Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 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.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.
Mark 12: 13-17
Having created a stir in the temple courtyard by his actions, Jesus continues to stir things up with his teaching. The poll tax was regarded with deep hatred by the Jews and presumably the Pharisees and Herodians (a strange and unholy alliance!) thought they had Jesus by the proverbials with their question: if he says, “Don’t pay” he can be dobbed in to the Romans; if he says “Pay up” the people can be turned against him. Gotcha.
There is nothing evasive in Jesus’ answer. By asking them to produce a denarius, the coin used for the paying of the poll tax, Jesus has his questioners “hoist by their own petard”. In carrying Caesar’s money, they are implicitly accepting Caesar’s authority. More seriously, they have brought images of the emperor into the temple, an act strictly forbidden by the Law. In doing so, they have shown where their loyalties lie.
“If you owe Caesar, pay Caesar.”
What we have here is not parallelism of God and Caesar, but a clear opposition between the two. Further confrontation is inevitable.