John D. Barry
1 Kings 20:26–21:29; Mark 12:1–34; Proverbs 5:1–10
Jesus’ command to pay taxes is one of the trickier passages in the NT. The actual line isn’t tricky—“Give to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God” (Mark 12:17)—but its origins and Jesus’ exact reasoning aren’t as clear.
People have taken this passage to suggest that Jesus was in favor of government or taxes. But this interpretation misses the point. We’re meant to learn from Jesus here, not take away some regulation. Certainly Jesus condones paying taxes and charity work, but those points touch only on the basics of His statement.
First, Jesus is annoyed. The Pharisees and Herodians are testing Him with this question, and He doesn’t approve. His reaction suggests that simply taking away a “law” here would sadden Him, for that’s all the Pharisees and Herodians cared about (Mark 12:15). The “law” would address only the political question.
Jesus goes on to ask for a denarius, signaling that He doesn’t have one—He is poor (Mark 12:15–16). This coin had Caesar’s image on it and claimed divinity for Caesar. Jesus’ remark acknowledges the claim: “Give to Caesar the currency of his kingdom’s economy.” He also addresses the larger issue of the “image of God” (Gen 1:27): “Give to God the things of God” (Mark 12:17). What belongs to God? The entire world and everything in it—our very selves. We are meant, as members of God’s work, to act as people who operate within His currency of sacrificial living.
The Pharisees and Herodians’ question and Jesus’ answer are political, but the politics are eternal. The economics have ramifications for all people, for all time. They change the way we as Christians act and operate. They change what we value. The economic shift is an “image-bearing” shift.
Whom do you serve? Give to God what He deserves. Give to the kingdoms of this world what they have created (their currency). Give to God what is God’s—your very life. Operate under God’s currency as one who bears His image.
What is God asking you to give?
This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.
John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.