Mark 12:13-17 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What group accompanied the Pharisees as they approached Jesus? See Mark 12:13 (printed below) What does their name tell you about them?

Then they send some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus, so that they might trap him with his words. (Mark 12:13)

As their name suggests, the Herodians were Jews—most likely prominent and influential men—who accepted Herod as their king and who collaborated with the Roman government. Needless to say, this made them extremely unpopular with the rest of the Jewish nation.

2. Knowing that they are seeking to trap Him, what does Jesus request of the Pharisees? See Mark 12:15-16 (printed below) Whose image appeared on a denarius coin?

Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, Why do you test me? Bring me a denarius, so that I may look at it. (16) So they brought him a coin. Then he said to them, Whose image is this and whose superscription? They answered him, Caesar’s. (Mark 12:15-16)

The obverse (heads) side of this Roman coin portrayed the image of the emperor, Tiberius, and bore the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the divine Augustus.” The reverse (tails) side depicted the emperor seated on a throne, wearing a diadem and clothed as a high priest, with the inscription, “PONTIFEX MAXIMUS” (Highest Priest.) Clearly, here was a government that claimed divine honor for itself, a government that overstepped its bounds.

3. By asking the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” and doing so in the presence of the Herodians, what dilemma did the Pharisees hope to create for Jesus?

They hoped that if Jesus advocated the payment of taxes to Caesar, He would fall out of favor with the vast majority of the Jewish people who hated the Roman government and the fact that they were forced to support it by the payment of taxes. But if Jesus spoke against paying taxes, there was the danger that the Romans would take action against Him (cp. Luke 23:1-2).

4. Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar.” What do we owe Caesar (i.e.; the government?) See Romans 13:1-7 (printed below)

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (2) Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves, (3) for rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you, (4) for he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (5) Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (6) This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. (7) Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7)

We are required by God to live in submission to the legitimate ruling authorities, rather than rebelling against them (Romans 13:1-2). We are required to abide by the laws of the land (Romans 13:3-4), as long as they do not conflict with the law of God (note Acts 5:27-29). We are required to pay taxes and honor those who are in positions of authority (Romans 13:6-7).

5. Jesus said, “Give to God the things that belong to God.” What do we owe God? See Matthew 22:37-38 and Exodus 20:1-3 (both printed below)

Jesus replied, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38) This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38)

And God spoke all these words: (2) I am Jehovah your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (3) You shall have no other gods besides me. (Exodus 20:1-3)

We are required to give unto the Lord our God our complete and unreserved devotion, confessing Him alone as supreme Lord (Matthew 22:37-38; Romans 10:9-10). We are to worship the Lord our God alone and have no other gods beside Him (Exodus 20:1-3; Daniel 3:4-6,12).