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Bible GenevaContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary really want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? I wonder.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 20:20-26

20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius.[b] Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.


Last week’s reading, Luke 20:1-8, related that the chief priests, scribes and elders challenged Jesus’s authority with regard to His cleansing of the temple the previous day.

The entirety of Luke 20 involves various challenges to Him from different groups of the Jewish hierarchy.

By way of follow-up to their challenge of His authority, Jesus related the Parable of the Tenants, which I covered in my study of Mark’s Gospel two years ago in 2012.

The religious elite knew He was talking about them (Luke 20:19):

19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people.

So, they decided to challenge him about paying taxes to Caesar.

To get a fuller appreciation of this exchange, it is helpful to also look at Mark’s and Matthew’s versions. I have emphasised in bold the differences from Luke’s account.

Mark 12:13-17:

Paying Taxes to Caesar

13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius[d] and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him.

Matthew 22:15-22:

Paying Taxes to Caesar

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

Now on to Luke’s version of this incident. The religious authorities had to rely on the government to bring any charges against Jesus (verse 20). As we have read, the Herodians were involved in this attempt to see that He was at least arrested, if not sentenced to death.

John MacArthur explains the connection between the Pharisees and the Herodians in this regard:

In Mark 3:6, way back, long before this, way back at the start of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, it says, “The Pharisees went out and immediately began to take counsel with the Herodians against Jesus, as to how they might destroy Him.”  So they have been in alliance or collusion to get rid of Jesus literally for years.

He then outlines who these different groups were:

Scribes, Pharisees, priests, Herodians.  Some of the priests, no doubt, would have been Sadducees, as well.  Sadducees were the religious liberals.  Pharisees were the religious fanatics and fundamentalists.  Herodians were the politically motivated.  They were all together, along with the theologians called scribes.  All of them had the same common end, get rid of Jesus …

He adds:

They were anti-Rome, all of them, really.  They played whatever game they needed to play with Rome to keep their power, but they bitterly hated all things Roman and they knew the populous despised all things Roman.  But they needed Rome’s help, not just to execute Jesus, but they needed Rome to arrest Him, and they needed it quickly.  How were they going to do that?  Rome was hyper-sensitive about one crime, insurrection.  Insurrection

The Herodians were:

a political party of pro-Herod Jews.  They’re sort of the odd man out, in a sense.  The Jews did not particularly like the Herods.  They were not Jews, they were Hasmoneans.  And yet they had dominant power and rule in the land of Israel.  That was not a happy situation for the Jews, particularly for Pharisees and others who were zealous for Judaism.  But there were some who saw it expedient for themselves to be pro-Herod because the Herods were wealthy and powerful.  The Pharisees basically hated the Herodians cause the Herodians were pure politicians who wanted to be attached to the reigning power and knew to do that you have to play the game with Rome.  The Pharisees were willing do that a little bit, not to the degree that the Herodians were

The religious spies sought to entrap our Lord, so they tried to flatter Him (verses 20, 21). They then asked him if it was legal to pay tax to Rome (verse 23).

The Jews had to pay various taxes which they considered unjust as they considered the Romans a foreign occupier. The popular view was that the Messiah would liberate them from this system and restore Israel. A question about tax, therefore, was intended to force Jesus to make an insurrectionist statement, resulting in His arrest.

Around the time of our Lord’s birth a Jewish rebel named Judas of Galilee:

leads an insurrection against the Romans and he leads this insurrection against the Romans on the basis of the fact that they shouldn’t have to pay taxHe says, “God is our only Lord and ruler.”  And he revolts against the paying of census tax and any other tax because he says it is basically funding paganism and idolatry.

Well, they killed him  …  And everybody who was trying to follow his rebellion scattered all over every place. 

However, even though he lived thirty-odd years before, unjust tax was very much at the forefront in people’s minds.

Another issue was the nature of Roman coins themselves. MacArthur says that because they had Caesar’s image on them, the Jews declared them idolotrous. They carried local currency — shekels — or copper coins instead.

However, there is another subtext here which the spies hope to play against Jesus. The Roman coins carry a certain appellation, which Jesus rightly claims for Himself:

Augustus Caesar had coins minted in 17 B.C.  identifying himself as the son of God, which made those coins particularly repulsive to the Jews.  Tiberius Caesar had coins designating himself as high priest of God.  Well, since Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and since He claimed to be the mediator between men and God, certainly He, if He is the true Messiah and a true prophet of God, sees these blasphemous idol coins for what they really are.  Really a clever plan.

Jesus, in His divinity, knows what they are thinking (verse 23). He considered their hypocrisy in running an ungodly commercial racket at the temple, which was why He cleansed it. Matthew Henry’s commentary describes His thought process as follows:

“Why then,” saith Christ, “you should first have asked whether it was lawful to pay and receive Cæsar’s money among yourselves, and to admit that to be the instrument of your commerce. But, having granted this by a common consent, you are concluded by your own act, and, no doubt, you ought to give tribute to him who furnished you with this convenience for your trade, protects you in it, and lends you the sanction of his authority for the value of your money …”

Jesus went on to ask for a denarius — a coin worth a full day’s wages — to illustrate what He was going to say (verse 24). MacArthur says that someone in the crowd would have had to provide one.

Once He has the coin, He illustrates the two-Kingdom principle by saying that the Romans are due their demands via taxation. Similarly, we are to render to God what is His (verse 25).

MacArthur expands on this:

There are some things in this world that belong to this world.  There are some things in this world that belong to the earth, that are earthly.  There are some things that belong in the providence of God to the temporal realm.  Do your temporal duty under God’s providence in history, the divine God Himself had brought Israel under Roman rule.  God had brought them there.  Caesar is their earthly king.  Caesar is their earthly ruler.  And they must support his rule because all government is ordained by God.  Romans 13.  Powers that be are ordained by God and they don’t carry the sword for nothing.  Government is ordained to protect the innocent and punish the evil. 

And the Romans did that.  They were powerful militarily and they produced peace, and security, and protection, and great roads, and shipping channels, and added to the prosperity of life.  This had value, and you paid for that.  We understand that.  We live in two realms as Christians.  We live in a worldly realm and we are obligated and we owe to that worldly realm what belongs to that worldly realm.  And in the providence of God, we happen to be the United States of America and if they want my tax money to provide the highways and fix the bridges and do the rest, then that’s their right.  And this is a world I live in.  Is it Christ honoring?  God-exalting?  No.  But it’s not supposed to be.

He adds:

The church is not to become the critic of civil government, neither by war, by civil disobedience, or by political power are we supposed to control civil government.  This is not a sacral society.  This is not a theocratic kingdom.  America is not, neither is any other earthly nation.

Give Caesar what’s Caesar’s and thank God that providentially you are under a government that you are under because there are some far, far worse in places of the world and through history than this.  But whatever it is, we are known as good citizens.  That is the message of the apostle Paul to Timothy and to Titus, if you remember.

This reading is yet more proof that Jesus did not come to Earth to effect a temporal socio-political transformation. Oddly, many Christians today are under the same misconception as the Jews of Jesus’s era in their liberation theology and theonomy. They believe this in error. What makes it worse is their approach to the Gospel, which they view as a spiritual ‘analogy’ (their word) for deliverance in this world.  It is not going to happen. It is not meant to happen.

The spies ‘marvelled’ at Jesus’s answer (verse 26). He had evaded their trap once again. However, as we shall see next week, the religious leaders would continue to challenge Him.

In closing, it is helpful to mention that the hierarchy were becoming increasingly nervous about Jesus’s teaching and His great following among the people. They worried for their own positions of power. Consequently, they wanted rid of Him as soon as possible. MacArthur tells us:

You see, popularity, acceptance, elevation, honor, respect came to them from the people.  They fed on it.  In fact, it was essential to feeding their self righteous egos.  They loved to draw attention to themselves.  They loved to wear certain clothes, and act in certain ways, and carry on certain behaviors that drew people’s attention to them and made them seem pious, and holy, and elevated, and superior.  They sought the chief seats at the banquets, Jesus said in Matthew 23.  They wanted people to call them “father, teacher, master.”  They needed the people like all false religious leaders do …

And they had nothing but contempt for the people.  They despised them, thought them lower than they, never invited them to their homes, or their luncheons, or their dinners, or their banquets.  Had no contact with them.  They were not God pleasers but they were not man pleasers, either.  They were self pleasers who fed their proud souls on the accolades of those that they intimidated and abused.  And they knew that if Jesus was arrested by the Romans, the people’s hopes in Him would be crushed, and they would get rid of Him, and secure their ongoing prominence

So they’re full of hate and they’re full of pride.  And they have to find another way because they can’t just lay hands on Him – which is a term that means “seize Him” and “take Him away” either to kill Him or to the Romans to have Him killed –  until they have a reason.  And if they did that with no apparent reason before the people, the people would turn on them.  So they have to turn the attitude of the people.

As for us, Henry has a word of warning for clergymen regarding entrapment by the ungodly:

Note, Ministers are concerned to stand upon their guard against some that feign themselves to be just men, and to be wise as serpents when they are in the midst of a generation of vipers and scorpions.

Next time: Luke 20:39-44


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