In Mark chapter 12, the opponents of Jesus set a trap before Him. And, honestly, it’s a brilliant trap. It should’ve worked. Here’s how it went – it says,
Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.
This trap that these opponents of Jesus set before was brilliant. And it should’ve worked, too. There was no right answer for this, either way.
But Jesus saw through their hypocrisy, and He said, “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” So, they brought the coin, and He asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s…” So, what is Ceasar’s? This little circle of medal with his picture on it? Fine. Let him have it. Only… “Give to God what is God’s.”
Well, what is God’s? What bears God’s image? What has the imprint of God upon it?
The denarius was made in the image of Caesar – it bore his likeness. What has been made in the image of God? What bears His likeness?
Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it; the world and all who live in it.”
Everything is God’s! Everything belongs to Him! So – sure – give to Caesar his measly little coins that have his image on them – just so long as you also give everything that bears the image of God to its proper owner.
“And,” Mark says, the Pharisees and the Herodians “were amazed by Him.”
Now, there were some deeper issues at work in this scene – issues that every Jew listening to this exchange would’ve recognized immediately:
The casting of sacred images in metal and then referring to those images as gods was an enormous problem for the Jews. If you’ve ever heard anything about the Old Testament, like, the main bad thing to avoid was idols and idol worship.
I mean the first commandment, of the Ten Commandments, says, “You shall have no other gods besides Me.” The second commandment of says, “You shall not make for yourself any kind of idol, that you may bow down before it and worship it.”
In Roman culture, Caesar was divine – he was considered to be a god. Now the Pharisees and Herodians weren’t actually concerned about any of that – they were being hypocritical. They were just using the bait of idolatry to try to trap Jesus into saying the Jews shouldn’t pay their taxes – in which case, they could’ve had Him arrested and possibly even executed.
But Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what it Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”
What are the things in your life most likely to draw you away from God? Why not give those things to Him? On the next episode of “Practical Faith,” we’ll talk about giving all of who we are to God, including our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, and our tempting moments.