Mark 12:13-17

(A Bible Study Led by Dr. Larry Reynolds)

January 10, 2013


In our previous study we began looking at that part of Mark’s Gospel where the conflict between Jesus and the religious establishment in Jerusalem begins to intensify.  It is important that everything from Mark 11 to the end of Mark’s Gospel focuses on a single week in the life of Jesus. 

·         Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem to the praise of the multitudes on what we now call Palm Sunday

·         Monday He drove the sellers of sacrificial animals and money-changers out of the court of Gentiles in the Temple area

·         Tuesday He had a series of confrontations with the Jewish religious leaders.

·         Wednesday He spent the day in private instruction of His disciples

·         Thursday was the day of the Passover celebration.  That evening He celebrated the Passover with the disciples in an upper room on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem and then went to the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested.

·         Friday was the day of the crucifixion.

·         Saturday was a day of silence.

·         Sunday was the day of the resurrection.


We are currently in that part of Mark that focuses on the events of Tuesday of that week.  On that day the religious leaders asked Jesus a series of questions, attempting to discredit him in the eyes of His growing number of followers.  Warren Wiersbe in his commentary on Mark classifies this series of questions this way:

·         A question of authority (11:27-12:12) – They wanted to know why Jesus thought He had the authority to do the things He was doing and say the things He was saying.

·         A question of responsibility (12:13-17) – This question had to do with the issue of Jews paying taxes to the Romans.

·         A question of eternity (12:18-27) – This question had to do with the resurrection from the dead.

·         A question of priority (12:28-34) – This question had to do with which was the greatest commandment.

Then, toward the end of chapter 12, Jesus turn the tables on the religious leaders asked a question about them (12:35-37).


Mark 12:13-17

Verse 13

“And they sent…” – Having failed to discredit Jesus with the question regarding authority, the larger delegation from the Sanhedrin (see 11:27) designated a smaller group to try to discredit Jesus.


“…some of the Pharisees and Herodians…” – This is an amazing statement.  It would be like John Boehner and Harry Reid teaming up!


In first century Judaism could not have been two groups further apart in their thinking than the Pharisees and first century Israel was occupied by Rome... the Herodians welcomed the occupation...these were the people, primarily from the upper classes, who were profiting financially from their relationship with Rome...did all they could to accommodate the Romans...their name, Herodians, came as a result of their support of Herod, the appointed Roman ruler of the area...


The  Pharisees view of Rome was just the opposite...saw Rome as idolatrous and wicked and their occupation of Israel as an affront to God the only rightful ruler of Israel...a sect of the Pharisees, known as the Zealots, were actively engaged in a revolt against Rome...


In light of that, not surprising the Pharisees and Herodians would have completely different views on paying taxes to Rome...the Herodians viewed doing so as a good investment... the Pharisees viewed doing so as heresy...


“…in order to trap Him…” - Neither the Pharisees nor the Herodians were about to change their views on paying the poll tax based on the answer of Jesus to their question...but they did not come for information or instruction, came only for purpose of trying to trap into making a statement that would discredit Him in the eyes of the multitudes or the Romans and perhaps even among His most faithful followers…


For in his group of 12 disciples He had people with strong opinions on this very issue...Simon the Zealot would have agreed with the Pharisees...Matthew the tax-collector would have agreed with the Herodians...and no doubt the other 10 and the multitudes around him and certainly the Roman authorities who were always looking had their opinions about these matters...and so they came trying to trap Jesus...


The word translated “trap” in an interesting word that is used only in this verse.  It’s a word that was used to describe the catching of a wild animal in a cleverly constructed trap. 


Verse 14 - Notice how they approached their attempt to appear as people sincerely seeking instruction, their lips dripped with insincere flattery..."Teacher, we know that You are truthful, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth.”...can't you just hear the insincerity, the false flattery in that statement?...ironically, what they said about Jesus was correct...He was truthful...His teaching was not influenced by popular opinion...He did teach the way of God...but the point is, they didn't really mean any of those things...


There's a lesson to be learned from their negative example... watch out for those people whose lips are always dripping with flattering statements...beware of those who constantly pat you on the someone has said, "Chances are when a [person] slaps you on the back he wants you to cough up something." [And the Angels Were Silent, Lucado, p.90]


It is possible for kind words to mask a cold, manipulative, uncaring heart...and when the words are too kind, when the flattery is too thick be very cautious...for the flattering words directed toward Jesus that Tuesday of Holy Week, came from the same lips which shouted "Crucify Him" just three days person said it well..."Treat [flattery] as cautiously as you would a jewel-embedded scabbard for within both are found a sword." [And the Angels Were Silent, Lucado, p.90]


The following story is from Max Lucado's book And the Angels Were Silent...about a woman named Lucy Lambert Hale...Lucy lived in Washington, D.C. in the 1860's...Lucy was youngest daughter of John P. Hale who was a senator from New Hampshire...she was one of the most sought after young women in the nation's capital and there was a long list of impressive, aspiring young men trying to win her was Will Chandler who later became Secretary of the Navy and a United States Senator...another was Oliver Wendell Holmes who became one of our nation's most prominent jurists...but it was another man, a man named John, who eventually won her heart, at least for awhile...


John also left his mark on the history of our nation...his legacy was one of smooth, flattering words and cruel, deadly actions ...his penchant for flattery was evident in first letter he ever sent to Lucy Hale...was sent on Valentine's Day in 1862... listen to what he wrote:  My Dear Miss Hale,

      Were it not for the license which a time-honored observance of this day allows, I [would not be writing] you this poor note.

      You resemble in a most remarkable degree a lady, very dear to me, now dead, and your close resemblance to her surprised me the first time I saw you.  This must be my apology for any apparent rudeness noticeable --to see you had indeed afforded me a melancholy pleasure, if you can conceive of such and should we never meet nor I see you again -- believe me, I shall always associate you in my memory, with her, who was very beautiful, and whose face, like your own I trust, was a faithful index of gentleness and amiability.

      With a thousand wishes for your future happiness I am, to you---                          a Stranger

But with words like honey and a fierce determination John made sure he did not remain a stranger to her...eventually they became engaged...


But from the very beginning their relationship was flawed... while John was kind with his words, his actions were harsh... he was possessive and jealous...his promised one thing but delivered just the opposite...eventually Lucy became tired of his abusive behavior, broke off the engagement, and moved to Spain where her father had been appointed as an ambassador..


And John?...his full name was John Wilkes Booth and a few months after their engagement was broken, he assassinated President Lincoln...John Wilkes Booth is a perfect reminder that sometimes words of honey are used to mask a heart of steel...


“Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?" – The word translated poll tax is kenson from which our word census comes.  It was a head tax which Rome placed on all conquered peoples. This empire-wide tax on males fourteen years through sixty-five years and on women twelve to sixty-five, who lived in imperial provinces went directly to the Emperor. It was the reason why Joseph had to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem with the pregnant Mary (cf. Luke 2:1–6).[1]  This tax was unpopular because it typified the Jews’ subjugation to Rome (cf. Acts 5:37).[2]


Verse 15

“…denarius…” - This silver coin was the only way this tax could be paid. It was a day’s wage for a common laborer or soldier. It was a symbol of Rome’s control.[3]


Verse 16

“…Whose likeness and inscription is this?” - Tiberius (a.d. 14–37) was the current Emperor. On this coin was a claim of the deity of the Emperor. On the front of the coin it said “Tiberius Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus.” On the back of the coin was a picture of Tiberius seated on a throne and the inscription “Highest Priest.”[4]


Verse 17 - Someone has the statement "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" is the "...single most influential political statement ever made in the history of the world!  It was decisive and determinative in shaping Western civilization." [Hughes, p.103]  In a single sentence Jesus spelled out the appropriate relationship between civil government and religious institutions.  There are obviously two parts to this statement—one directed toward the Pharisees and one directed toward the Herodians.


“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” was directed toward the Pharisees.  Their view was that religion should control civil government.  If they had their way, the Temple would have been the center of government and the priests would have been the decision makers... they believed that government apart from religious control was not legitimate... they are not unlike those people in the Islamic community who believe civil government must be subjected to religious authorities (such as in Iran) and some radical Christians who prefer a theocracy over a republic or a democracy…


      And in saying “...render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s...” Jesus was saying to Pharisees, “You are wrong when you think that government exists as merely an extension of your religious views. It has a different purpose than that.”  I Peter 2:14 says that government exists for “...the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.”...not talking about punishing people for holding wrong religious beliefs/convictions and praising for holding right beliefs/conviction...talking about conduct in relation to’s the primary role of gov’t to keep people from acting in ways that infringe on the rights and freedoms of others...


Government does not exist to propagate any particular religious point of view, even the one I exists to provide a peaceful, orderly society where differing religious views can compete with each other in an atmosphere of fairness...So “...render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s...” is a rebuke of the Pharisees who wanted civil government to be controlled by religion...but that’s just half of what Jesus said...


“...render ... to God the things that are God’s...” was directed toward the Herodians.  The Herodians’ view of government was just the opposite of the Pharisees...they had essentially sold out to Rome...they had no problem compromising their religious convictions for the sake of loyalty to government…for the Herodians, allegiance to Rome became more important than their allegiance to God...we must never forget that while government has a legitimate function, it must never have our highest allegiance...our highest allegiance must be to God and to God alone...and to drape the cross of Jesus Christ with the flag of any nation, even this nation which I love and of which I am extremely proud to be a citizen, is to border on heresy...“...render ... unto God the things that are God’s...” is a rebuke of those who wanted religion controlled by civil government…



Basically there are only three ways for government and religion to relate to each other...every nation which has ever existed as followed one of these three models...

  • Government over religion - This is the model which permeated the world when the church was resulted in the persecution and death of many Christians who refused to pledge allegiance to Rome over allegiance to our day this model followed in most communist countries like China where churches need permits to operate and where persecution of Christians and other religious groups frequently occurs...this was the way of the Herodians…
  • Government under religion – This is the model which permeated the world during the days of the Holy Roman Empire...this model also resulted in persecution...the only difference was instead of being the persecuted, Christians became the persecutors, torturing and killing hundreds of thousands of people who refused to submit to the orthodoxy of the day...this model is evident in our world today where Islamic extremists control governments such as in Iran and Pakistan…this was the way of the Pharisees…
  • Government and religion separate from each other – This is the model wisely selected by the founders of our nation...not the state over the church...not the church over the state...but the state and the church existing side by side, separate from each other, and neither having control over the other...and this model is rooted in the teachings of Jesus...

[1] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel According to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (142). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[2] Walvoord, J. F., Zuck, R. B., & Dallas Theological Seminary. (1985). The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Mk 12:14). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel According to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (143). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[4] Utley, R. J. D. (2000). Vol. Volume 2: The Gospel According to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Study Guide Commentary Series (143). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.