Imagine yourself to be a First Century Jewish Revolutionary


How would you respond to Jesus’ answer about paying taxes (Luke 20:20-25) and why?

Jesus, when you were in the Temple, the Pharisees tried a very clever trick by asking this question and by addressing you as Rabbi.  By your enigmatic answer did you really mean for your followers to provide financial support, willingly or unwillingly, to Tiberius Caesar, a man who has claimed to be god and whose commanders, like Pilate, have oppressed the Jews to such an extent? Don’t you remember what happened to Judas of Gamala and Zaddock the Pharisee, who were martyred for their opposition to paying taxes to Rome?[1]  They had a passion for freedom and insisted that they owed exclusive loyalty to God as their Lord and Master[2] and so they could not render up the tribute to Caesar because this meant acknowledging Caesar as Lord. [3] They took direct action because they believed that God would vindicate them in honour and glory just like the maskilim who stood up to the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes and who were inspired by the visions in Daniel 7-12[4]. We are ruled and persecuted by a pagan empire ruled by people who do not follow our Hebrew traditions. Yet you seem to be saying that we should pay taxes to these pagans? 

The Pharisees sprang this trap just after your triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the time of the Passover, one of our holiest feast days commemorating our deliverance from slavery in Egypt and   our divine restoration to the land of Israel, a land which is now occupied by force by the Romans. The city is full of pilgrims who proclaimed you king [5]and you had a chance to make a stand against Roman rule, to be the Messiah we all long for, a son of David who will overthrow Roman rule.  Why did you not take the opportunity to advocate tax resistance as a concrete expression of the Kingdom of God? Don’t you see what the Romans are doing to our land?

Repeatedly Roman armies have completely destroyed towns and either slaughtered or enslaved entire populations; in one case merely for failure to raise an extraordinary levy of taxes[6]. Indeed Herod Antipas has placed an enormous burden of taxes on us.  He is rebuilding the Temple and lots of fortified royal palaces.   He has built new cities, like Sepphoris and Caesarea Maritima, to show how loyal he is to the Roman emperor.[7]  This is on top of the tribute paid to Rome and whatever tithes and offerings are sent to the Temple and the priesthood in Jerusalem and they are corrupt and in league with the Roman oppressors.

These taxes have to be paid in silver; the harvests of the peasants turned into coinage.[8]  If the harvest is bad, the tax stays the same and so the impact on the Galilean peasants and the villages has led to such hunger and debt and malnutrition[9].  You yourself have been in the Galilee and healed many who were suffering from illness and poverty caused by debt.  You have seen what is happening in Galilee. You have preached “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.  Blessed are the hungry for they shall be filled”[10]. You say “if anyone strikes you on the cheek offer the other also” and “from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt” and more seriously “if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again”.[11]  What exactly do you mean here?  It sounds as though you are willing to allow the Romans and their tax collectors to walk all over you.  This does not sound like a Messiah who will stand up to the persecutors and fight for our freedom.  Or are you trying to indicate a different kind of relationship between the tax collector and the tax payer?[12] Is this your so called Kingdom of God?  It is not freedom as I see it.

But your answer to the Pharisees was very clever and perhaps it showed indeed that you are suspected of being opposed to the tribute and to Roman occupation[13] If you had said it was lawful to pay the tribute, you would have been seen as a collaborator with the Roman occupiers and would alienate the people who had just proclaimed you a king.  If you said it was wrong to pay taxes you would risk being branded a political criminal but instead you asked for a coin, the coin where there is the image of the emperor and inscribed around the image is “Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of the God, Augustus”. [14] It shows Rome’s authority and there you are, in the Temple, with this tiny silver coin in your hand and say “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s”.  But of course, we Jews believe that everything rightfully belongs to God. In Leviticus 25:23 it says “The land (of Israel) shall not be sold in perpetuity; for the land is mine” and we are to dedicate the firstfruits to God because everything good comes from God.  So, it is obvious that allegiance to the Emperor and allegiance to God are mutually exclusive.


Oh Jesus, why did you not take the opportunity to show the Pharisees and the people exactly what you thought?  Why did you not lead us to fight against the Roman yoke and to independence? Why did you not come to save us?




Barr Jeffrey (2010), Render unto Caesar

Horsley Richard (2003), Jesus and Empire

Horsley Richard (1999), Mission to Israel,

Horsley Richard (1999), Bandits Prophets and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus (Google book)

Oakman Douglas E (2015), Jesus, Debt and the Lord’s Prayer (Google book)

Wenham David and Walton Steve (2011), Exploring the New Testament Volume One

Yoder John Howard (1972), The Politics of Jesus

[1] Josephus, Antiquities 18:4

[2] Ibid 18.23

[3] Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire

[4] Ibid

[5] Matthew 5

[6] Josephus, Antiquities 1:180

[7] Horsley, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus

[8] Douglas Oakman, Jesus, Debt and the Lord’s Prayer

[9]  Kristin M Romey quoted in Horsley, Mission to Israel

[10] Matthew 5

[11] Luke 6:29-30

[12] Douglas Oakman Jesus, Debt and the Lord’s Prayer

[13] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus