The Parable of the Tax Coin
The Messiah gave us the parable of the tax coin, which is probably the most enigmatic and at the same time the most misunderstood parable of all. It is enigmatic, because He did not give us any explanation of it; misunderstood, because of what one theologian has said, “Are we as careful in rendering to God our hearts and lives as we are in paying our taxes and serving the state?“
If one completely disagrees with such a “theology”, then this study is what he or she needs.
A coin has two sides: head and tail. When we say that there two sides of the coin, we mean that there are two different ways of looking at or dealing with the same situation, or two things that seem different but are actually related.
Another way to look at it is that the two sides of the coin are closely related to each other in a way that they cannot be separated, even though they seem to be completely different like the head and tail of a coin.
The expression “the two sides of the coin” is also commonly interpreted to mean that there are two sides to every issue and therefore never judge until both sides of a dispute are heard.
But, in the Scripture there is more to it than that: there are two sides in the parable of the tax coin.
The two sides of the tax coin
We will read from Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, translated by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995.
When the Pharisees plotted to trap Yeshua in His words, they sent to Him some of their disciples, saying, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”
If Yeshua had said “yes”, the Pharisees would have accused Him of treachery to the Law. If He had forbidden it, they would have accused Him of treachery to Rome.
But instead knowing their wickedness, He said,
Show me a tax coin. And they brought Him a one. And He said to them, “Whose form and impression is this?” They said, “Caesar’s”. And Yeshua said to them, “Return to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to Elohim which is Elohim’s”. (Hebrew Mat 22:15-21)
The Pharisees asked Yeshua whether to pay Roman taxes (tribute) in an attempt to entrap him into admitting his opposition to Rome and/or to paying taxes.
But upon seeing that the coin was a “tribute penny”, a Roman denarius, He avoided the trap by saying to give it back to Caesar, because it was the Caesar’s image on it—it belongs to him.
This parable of the tax coin is interpreted by the Christian theologians in a quite different way. F. B. Meyer wrote this,
“That tax coin indicated that the Romans were responsible for maintaining law and order. It was surely right that Caesar’s dues should be paid. But it was equally right to give to God the souls that He had redeemed.”
What F. B. Meyer is implying is this: “The Romans surely had the right to occupy the Holy Land and therefore had the right for maintaining the law and order in it. Also, as occupiers they had the right to collect taxes from the Jews but (now pay close attention) it was “equally right” to give to God, etc.”
In other words, according to the theologian, Caesar has an equal right to his dues as Elohim does. No wonder the Caesars were self-proclaimed “gods”.
Then he continues in his sermon thus (notice the as-as conditional clause),
“Are we as careful in rendering to God our hearts and lives as we are in paying our taxes and serving the state?“
In other words, what this preacher is preaching is that Christians are to render to God their lives as equally as they are to serve the state. And the Christians follow suit; they serve God and the state equally.
But nothing can be further from the truth.
The flaws in this “theology” are: (1) if the Jews had to follow such teachings, there would have been no Maccabees to liberate them from the Greeks, there would have been no Chanukkah Yeshua to celebrate (Joh 10:22), and no Messiah to redeem, because all Jews would have been decimated and assimilated in the Greek culture and paganism; (2) the most vicious anti-Semite Antiochus IV was just a tax-collector, and (3) the Romans had the same right for maintaining “law and order”, as the Greeks before them had.
But why did Yeshua use a Roman tax coin to answer the Pharisees?
Pharisees—the Roman colluders
In the time of the first century Judea, the position of the high priest was bought with money every year. Whoever from the religious elite paid more money to the Romans, he was the high priest for that year.
We find records in the Apostolic Writings of several persons who held the office of the high priest: Evyathar was high priest in the beginning of Yeshua’s ministry (Mar 2:26); Kayapha was the high priest, when Yeshua was crucified (Mat 26:57); Yochanan recorded that Kayapha was “the high priest that year” (Joh 11:47-53); Chanan was the high priest after the resurrection of Yeshua (Act 4:5-6).
In Acts 22:30-23:10, it was recorded that Shaul was brought before the Sanhedrin for judgment: the accusation was “violation of the Torah”. When he stood up against the council, he questioned Chananyah’s right to judge him and dared to call him “whitewashed wall” (Act 23:2-3).
Then the other members of the council said, “Do you revile the high priest of Elohim? But Sha’ul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, …” (Act 23:1-5).
That was not sarcasm, intentionally calling the chief accuser “whitewashed wall”, as it may seem so. The apostle who had just returned from a mission indeed did not know who the high priest was that year. But the author of Acts, Luke, knew and wrote it for us that Chananyah was the high priest that year.
So, when Yeshua was shown the Roman denarius to entrap Him, He probably had that in mind in the parable of the tax coin: that with the Roman money the Pharisees were buying the office of the high priest.
But what was the point Yeshua wanted to make in the parable using the Roman tax coin?
Yeshua seems to be saying with no further explanation of the parable, “Return to Caesar and to Elohim that which belongs to them”.
Did He mean to tell them that as there are two sides of the tax coin, so are there two different ways of looking at their question—Caesar’s and Elohim’s—all depending on the view point?
Or perhaps, He meant that as the two sides of the tax coin cannot be separated and are closely related, so are Caesar and Elohim; they can co-exist as long as one pays taxes to the governing authority, Caesar is tolerant.
“The proof text” of such an interpretation of the parable of the tax coin was found in Shaul’s writing,
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. (Rom 13:1-2 KJV)
And its interpretation is, “Everyone is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. So he who opposes the government withstands the institution of God.”
We will refer again to F. B. Meyer wrote this in his comments on Rom 13:1-2,
“Human government, like the existence of the family relationship, is a divine institution. It is part of the order of the world and rooted in the original conception of the race. It was never intended that we should live as individual units, but as members of family and state. It is evident, therefore, that the authority which is wielded by the ruler expresses, generally speaking, a divine principle.”
Let us think! The government “is part of the order of the world and rooted in the original conception of the human race”? So, according to F. B. Meyer , in the beginning the Creator created man to be a subject to the government?
Can we rethink this?
The civil authority over
This concept of the authority of a secular government over an individual is not just Meyer’s; it is quite common in the Christian religion. According to this religion, Christians are “under the law of the land”, i.e. under the full authority of the secular government and all its unrighteous laws, such as “separation of Church and state”, legalization of abortion, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, etc.
While it is a fact that a righteous lives in a secular society, it was not like this in the beginning and most definitely will not continue in the millennial kingdom, when Mashiach comes. Until then the righteous is indeed in the world, but not of the world.
Sadly, this is exactly the case with many today; they are of the world: they have willingly submitted themselves “under the law of the land” and rejected the Law of the Land—the Torah of YHVH.
So, what did the apostle mean, when he said, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers“? Context is everything.
In the previous chapter 12, he admonished the readers not to revenge themselves, but to give place to the wrath of Elohim, for it has been written in Deu 32:35, “‘Vengeance is Mine, I shall repay’, says Yehovah“. Instead of seeking personal vengeance, the apostle continues quoting Pro 25:21-22, “if your enemy hungers, feed him; if he thirsts, give him a drink, for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:19-21).
Then, in Rom 13:3-7 he further develops this theme that civil authorities, although they could be secular, are set by Elohim to exercise order, because even the most evil tyrants do not tolerate crimes.
Therefore, if a righteous has been wronged, he is not to seek revenge or vendetta, but to leave it to the civil authorities even though they could be unjust. And if the righteous has not found justice in the authority, there must not be personal revenge: the final vengeance will be Elohim’s.
The apostle is not talking about rejecting the Torah and subjecting to secular laws, as misinterpreted by Meyer and others, but leaving the injustice to the civil authorities to handle, even though, they can mishandle it. The contrary to this would be anarchy and chaos.
And the apostle concludes with the theme in Matthew 22,
For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are servants of Elohim attending continually to these duties. Render therefore to all what is due to them: tax to whom tax is due, toll to whom toll, fear to whom fear, respect to whom respect. (Rom 13:6-7)
The troublemaker of Israel
Eliyahu was the prophet of YHVH in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, when the kings and the people either wanted to combine the worship of YHVH and Ba’al, or completely dived into the idolatry; neither did they want to assume a hostile attitude towards YHVH by the worship of Ba’al, nor did they want to abandon the idolatry.
Then, Eliyahu called upon King Ahav to gather together all Israel to him upon Mt. Carmel, together with the 450 prophets of Ba’al and the 400 prophets of Asherah.
Ahav sent through all Israel and gathered the prophets of Ba’al together upon the mountain, and Eliyahu came to all the people, and said,
How long would you keep on hopping between two opinions? If Yehovah is Elohim, follow Him, and if Ba’al, follow him. (1Ki 18:21)
Eliyahu was not a politically correct person but a straightforward and without evasion or compromise prophet of YHVH. It is interesting to notice the choice of words with sarcasm the prophet used to ridicule the idol worshippers: “hopping between two opinions”.
Not surprisingly, Eliyahu deserved the title the wicked king of Israel gave him: “Disturber of Israel” (1Ki 18:17).
After this ultimatum the people did not answer a word but were compelled under the charge of hypocrisy and duplicity to keep silence. They knew very well from the Torah that YHVH demanded obedience with a whole and undivided heart (Deu 6:4-5).
This dividing of the heart between YHVH and Ba’al Eliyahu sarcastically called “hopping between two opinions or two masters”: the true One, YHVH Elohim and the false idol Ba’al.
Subject either to the King or a king
How many kings should we serve? Let us take an example from the story of the righteous men Shadrach, Meyshach, and Aved-Nego. When they were condemned to death for not bowing down to the king’s gold image, they said to him (notice that they did not address him with “King”),
“O Nebukadnetstsar, we have no need to answer you in this matter … but, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor do we do obeisance to the gold image which you have set up. (Dan 3:16-18)
This is what they actually said to him: “You are the king. If it concerns you exercising upon ourselves your authority, you are king over us, but if it concerns denying the King YHVH Elohim, you are merely “Nebukadnetstsar”.
So, what did Yeshua actually say in the parable of the tax coin, “Return to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to Elohim which is Elohim’s”?
What He said in the parable of the tax coin was what He already said in His first address to the nation of Israel—the Sermon on the mount.
No man is able to serve two masters except he hates the one and loves the other, or he honors the one and despises the other. You cannot serve Elohim and the world*. (Hebrew Mat 6:24)
* KJV translates it from Greek as μαμμωνᾶς mammonas. Mammonas is of Chaldean origin and means “confidence”, figuratively, “wealth”. Greek is ambiguous (the patriarchs were wealthy men), but the Hebrew manuscript is dead on—the world [of Caesar]—”You cannot serve Elohim and Caesar at once”.
The lesson is that as we are not able to look at the two sides of the coin at once, so we are not able to look two ways at once, and therefore we cannot serve two masters at once.
The endeavor to serve the true King and Caesar and to stand well with both worlds, is like to lay up treasures on earth and at the same time at heaven.
“Mr. Serving-Both-Sides”, who professes one thing on Sunday morning and does another in the rest of the week, is like cheating Elohim; but sadly in the end it will be like cheating only himself. Inevitably, he will hate one of the master.
If so, ever wonder why the Christians are like this? Because, they have been taught likewise, “Are we as careful in rendering to God our hearts and lives as we are in paying our taxes and serving the state?“
But in His sermon Yeshua has warned us, “You cannot serve Elohim and the world. Choose one or the other!”
What to return to Caesar and what to return to Elohim
In conclusion, what should we return to Caesar, and what to return to Elohim?
In the parable of the tax coin, Caesar’s major care is his image on it, and of course the coin itself: the money. All Caesars were narcissists and “gods”.
If Caesar wants the tax money, flip the coin and whichever of its sides comes up, return it to him; it is his; serve him once a year, when the tax is due.
But to Elohim return what belongs to Him. And what should we return Him? King David asked the same question and answered very well,
What shall I return to Yehovah? All His bounties are upon me. I lift up the cup of deliverance, and call upon the Name of Yehovah. I pay my vows to Yehovah now in the presence of all His people. (Psa 116:12-14)
What did we vow to YHVH Elohim? The vow we have all vowed (Exo 19:11) at Sinai is, “Everything YHVH has said, we shall do!”, before we had even known what He would require from us. These vows are due every day. There is no flipping of a coin when we serve the King.
Therefore, aside from the apparent attempt to entrap Yeshua, the parable of the tax coin is understood to refer to a person who keeps one eye on heaven and the other on earth, or one who professes one master and so does another, hence one who serves two masters.
But, as we explained Yeshua has taught something else: “You cannot serve my Father and the world. If you love the one, you will hate the other. You may think you can love and serve both, but you cannot”.
In reality, indeed, many keep on hopping from Sunday to Sunday between the kingdom of Elohim and the kingdom of Caesar; while others with dividing thoughts are still sitting on the fence of the “undecided”.
David the righteous King of Israel wrote,
I have hated dividing thoughts, but I have loved Your Torah. (Psa 119:113)
The time has already come to make our choice. The Righteous Judge has already put us in the situation to take a choice: with Him or with the world.
The ongoing influx of foreign people in Europe and the new anti-Semitism that is coming with it, Elohim is using to force the European Jews to take a choice: to return to the Land or stay in Rome with Caesar. Read more in the article The Beast Wounded to Death but Resurrected. The Old Europe is Dying.
The Covid-19 pandemic, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in the U.S. and the coming election in Israel, should be seen as the turning the heat on the diaspora to come home. But how many will return?
Many undecided Jews are still hopping between the Promised Land and Egypt flipping the coin to see which of its sides will come up, while others have already decided: like their fathers they decided not to leave Egypt.
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days.