MATTHEW CHAPTER 17.
VIEW FOOTNOTES

The Transfiguration of Christ. Matt. 17, 1-13.

V. 1. And after six days, Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John, his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, v. 2. and was transfigured before them; and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light. Memorable, important days were those which Matthew fixes so carefully in the order of events, six days after the first specific announcement of Christ's passion; a turning-point in the ministry of Jesus. That Luke mentions eight days, chapter 9, 28, offers no difficulty. "That Luke says Jesus had taken those three apostles with Him after about eight days, but Matthew and Mark, that it happened after six days, that is not opposed to each other. For Matthew and Mark reckon the days that lie between, but Luke takes the last day as well, upon which Christ preached before these six days, as also the first day after the six days, on which the transfiguration took place, in addition." 135) For Matthew it was the exact recollection of a strictly historical incident. While all the disciples undoubtedly went with Christ to the foot of the mountain, which various commentators have guessed to be either Mount Hermon, in the Anti-Lebanon range, just north of the boundary of Palestine, or Mount Panius, near Caesarea Philippi, or Mount Tabor, near Nazareth, only the three men that were His favored disciples, Peter, James, and John, were taken along to the top of the mountain. They were probably those upon whose understanding and sympathy He could rely. They were to become the witnesses of His glory before the whole world, 2 Pet. 1, 16-18.

A most peculiar, miraculous phenomenon: While Jesus was praying, He was transfigured, transformed, before them, His physical body being transfused and glorified with spirituality, a foretaste of His future glorification. Not only did His face shine like the sun itself, with a luster not of this earth, but His raiment became as white-glistening as snow, as the essence of light itself, beyond the power of any fuller on earth to give them such pure spotlessness. All this was visible to them as they gazed in stupefied wonder. His divine glory, which He always bore in Himself, but which was usually hidden or manifested only occasionally in word and miracle, here transfused and shone through His outward form and person: an unsurpassed revelation of His glory before their eyes. It was an incontestable proof of the fact that He was truly the Son of God; it was visible evidence of His entering through suffering and death into His glory. "Therefore this appearance of Christ intends to show in deed and truth what Peter above, chapter 16, 16, has confessed: Jesus, the man born of the Virgin Mary, is Christ, the Son of the living God (Christ, however, signifies a king and priest, that is, a Lord over all things; and also a Mediator between God and men). Because He was destined to be preached through the whole world as such, for that reason He is shown to the three apostles as such, who should testify to what they had seen and heard." 136)

A further revelation: V. 3. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias, talking with Him. V. 4. Then answered Peter and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here; if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. The evangelist indicates with the usual "Behold!" that this was not the least remarkable part of the scene. Note: Any attempt at weakening the importance of this passage by trying to explain it as a mere vision in a sleep and by doubting the possibility of a recognition of these men on the part of the disciples interferes with the simple, objective narrative of Matthew. How they knew the prophets is immaterial; they recognized, they knew them at once. Though throughout in that peculiar state of half-waking and half-sleeping, their senses were able to grasp and retain all the points of the picture before them. Moses, who died before the Lord, whose grave God alone knew, Deut. 34, 5. 6, and Elijah, whom God took up into heaven in a fiery chariot, 2 Kings 2, 11, actually were seen by them as they conversed with Jesus on His death, which He was soon to accomplish. Both of these prophets had not seen corruption, and they were speaking to the Lord, whose body could not see corruption. They were witnesses and representatives of the Old Covenant, one having given the Law, the other having been zealous for the Law, but neither had been able to stop the transgression. Here was one greater than the Law who, by His perfect fulfillment of the Law, would redeem those that were under the Law. The glory of the phenomenon was too much for the disciples they became dazed by its brilliance. Peter voiced the opinion of the others when he cried out: Lord, it is good for us to be in this place. He desired at once to build three tabernacles, one for Christ, one for Moses, one for Elijah, that they might continue there in glory. The underlying thought may have been that it would be so much more pleasant to stay here, where the glory of heaven had been brought down to them, than to go to Jerusalem and have Jesus enter upon the way of suffering.

The witness of the Father: V. 5. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and, behold, a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him. While Peter was still filled with the ecstasy of the scene and describing the beauty of a continuance of the phenomenon, a bright cloud, a cloud of light, surrounded them. As at other times a dark cloud will obscure the light, so here the intense brightness of the cloud of glory hindered their vision; human eyes are not strong enough to endure the light from the throne of heaven. Here was the cloud of the New Testament covering both High Priest and altar of the New Covenant, Ex. 40,24. The disciples had at least, up to that moment, been able to observe a few things, though their vision had not been very clear, but at this climax they are overcome. For the voice of the Father uttered" almost the same words as at the baptism of Jesus: This is My Son, the Beloved One, in whom is My delight. It was a most solemn attestation of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, destined to sink into their hearts and minds forever. Him they should hear, to Him, in His Word, they should render unquestioned obedience. The time of the reign of the Law, as represented in Moses, and the time of mere prophecy, as represented in Elijah, was past; grace and truth, the Gospel, the Gospel glory, have come in and with Jesus Christ. No need to look for further visions and revelations; we have the Word of Jesus, the Word of salvation.

The conclusion of the phenomenon: V. 6. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face and were sore afraid. V. 7. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. V. 8. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man save Jesus only. The divine voice, the voice of the pure and just God, was too much for the poor, sinful mortals, who, as long as they are clothed with this earthly body, cannot stand in His sight. In the intensity of their terror they fell to the ground upon their faces to hide themselves before Him whose eyes are like flames of fire. Jesus, ever kind, gentle, and sympathetic, stepped forward. In His touch was a world of understanding and cheering assurance. He urged them to arise and cast aside their fears. Thus strengthened, they took courage to lift up their eyes, and saw no one but only Jesus, as they had known Him for several years, in His former appearance, in the form of His real body, with no visible signs of the glory which had just been manifested in Him. A vision so great and wonderful is not now vouchsafed to men; but there is one way in which all may see Jesus, namely, in His Gospel, where we both hear Him speak and see His glory. And seeing, we shall believe, John 6, 40.

Christ's charge: V. 9. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man until the Son of Man be risen again from the dead. On the way down, while they were still filled with the greatness of the manifestation, He gave them this emphatic injunction. To publish what they had seen, at this time, would only result in hindering the work of His ministry and thus of the Gospel. "As this transfiguration was intended to show forth the final abolition of the whole ceremonial law, it was necessary that a matter which could not fail to irritate the Jewish rulers and people should be kept secret, till Jesus had accomplished vision and prophecy by His death and resurrection." 137)

The question of the disciples: V. 10. And His disciples asked Him, saying, Why, then, say the scribes that Elias must first come? V. 11. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias, truly, shall first come, and restore all things. V. 12. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsover they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. V. 13. Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist. The fact that they had seen the prophet Elijah in the vision on the mountain recalled to their minds the saying of the scribes, probably based on Mal. 4, 5, as to the coming of Elijah. Their understanding was that Elijah would reappear in person, settle the quarrels between the various Jewish schools, bring back the pot of manna and Aaron's rod, and sanctify the people by an extraordinary washing. Jesus concedes the correctness of the idea: Elijah, according to the prophecy, was indeed to come for the purpose of restoring everything among the Jews to its proper state, as the Lord wanted it to be. He was to prepare the way for the Lord Himself. But the Lord finds fault with the fact that the scribes and the Jewish people in general did not recognize the second Elijah as such, but did what they pleased with him. The leaders of the people rejected him, and the dissolute, adulterous tetrarch put him to death. He shared the fate of most prophets that place the fearless confession of truth above the concern for their own safety and welfare. From the rejection of His herald to the denial of the Messiah Himself is only a small step; and even in the same manner will they cause Him to suffer. This explanation was sufficient to open the eyes of the disciples; they understood that John the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.

The Healing of a Lunatic. Matt. 17, 14-21.

The return to the people: V. 14. And when they were come to the multitude, there came to Him a certain man, kneeling down to Him and saying, v. 15. Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatic and sore vexed; for ofttimes he falleth into the fire and oft into the water. V. 16. And I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him. While Jesus had been on the mountain with the three disciples overnight, a multitude had gathered at the foot of the mountain, where the other disciples were awaiting His return. The Lord found the people pressing about the center, where some of the scribes were disputing excitedly with His followers. Mark 9, 14. The crowds received Him with all signs of respect, and His attention was immediately directed to a certain man who rushed forward with urgent desire, kneeling at His feet, falling on his knees, and almost carrying Jesus over with the impetuousness of his anxiety for his son. He confesses Jesus as the Lord; he earnestly begs mercy at His hands, realizing that he is not worthy to receive the gift. For his son he pleads, who was a demoniac of a peculiar kind, suffering with a form of lunacy or epilepsy which caused the boy to cast himself, often into the fire, and often into the water. And here was a complication: The disciples had been unable to help him. He had actually gone to the trouble of consulting them, but it had been in vain: they were not able to heal him.

The rebuke and the cure: V. 17. Then Jesus answered and said, 0 faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to Me. V. 18. And Jesus rebuked the devil, and he departed out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour. A cry of the utmost weariness, almost of impatience. It includes all those present: the disciples, because of their lack of understanding and the smallness of their faith; all the people, because they were slow of heart to believe Him to be the Messiah. Faithless they are, having either too small a faith or no faith at all; and perverted, corrupt, turned the wrong way, unwilling to heed and to follow the way He was pointing out to them, the way of salvation and sanctification. They were permitting themselves to be led astray. He was weary of it all. He longed to be delivered of the dullness, the stupidity, the perverseness of this generation. But He was not unkind or ungracious. His words were a rebuke, not the peevish exclamation of a disappointed man. He had the boy brought to Him, He saw the evidence of the demon's power, He made use of His divine power in earnestly rebuking the demon, and the result was a complete cure from that very hour. The devil may sometimes, by God's permission, torture the body by some sickness, incurable before men, but the souls of them that put their trust in Jesus are in His hands, safe against all the Evil One's attempts to possess them.

Christ explains the failure: V. 19. Then came the disciples to Jesus apart and said, Why could not we cast him out? V. 20. And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief; for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. V. 21. Howbeit, this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. After the healing of the demoniac, Jesus went into a house. And there, where they were by themselves, the disciples gain enough courage to ask Him in regard to their failure. The fact stood before them: They had not been able to cast him out. The question seems to imply that the experience was exceptional; in other cases they had not had this difficulty, Luke 10, 17. Jesus very frankly tells them the trouble. Their faith, their trust in God, had not been equal to the occasion; it had been too small to effect a cure in this instance. Probably the disciples, who formerly had cast out devils in the Lord's name and by His authority, had attempted to exorcise, trusting in their own strength. Not redeeming faith is meant here, of course, but a firm reliance in God's power and promises. For if such trusting faith is present, though it be as small as a single grain of mustard-seed by comparison, though its quantity represent the minimum of such trust, yet it could perform miracles as yet undreamed of by them, such as the moving of mountains. Nothing is impossible to such faith. If we have God's command and promise in our undertaking, then we should firmly rely upon His almighty strength, knowing that we shall be able to perform what He has given us to do. Cp. chap. 21, 21; Mark 11, 23. Things that seem impossible before men, undertakings that are frankly jeered at as dreams of visionaries, works of mercy or other projects in the Church that seemed hopeless from the start, have been carried out successfully because of a firm reliance in the justness of the cause and in the help of the Lord above. The Lord adds finally, for the information of His disciples in other cases of this kind, that fasting and prayer are helpful in bringing about the desired result. The more difficult the question that confronts the Christian, the more firmly must he cling to God's promises. Whether Satan be actually present in the form of a very malignant and baffling disease, or whether he attempt to hinder the work of Christ in His Church by all manner of obstructions, earnest, devout prayer is an ally that can be depended upon to secure the needed help from above, to put the enemy to flight, and to gain the day for the cause of Christ.

Christ Foretells His Passion and Pays the Temple-Tax. Matt. 17, 22-27.

V. 22. And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of men; v. 23. and they shall kill Him, and the third day He shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry. It appears that Jesus now returned to Galilee from the locality of the transfiguration. The apostles also gathered themselves together unto Him; the Teacher and all His pupils were reunited. This was done quietly, without public demonstrations. The time of God's merciful visitation upon the people of Galilee was past. The great mass of them had not heard, had not been converted. But Jesus took all the more time for His disciples, to give them the information of which they stood in such sore need. Again He makes His announcement emphatic: It is surely coming to pass, it will happen without fail. He will be delivered up, according to the counsel of God, to be an atonement for the sins of the world. Into the hands of men He will be given, through them, as the representatives of all mankind, He will find His death. Thus it was written, and thus it must be done. It will not be an execution which will stand in the justice even of human courts, it will be deliberate murder. But He will not remain in death. He will not see corruption. He is the antitype of Jonah: on the third day He will be raised again from the grave; He will rise and show that the seal of God's approval has been placed upon His finished work. The disciples were again too dull to grasp the significance of the instruction in Christ's words. Above all was the comfort of the last words lost upon them. They were all greatly distressed and filled with much sorrow. They saw only death and darkness.

The question of the Temple-tax: V. 24. And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter and said, Doth not your Master pay tribute? V. 25. He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon: of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute, of their own children or of strangers? V. 26. Peter saith unto Him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Capernaum was still considered the home of Jesus, and here He returned for a brief visit. Here the receivers of the custom, the collectors of the Temple-tax, were making their rounds. In the Old Testament, Ex. 30, 13-16, every Jew above twenty had been taxed a half shekel annually for the support of the Sanctuary. This tax was renewed in the time following the exile, the money being paid in the nearest equivalent of the coins then in circulation. The didrachma, or double Attic drachma, was now the commonly accepted tax for the Temple. The collectors did not approach Jesus directly, but, knowing Peter from former days, they address their request to him. Peter, familiar with his Master's habits and certain that He had always paid His contribution as a member of the Jewish Church, answered in the affirmative. Jesus, according to His omniscience, knew of the conversation before Peter ever stepped into the house and before he had had an opportunity to speak of the matter. So He anticipated His disciple; literally, got ahead of him. He also has a question to propose by presenting a parallel case. He wants to know what is customary with the rulers of the world in demanding and accepting duties on merchandise and poll-tax. The question is put in a lively spirit: What think you? Are the children liable or strangers? From the answer of Peter, who naturally exempted the children, Jesus then drew His conclusion: Therefore free are the children. Jesus was a Son in His Father's house, in the Jewish Church and its Temple, and not a servant in another's, and therefore could claim, as His rightful property, the offerings of the Temple. God is King of the Temple-city, therefore His Son is free from Temple-tribute. "His meaning includes this: My dear Peter, I know that we are kings and children of kings. I am the King of kings, and no one has the right to exact the Temple-tax from us, but they should rather pay it to us. How is it, then, My dear Peter, that they demand the tax from thee, since thou art a king's son? What thinkest thou? Do they do right that they demand the tax of thee? But since Christ proposes this question in a general way, Peter also answers in a general way in his simplicity, when he says: Not the children, but others usually pay the tax, not knowing that Christ in His words had called him a king's son." 138) This thought may be emphasized still more strongly. The children of God by faith in Christ, Gal. 3, 26, the children of the New Testament, kings in their own right, Rev. 5, 10, are free in the best sense of the word, John 8, 36. They are no longer held in the yoke of any Old Testament ceremonial law, they, like their Master, are free from the precepts of Israel. Jesus thus makes a joyful declaration, which holds true for all times.

The miracle: V. 27. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money; that take, and give unto them for Me and thee. The miracle is taken so absolutely for granted that its fulfillment is not even noted. Matthew simply puts down the command of Christ. Peter took his hook and line, went out to the lake, threw out the line, drew up the fish with the stater in his mouth, and paid this coin, which was equal to about 60 cents, or twice the Temple-tax, for himself and for his Master. Thus was it the Lord's will. Jesus might easily have obtained the small sum of money somewhere else. He might also have paid for them all, though the text does not indicate that they were all present. Jesus purposely wanted to gain the money for the payment of the Temple-tax by a striking miracle. He, the Lord of heaven and earth, who has the fishes in the sea, the silver and gold of the whole world, in His hand, humiliates Himself thus deeply and subjects Himself to the precepts of the Jews, in order not to give offense needlessly, and perhaps, to win some of the people for His kingdom. It is a lesson for all disciples of all times, that they do not give offense, that they do not abuse the power and the liberty which they have in Christ to the detriment of their neighbor, but be willing to accommodate themselves to the wishes, demands, customs, and precepts of men, wherever love dictates this course and it may be followed without offending against a command of God.139) It might seem a small thing that Jesus and His followers would seem to despise the Temple, and disallow its claims, but a proper desire to live peaceably with all men, if possible, dictated His course and became a lesson for all time.

Summary. Jesus is miraculously transfigured on a mountain, gives His disciples a lesson on the coming of Elijah, heals a lunatic demoniac, chides the apostles for the smallness of their faith, again foretells His passion, and pays the Temple-tax.