Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”
But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.”
And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him. Mark 12:13-17
The religious and political leaders hated Jesus. They despised how the people praised and followed Him. They feared the influence He had on people because it lessened their own influence. In some ways, it came down to economics.
If the people feared the Pharisees and the Herodians, they would submit to their authority and everyone kept their jobs. On the other hand, if they lost control of the masses, the higher authorities would find someone else who could do their jobs better. Both the Pharisees (religious leaders) and the Herodians (political leaders) had incentive to work together to bring Him down.
This particular ‘foolproof plan’ hinged on a seemingly innocent question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Those who asked the question expected a yes or a no. Either way, they won. If He answered that it was lawful to pay the taxes, the people would get upset because there was often debate regarding the fairness of the tax. However, if He said no, Jesus’s enemies could accuse Him of inciting a rebellion against Rome.
Their approach was almost comical. They called Him ‘Teacher’ (true, honest, a teacher of the way of God). Perhaps resentfully, they even pointed out that He couldn’t be swayed by others. But Jesus, unmoved by their hypocrisy and sinister purpose, didn’t react by turning them away or even by pointing out their ridiculous tactic. He was confident in His own identity and did not need to address their cloaked opinion of Him.
Jesus had one goal and that was to fulfill the will of the Father. He would preach the message of repentance and salvation until it was time to die on a cross for the sins of the world. What they thought about Him did not affect the fact that He was the Son of God. Jesus was confident in what we often forget: God’s truth carries far greater weight than man’s incorrect conclusions.
Jesus was confident in what we often forget: God’s truth carries far greater weight than man’s incorrect conclusions
He was also not concerned about His own welfare. All their formulating and plotting could not undo God’s will for His life. So instead of answering their shortsighted question, He used the opportunity to point them back to God.
Whose image and inscription is this? …Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
The leaders had addressed Him as Teacher earlier and now Jesus was going to teach them a lesson. He brought the concept of image into the conversation. He told them that the rightful owner is the one whose image is stamped on it. On the surface, that meant give Caesar the tax he demanded because it was his currency. However, to those who knew Scripture there was a deeper meaning.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness”…So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:26-27
While the denarii belonged to Caesar because it bore his image, every human being has the image of God on him/her. In the way the taxes were to be submitted back to Caesar, every human being is expected to submit their own lives and wills back to God.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:1-2
Although the book of Romans was written much later, the sentiment was already presented in the Old Testament. The Pharisees and the Herodians were both Jewish. Every male had the sign of the covenant, signifying that they were God’s people and He was their God. And yet, they were all guilty of obeying the laws of God they found convenient while ignoring the ones that were contrary to their own desires. They failed to give God authority over their own lives.
Not only that, but they had to give the people back to God too. Jesus had an issue with the Pharisees because they created rules and traditions which made the people more accountable to them than to God. While Jesus taught the people salvation was of the Lord, the Pharisees sought desperately to keep them burdened under their own set of rules.
Jesus had an issue with the Pharisees because they created rules and traditions which made the people more accountable to them than to God
Fast forward 2,000 years. Christians are not required to be circumcised today but every single believer has made his or her own declaration that Jesus Christ is both their Lord and Saviour. At conception, we are created in the image of God and at our second birth, we submit our lives to Jesus Christ. As Paul said in Romans, we are expected to present ourselves to God for His use and His purpose.
However, the partial submission the Pharisees practised is not what we are called to. We are to submit our will to Jesus so that He can help us obey His commandments. None of this is to earn our salvation but it is the only reasonable response to our salvation.
The Pharisees called Jesus Teacher, but they chose to disregard much of what He taught. How might we be guilty of calling Him Lord while boldly refusing to acknowledge His full authority? Scripture tells us that when Jesus returns, no one will be able to plead ignorance. How shall we respond?
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