Mark 12:15-17, “But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.” 16 They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” And they said to Him, “Caesar’s.” 17 And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were amazed at Him.”
Jesus “knows the heart of men” and says, “Why are you testing me?” It’s a rebuke! In fact, the original language is even stronger, because the word “testing” is the same as “trapping” like what we might do when we place bait on a snare to trap an animal, but Jesus knows their hypocrisy and says, “Bring me a denarius to look at.”
Now, we know a lot about denarius coins because we have found them, and you can see them in museums today. They are silver coins, and they have the image of Tiberius Caesar on them, son of the divine Augustus, whose said to become a god at his death, which makes this Roman coin a miniature idol, a relic of idol worship, that an Israelite would avoid at all cost.
The Israelite would have carried shekels, copper coins with no images, because Exodus 20 calls a faithful Israelite to not have anything to do with idol worship, therefore, Jesus discerns their hypocrisy and calls out, “Who has a denarius?” and someone, probably a Pharisee or a Herodian, reaches into their pocket and says, “I got one!”
In that moment Jesus completely laid the playing field. Jesus knows their hypocrisy and exposes their hypocrisy with one question.
Then Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” Everybody knows the answer, so they respond, “Caesar.” And Jesus says to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar, and render to God the things that are God” and in that moment Jesus completely silences the attack and the crowds were amazed.
Do you know why? It isn’t just about their hypocrisy. The coin shows the image of Caesar, so Jesus says “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar.”
But every human being bears the image of God, and everything we have is from God, therefore, “render” to God or “pay back to God what God deserves.” Does that make sense?
We might not know that reference off the top of our head, but every faithful Jew would have know Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our image, and in our likeness.”
The religious leaders are saying, “What about Caesar?” Jesus is saying, “What about God?” The religious leaders are thinking about “Pro-Israel or Pro-Rome” and Jesus is saying, “You’re thinking too small.”
In the same way, are we getting caught up on who wins this election or that election, but Jesus has come to invite all people to live in His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
The Apostle Paul tells us that when we are in Christ we have new citizenship, heavenly citizenship. The Apostle Peter tells us when we are in Christ we are aliens and strangers, that this isn’t our home.
In Mark 12 Jesus is reminding us that the whole of our lives belong to God, therefore, how does that truth shape how we navigate political arguments?
1. All people are image bearers of God. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Green Party are all image bearers of God, and people we should treat with honor and respect.
2. Have political discussions become spiritual distractions? In the context of the Mark 12 everyone’s world is getting rocked, and it just seems really convenient that people start asking random questions about politics.
3. Be a blessing. In the New Testament there were two groups of people who were wrestling with the same tension we wrestle with today.