By the time we get to Mark 12 the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leadership is nearing its zenith. The various parties opposing Jesus are essentially standing around taking turns taking swings at Jesus.
In Mark 12:13 they send a team of Pharisees and Herodians (not normally allies) with a question they were certain would get Jesus in trouble. They bait the trap with flattery hoping that Jesus will unknowingly step right in. If he declares that people shouldn’t pay taxes, he will be in deep water with the Roman authorities. If, on the other hand, he says that people should pay taxes, many would see him as a supporter of the Roman oppressors.
Jesus’ answer is a display of remarkable wisdom and profound insight. Notice two parts to his answer:
- First, he affirms that the government has a God-given role in our lives. Certain things belong to Caesar. Jesus highlights this by pointing out the likeness and inscription on the denarius. Caesar minted these coins and each coin is a reminder that he is the God-given ruler in this moment in history. This is important for those looking for an excuse to rebel against or dismiss earthly rulers. Our love for and obedience to God takes form in the way we relate to the rulers he has given us (see also Romans 13:1-7).
- Second, Jesus points out that certain things belong to God and are owed to him. The question is, what is it that belongs to God? The answer is found in the reference to “likeness” back up in verse 16. If what has Caesar’s likeness on it (the coin) belongs to Caesar, then what has God’s likeness on it (human beings) belongs to God. As we learn in the opening chapter of Genesis 1, God made man after his own likeness. The point is that our very selves belong to God. Our whole selves belong to God. We owe him everything; our entire being; body, mind, and soul.
Jesus’ words here should bring conviction. With it, our desire for self-rule and self-determination is exposed. We don’t want the government to rule over us and we don’t want to give them anything. The same is often true in when it comes to God. Deep down we don’t want him to rule over us and we don’t want to give him anything. We are in need of a Savior.
At the same time, as those who are redeemed by Christ, and therefore doubly belong to God, this answer brings real purpose and comfort. We are not our own but belong to God. We give him our entire selves, every breath, every minute, every resource. We entrust ourselves to him, believing that he will work in our lives according to his good and wise purposes. We are his and we give him everything we have. This is what we were made for. This is where real life begins.