Scene of Activity
It’s still Tuesday during Jesus’ Week of Passion.
After the 2 mile walk from Bethany to Jerusalem, Jesus arrives in the temple and is ambushed by the the religious leaders.
Context: As the Passover Sacrifice Jesus is undergoing a period of inspection.
The religious powers send 3 distinct groups to challenge Jesus.
1. Mark 11:27 - “The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him.”
- The priests - charged with the care of the temple.
- The scribes - the impartial interpreters of the Law.
The elders - leading families in Israel that made up the Sanhedrin.
[Mark 12:13-15a] “Then they (more in likely the High Priest and his cronies) sent to Jesus some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”
2. Mark 12:13 - “The Pharisees and the Herodians....”
The Pharisees - religious political fundamentalists: conservative and nationalistic.
The Herodians - non-religious political party that aligned with King Herod.
Note: Their hatred of Jesus was greater than their hatred of one another.
3. Mark 12:18 - “Then some Sadducees came....”
The Sadducees - religious political liberals: progressive and nationalistic.
Their Goal: Attack His authority, Discredit His ministry, and Minimize His popularity by trying to “catch Him in His words.”
The Pharisees and Herodians begin with flattery: “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth.”
“Flattery and insults raise the same question: What do you want?”
“Flattery is what someone will say to your face, but never say behind your back.”
Jesus would warn in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you.”
“Between flattery and admiration there often flows a river of contempt.”
Truth: It’s not wise to put to much stock into what people say about you either good or bad, because the people who lavish praise are just as off-base as your harshest critics.
Then they present their question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?”
The big issue for the day (and the big point of contention between the Pharisees and Herodians) was whether or not the Jews should be paying taxes to Caesar.
3 Kinds of Roman Taxes:
1. Income Tax: 1% of your yearly wage.
2. Poll Tax: 1 denarius a year (days wage).
The “Poll Tax” was a tax of a portioned, fixed amount applied to an individual in accordance with the census.
Caesar Augustus had commissioned a census of the world in 4 B.C. on which they based the 1 denarius tax be administered throughout Judea.
3. Ground Tax: 10% of all grain / 20% of all wine and fruit produce.
The Herodians saw paying taxes as a smart political move. They believed the Jews should recognize Roman occupation, pay taxes, and keep the peace.
The Pharisees saw paying taxes as a religious issue. They believed the act itself was admittance that Caesar (not God) was governing the people.
The question was cleaver because it gave Jesus no easy way to answer because the core of their question presented an “either/or” scenario:
Either: Jesus agrees with the Herodian position that the Jews should acknowledge Roman governance by paying taxes and risk alienating the people.
Or: He sides with the Pharisees - upon which He would be arrested for sedition against Rome for encouraging the people not to pay taxes.
[Mark 12:15b-17] “But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them (Jesus knew the intention behind this inquiry), “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
As well see Jesus’ reply is a stoke of pure genius because it will address the heart of the Herodians concern (paying taxes to Rome) and it will calm the concerns of the Pharisees (pleasing God).
They posed an “either/or” scenario, but Jesus will reply with a “both/and” scenario.
Jesus begins His retort by asking for a “denarius.”
He then asks them to observe “whose image and inscription” was on the coin.
A denarius had the image of Tiberius Caesar with the Roman inscription: “Tiberius Caesar the divine Augustus” on one side. On the other was an image of a Roman Priestess with the inscription “Pontus Maximus.”
Jesus then instructs them to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”
“Render” - literally means “to give back to the one who gave out.”
Literal Translation: “Give back to Caesar the things that Caesar has give to you.”
Jesus 1st Approach: Identify the objects giver.
Q: How do we identify the giver?
A: Look for the giver’s image.
His 2nd Approach: Give back in accordance to the wishes of the giver.
Jesus, “Since Caesar's image is stamped upon your money, it’s only appropriate that you should give it back to him as he’s determined for you to give it back.”
Observation: Jesus is making it clear we should pay our taxes.
Though you might have earned your money, the truth is that your money exists because you’re government exists. (It’s called the Federal Reserve.)
Jesus is saying you need to pay taxes to the government (or whatever human authority is over you) as the government has determined for you to pay.
3 thoughts concerning taxes:
- Paying your fare share of taxes is not optional!
- It’s within your right to employ all the deductions the law allows you to utilize.
Since the laws of our land allow, encourage, and were founded upon civil debate in the public square, it’s ok to engage in the popular discourse concerning taxes and the appropriation of tax funds.
Unlike Rome, in his Gettysburg Address, Lincoln clearly stated we live in a nation whose government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Until this changes, as Christians living in America we are morally free to have a voice in the political process.
Jesus’ instructions to “render to Caesar” was more than enough to satisfy the politically minded Herodians. Jesus will now address the Pharisees concern when He follows this up by saying they should also render “to God the things that are God’s.”
Context: If we’re to give back to Caesar what has his stamped image upon it, then Jesus is saying we should give back to God what has His image stamped upon it!
Ravi Zacharias speculates that Jesus paused mid-sentence to allow the people to ask the logical question: What is God’s image stamped upon?
Answer: Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created Him; male and female He created them.”
Since you have been created in the likeness of God and His image is stamped upon your life, it’s only logical that you should give your life back to Him as he’s determined for you to give it back.
Jesus not only answers their question about taxes, but in doing so He illustrates a much larger - more pressing, challenging reality.... Will we render to God the very life He stamped His image upon?
These Pharisees were so concerned that paying taxes to Caesar would be a crime against God, they had overlooked that God was more concerned with what they were doing with their lives.
In a culture mired in a passionate debate as to who owns what in our world, we should instead consider a more pressing question.... who owns us?
If it’s unjust that only 1% of Americans living in a land of opportunity hold the vast majority of American wealth created, in large part, by the majority, then it is a greater travesty we deny God what also His by right - our lives!
Their response to Jesus answer: “And they marveled at Him.”
David Guzik, “In the answer of Jesus, God is glorified, Caesar is satisfied, the people are edified, and His critics are stupefied.”
Sadly, as we’ve seen over and over again, these religious leaders marveled over Jesus’ Word, but they didn’t change! It’s not enough to marvel, we must submit!
[Mark 12:18-23] “Then some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him; and they asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife; and dying, he left no offspring. And the second took her, and he died; nor did he leave any offspring. And the third likewise. So the seven had her and left no offspring. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be? For all seven had her as wife.”
The Sadducees are the final group who come to inspect the Passover Sacrifice.
In addition to being the liberal wing of Judaism, the Sadducees prided themselves as being the rationalists within society.
Mentioned by Josephus and validated by Mark, the Sadducees didn’t believe in the supernatural and therefore rejected the notion of the resurrection.
Note: They were also materialistic and hedonistic.
Rationalism, Relativism, and Atheism logically yield a society characterized by its citizen’s pursuit of materialism and hedonism.
When I embrace a worldview that removes the notion of “pleasing God” as the basis for my behavior, I no longer have a moral basis to care for others and am only logically left with the chief pursuit of “pleasing self.”
Their question begins with a theological statement: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.”
In Deuteronomy 25:7-10, Moses established a principle know as the Levirate marriage.
A levirate marriage occurred when the brother of a deceased man was obliged to marry his brother's widow in order to provide an heir to continue the family lineage.
The Sadducees continue by describing a situation in which the widow ends up being married to all seven brother - provides no heir - and dies herself. They then ask Jesus, “Therefore, in the resurrection, when they rise, whose wife will she be?
Obviously their question was designed to make fun of the resurrection.
[Mark 12:24-25] “Jesus answered and said to them, “Are you not therefore mistaken, because you do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
“Are you not therefore mistaken” - literally, “How ignorant can you be?”
Jesus provides 2 reasons they were ignorant of the truth:
1. “They did not know the Scriptures.”
2. “They did not know the power of God.”
Jesus then explains the flawed thinking of their question: “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
1. Jesus begins by addressing their faulty understanding of heaven.
These Sadducees made a common but false assumption that life in heaven was nothing more than a better version of life here on earth.
Note: This is a common mistake because we only have human experience by which we can describe things that transcend the human experience.
In 2 Corinthians 12 the Paul held back his description of heaven stating that human language wouldn’t even begin to do heaven justice. He said he “heard inexpressible words, which was not lawful for a man to utter.”
Life in heaven is of a completely different order than life on earth.
To explain this Jesus presents an example: human relationships.
Human relationships on earth are a matter of time and place, and are essential to a healthy human experience.
Marriage Relationship: sister-in-Christ, acquaintance, friend, suitor, boyfriend, fiancé, husband, co-parent, caregiver, custodian.
Human relationships in heaven are not subject to time and space, and will instead center themselves on God.
This is not to say my human relationships and the experiences have had with these individuals will not transfer to the halls of heaven.
2. Jesus specifically answers their question.
People will not be getting married in heaven and earthly marriage relationships will not transfer to heaven. This negates the essence of their question.
Jesus says when it comes to our relationships in heaven things will be more “like the angels” than our present earthly experience.
Earthly marriage was designed by God for 3 reasons:
- Pleasure - In heaven our pleasure will come from God.
- Picture - No need for this imagery because we’ll be with Jesus.
Procreation - In heaven there will be no need for procreation.
Just as there are a fixed number of angels (no baby angels getting their new wings), there will be a fixed number of human beings in the halls of heaven.
Note: This does not mean we will be all be asexual and genderless.
All angels in the Bible are presented using masculine pronouns.
After addressing their question, Jesus decides to addresses their flawed understanding of what the Scripture says concerning the resurrection.
[Mark 12:26-27] “But concerning the dead, that they rise, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the burning bush passage, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.”
The Sadducees only accepted the Law of Moses as being authoritative Scripture.
To validate their view they claimed the first 5 books provided no basis for resurrection.
This is why Jesus takes them back to Exodus 3 to make His point.
In God’s interactions with Moses at the burning bush God says concerning Himself, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Though it’s been 500 years since these men died, when God makes this statement to Moses He refers to His relationship with them using the present tense.
“I am the God” indicated a present Lordship over these three people.
Jesus Logic was a follows:
1. Since these men died an earthly death 500 years ago.
2. And God indicated to Moses He had a present relationship with them.
3. Then there must be a resurrection following death or God is a liar.
God’s statement to Moses in Exodus 3 indicated that following death His relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had continued.
May you render to God the life that He not only gave by creating you in His image and likeness, but may you render back to Him the life He sent His only begotten Son into the world as your Passover Sacrifice to redeem from the destructive forces of sin.
Please know.... God desires a relationship with you - not only in the life you have left on this earth - but mainly in the life to come. May He always be able to say of you, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Zach, and you!”