Have you ever had someone try to trap you into saying something that you really didn’t want to say? Have you ever been asked a question that was designed to make you look bad when you answered it? Well, believe it or not, some people tried to pull that same trick on Jesus Himself. You can find an example of this in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 12, verses 13-17:
Now The Doctor might not be the smartest guy in the world but he can recognize a “set-up” when he sees it- and he sure sees Jesus being set up here. These men are obviously trying to flatter Jesus and falsely gain His confidence.
Now people sometimes say that “flattery will get you everywhere” but remember what the Scriptures say about what these men are doing…
This seems to apply perfectly to what these men are attempting to do with Jesus. Obviously these guys were less concerned about Jesus’ answer and more concerned about how they might utilize His answer against Him. It was a trap, and Jesus knew it. Now the question of whether it was right to pay taxes to Rome may sound innocent enough but in reality, the answer provided a real potential problem for Jesus.
You see, back in Jesus’ day the Romans were an occupational force in the land of Israel. The Jewish people and the Romans had a relatively peaceful coexistence in Jesus’ time but the Romans were still viewed as people who didn’t really belong there. And of course, the people really hated paying taxes to the Romans. There was also some question as to whether Caesar’s image and inscription on Roman coinage represented a “graven image” specifically spoken against in the 10 Commandments (see Deuteronomy 5:8).
In light of this, here’s the problem that was facing Jesus in answering the question of paying taxes to Rome:
- Should Jesus say, “Pay the tax to Caesar” and run the risk of getting the people really, really mad?
- Or should He say, “Don’t pay taxes to Caesar” and risk having these men report him to the authorities who then would arrest him for telling people not to pay their taxes?
Well, in reality this question really posed no problem at all for Jesus- watch how easily He handled it…
Jesus’ answer is really brilliant, isn’t it? He says to them in effect, “You have a coin with Caesar’s picture on it. If it has Caesar’s picture on it, then it must be belong to him. Give him what belongs to him- but give to God those things that belong to God.”
You see, the Emperor Caesar was worshiped as a god by many Roman citizens. But Jesus is saying that if anyone -even the Emperor- demands worship or recognition as a god then you are not to give those things to them. Those things belong exclusively to the one true God and it is right to give to God those things that belong to Him.
So, instead of being trapped by their clever question, Jesus turned the tables on these men and taught them an important lesson about God in the process. Remember- no matter what the situation, Jesus always has the perfect answer for you just as He did here.