by The Doctor

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:

“But they sent other religious and political leaders to talk with (Jesus) and try to trap him into saying something he could be arrested for. ‘Teacher,’ these spies said, ‘we know you tell the truth no matter what! You aren’t influenced by the opinions and desires of men, but sincerely teach the ways of God. Now tell us, is it right to pay taxes to Rome, or not?’” (TLB).

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…

“Pretty words may hide a wicked heart, just as a pretty glaze covers a common clay pot. A man with hate in his heart may sound pleasant enough, but don’t believe him; for he is cursing you in his heart. Though he pretends to be so kind, his hatred will finally come to light for all to see” (Proverbs 26:23-24 TLB),

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:

  1. Should Jesus say, “Pay the tax to Caesar” and run the risk of getting the people really, really mad?
  2. 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 saw their trick and said, ‘Show me a coin and I’ll tell you.’ When they handed it to him he asked, ‘Whose picture and title is this on the coin?’ They replied, ‘The emperor’s.’ ‘All right,’ he said, ‘if it is his, give it to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God!’ And they scratched their heads in bafflement at his reply” (TLB).

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.