The week began with the people of Jerusalem lining the streets crying “Hosanna!” to Jesus, pleading with Him to save them from their oppressors. That was Monday. On Tuesday, He had returned to the temple, and had demolished the tables of the extortionists. The Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious ruling body) was now seeking for ways to destroy Jesus.
After they questioned His authority, He masterfully handled their treacherous inquiry. Without stopping, He continued on to tell them a parable. The parable was a solid indictment against them, and Mark tells us that they certainly understood it. While He was telling them a parable about a group of wicked men plotting to murder another man, they secretly were plotting how they could kill Him. There must have been a fair amount of shame and embarrassment in having their wicked desires played out so clearly in front of them.
Their frustration and hatred were mounting on this Wednesday, but they couldn’t do anything because killing Him today would just prove Him right, and would probably enrage the crowd that was so enamored by Him. So they devised another strategy. Jesus was incredibly popular with the people. Many were still convinced that He had come to set them free from the bondage to the Romans. To them He was a political Messiah who had come to liberate them and allow them to rule themselves. The Pharisees were going to capitalize on this misconception, and begin to sway the public opinion of Jesus.
“Master,” sneeringly they offered this term of respect to the one they hated, “we know that you are true and don’t care what people think about you, but only care about what God thinks: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” This was the trickiest question they could come up with. You see, if He said to pay taxes, the Jewish rebels looking to Him as the political Messiah would feel double-crossed, perhaps even undermined. They didn’t want to pay the wicked Caesar anything. But if Jesus sided with them, and said to not pay the taxes, the people who favored Caesar would go immediately to the Romans and accuse Jesus of insurrection. This tension is what makes Jesus’ succinct response so masterful.
“Bring me a coin.” They brought it. “Whose picture is on this coin?” They responded “Caesar’s.”
“Then, give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give God the things that are made in His image.” Verse 17 finishes this story with, “and they marveled at Him.” How could He answer in such a clear, understandable way? How was such a young teacher such a masterful thinker? More importantly for them, how could they ever defeat Him? He was just too good at this. They would never be able to defeat Him. The only victory that could be had was one where He would lay down His own life.
Food For Thought: Read Luke 23:1-2. What lie did the Pharisees tell the Romans to convince them that Jesus was deserving of Roman punishment?