As with everything, there is a complex historical background to the question the Jewish religious leaders brought to Jesus here. Suffice to say that one of the battle cries of many radical Jews-and remember Jesus had one Simon the Zealot in His Twelve-was 'No tribute to the Romans!' The taxes imposed by the governing Roman army- the ground tax, income tax and poll tax-were deeply resented by the occupied nation.
Whenever we read that Jesus is being approached by religious leaders who pour flattery on Him, we must be suspicious of their intentions. They intended to disarm His natural suspicions and to present Him with a question which was impossible to answer without Jesus losing His reputation as a man of justice who came from God. This was a particularly clever question to bring to Him, His opponents must have been confident that they had Him now! If Jesus said that it was lawful to pay the tax His reputation would be shot; if He said it was not lawful, they could report Him to the Romans.
Just like the Queen, Jesus carried no money on Him, so He had to ask for a denarius to be presented. On that coin would have been the image of Tiberius Caesar. In order for the modern reader to comprehend the situation we need to understand three principles:
1. Coinage is the sign of power. It demonstrated who was in charge. New coinage was manufactured by the conquering power.
2. A King's sway was measurable by the area in which his coins were valid currency.
3. In some senses the coin would have been the King's own property as it had his head and inscription on it.
By giving it to him, the donor is giving the King what was his in the first place. What a brilliant answer! Sometimes we worshippers of Jesus have to take a step back, awestruck at our God!
On the whole, the New Testament lays down three principles with regard to the individual Christian and the state:
1. The state is ordained by God and from it much of what makes life liveable emanate.
2. One cannot accept all the benefits and then opt out of the responsibilities. There was the Pax Romana which brought security in most areas of the Empire.
3. There are limits, however. This coin was Caesar's as it had his image on it. Human beings have God's image on them and therefore belong to God. Should the claims of State and God conflict then loyalty to God comes first.