The religious leaders used every means possible to trick Jesus into condemning Himself. They were being as sly and cunning as their “father the devil” (John 8:44). Mark relates something of the wisdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in the text we are studying here.
“And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words” (Mark 12:13).
The Pharisees and the Herodians, who were bitter enemies of one another, united together to ask Jesus what they thought was a trick question, one far too difficult for an ignorant carpenter from Nazareth to answer. The Pharisees were superstitious formalists who cared for nothing but ritual and ceremony. The Herodians were men-pleasers who despised anyone who claimed to have a personal relationship with God. The Pharisees hated being under Roman rule, but the Herodians took a more tolerant view. “And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor” (Luke 20:20).
We see exactly the same thing going on in religious circles today. Worldly men and formalists are void of any real sympathy for those who love God. They especially despise all true followers of Jesus Christ. Both the world and the false church are willing to unite to stop believers from preaching the message of salvation. We can expect no mercy from those who hate the Saviour and His word.
“And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it” (Mark 12:14-15).
The question they asked Jesus seemed to be impossible to answer without peril. “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk” (Matthew 22:15). If the Lord had said, “Pay Caesar his taxes”, the Pharisees would have condemned Him for siding with Rome. If He had told them not to pay taxes, then the Herodians could rightly accuse Him before Pilate as someone teaching rebellion against Rome. We see why the two groups of evil men banded together to trick Jesus. Their trap was well planned. They were only following the same skulduggery as “that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). Notice that Jesus did not even own a penny but had to borrow one.
Such questions have perplexed believers for generations. Where do the rights of the church end, and where do the rights of the state begin? Does the believer have to obey every law legislated by the land? The devil delights in bringing Christians before a court of law on trumped up charges. The established churches collude with the state to silence those preaching God’s word. When was the last time we heard the Church of England, the Church of Rome, Methodists or the Salvation Army stand up and say that arresting street preachers was unlawful?
” And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him” (Mark 12:16-17).
Though the religious leaders were willing to call Jesus “Master”, He could see through their flattery and hypocrisy. They may have called Him “Master”, but He called them “hypocrites.” “But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?” (Matthew 22:18). They stood before Him with “Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross” (Proverbs 26:23). Jesus was not impressed with their glowing language and fine speeches.
When Jesus asked them about the coin they brought Him, they readily answered that the image on it was of Tiberius Caesar. The coin was a constant reminder that because of their sin and unfaithfulness they were under the iron fist of Rome. These hypocrites were using Roman coins every day and saw nothing wrong in doing so. They certainly did not expect the reply that Jesus gave them. Caesar minted the coin, so it belonged to him. Spiritual obedience belongs to God alone. To the proud Pharisees Jesus is in effect saying, “Do not refuse to pay taxes to Rome”, and to the worldly Herodian, “Do not neglect to honour God by doing as He bids.” The coin bore Caesar’s image, but man was created in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26-27).
Our duty is to obey the laws of the land as long as they do not interfere with the law of God. The government is ordained of God, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Romans 13:1). When the law of the land and the law of God come in collision, the believer must always obey God first, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). We must never disobey Jesus’ command to take the gospel to the lost, even if the government passes a law that forbids us doing so (see Matthew 28:19).
We need to seek God for the wisdom to deal with those who oppose us. The devil will use governments to undermine and weaken the church. For us God’s decision, as contained in His word, is final and must be obeyed.