Then Jesus said to them,Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.Mark 12:17
I remember reading some time ago of a brilliant young lawyer who had been raised a pagan and had no use for Christianity. Someone had given him the New Testament, and he was reading it through. When he came to this account in Mark, he read this question with great interest, for he himself had recently been involved with just such a dilemma. When the full impact of Jesus' actions hit this man, he was utterly astonished. He dropped the Bible and said to himself,
That's the most amazing wisdom! For our Lord did not try to answer the question directly. In that wonderful way He had, He called for a coin—He had to borrow one, for He had none of His own—and held it up.
Whose picture is on this coin? He asked. They said,
Caesar's. He said,
All right, then, it must be Caesar's money. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. But God has His stamp upon you, so render to God the things that are God's.
He shows us that human authority is not only limited in duration; it is limited in its scope. It deals with only a part of people. The secular government is ordained by God. The apostle Paul tells us that plainly, and Peter says the same thing:
Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right (1 Peter 2:13-14). Peter acknowledges that God is behind secular government—even bad government. For the king that Peter referred to was none other than Nero, wretched moral degenerate that he was. Yet Peter says to honor the king as the
But human government, Jesus says, has only limited control over people. It has certain powers over its citizens' bodies and minds. It can regulate our conduct to some degree and has the right to influence and regulate our attitudes and actions and what we say and how we say it. But there is one area in human life over which secular power has no control, and that is the human spirit. Secular power cannot legislate who we worship, who governs our conscience, and who constitutes the ultimate authority of life.
Give to Caesar what is Caesar's. Certain things do properly belong to Caesar; give them to him. But other things about you belong only to God, so give those to God.
The Russian author Solzhenytsin stands as an example of the wrong that is done by secular might when it tries to govern and control the worship of people. Almost single-handedly, he has defied one of the mightiest powers of earth and revealed the viciousness and the exploitation that always results when secular might seeks to invade that proscribed area of human existence, the human spirit. Jesus is saying that the ultimate issues of life belong to God, not to people, and human authority is therefore limited in its scope.
Father, thank You for this One who helps me to see things rightly, who puts things in proper perspective and makes me understand who I am, and what I am, and to whom I am responsible.
To what extent do we need to avow and submit to human government? What are its limitations? What is the ultimate authority to which Christ's disciples are responsible?