The rabbis among the Sanhedrin conspired with the Herodians to catch Jesus in his words. They sent their own disciples with the Herodians as spies, pretending to be honest seekers of truth (Luke 20:20; Matthew 22:15; Mark 12:13). However, Jesus knew their hypocrisy, and Matthew even says Jesus called them hypocrites (Luke 20:23; Matthew 22:17-21; Mark 12:14-17). Jesus told them to bring him the tribute money. It was a Roman denarius, and just like the Jews wouldn’t accept just any coin for the Temple tax, but it had to be a certain one minted in Tyre, neither would Rome accept any coin but the Roman denarius for the tribute money.
Therefore, when the spies asked Jesus, if it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar, Jesus asked to see a tribute coin. Immediately, the spies brought Jesus a denarius that would be used for the tribute tax. Jesus then replied to the spies’ question with a question of his own. He asked them whose image was on the coin, and whose inscription did it bear (Luke 20:24). The coin bore the head of Tiberius Caesar and the inscription was “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, Son of the Divine Augustus.” The reverse side had Caesar or his mother sitting on a throne with the inscription: “Pontifex Maximus” – meaning, “Greatest Pontiff” or “Greatest High Priest.” So, it isn’t difficult to see how giving tribute to Caesar with this particular coin so insulted the Jewish faith that it caused an uprising against Rome in AD 6.
Jesus’ replied to his questioners with, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Luke 20:25). But, how is this a sufficient enough answer that it silenced his accusers? Foreign coins have no value in an independent country. This is why we have banks of exchange, or in the first century AD, money changers. For a fee, these men would readily exchange foreign coin that had no value in the present country for coin that could be used for business there. The fact that the spies were able to readily produce a Roman denarius is proof that the Jews used the Roman coin for business. Therefore, this fact showed they were not an independent country. Jews used Caesar’s money, and were, therefore, obligated to pay taxes to him and anything else he demanded.
Jesus’ point is this: the coin’s image is that of Caesar, and by using his money you submit to him as the son of god. Therefore, return those coins you use that bear Caesar’s image, because they are his property. However, and on the other hand, if you bear the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), and if I (Jesus) am the Son of God (the Messiah), who bears his image (cf. Colossians 1:15; Hebrew 1:3), cease your rebellion and return to your God by submitting to your Messiah (cf. Luke 20:10).
No doubt, Jesus was using a play on the word image (G1504), which is the same Greek word used in the Septuagint for God creating man in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27). Later, Paul would write that we who have ceased our rebellion by submitting to Christ are changed into the original image that God intended us to be (2Corinthians 3:18).
Therefore, how could the spies continue to argue (Luke 20:26)? Not only had Jesus told them to return Caesar’s tribute money to him, but he implied they should return all of Caesar’s money to him, something they were unwilling to do, because they valued his money, and, therefore, they also desired his rule over them (cf. John 19:15). On the other hand, Jesus also told them to “render… to God the things that are God’s.” Nevertheless, they refused to do this (Luke 20:10-15) and would even slay God’s Son, their Messiah (Luke 20:14-15) to retain the rulership of the very one to whom they despised offering tribute!