Christ and the Caesars…
And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way. (Matthew 22:19-22)
THE BATTLE OVER WHAT BELONGS TO GOD AND WHAT BELONGS TO GOVERNMENT has been raging from the time God established government. God established the family as the first level of government. As families quickly grew into a burgeoning population, God ordained a larger human government to subdue excessive evil and to establish order among the population.
THEN CAME MULTIPLE GOVERNMENTS that struggled for dominance until we had world governments, or empires. We had the Assyrians the Babylonians Medo-Persia, Greek and then the Roman Empire. The young prophet, Daniel, explained all of this to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3. I believe the Roman Empire still exists in its dormant state in the European governments today. It will one day revive into world domination and be ruled by the anti-Christ. Governments have more power to assert human sovereignty over God’s sovereignty than do individuals.
Man has struggled with God from the beginning. Isaiah said it this way: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
WE, AS CHRISTIANS, MUST CONSIDER OUR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD and government. We are to obey God and we are to obey government. This was portrayed when Jesus’ enemies asked Him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. If He said not to pay their taxes, then He would incur the death penalty from Caesar. If He said they should pay taxes to Caesar, then he would lose the support of the people. But Jesus simply said to pay Caesar what you owe him and pay God what you owe Him. Jesus always bested his attackers.
JERUSALEM WAS A HOT SPOT FOR THE ROMANS. The Jews had proven themselves to be feisty and rebellious. The Romans sent only battled-hardened soldiers to Jerusalem. In Jesus’ time, the Romans had built a tower that looked down on the Temple and that was the headquarters and barracks for a hundred soldiers. They could surround the Temple in two minutes to squelch a rebellion of the priests. Its presence reminded all Jews: “Don’t try anything!”
They had also built a huge coliseum for entertaining the masses. Its ruins remain today and remind us of the great skills of their architects and engineers. It also reminds us of the Roman civilians' thirst for blood and death.
THE JEWISH GOVERNMENT WAS MADE UP MOSTLY of the Sanhedrin and the High Priest. Under Rome, it was the buffer between Rome and the Jewish nation. After Jesus rose from the dead and the Christian sect began to multiply, Rome assumed that the Jewish Christians were just a maverick splinter of Judaism. But when Rome saw that the Jewish leadership was at odds with the Christians, the Romans had a clever way of dealing with the Christians to make sure they were in submission to Rome.
The Romans had a little ritual they went through to publicly establish loyalty to Rome. Caesar would hand a censor of burning incense to the candidate. The candidate was to accept the censor and wave it back and forth as a symbol of loyalty to Caesar. It was called: “giving licit to Caesar.” “Licit” is a Latin word from which we get our word: “license.”
IT HAS BEEN 30 YEARS SINCE I READ IT, but I believe the following is an account I read in the book: “Christ and the Caesars” that I borrowed from Wake Forrest University Library. If it was not from this book, then I don’t remember the source.
“A group of Christian families were brought into the crowded coliseum, Hungry lions were caged in the basement under the arena floor. Caesar approached the Christians with a censor in his hands. He asked them to wave the censor and give licit to Caesar. A spokesman said: “Jesus is our Lord.” Caesar told them, “you can say that Jesus is Lord if you say that Caesar gives you permission to say that Jesus is Lord. The Christian said: “Jesus gives Caesar his breath.”
Caesar then ordered soldiers to take the women and children to the center of the arena. There was hushed silence as suddenly several lions ran toward the women and children and began attacking them, going for their throats, snapping bones. In just a minute or two there was only silence except for the sound of snapping bones. The crowd watched as the lions consumed the bodies of the women and children until there was nothing left but a big red splotch on the ground and skulls.
Caesar rushed over to the sobbing men who had witnessed the devouring of their families and said to them: “Now, do you see what you have made me do!? You have caused this needless killing of your families. Now, will you give licit to Caesar?” Sobbing and choking and trembling with grief, one of the men replied: “Jesus is still Lord…” And with this, Caesar ordered the men to be given to another pride of hungry lions. Those Christians understood that Jesus was Lord and that the Roman government could never be Lord.”
ONE OF THE CAESARS IS FAMOUS FOR THROWING A GARDEN PARTY and to provide light for his guests to enter the property, Christians were impaled on crosses; their bodies were covered in tar and set on fire. They burned for a long time to give light to the merriment of Caesar’s party. Christians were despised because they said, "Jesus is Lord."
ANOTHER WRITER OF THIS PERIOD TELLS OF ONE OF THE CAESARS proclaiming on a special day: “I am Caesar, and by me all men shall be saved and without me no man can be saved.” When Peter was called into the Jewish Council to be reprimanded for his preaching Christ, Peter said: …for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
Some have wondered if Peter had the words of the Roman Caesar in mind when he proclaimed Christ to the Jewish council. We cannot know for sure, but the wording is so strikingly similar that it has caused some to ponder the possibility. Shakespeare was enamored with Julius Caesar and many quotes come forth declaring the high esteem Caesar had for himself. We can at least say this much: the Caesars thought highly of themselves and Peter would have had no trouble declaring Christ to be Lord above Caesar.
We must remember that the Philippian jailer was told: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved…. (Acts 16:31).
WHEN OUR FOUNDING FATHERS WROTE THE FOUNDING DOCUMENTS of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, they were well-aware of this centuries-old conflict of what belongs to God and what belongs to government. They knew that the conscience of human beings can never belong to government; that government cannot under any guise claim God’s place over mankind. We are having to decide that again in these days.
WE SHOULD REMEMBER THAT OUR GOVERNMENT LEADERS have to put on their shoes one at a time, like the rest of us and that every last one of them is going to be buried in about the same-size grave. Our government leaders should be respected but it should end there. They are not God. Jesus is Lord! When men line up in orange suits and kneel before Isis to have their heads cut off….it is because Jesus is Lord! Ω
Read Through the Bible in a Year
JANUARY 30, 2018 – TUESDAY
A.M. Exodus 22-24 P.M. Matthew 20:17-34
(Bible Gateway will read this to you if you like. Look for the speaker icon.)
A Good Verse to Memorize:
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5)
Song for Today:
All Hail the Power (3:23) (Samonte – Youth Mennonite Choir)
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