“The Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in his words. 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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ 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’” (Matthew 22:15-22).
In Matthew 22 the Pharisees and Herodians challenge Jesus by asking, “Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” Part of Jesus’ response was to call them “hypocrites.” But why did he do this? What is it about this exchange that warranted the accusation of hypocrisy?
In most explanations of this text the focus is on the Pharisees as Jesus’ chief opponents. The Herodians tend to be forgotten. But, in reality, the charge of hypocrisy cannot hold against the Pharisees, in this instance, without the presence of the Herodians. Why? Because normally, the Pharisees and the Herodians were bitter rivals.
The Pharisees were anti-Rome. But the Herodians were pro-Rome. By questioning Jesus on Roman taxes they were attempting to pigeon hole Jesus as supporting one or the other. This is why they were hypocrites. But Jesus saw through them. He answered, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
In a single sentence Jesus destroyed the agenda of both the Pharisees and Herodians. He upheld the tax and upheld the primacy of God. He upheld Rome, but he also upheld the Kingdom of God. His answer was no less than brilliant, and it revealed who the Pharisees and Herodians were for all to see.
The charge of hypocrisy is one of the most serious in all of scripture. The apostle Paul also used it in Romans 2:1 when he said, “You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on another. For on whatever grounds you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
Do you ever find this passage describing you?
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mathew 22:22).
Hypocrisy is damaging to our witness for Christ. People watching us want to know if we are the real deal. Do we truly follow Jesus? What are some areas of your life that need attention? How will you handle the charge of hypocrisy in your own life?