Living with Dual Citizenship – Matthew 22:15-22
The very word patriotism comes from the word patriarch; and we all acknowledge that each of us have a connection to a “father land.” This has with it identification to a particular kinship, a kinship that has worked, and sometimes fought to sustain and protect the family. I believe that just as one honors father and mother one should also honor where God has placed you. My great grandfather served in World War I, my grandfather served in World War II as a helmsmen on a Navy ship.
Obviously, these men did not battle the other side because they hated the individual men in front of them, they simply loved the men behind them. They stood for their fellow Americans and stood against the ideals that the enemy represented. When I hear the Patriotic songs and pledge allegiance to the flag that represents our “father land”, it stirs deep within me , because I know the cost of our freedom. We should be all deeply grateful for the freedom that we benefit from every day of our lives. When I think about my family history, and American history, I recognize that I am dependent on others, brave men and women who have given their lives for our freedom. I want to affirm that. Today, I am talking about our citizenship, I am talking about the day to day, broad strokes of living in our country.
But I think all of us who are Christians would acknowledge that there is tension in living as dual citizens. The apostle Paul tells us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” But at the same time we love our country and desire proper patriotism. The apostle Peter tells us that we are “sojourners, exiles” just passing through. This is our temporary home. So what is proper patriotism? What does it mean to live as Dual Citizens? How are we supposed to think and act as citizens of the Kingdom of God, while at the same time being citizens in the Kingdom of Man?
In an effort to be transparent with you, this is a very heavy message. It is a message I have struggled to write. It is a message that has weighed heavy on my heart. Emotionally I have been very burdened by this topic of dual citizenship. What are the church people going to hear me say? Am I saying to little, am I saying too much? So my prayer is that Jesus words will guide this sermon in a very balanced way. I think that Jesus words in Matthew chapter 22, verses 15-22 are very appropriate for this topic.
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.
This is a fascinating encounter between Jesus and a group of questioners, who by most accounts were strange “bed-fellows” in the kingdom of man.
- The Pharisees were anti-Rome – Were supremely loyal to their religious establishment. Pharisees did not favor taxes to Caesar for religious reasons, it intruded on their dominion.
- The Herodians were pro-Rome – Were supremely loyal to the Herod, and thus the Roman government. Herodians favored taxes to Caesar because it provided their livelihood and expanded their dominion. The Herodian dynasty was dependent on Roman rule.
So why would these two groups join together in attempting to trap Jesus with a question about taxes to Caesar? Well, the goal was to get him to say something that might prove to be incriminating. The trap was simple, in their minds there were two possible outcomes to this situation; either Jesus is “pro-Rome” or “anti-Rome.” Politically speaking, the only two options were either “complete devotion to civil government” or “complete devotion to the God of Israel.” If Jesus were to say;
- It is unlawful to pay taxes to Caesar – The Herodians would charge Jesus with advocating resistance, for inciting a political rebellion. The Pharisees would have been partial to this answer because this would make Jesus a threat to Rome. Many of the Israelites were waiting for a messiah, a political savior to deliver them from Rome.
- It is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar –The Pharisees would charge that Jesus was advocating a compromise with Rome. The Herodians would have been partial to this answer, because Jesus would no longer be a threat. The Israelites viewed these taxes as a painful reminder of Roman occupation, a potent symbol of political subjection. For many Israelites loyalty to Caesar was disloyalty to God, because the coin was a symbol of the pagan Roman religion, the imperial cult.
Essentially, both sides were waiting for Jesus to come out from behind “the smoke” and reveal himself as a political messiah or political revolutionary. But there is something deeper going on here.
Dual Citizenship Requires us to Resist Political Simplicity
“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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
From the very outset the questioners acknowledge that Jesus is not afraid of Caesar, nor anyone else for that matter, so they ask him “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” The wording “is it lawful” is important here. They are asking that Jesus interpret what the Torah, the law of God, says on “paying taxes to Caesar”. Essentially, they are asking what does morality require? Should one pay the taxes and, politically speaking, forfeit ones complete devotion to God? Or not pay the taxes and forfeit ones civil responsibility to the state? In their minds it would either be blasphemy or insurrection.
Jesus took the initiative away from the questioners and asked them to bring out the coin that this tax would have been paid with. What he does is shift the discussion from politics to the deeper issue of devotion.
“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.”
See, this coin (denarius), would have the head of the Caesar on one side, with the Latin inscription “Caesar, Son of the Divine.” On the other side it would have read “high priest”. To the religious establishment of the day this coin proclaimed that Caesar was a “god”. Furthermore, this coin was a painful reminder of the Roman government’s occupation and rule.
So on one level, the listeners expected Jesus to signal that he was in favor of a revolt against the civil government or the establishment of a new political order. But Jesus knew that the question was much deeper political allegiance, “Jesus, are you pro government or not?” Although they wanted a simple “yes” or “no” answer, Jesus does not give them a simple answer and leave it at that. And even though he did not give them a simple “yes” or “no”, he didn’t avoid or dodge the question either; he answered, but with a caveat that forces them to think, forces us to think.
One of the wisdom themes in the Bible teaches to answer fools according to their folly, to both answer a fool and, at the same time not answer a fool. The principle is that one needs to discern between situations that the Bible requires as a moral absolute and situations where the Bible only gives us guidance, but ultimately allows us to use wisdom according to the particular situation. The Bible doesn’t always give us pat-answers to life. Christianity is a complex relationship, not a mathematical equation.
Now, what do we do in most matters of wisdom? When it’s not so “black and white.” We usually give other people room to disagree; we don’t demand that they agree with us. We often try to winsomely convince them. But we realize that they aren’t necessarily evil or wrong for disagreeing. Right?
But, Jesus opponents presented the question as if it were one way or the other, with no room to apply wisdom. They had specific ideologies, primary devotions, that blinded them to only see the question that way. This is the problem when we idealize things; it often blinds us to our own folly.  Remember that the primary issue here is not principally about politics but about devotion. Think about how addictive it can be to place ones ultimate hope in government and politics. Devotion to a can be exhilarating. The problem with us is that when we are devoted to something we often idealize it, are our convictions towards that thing reach the same level as biblical truth. We do this today in American politics, do we not?
- Political Parties: Do we not idealize certain parties within government? When idealize one party, we tend to demonize the other. This leads to shouting matches and uncharitable attitudes. But I think many of us, if we were honest with ourselves, would acknowledge that no one political party can capture all of the Christian social/ethical points. There is no political party that is a perfect encapsulation of Jesus values. Both political conservatives and political liberals get certain things wrong.
- Passing Civil Laws: Consider this question. “Is it right or wrong to pass tax cuts?” What does Christian morality require? Well, other than the fact that we all want tax breaks, we also realize that it depends on a number of factors that require great wisdom. We recognize that some citizens will benefit and some will be hurt. So, what is the most loving thing to do? These are not always yes or no questions, it is never that simple.
There are certain moral commands in the Bible that we as Christians must stand firm on. But on issues of wisdom we need to resist this type of political simplicity. Jesus is not promoting an a-political attitude, passivity, or some form of escapism. That is far from what he is doing, in fact – Jesus answer to the questioners affirms the good intention and purpose of civil government, and calls for us to be good citizens. Jesus is simply calling for a proper patriotism.
Dual Citizenship Requires Proper Activism
Let’s go back to that coin. Jesus holds it up and asks the crowd, “whose image is this?”, and “whose inscription?” Inevitably they respond “it is Caesars”. Then Jesus says, “Well, if it has Caesars image on it, it belongs to him, so give it back [to him].”
Jesus pithy words here lay down the basis for the proper relationship between God’s people and human government. In fact, it is upon this answer that most discussion on the relationship between civil government and the kingdom of God has been based ever since. In calling the people to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” Jesus acknowledges Caesars temporary rights as he carries out his God given function in politics and government for the good of civilization.
We took Solomon to the pool a few days ago and it brought back memories of my own childhood when my mom would take my sister and I to the local YMCA. When she did that, and when we jumped into the pool, my mom, in some sense, was entrusting our care to the life guards. They are there to watch over the children in the pool. When a kid begins acting up, or playing in a way that is hazardous or dangerous to themselves or others what does the life guard do? They blow the whistle and make them sit out for a few minutes. So while you are in the pool you are temporarily entrusted to the jurisdiction of the life guards.
When we look at the big picture of redemptive history we see that civil government is a temporary, post-fall, common grace institution given by God for the administration of justice and to restrain evil. The Apostle Paul argues this same notion in his letter to the Romans, chapter 13. On the surface level Jesus shows that Caesar has rights while he is responsible for the framework in which all of our common life is lived – to provide and protect. . In God’s plan for history civil government is a legitimate establishment. I don’t think anyone of us would disagree with that.
Let me add one caveat, this is where the issue of wisdom comes into play. Human history affirms that there are times when leaders of human government demand what God forbids. This is when Caesar demands the honor that only God deserves. In these cases I think there is cause for civil disobedience under the authority of King Jesus. We will leave that as it is, because we do not live under the totalitarian leadership of someone demanding that we do what God has restricted. If I were preaching this message in another land, a land where the government was not allowing Christians to live a quiet and peaceful life, this point would be applicable and worth consideration. The point is simple, rendering to Caesar what he deserves, in some situations calls for respectful resistance.
Just as those that are entrusted to watch over the citizens, citizenship itself comes with obligations and believers in Jesus Christ must wisely recognize this and act accordingly while living in the kingdom of man. Jesus affirms that one must recognize and hold in balance that “it is possible to pay ones dues to [government] and to God, to be both a dutiful citizen and a loyal servant of God.” Paying dues to government is different than total heart allegiance.
The question is then, how do we do this with wisdom? How shall we live as citizens of the kingdom of God, and yet simultaneously live as citizens in this world, in this country, in this city? I believe that on one level when Jesus calls us to render to Caesar what is his, he is calling us away from political passivity and calling us to a certain type, a proper type of activism.
The Christian worldview makes it clear that our ultimate concern is for others to experience the beauty of God by the proclamation of the gospel of grace, and we yearn for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. So that all things will be as they should! But we look around our world and see that it is filled with “mixed passions, mixed allegiances, and compromised principles…Unlike God’s kingdom, the citizens of this world demonstrate deadly patterns of disobedience and revolt against the kingship of God.” Why? Because of this our world is broken and deteriorating.
Yet, while this world is passing away, it is not ultimately unimportant. We should not forfeit our responsibility to love its citizens. We bear great responsibility in this world to work for the good, for justice, and peace. When Scripture instructs us to love God and love neighbor as ourselves we are given a clear mandate for the proper engagement in this world. Did Jesus not say that this is the essence of the law? So when you ponder the question “what is the most lawful thing to do?” we are essentially seeking to answer what must I do to love God and neighbor properly. I think Albert Mohler says this wonderfully when he says that:
Love of neighbor for the sake of loving God is a profound political philosophy that strikes a balance between the disobedience of political disengagement and the idolatry of politics as our main priority.
Love of neighbor for the sake of loving God is the hedge against either political idealism or political escapism. As the people of God, we should as Jeremiah 29:7 teaches us, “seek the welfare of the Kingdom of Man”. As individuals we need to get involved government and politics, but do it critically with wisdom with an understanding that neither civil religion nor civil government will obtain a utopia.
Civil government, political alliances, and arrangements are, by definition, temporary and conditional. There is an inherent complexity and tension between the kingdom of God and the civil governance of man. We serve as ambassadors in the kingdom of man. An ambassador is one who recognizes and honors the kingdom it represents and also recognizes and honors the place where it is.
There is sensitivity to where you are, but also recognition of who you are – you are a citizen of God’s eternal kingdom. The ‘ambassador’ mindset brings balance to the dual citizenship dilemma. This helps us understand why;
- To those who wanted to overthrow the civil government, Jesus demanded that they render to Caesar what belongs to him.
- To those who wanted to absolutize the civil government, Jesus told them to render to God what is God’s.
Politics and civil government was not Jesus primary concern. See, Jesus had a greater agenda, a greater campaign, and I think in understanding it we will be able to fully see what is happening in this passage. So while dual citizenship requires proper activism, it also requires allegiance to King Jesus.
Dual Citizenship Requires Allegiance to King Jesus
Consider again, Jesus question “whose image is on this coin?” from a theological perspective. We have already affirmed that on one level, to go ahead and ‘render to Caesar’, give back to Caesar what has his image on it. God has appointed people, however unfit, as authorities in this world. But remember, there is a deeper theological meaning here that we must not miss. Being familiar with the biblical narrative should draw ones attention to the language of “image” in Genesis, where we see that all human beings are created in the ‘image of God’. So when Jesus says:
Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
There is a sense irony here in this paradoxical statement. The coin bears Caesars image, but humanity bears God’s image. Jesus is saying that God always trumps Caesar because all things are God’s. See, one may be obligated to pay taxes to Caesar, but everything, all that we are and have comes under God’s dominion and kingship. So, “whatever civil obligations Jesus followers might have, they must be understood within the context of their responsibilities to God.” Therefore, fulfilling civic duties does not necessarily jeopardize our devotion to God.
So, when the questioners come to Jesus and essentially ask him if he is a political revolutionary – he says no. And he is not. But at the same time, he is. It is here that we understand the deepest meaning of Jesus answer to the question. The questioners are essentially asking, Jesus, are you who you say you are? Are you really a revolutionary or are you full of hot air?
Walking around claiming that the kingdom of God is at hand was fighting talk! So what is going on here? While Jesus was not a political or religious revolutionary in the sense that the questioners expected, he was a revolutionary in the greater sense. What his listeners did not understand was that the real revolution would not come through the non-payment of taxes or the establishment of a new political order. See, every political revolution inside the kingdom of man is not really a revolution in the truest sense; it’s simply rearranging the furniture.
Remember, Jesus kingdom is not of this world. It does not operate in the same way the kingdom of man operates. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is giving us a real revolution! And once you taste the goodness of the King and see the beauty of his rule, you will gladly bow the knee and submit to his dominion.
- Earthly rulers build kingdoms through conquest, by gaining power over the poor and oppressed. But Jesus builds his kingdom through grace, by giving his power to the poor and oppressed.
- Earthly rulers are established by recognition or election by the masses, Jesus rule is established by being rejected and executed because of the masses.
The Herodians and the Pharisees did not understand what Jesus was doing. He was doing something that government and politics cannot do. Think about it, putting Jesus to death launched his revolution. Jesus resurrection inaugurated his Kingdom.
The major problems in our world are not political, they can’t be fixed by government or law — they’re spiritual. In any given situation your, and my, essential problem has to do with sin. We don’t need government overhaul or political reformation, we need redemption. As C.S. Lewis once quipped: “You cannot make men good by law: [but] without good men you cannot have a good society.” Jesus kingdom spread by gospel transformation, creating new men, and a new society of men.
When we understand this we can have a balanced view of government and accept that we cannot legislate new hearts; government cannot create a new society. Our hearts are idol factories. Think about it, if our ultimate hope is tied to the security of America, an ideology of a specific political party, or in the power of our government or nation – we will always be let down. It is so terribly easy to exalt politics as the means by which we attempt to usher in the redemptive kingdom of God in this world.
- If our hope is in these things, then when we receive a blow, or are attacked, it crushes us and leads us to despair and paranoia.
- If our hope is in a particular party, ideology, or even in the outcome of a certain political decision then we tend to demonize the opponents and resort to unloving debates and tactics to gain power.
- But, it is also easy to despise politics as insignificant or unworthy of Christians. But this is not proper either.
The heart issue, the problem of man is that we cannot properly render to God what is God’s. If we are really changed by the Gospel, then we are changed so that we can work with others we disagree with for the greater good. Ultimately the enemy is not the one for whom we disagree with politically, the enemy is inside. If we resort to power plays and demonizing those whom we disagree with, then we know we aren’t living in line with Christ’s kingdom which drives us to serve our enemies.
We need to come to Jesus, who deals with our deepest sin, and continues to deal with our sin. See, once we catch a vision of the beauty of God’s rule and his kingdom everything changes even our view our civil responsibility and how we do politics. We look around and seek to use wisdom as we are “salt and light.” Our devotion becomes less about politics and more about people.
- We don’t desire power for ourselves; we desire to do what is most loving for others.
- We don’t only seek to identify the problems in society, we work with others (even those whom we disagree) to find the solution.
- We don’t condemn the weak and oppressed; we come alongside them, invite them in, and love them.
- We don’t run from the evil in our cities, we run in and settle, we seek the welfare of our cities.
Let me put it another way. We don’t just seek to enact laws that uphold our family values; we take it a step further and lovingly pursue those who don’t uphold those values. We don’t just place our hope in legislating against things like homosexual union, we also reach out to them and seek gospel transformation in their lives. We don’t just seek to make abortion illegal, we reach out to those mothers and walk with them, help them find ways to raise those children, we even adopt those children.
Our citizenship, our allegiance to Christ and the Kingdom of God calls us to more, to go above and beyond as we live in the Kingdom of Man. Any simplistic Christian response to politics, the claim that we should not be involved, the claim that we should take back our country for Jesus, is simply inadequate. As citizens of two kingdoms we need to search the Scriptures, pray diligently, and hold each other accountable to live with great wisdom, as we wait for our king to come back and place things how they ought to be. Let me close with this.
Perhaps you have heard the story. In 1914 something amazing happened in December along the Western front during World War 1. During the weeks leading up to Christmas parties of German and British soldiers began exchanging Christmas songs across the trenches. Essentially, they were battling each other with season’s greetings, at some points individual soldiers walked across enemy lines bearing Christmas gifts. On Christmas eve and Christmas day both sides agreed to a truce, an unofficial cease fire. These enemy war units ventured into what they called “no mans land”, neutral territory, to share their rations of food and sing Christmas carols together.
Imagine that, 10,000 troops coming together, individual Christians, enemies in the kingdom of man, but brothers in the kingdom of God, coming together under the banner of Christmas, under the banner of Christ. What a beautiful picture of the power of the gospel. What a beautiful picture of what’s to come when Christ consummates his kingdom and sits down on the throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
But we are not there yet, we still live in a broken world. Until that day may we seek to live with wisdom as we “render to Caesar what is Caesars, and render to God what is God’s.”
Our hope is not in government or politics but in the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Government, Politics, and law do not change men fundamentally, the gospel does.
-  I am indebted to Joel Branscomb and Josh Branscomb for their insight and suggestions.
-  Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, July 1776, Adams Family Papers. Massachusetts Historical Society.
-  C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.
-  Philippians 3:20.
-  1 Peter 2:11.
-  The Old Testament mandated taxes to support the temple.
-  William L. Lane, Herodians, Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, 790.
-  See Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, PNTC, 556.
-  First, at that point in history religion and state were intimately intertwined. Throughout Israel’s history they had seen themselves as a theocracy. Even the pagan nations viewed their gods and the gods of the state. In fact, when the Romans would come in and take over cities to expand their kingdom they would often adopt some of the local gods into their own religion as to break down peoples the allegiance to their own gods over others. This way if rebellion erupted it would be less clear on whose sides the various gods were fighting.
-  Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on Matthew, 525.
-  N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 502.
-  The coin was about the size of a dime, and worth a day’s wages.
-  D.A. Carson, Matthew, EBC, 459.
-  In a sense, Jesus questioners compromised themselves by carrying the coins.
-  R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT, 830.
-  Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, Wisdom Literature, DTIB, 849.
-  See D.A. Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited.
-  See Richard Land’s book The Divided States of America.
-  That’s what the Greek word rendered would be translated as in modern English, “give it back”.
-  See John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, Ethics for a Brave New World, 388.
-  Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28, WBC, 636.
-  Dick Lucas, Politics and the Kingdom of God, Audio Sermon.
-  Genesis 4:18 ff; Romans 13:1-7
-  1 Timothy 2:2.
-  R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICT, 830.
-  See R. Albert Mohler Jr., Culture Shift.
-  R. Albert Mohler Jr., Culture Shift, 4.
-  R. Albert Mohler Jr., Culture Shift, 5.
-  A wonderful treatment of this topic can be seen in Russell D. Moore’s The Kingdom of Christ.
-  Adapted from Russell Moore, Patriotism and The Gospel, Audio Sermon.
-  Genesis 1:27. Contra R.T. France, see 833.
-  Exodus 13:9; Proverbs 7:3; Isaiah 44:5; Jeremiah 31:33.
-  David T. Ball, What Jesus Really Meant by “Render unto Caesar”, Bible Review 19/2 (April 2003).
-  N.T. Wright, God and Caesar, Then and Now, Festschrift Manuscript.
-  Tim Keller, The Politics of Jesus, Audio Sermon.
-  John 18:33.
-  See James Davison Hunter’s To Change The World, 99-176.
-  Cal Thomas, 25 Years of Columns Later, Christianity Today.
-  C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 73.
-  John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion.
-  David VanDrunen’s Living In God’s Two Kingdoms has helpful comments on this tension. See pages 194-203.
-  Philippians 1:6.
-  Matthew 5:13.
-  A classic treatise on how the Christian faith comes to bear on contemporary culture is Carl F. H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Concerning politics specifically I would recommend Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner’s intoroductory book on the topic, City of Man.
-  See Stanley Weintraub’s book Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce.
-  It might be important to note that civil religion is the misidentification of the nation of the United States with the covenant people of God.