They sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”
But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
Jesus asked a question that his critics refused to answer: “Why are you putting me to the test?” Both Jesus and they knew the answer to his question. They tested him in the hope that he would prove to everyone what the Pharisees already believed: that he was a false Messiah, an anti-Christ.
Jesus’ critics were not looking for the truth. They thought they already had it and they were simply trying to get everyone else around them to agree that they had the truth and that Jesus did not. It is one thing to test something in order to discover the truth. That sort of testing is a good thing. But how often have we heard someone ask a question that we knew was designed not to elicit information, but rather to embarrass, to play “gotcha!”
Jesus wants us to seek the truth. God doesn’t mind if we want proof. Gideon used fleece (Judges 6:39). In Malachi 3:10 God said, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (NIV)” Testing in itself is not a bad thing. It is only the intent of the testing that can be a problem. We may test to discover the truth, but not to attack God’s character.