Yesterday morning, I preached from Mark 12:13-17. The text is well known and familiar to most Christians. Although it’s often repeated casually, it happens to be one of the most profound statements ever recorded by Jesus. In fact, many scholars believe it to be the single most politically charged and powerful statement in human history.
Earlier in Mark 11:27, the chief priests, elders, and scribes recognized that they were unable to trap Jesus, so they sent two additional groups to do their work. They commissioned the Pharisees and the Herodians to trap Jesus. On any other occasion, these two groups would have been completely opposed to one another. The Pharisees were the nationalistic watchdog group who prided themselves on keeping and preserving the Law of God. The Herodians were a sect of the Jews who were devoted to Herod and the Pharisees despised them because they believed that the Jews should have their own independence. However, these two opposing factions of Jews came together in unity because of their hatred for Jesus.
As they approached Jesus, they used words of flattery. They gave Jesus compliments to His face that they would never repeat behind His back. Their great swelling words of compliment were obvious to the omniscient Christ. He could sense their hypocrisy and He knew their intent. Nevertheless, they posed their question in form of a trap before Jesus. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not” (Mark 12:14)?
If Jesus answered in the positive, they would immediately approach the religious establishment of the Jews in protest – saying that He was a traitor and should be dealt with immediately. If Jesus answered in the negative, they would approach the political leadership of Rome and accuse Jesus of leading an insurrection against them. Either way, these prideful Jesus hating people thought they had Him.
Jesus was willing to enter their little question and answer game. He wasn’t intimidated by their trap. In order to answer their question, Jesus requested to see a denarius – a silver coin that was produced by Rome and used for trade and taxation. It was the common wage for a day’s work and it was likewise used to pay taxes. Jesus asked them a question, “Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said to him, “Caesar’s” (Mark 12:16). Little did they realize at that moment, but the very people who came to trap Jesus had themselves walked right into Jesus’ trap. It was a beautiful counter punch and one that would end the entire debate leaving them in amazement.
As they provided the requested denarius, it should be noted that Jesus didn’t request the coin from his followers. The reason is that they didn’t carry that particular coin. They used another acceptable coin that did not have Caesar’s likeness and inscription on it. Jesus requested the coin from the Pharisees and Herodians. As they provided it, Jesus issued two very important lessons.
Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
It was the custom in that time period that the coin actually belonged to the person whose face was engraved on the front. Therefore, Jesus said, pay Caesar his money. At the very moment that Jesus made this statement, He likewise approved the state as a valid institution. As taught in Romans 13:1-7, Christians are to be lawful and submissive to the governing authorities. Followers of Christ demonstrate their rebellion to God by their rebellion to the government.
Render to God the things that are God’s.
On the front of the denarius, there would have been a picture of Caesar’s face. The inscription read, “TIBERIUS CAESAR AUGUSTUS – SON OF THE DIVINE AUGUSTUS.” However, on the flip side of the coin would have been a depiction of Caesar sitting on a throne and wearing a diadem. The inscription on the back of the coin read, “PONTIF MAXIM” – Highest Priest.
By providing the coin, they proved to be using the coin on a regular basis. This group of Jesus haters who were looking to trap Jesus had been caught. They were using a coin that was idolatrous. They were guilty of breaking the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Likewise, they were guilty of breaking the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Exodus 20:4-6).
What belonged to God? The coin belonged to Caesar because it bore his image, but they as human beings were image bearers of God. They belonged to God and therefore should give themselves fully to Him. Jesus was the Great High Priest – not Caesar. They were hypocrites and found themselves caught and exposed. They marveled at Jesus.
Unfortunately, marveling at Jesus’ masterful wisdom is not enough. They needed to bow to Him and repent of their sin, something that they were unwilling to do. It’s likely that these people went off to hell marveling at Jesus, but refusing to worship Him.
What about you today? Are you living in submission to the governing authorities? What about God – are you giving yourself daily to Him and seeking to live in submission to Him? It’s one thing to live in rebellion to the government, but quite another thing to live in rebellion to God. Consider the words of Charles Spurgeon as he addressed unbelievers regarding their danger:
“You are hanging over the mouth of hell by a single thread, and that thread is breaking. Only a gasp for breath, only a stopping of the heart for a single moment, and you will be in an eternal world, without God, without hope, without forgiveness. Oh, can you face it?”
Why not cry out to God and repent today? Call upon the Lord for salvation. He is your only hope.
John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.