15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk.
16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men.
17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, “Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?
19 Show Me the tax money.” So they brought Him a denarius.
20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?”
21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And He said to them, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.
disciples (v.16) — followers of the Pharisees. The Pharisees probably figured Jesus knew them and would be on His guard, so they sent others to flatter and trap Him.
Herodians (v16) — Those who supported the rule of the Herods, and, therefore, Rome. They were normally opposed by the Pharisees because of their disregard of religion.
Their question (v.17) was a trap. If Jesus said “yes,” they could accuse Him of being a traitor to Israel. If He said “no,” they could denounce Him to the Roman authorities.
By simply asking for a penny, He left them under the yoke which they were obliged to confess they had themselves adopted; and by inviting them to render to Him as God, the things that were God’s, He offered to release them from that yoke, as also from the greater yoke of their sins. — Williams, page 722.
lawful (v.17) — Is it against Jewish law?
The tax they were referring to was the poll tax, a small tax levied on women aged twelve to sixty-five and men aged fourteen to sixty-five. it was a relatively small tax, as the Romans also exacted a ten-percent tax on grain and a twenty-percent tax on wine and fruit, as well as other taxes for road and bridge improvements. The Pharisees had chosen the least of the taxes, but to pay it was to recognize Roman oppression, which was most unpopular with the Jews. — Walvoord, page 166.
you hypocrites (v.18) — He saw through their flattery immediately.
denarius (v.19) — a Roman coin worth about 16 cents (according to Walvoord)
Thus Christ recognized two divinely constituted spheres of authority. In the one sphere God is supreme. In the other Caesar has delegated authority. Christ’s statement anticipated Paul’s teaching that all civil authorities are constituted by God. As such they are God’s minsters to maintain law and order and to provide an atmosphere in which righteous men may live in peace. Consequently they are to be supported by the payment of taxes (Romans 13:1-7). Christ recognized the authority given to Caesar as God’s servant, and therefore He confirmed that Caesar must be supported by the payment of taxes. This teaching did not conflict with God’s right to rule, and the payment of taxes to Caesar did not nullify the fact that ultimately God will appoint His Son as Ruler in Caesar’s place. Thus Christ recognized Caesar’s right, but He did not deny that Israel’s hope to be ruled by their Messiah will eventually be realized. — Pentecost, page 388