God is ruled by the Word of God, the kingdom of the world is ruled by the sword. While the kingdom of God is ruled by the Gospel, the kingdom of the world is ruled by the law. These two doctrines belong together, but they cannot be confused. In an ideal state, people have the right and freedom to exercise their religious freedom and express it in such a way that the state does not interfere with it but protects that right.
What about when the authorities enforce laws that are against God’s word or against the Christian’s conscience? What if the dominant power is a tyranny or a dictatorship that does not try to take care of people’s rights? There is also a reminder in the Bible “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29). Freedom of conscience is therefore important. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees silenced them. There are two sides to the coin. The authority should be obeyed, but not worshipped, it should not be given glory and one’s own heart, which belongs to God alone.
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