And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words. And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? Shell we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny [denarion], that I may see it. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesars. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him (Mark 12:13-17).
There are few passages in Scripture that are quoted more enthusiastically by pietists, statists, and humanists than this one: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Why? Because this passage initially seems to separate the kingdom of God from the kingdom of Caesar, thereby granting autonomous authority to Caesar.
Once Caesar has received this supposed grant of authority, however, he and his disciples seek to expand that kingdom. Step by step, law by law, tax by tax, intrusion by intrusion, the messianic kingdom of the State grows at the expense of the messianic kingdom of God. No judicial barrier to Caesar’s kingdom is acknowledged as sacrosanct by Caesar’s worshippers; no realm of autonomy from Caesar is acknowledged except the conscience, and only it conscience never utters an audible word of protest. Every barrier to Caesar’s kingdom is regarded as subject to future revision. The foreign policy of the messianic State is clear: “What’s Caesar’s is Caesar’s, and what’s God’s is negotiable.”
But why should Christian pietists cite this passage with equal enthusiasm? Because it is perceived as relieving them from any personal responsibility to resist the relentless expansion of Caesar’s kingdom. They follow the lead of the statists and humanists: Caesar’s kingdom is defined as everything external, while God’s kingdom is exclusively internal. Conscience must always remain internal. It must never be allowed to display its presence by public acts of resistance. This view of civil law justifies life in the Christian ghetto, tar from the seats of influence. Yet Jesus said to His disciples: “And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:29-30). Ghetto-dwelling Christians resent this degree of responsibility.
Whose Coin Is This?
Jesus was being challenged by Pharisees who wanted to compromise Him publicly. They asked Him about paying taxes to Rome. It He told them that this payment was warranted, the people would abandon Him. If He told them that such taxes were not warranted, the Romans would arrest Him. This looked like a perfect trap. It wasn’t.
He asked them to bring Him a coin. When they did this, He sprung their trap on them. The coin was a Roman denarius, a silver imperial coin used for paying taxes. According to numismatist-theologian Ethelbert Steuffer (Christ and the Caesars, 1955, p. 123). Tiberius Caesar’s picture was on one side, with an announcement in Latin, which in the Greek provinces was translated as “Emperor Tiberius august Son of the august God.” On the reverse was an image of Tiberius’ mother seated on a throne of the gods, with the words “Pontifix Maximus,” meaning high priest. Stauffer writes: “The coin, in brief, is a symbol both of power and of the cult” (Ibid., p. 125).
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