And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap [Jesus] in his talk. And they came and said to him, “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. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “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” and they marveled at him (Mark 12:13-17).
When Jesus told those who were trying to trap him to obey both God and the government — the government of their pagan Roman oppressors — he was signaling a major paradigm shift. Prior to that time, Israel had a unique religious and ethnic identity. They had been ruled by various kings (and occasional oppressors) over the years, but ultimately, Israel was a theocracy ruled by God. With the advent of the New Covenant and the Christian church, God instituted a change from a national covenant with Israel alone to an international covenant with Christians the world over. With that radical statement, Jesus detached his followers from any particular nation.