What Mark Tells Us About Trump, Pelosi and Everyone Else
When the gospel declares that Jesus is Lord, it also tells us that the state is not
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That’s how Mark’s gospel starts (1:1). No genealogies. No greetings. No background.
For years, I was brought up short by the bluntness of the intro to what we now believe was the first written gospel. Why didn’t Mark at least give his readers a brief explanation of who this Jesus was? What was he saying?
Then I learned two things.
First, Mark was writing for a Roman audience. He explains Greek terms for them. He tells his readers that “two copper coins make a quadrans” (Mark 12:42). A quadrans was a coin only used by people in the western part of the Roman empire. And he tells his readers that Pilate’s palace is a praetorium (15:16). Again, a word familiar to a Latin audience, not one in Roman-occupied Palestine.
He uses the word “immediately” 42 times. Why would he do this? To convey not just action but decisiveness. Jesus was purposeful, resolved, and strong. Qualities that would appeal to a Roman audience.
Second, his Roman audience would have heard the word “Gospel” very differently than we do. The word was used for formal proclamations in the first century. Consider an inscription, written in about 9 BC, found in a city called Priene. Priene lay on the coast of what is now southwest Turkey. It reads, “the birthday of the god [Augustus] has been for the whole world the beginning of good news concerning him.”
So, a gospel — a message of good news — was a big deal. It could be an announcement of a military victory. A major achievement. Or even the birth of a new emperor — a new god.
Jesus and the New God Caesar
The emperor during much of Jesus’s life and ministry was Tiberius. Coins stamped with his image were surrounded by the words, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Augustus.” Tiberius, the son of a god.
In Mark 12:12-17, some religious and political types bring Jesus a coin. They ask Him if they should pay taxes to Caesar. As Mark notes, it was a trap. If Jesus says no, He would be denying Rome’s power to levy taxes and insulting the emperor. If He says yes, He would be seen as endorsing Roman rule and angering His followers. The Roman tax was oppressive.
Instead, Jesus asks to see a coin. He asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” His critics must have been a little taken aback. Wasn’t it obviously an imperial coin? So they said to him, “Caesar’s.”
Then Jesus gave a reply that has rung like a bell through the ages: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Did you catch what He asked the Pharisees and political hacks about the coin? About “whose inscription” was on it? It is very possible, even likely, he was referring to Caesar’s claim to be not just an earthly king but a divine being. And in doing so, was saying, “Give this fake ‘god’ his little coin. Give to God all He deserves — everything.”
A Ruling King — and It’s Not Caesar
Back to Mark 1:1. Let’s break it down. “The beginning of the amazing good news about Jesus the Chosen One, the Son of God.” He’s writing for Romans. What does he do in the very first verse? He directly challenges the Roman claim that the emperor is divine. Jesus, not Caesar, is the Anointed One, the Savior.
Put even more simply: Jesus is Lord. Caesar is not.
In our time, the left promises heaven on earth. This is the fatal error of radical liberalism. The state can meet your needs, provide for your wants, and be there for you throughout life’s journey. Remember Pres. Obama’s “Life of Julia?” The conceit of liberalism is that man can be perfected and the state can do the perfecting. That’s why nothing is every good enough, dissatisfaction is a constant, and resentment is just the right emotional pitch.
But as Jesus taught and still teaches, the state is not God. The state is merely God’s servant (Romans 13:1-7).
Jesus is Lord, of all and for all time. Let’s proclaim the good news of His lordship in our words and deeds. He is not only the great King, but the only truly good one.
Rob Schwarzwalder is a senior contributor at The Stream and a senior lecturer at Regent University.