In our world there is a growing distrust and dissatisfaction with the government. But this is nothing new in history. Throughout the centuries kingdoms have risen and fallen on the backs of those who were so unhappy with the current rule that they took matters into their own hands to overthrow it—and it was no different in Jesus’ day. He was born into a world when the Roman Empire was near the height of its supremacy, ruling over much of the known world, including Judea.
Many in Israel chafed against pagan Roman rule, and none more so than the Zealots. The Zealots were a militant group that believed they were the agents of divine judgment and redemption for Judea. They resolutely and fearlessly contended against idolatry and apostasy, zealously desiring to return the land back to its religious and political roots of freedom. The Zealots eagerly awaited the Messiah, who they believed would be a military figure leading them to a God-ordained, earthly victory.
But Jesus had a different idea about government and how we should relate to it. Despite the persecution, inequity and harshness of Roman rule in Judea, Jesus’ response to the question about whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar is significant. I’m sure you know his famous response, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Immediately Jesus lets them know what is important. It isn’t about governments…it’s about God. This kind of thinking had to be a blow to the Zealots who thought they had found their messianic leader. Instead they ignored Jesus and went on to provoke a war with Rome, which resulted in their famous last stand at the Masada fortress and the destruction of Jerusalem.
It is easy to get caught up in the same battle cry today. But as Christians our ultimate hope is not in a new government, but in God. So while we want to be responsible citizens in our nation, we need to remember that our true citizenship is in heaven and our main focus should be on the things of God.