What it Really Means to Give to Caesar What Belongs to Caesar

There are a number of things Jesus said that have been subjected to diverse interpretations and use in public domain.

Mark 12: 13-17 contains one of such.

In this instance, the Pharisees and the Herodians who were usually at loggerheads, united in an attempt to trap Jesus and get him to say something they can use to nail him.

After deploying the weapon of flattery for a moment to put him off guard, they asked him, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” In responding, Jesus requested for a denarius, and asked them whose portrait and inscription was on the coin. “Caesar’s”, they replied. He then concluded, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God” (NLT)

Over time, Christians and non-christians alike, have made reference to this statement severally such that one is left to wonder what Jesus actually meant.

Popular Usage and Meaning

I have seen believers use this wise admonition of Jesus in several ways and usually, the aim in each of these instances was to find a gratifying excuse to do (or for doing) what they know they aren’t (or weren’t) supposed to do.

For instance, some have used it to mean (or to justify) paying obeisance to ungodly institutions, acceding to a corrupt process or bowing to pressure to compromise so as to gain favour, support or easy passage to accomplish what they intend to do at the moment or what they intend to achieve subsequently – especially when, not doing any of the above could be a (potential) roadblock to their ambitions.

Some have also used to mean (or to justify) obliging fetish practices, supporting diabolic traditional rites or succumbing to worldly enticements for a moment, either because they don’t want to offend their loved ones, close associates or benefactors or because they just think it doesn’t matter – even though they are believers.

Interestingly, many non-christians and people who don’t believe in God also use this Jesus’ verdict to lure other people (believers especially) into any or all of the above in given instances. They’ll say, “After all, the bible says give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar; so why don’t you just do it?”

But is any of these what Jesus really meant when he made that statement?

What Jesus Really Meant

To figure out what Jesus was trying to say, we must not lose sight of the context and circumstance of the conversation.

Jesus’ arch enemies at the time wanted to destroy him by all means. The Herodians and Pharisees had to put their irreconcilable differences aside for a moment and join forces to ensnare him.

That’s how desperate they were!

They imagined that an easy way to achieve their goal would be to incite him to rebel against Caesar or to provoke the Jews. By asking him if it was right to pay tributes to Caesar or not, they put him in the middle of two tight ends, with the desperate hope that he will be trapped.

If Jesus had said it wasn’t right to pay taxes to Caesar, it will be tantamount to an insurrection – a rebellion against Caesar; and in effect, a rebellion against the state since Caesar was a symbol of the state. Ultimately, it will be interpreted as treason – an indirect attempt to overthrow the Roman rule – and he will be executed consequently.    

If Jesus had said it was right to pay tributes to Caesar, he would have gotten the Jews enraged. The Jews were opposed to the tyrannical Roman rule they were caged under at the time and many of them flatly refused to pay the taxes. Many of them considered Yahweh as the sovereign ruler over their nation and any encouragement to be loyal to the Roman authority would be considered a betrayal of Yahweh and the nation.  

So, the context of their question and Jesus’ response was that of obliging or denying a responsibility to authority. And the occasion was that of a temptation: a temptation to civic rebellion.

Jesus knew all these no wonder he said, “Why do you test me.” (Mark 12:15 NKJV)

In the context of Jesus’ response, Caesar, simply refers to the state. Jesus was talking about the authority of the state. Caesar was the emperor; he was the number one citizen; hence he was a representative and a symbol of the state.

Meanwhile, in referring to God, Jesus meant the divine, He was talking about the eternal Lord of all.

So, when Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God”, he meant, whatever obligations and responsibilities you have to the state, fulfil them; and whatever obligations and devotions you have to the Lord, observe them.

The Conclusion of the Matter

In Jesus’ response to the Jews, we find an apt answer that was not only relevant for that time but also for our day.

Jesus, with His statement, was in no way encouraging us to pay obeisance to ungodly institutions, accede to a corrupt process or bow to pressure to compromise so as to gain human favour and achieve our carnal desires while displeasing God.

Jesus with His response, had no intention to justify obliging fetish practices, supporting diabolic traditional rites, or succumbing to worldly enticements for a moment, so as to please people; neither did He suggest that we lure and manipulate people into something unwholesome with His words.  

All He was saying, was that we do what is expected of us by the authorities while also keeping our obligations and devotions to the Lord.

This is a timeleses takeaway.

If you enjoyed reading this post and found it valuable, kindly share, so some others may benefit from it too.

See Also

Is Fasting Necessary for Christians Today?

What it Really Means to Forgive and Forget

8 Powerful Ways to Take Charge of Your Life

Top 3 Reasons Pastors’ Kids Struggle With the Faith

Did Jesus Really Die in Jerusalem As He Said He Would?

Why Did God Confuse the People’s Language at Babel?

20 Compelling Things Jesus Said That Affirm His Divinity

How Did Aaron’s Long Rod Fit into a Small Ark of Covenant?

The One Thing You Should Do When it Seems God is Far Away

The Big Lesson to Always Remember from the Manna Episode

Self-Discovery: The One Really Good Benefit of Going to School

Bible Contradictions: What Was Actually in the Ark of Covenant?

Why a Good God Allowed Evil Befall His Beloved: The Curious Story of Job

What Every Student Should Know Before Taking a Course in the University

30 Things a Christian Should Do Before Turning 30: A Bucket List From Jesus’ Life

pp (7) new About the Author Ogaga Eruteya is a Nigerian Christian minister, writer and speaker. He writes on Faith, Personal Development, Youth Development, and Life Realities. With his words, he seeks to inspire, motivate, propagate life’s truths and represent a sincere Christian voice. Learn more about Ogaga here.

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