Early Christians Accused of Being Atheists

[For Jesus] to answer in the negative so as to encourage tax-dodgers was political sedition that would have jeopardized his ministry and endangered anyone who followed his advice. In an important aisde, we should remember that this was one of the charges that led to Jesus's criminal execution: "This man opposes paying taxes to caesar and claims to be Christ, a king" (Luke 23:2). It was a false charge, but one based on Jesus's many subversions of money, politics and power.

In fact, one of the principal criticisms against the early Christians was that they were "atheists" because they refused to bow down to caesar, to participate in the cult of imperial worship, that they made the subversive confession "Jesus is Lord" (= caesar is not lord), and practiced what eventually was branded an illegal (= non-state) religion. The simplest Christian confession is fraught with economic and political implications.

The trick question elicited a trick answer from Jesus....

 "Give to caesar what is caesar's, and to God what is God's." Rather than making an inflammatory political statement by denouncing Rome, maybe Jesus sought to evade their trap with a dismissive shrug — "If the coin belongs to caesar, let him have it. So what? It's only money." In this scenario Jesus refused to take their bait.  We might even imagine Jesus taunting his questioners by pocketing the coin. 

- Daniel Clendenin, "Give Your Money to Caesar, Give Your Self to God," Journey with Jesus blog entry for October 11, 2011.