Living as Dual Citizens - To Whom Do We Submit? Mark 12:13-17

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How do we live as the people of God in a world that doesn’t honor Him? This is a question that has been asked by every generation of God’s people throughout history. As citizens of the kingdom of God who also live as citizens of this world there is often a tension as the priorities and agendas of the world push against the priorities and the agenda of God.

As Christians living in the United States we have been fortunate. In large part it has been relatively easy to live both as faithful citizens of God’s kingdom and as faithful citizens of our community and country. But, of course we know that our culture is changing. What’s culturally acceptable and unacceptable is changing. Increasingly, our calling is more difficult.

In Mark 12:13-17 Jesus is confronted by religious and political leaders who are seeking to get rid of Him. As He answers their questions we get an important teaching on how we should relate to the world around us.

Cultural Context – Living Under Roman Rule

During the time of Christ the Jewish people lived under the rule of Rome. They were living in their own land, the land that God had given them, but they were under the rule of the Roman government; a government that wasn’t tolerant of the Jewish faith. Needless to say, this created a situation where those who desired to be faithful to God were forced to make some difficult decisions. One such decision was that of taxes: Should the people of God pay taxes to a wicked and godless emperor or not?

The Trap Setters (12:13-14a)

  • An unlikely partnership – In chapters 11 and 12 of Mark we have seen over and over how those who oppose Jesus are looking for ways to create greater opposition against Him. In this case two unlikely groups join forces against Him. The Pharisees and Herodians were often at odds, but in this case they had a common enemy.
  • A clear goal – As these Jewish leaders go to Jesus there’s no secret about what’s going on. Their aim is discredit Jesus - to turn the people against Him. Mark says they intend to trap Him in His words.
  • Dishonest flattery – As the Jewish leaders approach Jesus they come with dishonest flattery and a fake portrayal of honor. They want to be seen as honest and sincere seekers – but they are anything but.
  • Application– While the Jewish leaders offer insincere praise, what they say of Jesus is true. He is a man of integrity. He always says and does what He believes, no matter the consequences. We should strive to live the same way. We must be willing to stand for what’s true, no matter the cost and do what’s right no matter the fallout.

The Trap – A dishonest question (12:14b)

  • Relevant but dishonest – The question the Jewish leaders ask Jesus is a relevant and timely question. There was much debate about whether or not the Jewish people should pay tax to a wicked emperor. But their question wasn’t honest – they were seeking to trap Jesus. 
  • The planned outcome – When they asked this question the Jewish leaders expected they couldn’t lose. If Jesus supported the tax many of the Jews would turn against Him; if He opposed the tax they could turn Him over the Romans as a rebel threatening to lead an insurrection. 

The Response to the Trap (12:15) 

  • Jesus knows their hearts – Jesus isn’t caught off guard by their question and He’s not fooled by their flattery. He recognizes their hypocrisy.

An Unexpected Answer – The Order of Submission (12:15b-16) 

  • The coin in question – In lead-up to His answer Jesus requests a denarius. The denarius was a coin worth a typical day’s wage. On the coin was the image of the emperor as well as inscriptions that spoke to his perception of his own divinity and supreme rule in all things.  
  • The unexpected answer – While these men thought they were asking an either-or question, Jesus responds in a way they didn’t anticipate.
  • Render to Caesar – Honoring government for the sake of honoring God – In the first part of His answer Jesus acknowledges the rightful place of human government. In other parts of the NT we have further teaching that further confirms that God intends for government to have a role and a measure of authority in the world (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). This means that there are duties and responsibilities that we have toward human government that don’t infringe on our allegiance to God. In fact, by honoring them, we honor Him.
  • Render to God – Our ultimate allegiance – Thesecond part of Jesus’s statement informs the first. It’s the recognition that our greatest allegiance – our greatest submission must be to God. While a coin may be made and inscribed with the image of another person, we as people are all created and marked with image of God. We belong to Him and He’s the One who should receive our ultimate worship and allegiance. If ever we must choose between honoring God and honoring man, God must be honored (Acts 5:27-32).