Here is the situation leading up to Jesus' statement above:
“Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to examine.” So they brought one, and he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is here?” And they replied, “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus said, “Give to Caesar those things that are Caesar’s – and to God those things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:15-17)
Then they sent out some pharisees and herodians to trap him with his statements. When they approached him, they asked him, “Master, we know that you are truthful, and don’t care for the body – because you see the presence within the person – and teach the way of God in Truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should one pay, or not?” Understanding their hypocrisy, he replied...” (Mark 12:13-15)
Why would they be testing Jesus?
Then we find Jesus' statement above surprised these folks:
And they were astonished by him. (Mark 12:17)They were surprised by Jesus' response because they assumed that Jesus would instruct them to rebel against or at least disregard the Roman government and their system of collecting taxes. But Jesus did not. What does this indicate?
Jesus' response indicates that Jesus was not a fanatic. His teachings were not to disregard the system of government that should prevail over us. Rather, he accepted the authority of the current government, whatever it was. Why?
Because Jesus knows whatever current government is in power has occurred through the freedom granted by God for people to govern themselves. Ultimately, this is the arrangement set up by God, by allowing us some freedom of choice.
A fanatic is someone who does not understand that God grants us the freedom to love Him and worship Him. A fanatic thinks they can force us to worship God by removing the freedoms that were granted to us by God.
Is God a puppet master?
No. It is not that God takes away our freedom of choice. It is not that He is up there pulling on puppet strings and we are just a bunch of puppets.
Rather, the Supreme Being created the physical world in order to give us the proxy of freedom. He created an environment that allows us the freedom to make our own choices - independent of Him. Why?
Because this is what we wanted. At some point, each of us who live in the physical world desired to become independent of the Supreme Being. So He created this world to provide that, and escorted us out of the spiritual realm.
This is why we can't see the Supreme Being with the senses of these physical bodies. Because He created these physical bodies - which are temporary vehicles - with senses that cannot perceive Him. This allows us to act with the illusion that He is not around. It gives us the ability to act independently of Him - even though we are by nature, always dependent upon Him whether we realize it or not.
We are each occupying a physical body temporarily. The body is like a car and each of us is sitting down in the car and driving the car around. Just as a car is needed to access the freeway, we need a physical body to access the physical world. And when the body dies, we must leave it. Just as the car driver must walk away from the car when it breaks down.
So how do some people gain power?
God designed the physical world with consequences. The Supreme Being does not pull puppet strings and arrange everything. Rather, He put in place a system of consequences, enabling us to receive consequences for whatever we do - good and bad.
This means that when we do good things we receive good consequences, and when we do bad things we receive bad consequences.
Such a system (created by God) automatically awards those who have done good things in their past with good consequences. And rewards those who did bad things with bad consequences.
This is also the premise behind the notion of hell. While this entire physical world is hellish (because we are acting independently from God), those who do bad things are put into more hellish circumstances. Such is the law of consequences.
This system of consequences also carries us into our next life. Whatever we did in this life will determine what will happen when our bodies die.
This is why, for example, some people are born into extreme situations. People often will ask - why do some seemingly innocent people suffer? Like poor children in Africa? Why are some born into starvation? Many assume that God cannot exist - otherwise, why would he let this happen?
The answer relates to consequences, along with learning. We are each constantly receiving the consequences of our prior choices in combination with learning important lessons. Each particular hardship we experience delivers to us particular lessons - some related to previous activities and some related to our own choices. Being born into a starving baby body is likely the result of something we did in the previous life.
This doesn't mean that we don't try to help those born into distress. We must have mercy, and help others when we can. This is also a lesson the physical world teaches us - compassion.
In the same way that some are born into poverty, some are born into wealth and power. Some inherit their fortunes and their power in the government. Again, this is the result of consequences of previous lives combined with lessons that we are needing to learn.
Even so, we must also realize this physical body is temporary.
Why is the world so messed up?
The world is not messed up because of God. God does not make our choices for us. He allowed us a dimension where we could individually and collectively make our own choices. Whatever condition this world is in is a result of our choices - not God's. He allowed us the freedom of choice to love each other or fight with each other. We can either be respectful of this world or we can abuse it. Therefore, the condition of the world is a result of our choices - individually and collectively.
The catch is that each choice comes with a consequence. This is a good thing. Because consequences lead to learning. Otherwise, if God did not design the world with consequences, then one could say that He isn't fair.
In other words, those who get into positions of power did something previously - in this life or the previous - that earned them that position. It may not always seem like it - as a person may be born into a wealthy, powerful family. In these cases, it is what the person did in the previous lifetime. They earned that position by the activities of their previous lifetime.
So Jesus understood this arrangement of God. He was not bothered by it. Rather, Jesus was focused on teaching others to transcend this world of illusion and consequence, and return to our home in the spiritual realm.
Jesus understood the practical elements of living within the world. He taught that we should live in a practical way, giving to those within the world that claimed those particular domains - such as the current government and current government officials.
"and to God those things that are God’s”
But at the same time, Jesus held that we should be working privately to re-develop our loving relationship with the Supreme Being. This - our relationship with God - is part of "those things that are God's." Our hearts are the domain of God. Our physical bodies may be the domain of the particular government that rules over us.
But our spirit within this body - the spirit-person that is each of us - is the domain of God. This is why Jesus suggested that we pray privately:
And when you pray, do not do what the hypocrites do, for they like to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so they may be seen by others. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your closet and shut the door, and pray to your LORD who is in secret; and your LORD who sees what is done secretly shall reward you openly." (Matt. 6:5-6)The nature of the spirit-person - each of us - is love. We need love. We need to love and be loved. We're talking unconditional love here - not the conditional requirement that passes for "love" between the related bodies of the physical world.
This world is not our home. It may be the home of the physical body, but the home of our real self (the spirit-person) is the spiritual realm, with the Supreme Being.
As long as we want to remain independent from Him, we'll remain away from Him in this physical world. But we will also remain empty without our loving relationship with Him.
Each of us needs the Supreme Being. He is our Best Friend. He is our Soul Mate. He is "One" we are always seeking as we seek someone to love and be loved by.
This is why Jesus' most important teaching was:
“The most important of all the instructions is, ‘Hear O Israel – the LORD our God is our only Lord – and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ – this is the most important instruction." (Mark 12:29-30)Jesus wasn't concerned about the temporary physical world. He understood this is a temporary place. None of us will stick around for more than a few decades. Every body dies.
The important question is whether we are ready to give up our chase for materialism and return to the loving arms of our Best Friend. Such is our eternal life.