I’ve never heard of anyone who particularly enjoyed paying taxes. We’ll certainly hear about a lot about it this summer and fall. During this election cycle, your candidate will raise taxes through the roof while mine will be able to run the entire country with virtually no taxes at all. The government will be sending us money if the election goes the way I’m suggesting. Or at least the arguments will go something like that.Unfortunately, we didn’t invent convoluted discussions about taxes. In Jesus’ world, many of the people hated taxes maybe more than we do, and some of their leaders thought this might be the one area where they could trip Jesus up. They were wrong, of course, but embedded in this short-lived argument is an important principle.

Unfortunately, we didn’t invent convoluted discussions about taxes. In Jesus’ world, many of the people hated taxes maybe more than we do, and some of their leaders thought this might be the one area where they could trip Jesus up. They were wrong, of course, but embedded in this short-lived argument is an important principle.
And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. And they . . . said to him, “. . . Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him (Mark 12:13-17).

They were talking about a head tax that had been imposed on everyone who lived in this area. It amounted to only one denarius per year, which was a day’s wage for an agricultural laborer. The people hated it not because it was so high but because of two other things:

  1. It reminded them of their subjugation to Rome, whom they hated.
  2. The coin used to pay it bore an image of the emperor and referred to him as “son of god.”

When they came up with their clever question, they thought they had Jesus on the horns of a dilemma. If he said you didn’t need to pay it, Rome would probably have him arrested. If he said you should pay it, it would hurt his popularity with the people.

As always, Jesus answered perfectly. He refused to take either side. Instead, he said since the coin had Tiberius’ image on it, it belonged to him. Here are a couple of things to think about as you reflect on this passage:

The obvious lesson is that Jesus says that we should submit ourselves to the government, even when that government endorses sinful practices (as Rome did and as America does). Read Romans 13:1-7 for more on that.

But Jesus subtly makes another more important point, one we don’t need to miss. Our highest allegiance isn’t to Tiberius or Herod or Rome or Judah. It’s to God. Like Tiberius has his mark on the coin, God’s got his mark on us. We belong to him, and that’s the only thing that really matters. We’re thankful to live where we live, but we should avoid ethnocentricity. The USA is not the Kingdom of God. The political party to which we belong is not the church. The future of the world doesn’t hinge on who wins the election this November. God doesn’t need crude oil to be at a certain price before he can accomplish his will. When Jesus tells us to render unto God what is God’s he’s reminding us that we don’t need to obsess over politics and platforms and politicians.

Ultimately, all presidents, senators, and representatives rule under the oversight of a God who’s in control. They may strut and brag and act as if they’re responsible for everything good that happens, but please don’t forget—there is a God who rules heaven and earth.

Ultimately, all presidents, senators, and representatives rule under the oversight of a God who’s in control. They may strut and brag and act as if they’re responsible for everything good that happens, but please don’t forget—there is a God who rules heaven and earth.

That won’t change no matter who sits in the Oval Office next January. God will still be sitting on his throne. —Chuck