World English Bible translation
12:12 They tried to seize him, but they feared the multitude; for they perceived that he spoke the parable against them. They left him, and went away. 12:13 They sent some of the Pharisees and of the Herodians to him, that they might catch him in words. 12:14 When they had come, they asked him, "Teacher, we know that you are honest, and don't defer to anyone; for you aren't partial to anyone, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? 12:15 Shall we give, or shall we not give?"
But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why do you test me? Bring me a denarius, that I may see it."
12:16 They brought it.
He said to them, "Whose is this image and inscription?"
They said to him, "Caesar's."
12:17 Jesus answered them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
They marveled greatly at him.
Jesus had infuriated the chief priest and the scribes by giving a parable that was obviously pointed toward them. They had demanded that Jesus tell them by what authority He worked miracles and taught. Jesus had told them that He would explain by whose authority He did these things if they would answer His own question. He asked them whether John the Baptist was a prophet or a deceiver. When they refused to answer Jesus' question, He said He would not answer their question. But, He did give a parable that was pointed directly at them.
This parable angered them but instead of seizing Him, they sent other groups to test Him. The idea seems to have been to align every group against Jesus in order to build consensus on what must be done. So the chief priest encouraged the Pharisees and the Herodians to test Him. They asked Jesus the potentially explosive question, "Is it lawful," by God's standards, "to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"
The pitfalls that potentially surround this question made any answer Jesus might give troubling. If Jesus were to say that it was not right to pay taxes to the foreign oppressor the religious rulers would appeal to Pilate and have Jesus immediately imprisoned as a subversive. If Jesus claimed it was right to pay taxes to Caesar then He would lose the support of almost every Jew. Almost everyone felt the burden of being under Roman rule. The Romans were almost universally hated in Judea.
But Jesus' answer shows remarkable insight and understanding of all of these nuances. He asks them to see a coin that they all used. On this coin, the Roman denarius, was the image and inscription of Caesar. So Jesus tells them to give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and to give to God the things that belong to God.
God is concerned about our physical natures, how we live and what we eat. But what God truly desires is our soul. God knows that if our hearts and our souls are turned toward Him then our physical natures will follow. But outward conformity will never lead to obedience from the heart. So God demands that we give our heart and our soul knowing that all the rest will follow. It does not really matter in the long run whether political tyrants oppress us. What matters is whether we allow God to set our hearts free. If we have all the political freedom in the world, but are not obedient to God, then we have lost everything.
What matters most to you, political freedom or spiritual freedom? Are you rendering the things that are God's to God?
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