The following is an excerpt from EMPIRE on the true meaning of Christ’s statement in Mark 12:17 “And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
“Probably no verse in the whole Bible has been more misunderstood than this one. (See also Matthew 22:21 and Luke 20:25) This saying of Jesus is commonly used to support the proposition that there are two separate spheres of government, each with a legitimate claim on our obedience. God has some sort of limited claim on our spiritual life, while the civil government has an independent claim on everything else.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. The prior verses 13 through 16 show that Jesus knew He was answering a trick question. The tax paid to Caesar was a tribute, a tax that acknowledged his claim to total sovereignty. If Jesus said to pay the tax, He would be agreeing with Caesar’s claim and undercutting His whole ministry. If He said not to pay the tax they could have Him arrested. So He asked them whose image was on the coin used to pay the tax. Of course, it was Caesar’s image. His indirect answer was to give what is Caesar’s to Caesar and God what was God’s. The obvious point is that while the coin bore Caesar’s image, Caesar and every other man bore God’s image. Thus, without giving them an answer they could use to have Him arrested, He affirmed that everyone and everything is subject to God, denying Caesar’s claim to sovereignty.”
It is important to understand that the civil government is not another god with a sphere of action independent from the true God in heaven. That way of thinking amounts to denying the total Lordship of Jesus Christ and in fact borders on polytheism. When Christians say “I am personally opposed to abortion but would never impose my morality on others because not everyone is Christian” they are affirming the Lordship of Jesus over their personal life and denying His Lordship over civil government. Revelation 1:8 calls Jesus “the Ruler of the kings of the earth.” Do we proclaim that total Lordship, or a more modest and limited one? Is our confession of who Jesus is adequate or inadequate?
Let me submit that this limited view of the Lordship of Jesus Christ is a doctrinal error that has corrupted our faith and witness. It is necessary for us to confess this error, repent, and take up a full throated defense of our Lord before men. Let us be like John the Baptist who said to Herod concerning his brother’s wife “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Better we should lose our heads for a faithful confession before men than risk Jesus being unwilling to confess us before the Father.