As we’ve seen, Jesus asks questions designed to help people understand themselves and God in a new way. The question “whose likeness is on this coin” often prompts a lecture on paying taxes and financial stewardship. But this passage is more about image and authority than money.
11:27And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” – Mark 11:27-33
- Mark 11 begins the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
- The question, “Who gave you authority?” sets the stage for this passage.
- This action in Mark 11 is not the same event John records in his Gospel (John 2:13-16) which happened at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
- As a student of the Old Testament, Jesus was fully aware of what of the prediction that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem riding a colt through the Eastern gate of the city and receive the worship of the people.
- Priests held religious authority, especially with reference to the temple and its sacrifices.
- Teachers of the law held intellectual authority. They were interpreters of scripture and tradition.
- Elders held social authority.
- Sanhedrin had political authority as they had religious, civil, and criminal jurisdiction over the people.
- These groups benefited from the established social order, and they had a strong interest in maintaining the status quo.
- The purpose of John the Baptist’s ministry was to awaken people to the fact that the Messiah was coming, to identify him when he came, and to prepare people for his ministry.
- John the Baptist’s ministry was from God and he identified Jesus as the Messiah.
12:1And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. 2When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. 5And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. 6He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. 9What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10Have you not read this Scripture: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” 12And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away. – Mark 12:1-12
- The owner is generous and trusting, spares no expense in the care of the vineyard and his expectations are reasonable.
- By contrast, the vine-growers are harsh, unreasonable and violent.
- The patience of the owner is astounding.
- What options does the ownere have left? Rejection.
- This is the larger context for our question.
12:13And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” 17Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. – Mark 12:13-17
- In every other setting, Pharisees and Herodians were natural enemies, but they joined together to challenge Jesus.
- The Jews hated this tax which had to be paid in Roman coin with an idolatrous image on it.
- If Jesus instructs them to pay the poll tax, the Pharisees will say he supports idolatrous Rome and use his answer to undermine his popularity with the crowd.
- If Jesus tells them not to pay the tax, the Herodians will accuse him of insurrection against Rome.
- Jesus answers that paying taxes to an idolatrous government is inconsequential to the kingdom of God; so send those idolatrous coins back from whence they came.
- Governments exist because God permits them to, and they have the right to make certain demands on their citizens.
- In order to understand what belongs to Caesar, we must first answer the more profound question, “What belongs to God?”
- The word for image here is used for a particular tool that the potter uses to engrave his name on his works. He leaves his imprint or his stamp on his creation to prove it is his (Isaiah 64:8; Psalm 139:13-16).
- Like a potter leaves his image stamped on the pot, so we have the imprint of God on our hearts.
- Caesar’s image is on the coin. Who’s image is on you?
- Question 1: “Who gave you the authority to do these things?”
- His authority comes from God; is verified by the prophetic ministry of John the Baptist; by the voice at his baptism; by his miracles; by his fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies; and by his impending death and resurrection.
- Question 2: “What will the owner of the vineyard do then?”
- God’s patience and mercy are long-suffering, but they will not last forever.
- Question 3: “Whose likeness is on this coin?” and by implication, whose likeness is stamped on you?
- Only God has the authority to speak into your life and demand your whole heart and soul and he is the one whose image you bear.
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