Am I trying to trap Jesus? Do I have some trick questions for Him? Do I scour the scriptures to find something He said to support my opinion?
Hmm … that would make me a hypocrite.
Then they sent some of the religious elites [Pharisees and the Herodians] to Jesus to trap him in his words. When they came, they said to him, “Teacher, we know you are truthful and don’t care what anyone thinks, nor do you show partiality but teach the way of God truthfully. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.” They brought a coin. “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked them.
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him. | Mark 12:13-17
A common threat forced two enemies to unite, the Pharisees and the Herodians. The Herodians supported the family of Herod as well as the Romans who gave them the authority to rule. The Pharisees, however, considered the Herod clan to be the evil usurpers of the throne of David; for, after all, Herod was an Edomite and not a Jew. The Pharisees also opposed the poll tax that the Romans had inflicted on Judea, and they resented the very presence of Rome in their land.
Their temporary alliance was a subtle trap, for no matter how Jesus replied to their question, He was in trouble with either Rome or Herod! But Jesus moved the discussion from politics to principle and caught the hypocrites in their own trap. We might state our Master’s reply something like this:
“Caesar’s image is on his coins, so they must be minted by his authority. The fact that you possess these coins and use them indicates that you think they are worth something. Therefore, you are already accepting Caesar’s authority, or you would not use his money! But don’t forget that you were created in the image of God and therefore must live under God’s authority as well.”
This brings us some days to Romans 13. Some say that all government was of the devil and that disciples of Jesus must not bow to the authority of “the powers that be.” Does use of the United States mail service mean an acceptance of governmental authority. The money he spent buying the paper and stamps also came from the “powers that be.” For that matter, the very freedom we have to express ourselves is a right guaranteed by—the government!
The word translated “render” in Mark 12:17 means “to pay a debt, to pay back.” Jesus looked on taxes as the citizens’ debt to the government in return for the services performed. Today those services would include, among other things, fire and police protection, national defense, the salaries of the officials who manage the affairs of state, special programs for the poor and underprivileged, etc. The individual Christian citizen might not agree with the way all of his tax money is used, and he can express himself with his voice and his vote, but he must accept the fact that God has established human government for our good. Even if we cannot respect the people in office, we must respect the office.