The obedience of Jesus, whether natural or moral—whether yielded to a divine or a human law—was, like all that He did, worthy of Himself. Rebellion against Satan and sin was the only insubordination that marked our Lord’s life on earth. On no occasion did either His doctrine or His practice come into direct and hostile antagonism with the state. The example before us is striking and conclusive of this. We read that the “Pharisees took counsel how they might entangle Him in His talk.” They came to Him and inquired, “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”
But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why are you tempting me, you hypocrites?” Had He pronounced it unlawful, He would have been caught in their snare, and they would instantly have denounced Him to Herod as teaching treason against Caesar, thus evoking the rage of the people and the hostility of the government. But mark the wisdom and equity with which He defeated the design and exposed the craft and wickedness of His enemies, and in so doing, enunciated and enforced the moral precept which we are now to consider: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Jesus recognized the existence of the civil power as an institution of God Himself (Romans 13:1–2). Such must be our starting point in all our relations to civil government.
Jesus rendered unhesitating and implicit submission to both civil and ecclesiastical law. We have seen it in reference to the state; another example is before us of His reverence for the temple. When “tribute money” was demanded—the half-shekel levied for the religious purposes of the temple—He acknowledged its lawfulness, and, lest He should give offence by refusing to obey, He at once wrought a miracle, and paid the money (Matthew 17:24–27). Thus complete was our Lord’s obedience to God and man. Upon no civil or religious law would He trample, since He had declared, ”It becomes us to fulfillall righteousness.” If a law presses upon conscience, or contravenes religious liberty, the remedy is obvious—not disobedience, but repeal; not tumultuous assemblies and inflammatory harangues, but constitutional petition.
Jesus taught us that subjection to the civil magistrate was not incompatible with reverence to, and the fear of, God. How skillfully He combines them both: ”Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” As disciples of Jesus, as children of God, as Christian citizens, let us so walk as to stand complete in all the divine will. First, and above all, let us obey God. Then will follow, in the family relation, obedience to parents; in the state, obedience to magistrates; and in the church of Christ, “obedience to those who have the rule over us” (Hebrews 13:17).
Taken from Consider Jesus: Thoughts for Daily Duty, Service, and Suffering by Octavius Winslow, 1870 (public domain).