What does Mark 12:15 mean?
ESV: But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”
NIV: Should we pay or shouldn't we?' But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. 'Why are you trying to trap me?' he asked. 'Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.'
NASB: Are we to pay, or not pay?' But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, 'Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to look at.'
CSB: But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at."
NLT: Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?' Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, 'Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.'
KJV: Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.
Local religious leaders are attempting to trap Jesus by asking Him a controversial question: should Jews pay taxes demanded of them by their Roman conquerors (Mark 12:13–14). The "trap" comes in the dangers of a simple yes-or-no answer. "Yes" would anger the Jewish people, and "no" would make Jesus a rebel against Rome. As usual, Jesus defeats the trick question by exposing the real issues involved. He does this, in part, by using the Roman coin used to pay those taxes as a visual aid.
When this tax was first established, in AD 6, a Galilean named Judas responded by leading a rebellion. He believed that the Jews had only one master, God, and to pay the tax was to spiritually and morally subjugate oneself to Rome. Jesus does not accept Judas' conclusion, but many did. In AD 66, the pressure in the nationalistic Zealot's sect will reach a boiling point. They lead a revolt which the Romans meet in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem.
The problem with Judas and the Zealots' belief is that they put the cart before the horse. They know that God will give Israel peace and sovereignty if they obey Him (Deuteronomy 28). Instead of obeying Him and waiting for God to fulfill His promise, they try to take the blessing by force.
In God's dealings with Israel, foreign rule is always seen as unfortunate, but it's not treated as something the Jews need to or can escape from. It's typically a judgment for disobedience (Jeremiah 25:8–14). In the church age, there are no theocracies for God to judge, but every believer is subject to civil authorities that are either secular or influenced by a religion other than Christianity. There is no Christian nation, and there's not supposed to be. Those that claimed to be in the past did so because the power of the church served to enforce the rule of the king, not of God.
When the southern kingdom of Judah disobeyed God and God judged them by sending them into captivity in Babylon, Jeremiah admonished the people to submit peacefully (Jeremiah 27). We are called to do the same. We should influence the government as much as we are allowed, and if a civil law overtly contradicts God's command, we are called to obey God—and suffer the consequences (Romans 13:1–7; 1 Peter 2:13–17). But despite what the Zealots believe and the Pharisees hope, God never promises the Jews they can win sovereignty without His direct involvement. And He never promises Christians freedom from immoral secular rule.
Mark 12:13–17 is clarified by insight into the Pharisees' complex attitudes. They have very strong religious beliefs, which go beyond God's inspired Scriptures. They hate that Israel is subjugated to Rome, but unlike the violence-minded Zealots, they aren't a political threat. In contrast to Pharisees, the Herodians support Rome's rule and all the benefits that go with it. These unlikely bedfellows join to trap Jesus with a question about taxes. If His answer supports the Pharisees, the Herodians can claim Jesus is rebelling against the emperor. If His answer supports the Herodians, the Pharisees can assert He doesn't support Israel. This account is also in Matthew 22:15–22 and Luke 20:20–26.
This chapter contains lessons taught by Jesus in various circumstances. He explains the eventual destruction of traditional Judaism, the relationship between secular and sacred obligations, the nature of the resurrection, and the most important of God's commandments. Jesus also expounds on Messianic statements in the Old Testament. Jesus also condemns the glory-seeking shallowness of the scribes, and extolls the virtues of sincere, faith-based giving.
Days before, Jesus has entered Jerusalem, hailed as a hero by the people (Mark 11:1–11). While teaching in the temple courtyard, Jesus shows superior understanding of Scripture over the chief priests, scribes, and elders (Mark 12:27–33), the Pharisees and Herodians (Mark 12:13), the Sadducees (Mark 12:18), and the scribes again (Mark 12:35, 38). Sadly, even in the instance where a scribe does understand Scripture, that is no guarantee he will follow it to its logical conclusion: Jesus (Mark 12:28–34). In contrast, a humble widow exemplifies the faithfulness and piety the leaders lack (Mark 12:41–44). Jesus leaves the temple for the last time to teach the disciples on the Mount of Olives (Mark 13). In Mark 14, He prepares for the crucifixion.
The Gospel of Mark emphasizes both Jesus' servanthood and His role as the promised Messiah: the Son of God. This is done through a concise, action-packed style. Mark provides relatively few details, instead focusing on actions and simple statements. This relates to the Gospel's authorship, which is believed to be based on the memories of the apostle Peter. These include many of Jesus' miracles, in contrast to other Gospels which include many more of Jesus' teachings and parables. Mark also makes frequent mention of Jesus' ministry being misunderstood by others.
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