“Render to Caesar”

The Nonviolent Messiah: Jesus, Q, and the Enochic Tradition

by Simon J. Joseph

It is not uncommon to find the Jewish apocalyptic vision depending entirely on God for deliverance and not appealing to military action. We might also recall that Matthew’s Jesus advises Peter to pay the Temple tax for the two of them in order to avoid offending the authorities.

Some think that Jesus is openly defying Roman authority by advocating tax resistance. If this were true, it would suggest that Jesus was covertly advocating militant resistance against Rome.

Jesus turns a potentially explosive political challenge back on his challengers without advocating violent action against Rome. If his challengers expected him to reject the tribute so they could entrap him, they were confounded by his response. Jesus does not advocate a militant, revolutionary, let alone violent response to Roman rule. If anything, he challenges such an attitude by implying that Caesar should be “given back” what “belongs” to him.

Jesus may not answer the question posed to him–a question framed so as to entrap him in sedition–and his response may have been purposefully ambiguous, so as to accommodate both nationalists and collaborators, but his rhetorical evasion cannot be interpreted to suggest that Jesus in any way advocated or endorsed armed military resistance against Rome.