With the desire to trap Jesus, the Pharisees propose a question full of political and religious tension—”Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” (Mark 12:13-15).
Jesus spent three years declaring the Kingdom of God has come and everyone who desires to participate must severe their previous ties with the world (see Matthew 16:24-26 and Luke 9:23-26).
In the minds of the religious leaders, this was an easy trap.
But Jesus “knowing their hypocrisy” counters with a question Himself. He asks for a denarius, a coin worth a day’s wage, and then raises the question, “Whose image and inscription is this?” (Mark 12:15-16).
No doubt the Pharisees were a bit confused with where this was going answered “Caesar’s.” To which Jesus responds, “Render to Caesar the thing that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:16-17).
Jesus simply declares that taxes belong to Caesar because his image is on the coin, therefore, give to Caesar what is his. But it is the last part of the verse we tend to miss—”and [give] to God the things that are God’s.”
In the context, it would be have been clear that Jesus was again referring to image. Just as a denarius bore Caesar’s image and therefore belongs to him, so too that which bears God’s image belongs to God.
To a good Jew, Genesis 1:26 would have quickly came to mind—”Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness …'” (also see: Genesis 1:27, 3:22, 5:1, 9:6; 1 Corinthians 15:49; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 4:24; and James 3:9).
Not only do we belong to God because He placed His image in us, we are all the more His because we were purchased us back with the price of the life of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
In an interesting turn of events, Jesus uses the Pharisees’ question of whether or not to pay taxes as a way to continue calling people to the Kingdom of God, reminding them (and us) that they belong to God and therefore should be willing to lay all aside for the sake of the King and the Kingdom.
“If anyone will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever will save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His own glory and in the glory of His Father and of the holy angels.” –Luke 9:23-26
Know I am cheering you unto that end.