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Eternity 135 - Render Unto Caesar

(Matthew 22:15-22 NKJV) Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. {16} And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, "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. {17} "Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" {18} But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? {19} "Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. {20} And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" {21} They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." {22} When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

(John 18:33-38 NKJV) Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" {34} Jesus answered him, "Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?" {35} Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?" {36} Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." {37} Pilate therefore said to Him, "Are You a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." {38} Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all.

The relationship between Jesus and Caesar, Church and State, is an interesting one. First some historical background. The Herodians above were followers of the Herods, and their base was in the massive fortress built just outside Bethlehem "the Herodian". Here Cleopatra's husband, the insane Herod the Great ruled, and it was the capital of his various successors. Pilate, on the other hand was a Roman governor, and up until the trial of Christ neither liked Herod or the Jews. It was the perplexities of the trial of Jesus that made Pilate and Herod friends. (Luke 23:12) Now the Herodians and the Pharisees were normally opposites so there coming to question Jesus together indicates their mutual interest in dealing with the upstart "king of the Jews". They try to get Jesus to say that God-fearing Jews "have no King but YHWH' and therefore should not pay taxes to Rome. They all expected Jesus the Messiah to lead a physical revolt, overthrow Rome and of course do away with the taxation. If Jesus boldly made such a statement, then they could go to Pilate and have Him executed as a revolutionary.

So they start by inducing Him to make a rash and fearless statement. To paraphrase it : "Jesus you speak straight, just the truth, just what God would say, Unadorned, unafraid, not couched in vacillations and equivocations. You aren't going to be afraid of Pilate are you? Now out with it, should we pay the Roman taxes." They wanted a straightforward denial that they could trap Him in and have Him killed. But Jesus' answer knocks them flat. He indicates they should pay! Some Messiah! "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? {19} "Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. {20} And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" {21} They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." {22} When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.

They were astonished, they marvelled. What Messiah would agree to pay Roman taxes. Not the Maccabbees. Not the zealots. What sort of a King was this who paid taxes to another king? Jesus clarified this a bit later when, at His trial, He was taken before Pilate. Jesus says: Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here." Lets pause and think about this. Jesus was King of the Jews. He preached about a Kingdom and told the disciples they would sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel in the renewal of all things. But His Kingdom was "not of this world" it didn't charge taxes and it didn't fight wars. His Kingdom was "not from here" (the Praetorium).

Now imagine the capture of a normal earthly King, say the King of Jordan. Say that someone kidnapped the King of Jordan. What would happen? The Jordanian army would be mobilized, its allies would be put on alert, bombers would take off, special forces would be woken up and sent on their mission. The King's servants would fight.

Yet the King of the Jews is captured and in immediate danger of being crucified, is horribly humiliated, and unjustly tried and no-one does anything. In fact when Peter lifts a sword, Jesus heals the ear of the slave that was struck! This is counter-intuitive! But Jesus explains it "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight,". In other words its not the sort of Kingdom that uses swords and guns, its "not of this world".

There is a huge tension, right throughout the New Testament, between "the kingdoms of this world" and the "Kingdom of God". The kingdoms of this world which are entirely under the power of the Evil One ( 1 John 5:18,19) and which Satan offered to Jesus in return for worship, saying that he, the Devil, could give them to whomever he pleased. (Luke 4:5-7).Jesus ignored the Devil knowing that His Kingdom was "not of this world" yet! But one day would be: (Revelation 11:15 NKJV) Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" In fact Jesus, and those who follow Him shall rule the nations with an absolute despotism (a rod of iron) and shatter them in pieces (Revelation 2;27, 12:5, 19:15). That is all demonically based human authorities, which are based in the resistant principalities and powers, shall be destroyed and replaced with a kingdom where the gospel is preached and Christ is worshipped.

If you have read any of the conspiracy theories or studied Machiavelli'swork "The Prince", or glanced at "The Protocols of The Learned Elders of Zion" or even read the various books about the Vatican or Umberto Eco's dry and witty look at conspiracies "Foucalt's Pendulum" or anything of Nietzsche you will realise that a dark wisdom exists. A pragmatic and clever statecraft, the politics of realism, the thinking of the Prince of Darkness, based on contempt for the weak and manipulation of the masses. This dark wisdom was the stuff of Herod who murdered his own family. Its the stuff of Stalin who believed that a realistic fear of being murdered was the ultimate weapon for controlling society. And its the wisdom of Mao - where "all power comes out of the barrel of a gun" and who exterminated 36 million people in the Cultural Revolution. (It is also the wisdom of Saddam Hussein who models himself on Josef Stalin). This dark demonic wisdom is just the machinery, the technology, of envy and self-seeking. James describes it as follows:

(James 3:14-18 NKJV) But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. {15} This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. {16} For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. {17} But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. {18} Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Jesus' Kingdom is not "of this world" and is not based on military might or on controlling taxation and it has nothing to do with envy and self-seeking. It is a Kingdom of righteous peace-makers. It has not part in the dark, demonic wisdom of real-politick. Jesus did not seek human glory, did not demand taxes from anyone and refused to fight a war even to save Him from the cross. What cause could be better than saving the Messiah from injustice and death? What cause could be better than the rescue of a perfectly innocent man from the hands of the wicked? Surely that justifies the disciples picking up swords? Surely the Father could send twelve legions of angels? Surely a good cause justifies brutal means? But Jesus simply picks up Malchus' ear and heals it. His kingdom was not one you fight for. It is also not one that asks for taxes. If Caesar wants all the gold, then Caesar can have it.

That's what stunned the Herodians, that's why they "marvelled". Envy, self-seeking, ruthless ambition, political pragmatism and "fighting for" this and that should not be found in God's Church. We are not "of this world" and our methods and structures are not those of the self-seeking. We are not an alternative human government that wants to charge taxes and take over the machinery of state. We are a spiritual Kingdom of immortal believers. We have time on out side. Lots of time. In fact an eternity of it. There is no need for sweaty scheming, quick grabs, or impatient political moves based on "necessity". All men fight for now, will one day be ours, and much more even. The immortals in Christ shall outlive and outlast the mortals on thrones. When they writhe in brimstone, we shall dance in glory.