Image source: AwaketoFreedom
Jesus lived at a time when Judah was a Roman colony. Everyone in the colony had to pay different types of tax; the one that angered them the most was the yearly head tax (or poll tax) of 1 silver coin (a denarius). It was not an expensive tax but every adult, men and women, working or not working, had to pay it.
The head tax was one way Rome showed that it had absolute authority over Judah; and the people hated it. History records that Judas of Galilee (see Acts 5:37) led a violent revolt against the Romans and their supporters when this tax was announced; this revolt happened about 20 years before Jesus started his mission.
When Jesus came down from Galilee, and was welcomed by a huge crowd into Jerusalem, and went to the Temple to drive out money changers (see Mark 11), the religious and political leaders thought he would start another revolt.
Mark 12:13-17 (NIV) (shortened) says: Later they [the leaders] sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity… Is it right to pay the imperial tax [head tax] to Caesar or not?… But Jesus knew their hypocrisy… Bring me a denarius… They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this?… “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.
Pharisees were religious and political leaders, and were against Roman colonialism; Herodians were political leaders supporting colonialism. They did not like each other, but they teamed up to trap Jesus and failed.
What do we learn from Jesus? Politics and faith will make demands on us; we have to differentiate (discern) what belongs to Caesar and to God – this is where we all struggle. Caesar provides a service and demands tax to do so; God saves our souls and demands our worship. Caesar should not demand worship. Sadly, some leaders, past and present, demand unquestioned loyalty (worship).
Great God, help us understand when our leaders demand worship; give us the wisdom to walk away and worship you alone, Amen!