Tiberius Caesar, the Caesar of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 20)

Tiberius Caesar is generally referred to simply as “Caesar” in the Gospels. Ruling from A.D. 14 until 37, he was emperor during Jesus’ adolescence and adulthood. In A.D. 18 Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, founded the city of Tberias in honour of the emperor. It was located at the site of hot springs at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee and remains there today. In A.D. 26 Tiberius appointed Pontius Pilate governor of Judea, a position he held until Tiberius removed him from office in 36. The beginning of John the Baptist’s preaching, and thus the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, is given by Luke as “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke 3:1). There is a disagreement over the exact interpretation of this chronological notice, resulting in dates raging from A.D. 25 to 29.

The most famous Biblical reference to Tiberius is in regard to payment of the Roman tax (Matthew 22:15-21, Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:20-26). When the religious leaders tried to trick Jesus over the matter of paying taxes, Jesus, referring to a silver denarius coin, gave His familiar answer: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Luke 20:25). The coin bore the image of Tiberius and was inscribed as “Tiberius, Son of the Divine Augustus” (Augustus being the former emperor). Jesus’ point was that people, who bear the image of God, ought to give themselves to God alone.

See “Tiberias” under John 3, “Pontius Pilate” under Luke 23, “Roman taxation” under Romans 13 and “The imperial cult” under Mark 12.

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