God and Caesar
“By all means, then, pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.”—LUKE 20:25.
1. (a) What is Jehovah’s elevated position? (b) What do we owe to Jehovah that we can never give to Caesar?
WHEN Jesus Christ gave that instruction, there was no doubt in his mind that God’s claims on His servants take precedence over anything that Caesar, or the State, may require of them. Jesus knew better than anyone the truthfulness of the psalmist’s prayer to Jehovah: “Your kingship is a kingship for all times indefinite, and your dominion [sovereignty]a is throughout all successive generations.” (Psalm 145:13) When the Devil offered Jesus authority over all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth, Jesus replied: “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) Worship could never be given to “Caesar,” whether Caesar is the Roman emperor, some other human ruler, or the State itself.
2. (a) What is Satan’s position relative to this world? (b) With whose permission does Satan occupy his position?
2 Jesus did not deny that the kingdoms of the world were Satan’s to give. Later, he called Satan “the ruler of this world.” (John 12:31; 16:11) Toward the end of the first century C.E., the apostle John wrote: “We know we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) This does not mean that Jehovah has relinquished his sovereignty over the earth. Remember that Satan, when offering Jesus rulership over the political kingdoms, stated: “I will give you all this authority . . . because it has been delivered to me.” (Luke 4:6) Satan exercises authority over the kingdoms of the world only by God’s permission.
3. (a) What position do the governments of the nations hold before Jehovah? (b) How can we say that subjection to the governments of this world does not mean subjecting ourselves to Satan, the god of this world?
3 Similarly, the State exercises its authority only because God as Sovereign Ruler permits it to do so. (John 19:11) Thus, “the existing authorities” can be said to “stand placed in their relative positions by God.” Relative to Jehovah’s supreme sovereign authority, theirs is by far a lesser authority. However, they are “God’s minister,” “God’s public servants,” in that they provide necessary services, maintain law and order, and punish evildoers. (Romans 13:1, 4, 6) So Christians need to understand that just because Satan is the invisible ruler of this world, or system, they are not subjecting themselves to him when they recognize their relative subjection to the State. They are obeying God. In this year, 1996, the political State is still a part of “the arrangement of God,” a temporary arrangement that God permits to exist, and it should be recognized as such by Jehovah’s earthly servants.—Romans 13:2.
Jehovah’s Servants of Old and the State
4. Why did Jehovah allow Joseph to become prominent in the government of Egypt?
4 In pre-Christian times, Jehovah permitted some of his servants to occupy prominent positions in State governments. For example, in the 18th century B.C.E., Joseph became prime minister of Egypt, second only to the reigning Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:39-43) Subsequent events made it evident that Jehovah maneuvered this so that Joseph could serve as an instrument in preserving the ‘seed of Abraham,’ his descendants, for the outworking of His purposes. Of course, it should be borne in mind that Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, and he lived at a time when God’s servants had neither the Mosaic Law nor “the law of the Christ.”—Genesis 15:5-7; 50:19-21; Galatians 6:2.
5. Why were Jewish exiles commanded to “seek the peace” of Babylon?
5 Centuries later the faithful prophet Jeremiah was inspired by Jehovah to tell Jewish exiles to submit to the rulers when in exile in Babylon and even to pray for the peace of that city. In his letter to them, he wrote: “This is what Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, has said to all the exiled people, . . . ‘Seek the peace of the city to which I have caused you to go into exile, and pray in its behalf to Jehovah, for in its peace there will prove to be peace for you yourselves.’” (Jeremiah 29:4, 7) At all times Jehovah’s people have reason to “seek peace” for themselves and the nation where they live, in order to have freedom to worship Jehovah.—1 Peter 3:11.
6. Although given high governmental positions, in what ways did Daniel and his three companions refuse to compromise with regard to Jehovah’s Law?
6 During the Babylonian exile, Daniel and three other faithful Jews who were captives in slavery to Babylon submitted to State training and became high-ranking civil servants in Babylonia. (Daniel 1:3-7; 2:48, 49) However, even during their training, they took a firm position on dietary matters that could have led them to break the Law that their God, Jehovah, had provided through Moses. For this they were blessed. (Daniel 1:8-17) When King Nebuchadnezzar set up a State image, Daniel’s three Hebrew companions apparently were compelled to attend the ceremony with their fellow State administrators. Nevertheless, they refused to “fall down and worship” the State idol. Again, Jehovah rewarded their integrity. (Daniel 3:1-6, 13-28) Similarly today, Jehovah’s Witnesses respect the flag of the nation in which they live, but they will not perform an act of worship toward it.—Exodus 20:4, 5; 1 John 5:21.
7. (a) What fine stand did Daniel take, despite having an elevated position in Babylon’s governmental structure? (b) What changes came about in Christian times?
7 After the fall of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty, Daniel was given a high-ranking governmental post under the new Medo-Persian regime that replaced it in Babylon. (Daniel 5:30, 31; 6:1-3) But he did not allow his high position to lead him into compromising his integrity. When a State law required that he worship King Darius rather than Jehovah, he refused. For this he was thrown to the lions, but Jehovah delivered him. (Daniel 6:4-24) Of course, this was in pre-Christian times. Once the Christian congregation was established, God’s servants came “under law toward Christ.” Many things that were permitted under the Jewish system were to be viewed differently, based on the way in which Jehovah was now dealing with his people.—1 Corinthians 9:21; Matthew 5:31, 32; 19:3-9.
Jesus’ Attitude Toward the State
8. What incident shows that Jesus was determined to avoid political involvement?
8 When Jesus Christ was on earth, he set higher standards for his followers, and he refused all involvement in political or military matters. After Jesus had miraculously fed several thousand people with a few loaves of bread and two small fish, Jewish men wanted to seize him and make him a political king. But Jesus avoided them by quickly withdrawing to the mountains. (John 6:5-15) Regarding this incident, The New International Commentary on the New Testament states: “There were fierce nationalistic longings among the Jews of that period, and doubtless many of those who saw the miracle felt that here was a divinely accredited leader, who was just the one to lead them against the Romans. So they set themselves to make him king.” It adds that Jesus “decisively rejected” this offer of political leadership. Christ gave no support to any Jewish insurrection against Roman domination. Indeed, he foretold what would be the result of the revolt that would take place after his death—untold woes for the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the destruction of that city.—Luke 21:20-24.
9. (a) How did Jesus describe the relationship of his Kingdom to the world? (b) What guidance did Jesus give his followers as to their dealings with the governments of the world?
9 Shortly before his death, Jesus told the special representative of the Roman emperor in Judea: “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from this source.” (John 18:36) Until his Kingdom puts an end to the rule of political governments, Christ’s disciples follow his example. They render obedience to those established authorities but do not interfere in their political undertakings. (Daniel 2:44; Matthew 4:8-10) Jesus left guidelines for his disciples, stating: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matthew 22:21) Earlier, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said: “If someone under authority impresses you into service for a mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:41) In the context of this sermon, Jesus was illustrating the principle of willing submission to legitimate demands, whether in human relations or in governmental requirements that are in harmony with God’s law.—Luke 6:27-31; John 17:14, 15.
Christians and Caesar
10. According to one historian, what conscientious position did the early Christians hold with regard to Caesar?
10 These brief guidelines were to govern the relationship between Christians and the State. In his book The Rise of Christianity, historian E. W. Barnes wrote: “Whenever, for centuries to come, a Christian was in doubt as to his duty towards the State, he turned to Christ’s authoritative teaching. He would pay taxes: the dues levied might be heavy—they became intolerable before the collapse of the Western Empire—but the Christian would endure them. He would likewise accept all other State obligations, provided he was not called upon to render unto Caesar the things that belonged to God.”
11. How did Paul counsel Christians to deal with worldly rulers?
11 It was in line with this that, a little over 20 years after Christ’s death, the apostle Paul told the Christians in Rome: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities.” (Romans 13:1) About ten years later, shortly before his second imprisonment and his execution in Rome, Paul wrote to Titus: “Continue reminding them [Cretan Christians] to be in subjection and be obedient to governments and authorities as rulers, to be ready for every good work, to speak injuriously of no one, not to be belligerent, to be reasonable, exhibiting all mildness toward all men.”—Titus 3:1, 2.
Progressive Understanding of “the Superior Authorities”
12. (a) What did Charles Taze Russell view as the proper position of a Christian relative to the governmental authorities? (b) Regarding serving in the armed forces, what varied positions did anointed Christians take during World War I?
12 As early as 1886, Charles Taze Russell wrote in the book The Plan of the Ages: “Neither Jesus nor the Apostles interfered with earthly rulers in any way. . . . They taught the Church to obey the laws, and to respect those in authority because of their office, . . . to pay their appointed taxes, and except where they conflict with God’s laws (Acts 4:19; 5:29) to offer no resistance to any established law. (Rom. 13:1-7; Matt. 22:21) Jesus and the Apostles and the early church were all law-abiding, though they were separate from, and took no share in the governments of this world.” This book correctly identified “the higher powers,” or “the superior authorities,” mentioned by the apostle Paul, as human governmental authorities. (Romans 13:1, King James Version) In 1904 the book The New Creation stated that true Christians “should be found amongst the most law-abiding of the present time—not agitators, not quarrelsome, not fault-finders.” This was understood by some to mean total submission to the powers that be, even to the point of accepting service in the armed forces during World War I. Others, however, viewed it as contrary to Jesus’ statement: “All those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Obviously, a clearer understanding of Christian submission to the superior authorities was needed.
13. What change in understanding of the identity of the higher powers was presented in 1929, and how did this prove beneficial?
13 In 1929, at a time when laws of various governments were beginning to forbid things that God commands or demand things that God’s laws forbid, it was felt that the higher powers must be Jehovah God and Jesus Christ.b This was the understanding Jehovah’s servants had during the crucial period before and during World War II and on into the Cold War, with its balance of terror and its military preparedness. Looking back, it must be said that this view of things, exalting as it did the supremacy of Jehovah and his Christ, helped God’s people to maintain an uncompromisingly neutral stand throughout this difficult period.
14. How was increased light shed on Romans 13:1, 2 and related scriptures in 1962?
14 In 1961 the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was completed. Its preparation had required an in-depth study of the textual language of the Scriptures. The precise translation of the words used not only in Romans chapter 13 but also in such passages as Titus 3:1, 2 and 1 Peter 2:13, 17 made it evident that the term “superior authorities” referred, not to the Supreme Authority, Jehovah, and to his Son, Jesus, but to human governmental authorities. In late 1962, articles were published in The Watchtower that gave an accurate explanation of Romans chapter 13 and also provided a clearer view than that held at the time of C. T. Russell. These articles pointed out that Christian subjection to the authorities cannot be total. It must be relative, subject to its not bringing God’s servants into conflict with God’s laws. Further articles in The Watchtower have emphasized this important point.c
15, 16. (a) What better balance did the new understanding of Romans chapter 13 lead to? (b) What questions remain to be answered?
15 This key to the correct understanding of Romans chapter 13 has enabled Jehovah’s people to balance due respect for the political authorities with an uncompromising stand on vital Scriptural principles. (Psalm 97:11; Jeremiah 3:15) It has allowed them to have a proper view of their relationship with God and their dealings with the State. It has ensured that while they pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, they do not neglect to pay back God’s things to God.
16 But just what are Caesar’s things? What legitimate claims can the State make on a Christian? These questions will be considered in the following article.
b The Watchtower, June 1 and 15, 1929.
c See The Watchtower, November 1 and 15, December 1, 1962; November 1, 1990; February 1, 1993; July 1, 1994.
Interestingly, in his commentary on Romans chapter 13, Professor F. F. Bruce writes: “It is plain from the immediate context, as from the general context of the apostolic writings, that the state can rightly command obedience only within the limits of the purposes for which it has been divinely instituted—in particular, the state not only may but must be resisted when it demands the allegiance due to God alone.”
Can You Explain?
◻ Why does subjection to the superior authorities not mean subjection to Satan?
◻ What was Jesus’ attitude toward the politics of his day?
◻ What counsel did Jesus give his followers as to their dealings with Caesar?
◻ How did Paul counsel Christians to deal with the rulers of the nations?
◻ How has the understanding of the identity of the superior authorities developed over the years?
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When Satan offered him political power, Jesus turned it down
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Russell wrote that true Christians “should be found amongst the most law-abiding of the present time”