Whose Likeness and Inscription does it have?

Luke 20:20-26 SCC 1/15/12



            There are two ideas to keep in mind related to this narrative. First, it is evident that the official religious elite are determined to undermine Jesus but they fail again and again to do so. They will fail here as well. Second, the tactic is to catch Jesus in some manufactured predicament so Jesus will discredit himself—especially since the religious elite knew they could not lay hands on him due to their fear of the crowd’s reaction v 19. So they concoct another hypocritical Q & A.


The Setting is Deceitful Opposition 20

            The leadership decides to move into the background for the moment but from there they pull strings and hire others to do their dirty work. There are five ideas that convey their deceitful intentions:


1. They are watching. Even though they may step into the background shortly, they will not lose site of Jesus. They will keep their eye on him.

2. They sent spies.  The idea is that they are hired to lie in wait picturing someone lurking around waiting for a chance to do damage.

3. They pretended to be righteous. Here their motives are exposed as hypocritical. So whatever they try to say or do is with ulterior motive. They want to look sincere without being so.

4. Their purpose is to catch Jesus. So we know they are insincere attempting to set Jesus up by any means possible. We can sense they are desperate to get at him and their tactic is for Jesus to say something incriminating.

5. The reason is to deliver him to the authorities. That authority is described as the governor most likely Pilate who rules and has authority in the jurisdiction. So we can already see the embryo of the ultimate plan that brings Jesus to Pilate. Apparently the thinking now is to get Rome in on the action.


A “Gotcha” Question 21-22

            This was a “gotcha” question because the Pharisees thought paying taxes to Caesar broke the Mosaic Law, but Roman law required it. The disingenuousness continues in v 21. For Luke the setting and motive are crucial. Despite their insincerity they speak more truly then they know. They make three points about Jesus teaching:


First, Jesus speaks straight. He gives an accurate presentation of God’s way.

Second, Jesus shows no partiality. Might mean he is not afraid to challenge the Jewish leadership.

Third, Jesus teaches God’s way with truth. ‘The way’ describes the way of righteousness with God.

Apparently, the purpose of these accolades is flattery.


            Now the question: this question involves taxes paid directly to Rome. The poll tax was paid directly to Caesar. This is not the tax gathered in tollbooths. This one honored and acknowledged the Emperor. The question concerns the legality of this tax for God’s people. Are you loyal to Israel and her independence or should we as Jews knuckle under the Roman Emperor? This might be the type of question that would get the crowds on their side should Jesus misspeak. The most efficient way to get rid of Jesus would be for him to challenge Rome or lose the affections of the people. This question then is designed to force Jesus to make a choice between Rome and Israel.


Jesus Refuses to Walk into the Trap 23-25

            23 Jesus detects trickery

He knows their praise of Him was insincere. Mark says Jesus knew their hypocrisy. The point is the same with each writer. Jesus decides to turn the tables with a question of his own.


            24 Jesus says show me

A denarius is a basic monetary unit. After being shown the coin Jesus asks the identity of the likeness and inscription on it. They acknowledge that it is Caesar. Their hypocrisy is exposed even further now. They use these coins without blinking an eye. They live in the same country and under the same emperor and freely use its currency.


            25 Jesus says pay

Jesus then says pay the tax but he also asserts the need to honor God as well. Here are some observations we can make from Jesus answer.


1. Jesus acknowledges the genuine existence of government taxes and the need to pay it. So we have an obligation to pay our taxes as citizens.

2. Jesus answer implies recognition of political governments authority. In other words God has planned that people be governed.

3. Jesus recognizes God’s providence in the midst of governmental rule. In other words God is in charge of that governmental authority.

4. Jesus also clarifies that God is to receive the honor He is due. Honoring God also means that one cannot refuse the state’s right to function.

PT: We have no commentary here about what to do if the two spheres are in moral conflict. But what he seems to say is that the character of a state is not grounds for challenging the state’s right to organize itself in political or social realms.

Implication: Whose likeness and inscription is on you? Give the tax to Caesar, give yourselves to God.


So when we compare the NT in Romans 13 we also learn:

1. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. Then we are given some reasons for this:

2. We are in subjection not because of things like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is not for world peace or the future of the human race.

3. We are in subjection to governing authorities because there is no authority except from God and those, which exist, are established by God.

So we can see the consistency there is between Jesus and the apostle Paul. Paul applied government submission in a very practical and troubling area—paying taxes. The point is: pay your taxes for rulers are servants of God. Jesus and Paul both tell us this.


A Failure 26

            Once again we come back to the main theme ‘they were unable to catch him’. The trap was set but Jesus was able to side step the trap and take charge. A series of reactions are supplied:

1. Could not catch him in a saying. This shows they wanted Jesus to incriminate himself. That was the point of the plan.

2. In the presence of the people shows that they wanted Jesus to discredit himself in front of the crowd. It was the crowd’s support of Jesus that is a problem for the official religious leadership.

3. They marveled and remained silent. Jesus is not a nationalist after all. Nor is he ignorant enough to engage in a test designed to destroy him. They could not lure him into a corner.



A. There continues to be relentless attacks upon the validity of Jesus and his message.

B. The nature of unbelief is to express skepticism of God’s Word.

C. Jesus authority will not be acknowledged until God the Father subjects the world.