The Disciple’s Vocation, Part 1: Image Bearers

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The Disciple’s Vocation, Part 1: Image Bearers

CAESAR AUGUSTUS DIVI PATER PATRIAE, “Caesar Augustus the divine, father of the country.”[1] Thus read the denarius that Jesus had asked for and examined in His hand. He knew that Caesar was not the first earthly ruler to claim divinity. One recalls the haughty decrees of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius during the Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires, respectively.[2] Alexander the Great also comes to mind, who proclaimed himself a god and the son of Zeus.[3] These rulers all followed a similar pattern of power: conquer distant lands through military might, impose a system of government, then promise inhabitants peace and prosperity—as long as they pay taxes and obey imperial decrees. So, Caesar’s image adorned each coin, reminding all subjects that he was in charge.

Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Augustus_Denarius_84000963.jpg

Once again, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus. Human images were considered blasphemous by Jews, especially ones claiming a human’s divinity. If Jesus pointed this out, calling the coin an abomination, they could accuse him of instigating another anti-tax rebellion. This would have discouraged support for Jesus among the people, whose recent memory was scarred by images of crucified rebels, while drawing the suspicion of Roman authorities.[4]

But by asking to see the coin, He turned the question back on the Pharisees, “‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said to him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’” (Mk 12:16-17). If Caesar taxes, they should pay; if forced to walk a mile, they should walk two (Matt 5:42). All should live “peaceably subject to the laws of the land,” yet always “give their first allegiance to God.”[5]

This begs the question: if we render taxes to Caesar, then what do we render to God? The answer lies in the images. The denarius bears Caesar’s image. What bears God’s image? Humankind, for “God created man in his own image… male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). What do we render unto God? Everything, our entire selves.[6]

This not only attests to the precious value of each human life, but also points to the vocation of disciples as God’s image-bearers to the world. As we accept this daunting task, we make Christ the object of our greatest admiration, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” who “reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Col 1:15, 22). Caesar may make himself a god in the world’s eyes, but can only produce cold, lifeless images of himself. God’s images are completely alive. May we surrender all to God and His Spirit as we become disciples of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, the one king worthy of all our devotion.

Read the rest of this series on discipleship.

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Notes.

[1] Keith Paterson, “Whose Image is on the Coin?” Bible Reading Archaeology, August 23, 2017, https://biblereadingarcheology.com/2017/08/23/whose-image-is-on-the-coin/.

[2] Daniel 3 & 6

[3] W.W. Tarn & G.T. Griffith. (1970). Alexander III. In The Oxford Classical Dictionary. (p. 40). New York: Oxford University Press

[4] N.T. Wright, How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels (New York: HarperOne, 2012), 173-176.

[5] E.G. White, The Desire of Ages (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1940), 602.

[6] Wright, 173-176

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About the author

Nathan Mckee

Nathan McKee is a business professional with a passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, lay-led ministry, and discipleship. He lives in Collegedale, Tennessee with his wife, Bethany, and son, Henry.