what is a denarius?
Gospel Of Mark Bible Study
Brother Todd  

What Is A Denarius?

What is a Denarius? What does it have to do with paying taxes and the image of God?

Read below to see a story that uses a Denarius to make a powerful illustration. 

What is a denarius? Mark 12:13-17. The heading in the Bible (in some Bibles) here before this passage is, “Paying Taxes to Caesar.” We know that these headings here are not necessarily 100% inspired by God. I would title the section “Rendering to Caesar and God.” In doing so we can see that there is something far more important than taxes at stake here. 

The Pharisees came and questioned Jesus. Mark 12:13, “they were seeking to arrest him, but they feared the people for they perceived that he had told the parable against him, so they left him and went away.” 

The Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes were starting to get annoyed with Jesus. Some of them liked Jesus. Nicodemus apparently liked Jesus until the end if you read the Bible. The ones who didn’t like Jesus were trying to trap him, they knew if they condemned him, then people would be mad, maybe even revolt. People were loving his ministry, healed, and were touched by him. He was proclaiming his kingdom and people were receiving it. The religious system was their security financially, it was their identity, and it was where they stood in society. 

These were the people that Jesus was talking about who would walk around in their long robes. When they fasted and prayed, they made sure everybody knew what they were doing. They prayed loudly on street corners to be seen. For sure they didn’t want their world to change. They tried to trap Jesus with his own words. They wanted to turn the tide of favor against him into a tide of shame. They wanted to turn things against him because people loved Him and fell at his feet. He had the potential and influence to make that change and the power too. 

They sent some of the Pharisees to him that would represent the government to trap him in his talk they said, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion.” I know that we all say we do not care about anyone’s opinion. We say, “I don’t care what people think.” We do. If I didn’t care about people’s opinions, I probably wouldn’t be wearing clothes today. If some people didn’t care about other people’s opinions, they probably wouldn’t shower at all. If we didn’t care about opinions, we would not have a culture at all. Culture is a way of life for an entire society. Culture is formed and maintained by opinions. 

But Jesus truly is the one who didn’t care about people’s opinions. Think about that. We are serving the one who doesn’t care about people’s opinions. We can live like that too. That doesn’t mean being insensitive or mean. It doesn’t mean we neglect our responsibilities. But we are not under the bondage of other people’s opinions. The opinion of others doesn’t need to stop us from completing God’s mission for our life.  

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.” In the context here part of the trap was first speaking the truth about Jesus and then they got to their trap questions. They were buttering him up. They were trying to catch him off guard. Interrogation tactics 101. 

Then they hit him with the question, “is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? Should we pay them or not?” Jesus’ response has become a famous phrase that seemingly only instructs one to pay taxes. There’s so much more to this passage here. Mark 12:15 reads, “but knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them ‘why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’

What is a denarius? A denarius was a day’s wage for a medium-skilled laborer in Jesus’ day. It was also the standard coin used to pay the temple tax. 

What was he calling hypocrisy here? As Jews, the Pharisees were not allowed to worship an image, the coin had an image on it. They were not supposed to have it. He said to them, “whose likeness and inscription is this”? They answered and said Caesar’s. Jesus said to them, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the things unto God that are Gods’” Should we pay our taxes? Yes. We get to enjoy beautiful parks and roads because of taxes. In one place we lived in China, our grass and yard area became skyrise buildings. I am so glad we have beautiful places to enjoy. Those public places are provided by taxes. I’m glad we have roads to get to those places. There are many things I dislike about taxes and what they provide. I just don’t see a scriptural argument to avoid them altogether. 

However, this isn’t a message about taxes. This is a message about God. Jesus said to them, “whose likeness and inscription is this?” Some translations say, “whose face or image is on this?” They said Caesar’s. Caesar is the one to who the money goes back. Caesar is the one with authority. Render unto him what is his. 

But Jesus didn’t leave it at that. Jesus, knowing their hearts, knowing how hypocritical and wicked they were said, “render unto God what is God’s.” You were made in God’s likeness. You were made in the image of God. It is on your face. We were created male and female in the image of God. What does that mean? We are God’s. We are to render ourselves back to God. All of it, all of us. 

Were the Pharisees rendering back to God? No. They were rendering back to their own identity, their thoughts, and image of what was important. They were rendering their lives to a constant pursuit of control and power, which was God’s. Let me ask you this, whose likeness are you made in? Whose image is on your face? I really hope you said God’s. As a missionary this was a powerful lesson for me, as a man, this is a powerful lesson for me, as someone with struggles and sin, this is a lesson. I’m so glad that I learned the lesson because I began to recognize the world in two ways. First, those that bear the image and recognize it. We don’t always act or walk like it, but Christians bear the image. Second, it increased the value of every person in my eyes. I’ve always cared for the underdog. But it was hard for me to see the image of God in others who were doing good, successful, or better looking. Thank God I can rejoice in God’s image of all people. 

The kingdom of darkness has twisted that image because Satan wanted that to be his own. People had it, we surrendered it to bite an apple. WE HAVE THE IMAGE OF GOD. It has been twisted and torn. I’ve come to hate when I see the image of God on someone maimed from birth to be a better beggar. I have seen that in multiple countries. Someone is so twisted in their own image and idea of what life is all about that they would maim someone else that they can control and send to the streets to beg for them. 

Human beings identify with certain images and that’s how they want others to see them. People want to be rich, so they can be seen as rich, they love the idea of that image. Others want to be seen as “laid back” or “chill”. They can maintain that image until they get angry. Image identity can be the root reason why people are so into beauty, fitness, success, music, drinking, religion, and more. The main image we need to be concerned with is the image of our creator which is on each one of us. 

What Is A Denarius?

When I learned to respect the image of God in every person, I began to see their tremendous value. Each person carries that image and has intrinsic value. The terrible thing is that they don’t know it. Render under God what is God’s. We need to render back to God what is God’s and that is every person. God wants to be reconciled with every person He has created. 

 One thing in my story is that I was a hockey player. I got to teach my son how to play in China. I wanted to go far with hockey I wanted to go farther but it ended in rejection. Part of the issue was size and height. Part of it was probably. Me not working hard enough too. So, taller hockey players made me mad, and jealous. It got to the point where I said to myself. “why are you watching hockey if it makes you feel like this and reminds you of the past?” I can remember an occasion when I was having an episode and I remember that the person I was criticizing was made in the image of God. I was able to watch hockey without criticizing because that person was made in the image of God. I could recognize the image of God in Him. It works both ways, not just with the people that we somehow think are lesser than us.  

What is a denarius and how does the story relate? Render under God what is God’s. You know I can’t go long without writing about missions. The mission of God is to render unto God all the people that were made in his image. Render means to give back, to pay in full. We are to give back to God what is owed back to Him! I was talking to a fisherman the other day. He was a missionary to Indonesia. Now he is reaching underprivileged kids! He caught a fish that had a penny in his mouth. I thought, “what are the chances?” A bass. You are not going to get closer to a biblical moment in your life. Jesus did it. He paid his taxes that way. 

We are to render unto God what is God’s, the same way Jesus said to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. What He is talking about is a lot more valuable than a coin, than even all of Rome itself. A whole lot more powerful than all the authority that Rome possessed. Render unto God what is God’s. The ultimate authority is calling us to give back to him all that bear his image. That is where the mission of God comes in. Some people have never heard of Jesus before. There are people who have been raised by a generation of people that have left a long time ago. The image of God is on them. Part of the salvation process is the image of God becomes clearer and clearer. Sometimes people can physically see the image on your face. Praise the Lord. Render unto God what is God’s. Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. God’s mission is to render unto God a people from all peoples on this planet. Help us, Father to render unto you what is yours. 

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