You are the Coin of God

In Mark 12:13-17, the Pharisees and Herodians believe they can trap Jesus in his words. Their attack begins with flattering compliments, “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.” There are no lies here, only sinister motivations.

The question that intends to trap Jesus involves the Roman imperial tax. In Jesus’ day no topic was more divisive than Rome’s occupation. Some thought it best to be in cahoots with the Romans, while others longed for a day when Rome would be overturned by force. Therefore the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not” seems to be a no-win situation for Jesus. If he answers yes, the zealots will hate him. If he answers no, then Roman can arrest him.

Jesus is not fooled by flattery. He knows their hypocrisy and asks whose image is on a denarius. It is Caesars. Then comes the answer his opponents did not expect, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

It is common for commentators to write at lengths about the implications this passage has for a Christian’s relationship to government, but this seems to be a secondary concern for Jesus. Jesus redirects the conversation to focus on giving to God what is God’s, the very thing the Pharisees have neglected to do.

Jesus’ question about the coin naturally leads us to conclude that what we are to give to God is ourselves in whole-hearted worship. Like the coin, humanity bears the image of another.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  Genesis 1:27

Augustine notes that we are image bearers, but have a benefit that the inanimate coin does not,

“The coin has no knowledge of its bearing the image of the prince. But you are the coin of God, and so far highly superior, as possessing mind and even life, so as to know the One whose image you bear.”[1] Augustine

Humanity was created to know the one whose image they bear, but sin has disrupted that knowledge and distorted the image. Every person, without distinction lacks the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Jesus, who speaks for both God and Caesar, is the only one who can restore the tainted and faded image in us. Jesus Christ is the, “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) whose death, burial, and resurrection defeats sin and death. When sinners put their faith in Jesus Christ, who is the very image of God, they “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col. 3:10)

You are the coin of God, created to know the One whose image you bear through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

[1] Study Note on Mark 12:16 in the CSB Ancient Faith Study Bible.