"Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, 'Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone for You do not regard the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?' But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, 'Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money.' So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, 'Whose image and inscription is this?' They said to Him, 'Caesar's.' And He said to them, 'Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.' When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way" (Matt. 22:15-22).
Although the religious leaders had been unable to either answer Jesus or arrest Him, they do not give up their efforts to destroy Him. "And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians" - The Pharisees had withdrawn formally from the crowd (cf. Mark 12:12), so they sent some of their disciples to try to "entangle" Him. Perhaps they thought that sending young men who had an apparent desire to know the truth would catch Jesus off guard. Though little is known about the principles or beliefs of the Herodians, it is assumed, because of their name, that they were supporters of Herod (Antipas). Herod, being appointed by Rome, would certainly advocate Roman taxation of the Jews (as would his supporters).
"Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men" - Their words here depict Jesus as a genuine teacher of God's truths. They describe Him as one who was not afraid to speak the truth boldly to anyone. These "spies who pretended to be righteous" spoke these pleasant words to Jesus in hopes of being able to "deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor" (Luke 20:20). If they had been sincere, these words would have been high praise for Jesus. Although their description of Jesus is both true and honorable, the speakers are only trying to "butter Him up" and tempt His pride through flattery before getting to their question that they hope to destroy Him with (cf. Matt. 22:17). They labeled Jesus as one who was fearlessly loyal in proclaiming the truth; they hope He will continue to act in this manner when He answers the political question they are about to pose (even if His answer would be offensive to the Romans). How sad it is that these men are trying to use this admirable quality of Jesus as a weapon against Him!
It is believed that the Pharisees and Herodians hated each other, yet they hated Jesus even more; thus, they worked together in their efforts to slay their common enemy. This reminds me of a statement you may have heard before: "An enemy of my enemy is my friend."
"Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" - At that time historically, the Jews were required to pay a large sum of money to the Roman government annually as an acknowledgement of their subjugation. These men are using this situation to try to place Jesus into a dilemma. If Jesus answers, "Yes," then the disciples of the Pharisees would argue that tribute should only be given to God. They would base this reasoning upon Deuteronomy 17:14,15, which teaches that Israel shall not choose a foreigner to rule over her. They would then conclude (incorrectly) that this prohibited them from paying tribute to a foreign leader who was reigning over them. Additionally, for Jesus to answer in the affirmative would alienate Him from the common people who resented being under Roman rule (the Pharisees would love to see the multitudes turn against Him!). However, if Jesus answers, "No," then the Herodians would accuse Him of treason and report Him to the Roman authorities!
How will Jesus answer this dilemma? We will consider His masterful response in our next lesson.