And they send to him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.…
Christ, in his visits to the temple, met with the various representatives of religious, ecclesiastical, and political opinion in Palestine. He is the center and touchstone of all. Their very attacks and dishonest questions were so many confessions of his moral and intellectual supremacy. To Christ do the different schools of thought and life amongst men still come, and the problems they raise can never be satisfactorily settled until he solves them.
I. A TRAP LAID FOR CHRIST.
1. By whom? Ultimately and originally by the Pharisees, the leaders of ultra-Judaism and advocates of a restored theocracy and national independence. But that this view, having its root at first in profound spirituality of aim and motive, had been subsidized by baser considerations, is only too evident. Their hatred for Christ on the present occasion led them to throw away all scruples they might have felt, and to assume a disingenuous position of inquiry. But they could do this the more effectively in concert with others, with whom, although somewhat disagreeing on the solution to be accepted of the theory of national independence, they yet agreed upon the general question itself. The Herodians were a recent party, attached to the fortunes and politics of the Herods, and accepting their rule as a satisfactory compromise of the difficulty arising from the theocratic views of the Jews and the actual supremacy of the Roman empire. They are supposed to have originated with the Pharisees, with whom they still retained general relations, and with whom they for the most part co-operated. Menahem the Essene, who was a Pharisee, being captivated, it is said, by the predicted ascendency of the house of Herod, attached himself to Herod the Great, and brought over many of his co-religionists. They believed that in the monarchy of Herod the national aspirations of the Jews were reasonably met, and at the same time the demands of Rome, whose creature he was. They were as a party, as might be expected, less scrupulous than the original Pharisees. The latter imagined, as many like them have done since, that by suborning others to do a dishonorable action they avoided the disgrace of it themselves.
2. In what did the snare consist? In an attempt to get Christ to commit himself to the tenets of one or other of the political parties of the day. This was not with the view of strengthening the influence of either, but simply to compromise him, according to his answer, either with the Roman government on the one hand, or with the national party of Judaism on the other.
3. How was it halted? With flattery: yet flattery which unwillingly witnessed to the "openness" and uprightness of Christ's character, his Divine impartiality, his fearless truthfulness.
II. THE TRAP EVADED. The simplicity of Christ, upon which they had calculated for the success of their scheme, was the very cause of its failure. "Wise as serpents, but harmless as doves," is a principle which has its root in the nature of the Divine life. The inquiry is answered:
1. By an appeal to matter of fact. "Show me a penny," etc. The existence of such a coin (the denarius, which was the standard silver coin of the Romans, value about eightpence or ninepence), with its "image and superscription," proved beyond question the subject condition of Palestine. The actual situation being, therefore, what it was, and, so far as they could do anything, irreversible, it was not right for them to ignore it. If the privileges attending it were freely made use of, the duties involved should also be discharged.
2. By enunciating a dealer and wider principle than they recognized. As things were, the practice of their own religion was freely permitted to the Jews, toleration being a principle of imperial policy. There was, therefore, no really spiritual difficulty involved. The political nostrums of Pharisee and Herodian alike were, therefore, party cries and nothing more. They were thus convicted of unreality, of hypocrisy, or acting a part. It was not religion they cared for, but their own personal or party ends. Yet at the same time, for such as then or at any future time might have their religious scruples affected by political conditions, Christ laid down a general principle of action. When human government is not opposed to Divine, submission may be conscientiously made to both. Only where they differ is there any room for doubt; but even such a doubt will be satisfactorily dealt with by beginning from the Divine side of obligation. This principle, which stands good for all times, is essentially a spiritual one. Under all circumstances, therefore, the duty of the Christian, or conscientious religionist, is shown to be fundamentally a moral one. Actually existent authority imposes obligations which have to be recognized in the spirit of submission and piety, when not conflicting with Divine prerogatives. Christianity has only indirectly a bearing on politics; its direct and immediate concern is with morals. - M.
Parallel VersesKJV: And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.