A Christian in Two Kingdoms

Text: Matthew 22:15-22

Bulletin: 2017-11-19 Trinity XXIII – Bulletin

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.”[1] With these words, Jesus put the attempts of the Pharisees to trap Him to flight. They came to Him in the temple to catch Him once-and-for-all, and finally put Him to death. This side of the Gospel, we know will happen only three days later, but we have in this text another picture of the hatred they had for our Lord. We also have here another masterful teaching from our God. With their words, Jesus’ enemies tried to trap Him. But, with His words, He both confounded them and gave us an important teaching.

The teaching was as useful to the first Christians as it is to us now – and would’ve been to the Pharisees, had they received it. The lesson is, just like Jesus said before Pilate, His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom or system of government. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be Christians in every country in the world, we will all be gathered together right now. In fact, we are together, now – in the kingdom of God. This called the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Christ teaches us that, as Christians, we live in two kingdoms. Both are established and ruled by God, and we are led by Him to give what is due in both.

I.

Let’s set the scene, shall we? We’ve been in this chapter of Matthew already in the Church Year, so we know that everything after 21 takes place in Holy Week or after Easter. When we were last here, the Pharisees put Jesus to the test by asking Him which was the greatest commandment. Remember that He was not fooled, but correctly taught that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Mt. 22:37-39) The Pharisees even admitted that Jesus taught correctly in our text. They said, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully…you are not swayed by appearances.”[2] But, they’re up to something. Nearly every time the word “Teacher,” is used for Jesus, it’s by an enemy.

In fact, they are up to something. St. Matthew wrote, “The Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in His words. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians… [They said] …Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”[3] It’s important to understand some of the context here. The Pharisees had some specific ideas about the Messiah. One of them was that, when the Messiah did come, he would be an earthly ruler. He would overthrow the Romans and institute a new worldly order. Now, the people called the Herodians who came with them – they were fans of the Romans. When they asked Jesus about paying the tax, they thought they would stick Him either way. If He said to pay it, then He would offend the Pharisees and their followers. If He said to not pay, then He would alienate Himself from those who favored the Romans…and potentially lose His head.

Just like before, Jesus wasn’t fooled. It says that Jesus, aware of their malice, had them bring Him a coin – which, of course, they had. Then He said, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” When they said, “Caesar’s,” then Jesus answered, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.”[4] Just like that, Jesus cut free of their trap and pulled them into it. Confounded, the Pharisees left Him alone. When they put Jesus to the test, to try and get Him to choose between serving God or government, the right understanding is that we serve God in both. A Christian lives both in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world at the same time.

This is as an important teaching now as it was then. It’s important for us to confess this, because we sometimes take it for granted. All things being equal, a Christian does not need to choose between living in God’s kingdom (the Church) and the world, because God has established and rules both. In the world, He rules by His Law; but in the Church, He rules by grace. From our Lord’s mouth, we confess that we live in both kingdoms, and He leads us to render to each what is due.

II.

So far we’ve been talking about the Two Kingdoms. When Jesus was put to the test to choose between them in principal, He said to serve both. Now, let’s define them and talk about what should be rendered to each. The first, is the kingdom of caesar, the Kingdom of the World, the Kingdom of the Left. This kingdom is the collective governing systems of the world. The majority of countries have some sort of governing party that establishes and enforces law. The intention of most is to prevent and punish evil and promote and reward good. All these things are originally God’s idea.

St. Paul taught the Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”[5] St. Peter, likewise, said, “Be subject for the Lords sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”[6] As an institution, government was established by God to maintain order and promote good. This happens by the establishment and enforcement of laws. There are many good examples in this of Scripture. Monday nights, we’ve been going through Daniel where kings used laws to promote the worship of God. At Kelleher, we also learned about Nehemiah, who was a governor and used his position for the good of God’s people.

In order for the government to do its work, which is really God’s, it does need some things. The thing brought up by our text? Taxes. Pay your taxes. The government serves by God’s command, so Paul says, “because of this you also pay taxes.”[7] When we pay our taxes, even as we can disagree about the amount in good conscience, we are acting in obedience to God’s Word and it pleases Him. At times, we may be called upon to serve our government with our talents and bodies. We should also do that in good conscience, for behind the government, we are really serving God. It may be that God has given us talents and gifts that may be of service to our government – whether it be running for office or entering voluntary service – in these also, we render to Caesar what is his. The kingdom of the left, extends over all the world and over all people. The whole world is ruled by God’s Law. He sets in place and overthrows, He plants and uproots. But the kingdom of the right, the Church, God rules by grace. We are brought into this kingdom through faith in Christ.

III.

According to our Lord, we also live in the kingdom of God. Just as the kingdom of the world was established and is ruled by God, so also the Kingdom of the Right. It is built upon the preaching and teaching of the prophets and apostles, Christ Himself being the cornerstone. In this kingdom, Christ rules by His grace. Those who have sinned are forgiven. Those who die daily to sin, are raised in Baptism and in the resurrection to come. Here, He mends broken hearts and binds up weak souls. To Caesar we render our external obedience, our tax money, and our talents. But to God, we render our hearts. This is the Law Christ preached to the Pharisees, and we should hear it – our hearts belong to God and not the things of this world. Too often we mistake this, and place our trust in things that fail. The Psalm says, “Trust not in princes.”

Thanks be to God, then, that we do live into two kingdoms. As Christians, we live and serve God in both realms. In the Kingdom of the Left, we serve God through the government by being subject to it, obeying laws and paying taxes. We know that behind these things, we have both the command and promise of God. He said to the Israelites in exile that they should pray for the city they were in, for in its welfare they will find their own. We also live into the Kingdom of the Right, the kingdom of Grace. We were brought in through Baptism and here we receive the forgiveness sins of daily, we are strengthened in the faith, and led to love and serve God and neighbor. When the Pharisees put Jesus to the test, He confounded them and taught us the truth. We are called and led to serve God in both kingdoms. The Lord grant that, by His Holy Spirit, we cheerfully render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.


[1] Matthew 22:21, English Standard Version.

[2] Matt. 22:16.

[3] Mt. 22:15-17.

[4] Mt. 22:20-21.

[5] Rom. 13:1.

[6] 1 Pet. 2:13-14.

[7] Rom. 13:6.

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