Paying Back God’s Things to God
“Then he said to them: ‘Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.’”—Matt. 22:21, NW.
JEHOVAH God will in the near future bring to a decisive end his controversy with Caesar over who is to dominate the earth. When that supreme issue of universal sovereignty is settled, everybody permitted to live on earth will pay back everything to Jehovah God, because Caesar will be no more. There will be no division of obligations between God and the political powers of this old world then. This old world with its Caesars will have been destroyed. The righteous new world will be here with Jehovah as the living, true God and with the perfect Governor whom He puts in authority over all the earth.
2 But until the universal war of Armageddon removes “Caesar” and all his henchmen and his commercial and religious allies, “Caesar” has to be taken into account even by persons who are no part of this world but who are nevertheless living in it. When on earth as a man in the midst of Caesar’s domain, the Son of God said: “I am from the realms above. . . . I am not from this world.” “I am no part of the world.” Yet at the same time he said: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (John 8:23; 17:14, 16 and Matt. 22:21, NW) As long as this world lasts, Jesus’ words here apply. The question has to be determined, therefore, as to what is to be paid back to “Caesar” and what is to be paid back to God. The question must be determined, not according to “Caesar’s” arbitrary demands, but according to God’s own Book, the Bible, because Jehovah God is the Supreme Authority.
3 The circumstances under which Jesus made his oft-quoted statement reveal one of the things that we must pay to “Caesar”. It was not the matter of worship and devotion or saluting the military standards that they were discussing, but the matter of paying public taxes for governmental administration purposes. This fact is made plain by the Bible account concerning this incident at a time when Herod Antipas was the administrator appointed by Caesar for the province of Galilee and Pontius Pilate was the administrator appointed by Caesar for the province of Judea. The place is Jerusalem in Judea. The time is just two days before Jesus is impaled on the torture stake at Calvary. The account reads:
4 “Then the Pharisees went their way and took counsel together in order to trap him in his speech. So they dispatched to him their disciples together with party followers of Herod, saying: ‘Teacher, we know you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and you do not care for anybody, for you do not look upon men’s outward appearance. Tell us, therefore, What do you think? Is it lawful to pay tribute to Caesar or not?’ But Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said: ‘Why do you put me to the test, hypocrites? Show me the tribute coin.’ They brought him a denarius [equal to 17 cents or 8 pence 2 farthings, a day’s wage for workmen then]. And he said to them: ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’ They said: ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them: ‘Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.’ Well, when they heard that, they marveled, and leaving him they went off.”—Matt. 22:15-22, NW; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:19-26.
5 The scheme of the Pharisees, scribes and chief priests of the Jews was to get Jesus in trouble with Caesar’s government over Palestine and lay him open to the charge of sedition. That is why they sent along Jews who were party followers or politically in favor of Herod as a local ruler over them. Luke points that out, saying: “And, after observing him closely, they [the scribes and chief priests] sent out men secretly hired to pretend that they were righteous, in order that they might catch him in speech, so as to turn him over to the government and to the authority of the governor [Pontius Pilate].” They proved unable to catch any subversive, seditious words from Jesus. Yet two days later they deliberately went ahead and accused him before Pontius Pilate of those very things, saying: “This man we found subverting our nation and forbidding the paying of taxes to Caesar and saying he himself is Christ a king.” (Luke 20:20; 23:2, NW) Little wonder that today the religious enemies of Jehovah’s witnesses accuse them before the political authorities of espionage, subversiveness and sedition! Well, Jesus, who is Jehovah’s chief witness, declared that if the enemies accused him, the Master, of such things, how much more would they falsely accuse his followers of the same things to bring them into difficulties with the political powers!
6 As we analyze Jesus’ statement we see he was not subversive and seditious but just and fair toward Caesar. Whether the Pharisees, scribes and chief priests liked it or not, Jesus conceded that the payment of tax to Caesar was a due owing to him. It is true that Caesar was the military conqueror of Palestine and held the Jews in subjection, but, just the same, Caesar’s servants were exercising governmental functions. They provided many public benefits from their administration and kept the peace and public order. So for such social, economic and administrative benefits and services, even the oppressed, liberty-loving, independence-seeking Jews were obligated to pay back to Caesar what belonged to him. Part of the tax money paid in Caesar might use in his military ventures; but though the Jews had no sympathy for such military aggressions and did not join his armies, they still must pay the tax, because it was Caesar’s responsibility and not theirs as to what he did with his own money. The denarius coin was of his make, and not that of Jehovah’s theocratic government. The image and inscription on the coin identified the political taxing power, and it was in this coin that the tax was to be paid. So for the beneficial services that Caesar dispensed to them the subject peoples were to pay him back in the coin which he demanded, even if he overcharged them oppressively.
7 Jesus himself paid the tax. And that he had no objection to the collection or the payment of the tax by his fellow Jews to a foreign imperial power he showed by his mingling with tax collectors and seeking their salvation. Hence his religious foes said: “Look! a man gluttonous and given to drinking wine, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Matt. 11:19, NW) Jesus came as God’s ambassador to earth, but in a foreign land under administration by the foreign ruling power even an ambassador must pay tax on the real estate he occupies in that foreign land or on the things he buys or services hired. So Jesus was reasonable and righteous as to what was owing to Caesar.—2 Cor. 5:20, NW.
THOSE UNDER THESE INSTRUCTIONS
8 Caesar may not have agreed with what Jesus here said, because it placed a limitation upon Caesar. Today modern Caesars and extreme nationalistic patriots insist on payments mainly to Caesar, but they do not like to quote or to be confronted with the other part of Jesus’ statement about paying back God’s things to God. Now everybody must take note that Jesus said these words, not to Gentiles such as pagan Romans and Greeks, but to religious Jews. They were members of a nation consecrated to Jehovah God and which he had chosen and brought into a covenant with him. They were primarily under the theocratic law which God had given to them by Moses, and which governed their personal conduct and their worship. So by this theocratic law they owed the first things to Jehovah God, and not to any human creation such as Caesar. Later on, that same day, Jesus told the Jews this, when one of the Pharisees, versed in the theocratic law, put him to the test by saying: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Thereupon Jesus quoted from the Law at Deuteronomy 6:5 and at Leviticus 19:18 and answered: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second, like it, is this: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.”—Matt. 22:34-40, NW.
9 It was not according to Caesar’s law that the question was up concerning the lawfulness of paying tax to him. Caesar’s own law required the tax, but the legalness of it was questioned by the Jews according to Jehovah’s law, the theocratic law. The pagan Romans paid worship to Caesar according to his law and also worshiped or paid religious honors to their military standards and ensigns. By the first and second of the Ten Commandments the consecrated Jews like Jesus were forbidden to do this. (Ex. 20:2-6, AS) The Caesars, with a show of tolerance, allowed conquered peoples to worship their own local or national gods, but demanded that they also worship the deified Caesar or emperor as god so as to bind the empire together by a united worship. But Jesus and his faithful followers could never divide their worship. He made this plain in the mount of temptation. Concerning this we read: “So he brought him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth in an instant of time; and the Devil said to him: ‘I will give you all this authority and the glory of them, because it has been delivered to me and to whomever I wish I give it. You, therefore, if you do an act of worship before me, it will all be yours.’ In reply Jesus said to him: ‘It is written, “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.”’” (Luke 4:5-8, NW) Hence when Jesus said to those under theocratic law that they should pay back God’s things to God, he did not mean Caesar deified. He meant Jehovah God, who gave the Mosaic Law to his chosen people. On these things owed to God we can never compromise with “Caesar” and his political henchmen.
10 A.D. 1914 the “appointed times of the nations” which began in 607 B.C. with King Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem ran out. Since then the nations have been in the “time of the end” of this world. Under the international stress of this crucial time, and particularly now with the cold war between the Eastern and Western blocs of nations threatening to become hot in a third world war, the political state symbolized by Caesar feels under pressure to demand that its citizens pay everything to Caesar, attributing to the state the continued welfare and salvation of its citizens. More and more it is inclined to encroach upon those God-given things which genuine Christians must pay back to the living, true God, and it makes demands in conflict with the ruling laid down by Jesus Christ. The proud, ambitious, self-centered nations never consider that they as nations owe anything to Jehovah God. Nevertheless, they owe it to God to pay back what belongs to him, particularly since 1914. Since then the issue of universal sovereignty has been set before them by the witnesses of Jehovah God. This issue includes the question, Who will rightfully dominate the earth and rule all its people? Who should rightfully do so is clear from the prophecy for our time, at Psalm 24:1, 2, 7-10 (AS): “The earth is Jehovah’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory will come in. Who is the King of glory? Jehovah strong and mighty, Jehovah mighty in battle. . . . He is the King of glory.”
11 No nation owns in absolute right the territory it governs. The earth belongs to Jehovah the Creator, and it is only by his sufferance that nations are occupying His territory, his possession. They are responsible to him for the way they manage the earth. The governments over the various parts of the earth and its people hold a communal responsibility to the Creator, especially those governments which claim to be Christian or which have renounced Christianity. He holds them responsible, just as he did ancient Sodom and Gomorrah upon which he rained down fire and brimstone. The appointed times of the nations for world domination expired in 1914. He has notified them of this by his witnesses who proclaim the setting up of his kingdom by Christ. Therefore it would be the right thing for the nations, especially those of Christendom, to pay back to God his things and yield over their territory and their sovereignty to him and his Christ. But “Caesar” refuses to bow to this right course. All the nations selfishly choose to perpetuate “Caesar” and to exploit Jehovah’s property, the earthly globe, and to ruin it and its populations. As pictured by the “ten kings”, they prefer to fulfill Revelation 17:12-14 (NW): “These have one purpose, and so they give their power and authority to the wild beast. These will battle with the Lamb, but, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, the Lamb will conquer them. Also those called and chosen and faithful with him will do so.”
12 Extreme nationalists, exasperated at the faithfulness of Jehovah’s witnesses to him, want to drive them off Jehovah’s own property and territory. They talk like godless totalitarians and loudly clamor for Jehovah’s witnesses to be deported from the country, as if these witnesses were living on soil where they did not belong. In fact, they would deport them from the face of the earth. Little do they appreciate that the faithful servants of Jehovah are the only ones who now have a right to occupy the earth. God will demonstrate that right in the battle between the Lamb and the worldly nations. There Jehovah will clear the earth of these fanatical superpatriots of this world and will let only his faithful witnesses survive on earth into the new world where all creatures will pay back to God the things belonging to God.