The rulers had been defeated, discredited, and disgraced but they had not been discouraged. In their first question they failed utterly to bring Jesus into any unlawful opposition to the religious courts. They now attempted by a new question to draw from him an answer which either would make him unpopular with the people or would bring him under the condemnation of the civil ruler. They asked him a question relative to the payment of tribute to the Roman Government. The more conservative Jews held that God was the ruler of Israel and that possibly it was wrong to pay taxes to support a heathen state. The more liberal party sided with the Herods, who owed their power to Rome. Therefore the enemies of Jesus sent to him representatives of both parties, Pharisees and Herodians, so that if he should avoid offending one party he would displease the other. They approached Jesus with the flattering assurance that he was so truthful and courageous that he would not hesitate to express his true convictions; and then they proposed their artful question: "Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?" Should Jesus say, "Yes"? Then he would cease to be a popular idol, for the people loathed the hateful oppression of Rome. Should Jesus say, "No"? Then his enemies would hurry him away to the Roman governor and the cross, as a traitor and a rebel. The dilemma seemed complete; yet Jesus not only escaped the snare, but, in his reply, he enunciated a law for all time. "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's."
To make plain his meaning, Jesus first called for a Roman coin, and asked whose image and superscription it bore. The reply, of course, was "Caesar's." Jesus therefore declared that those who accept the protection of a government and the privileges provided by a government, are under obligation to support that government. Christianity never should be identified with any political party or social theory; but Christians ever should take their stand for loyalty, for order, and for law.
It is not the whole of life, however, to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's;" one must also render "unto God the things that are God's." The latter higher allegiance includes the former. The enemies of Jesus suggested a conflict of duties; he showed that there was perfect harmony. He intimated, however, that there was danger of forgetting God, and our obligations to him of trust, service, worship, love. The true basis for citizenship is devotion to God, and no political theory or party allegiance can be taken as a substitute for loyalty to him. The enemies of Jesus were answered and rebuked, and his followers were given guidance for all the coming years.