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Sunday, July 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verses 1-13




Harmony, pages 92-94 and Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9; Mark 2:13; Luke 9:28-36; John 1:14; 2 Peter 1:14-18.

The transfiguration of Jesus is one of the most notable events of his history. The occasion which called forth the event – the wonderful facts of the event itself – the manifest correlation of these facts with both the near and the remote past, and the near and distant future – the primary and multiform design of this event, and the secondary important lessons which may be deduced from it, all conspire to make it notable. The history of the whole case may be gathered from what are called the Synoptic Gospels, that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and from the references to the event by two out of the three witnesses, Peter and John. James, the other eyewitness, was prevented by an early martyrdom from leaving any record. We find an account of his death in Acts 12. He was put to death by Herod. So these are the five historians of the transfiguration. In discussing the subject of the transfiguration, let us consider:

1. The occasion. – From the context in Matthew, Mark, and Luke we group in order the following facts, which, taken as a whole, constitute the occasion of the transfiguration:

First fact: While the people generally had vague and conflicting views of the person and mission of Jesus, his immediate disciples had now reached a definite and fixed conclusion that he was the divine Messiah, and had publicly confessed that faith near Caesarea Philippi.

Second fact: On this confession of their faith in his messiahship, he began for the first time to openly and plainly show that the Messiah was to be a suffering Messiah; that he must die; that he must die an ignominious death; that he must die under the condemnation of the supreme court of their nation.

Third fact: At this plain revelation of his death their faith staggers. It is both an inexplicable and abhorrent thing to them. It so deeply stirred them that, through Peter, they present the strongest possible protest. Peter says, "Mercy on thee, Lord, it shall never be." They, while believing him to be the Messiah, wanted a living, conquering Messiah, with a visible, earthly, triumphant kingdom and jurisdiction.

Fourth fact: He sharply rebukes this protest, as satanic in its origin – as coming from the devil, and it had originally come from the devil. Now, one of his own apostles comes as a tempter. As if he had said, "You are a stumbling block to me. You quote the very sentiments of the devil, when you would beguile me from the cross to accept an earthly crown." He then adds that to take that view of it is to think men’s thoughts and not God’s thoughts. He says, "You are minding the things of men and not the things of God when you present such a view as that to me."

Fifth fact: Whereupon, after his turning sharply away from Peter, he calls up the whole multitude to hear with his disciples, the great spiritual and universal law of discipleship, and perhaps it will stagger some to hear it, if they take it in. What was it? Absolute self-renunciation – the taking up daily of the cross upon which one is appointed to die, and the following of Christ; carrying the cross even unto the death which is appointed. We have such low conceptions of self-denial. We count it self-denial if we want a little thing and do not get it. We count it cross-bearing if some little burden is put on us and we bear it. That is not the thought in this connection at all. "If any man, whether he be an apostle or anybody else – if any man would be my disciple, he must have absolute self-renunciation, and he must take up every day the cross upon which he is appointed to die, and he must follow me, bearing that cross even unto the appointed death." He assured them that a man must not be merely willing to suffer temporal death, if an occasion should arise – not at all such a mere contingency – but he must actually lose temporal life in order to find eternal life. He must do it. He must lose temporal life to find eternal life, and then puts it to them as a supreme business question of eternal profit and loss. In that very connection he says, "What will it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul, and what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" It is the universal law of discipleship, from which there is no exception. No Christian can escape crucifixion. The reference is to our sanctification. We not only die judicially on the cross in Christ our substitute (Colossians 3:2), but we must actually "put to death our members which are upon the earth" (Colossians 3:5). I say this is a universal law: "If ye through the Spirit do mortify [put to death] the deeds of the body ye shall live" (Romans 8:13). Our sanctification consists of both death and life. The old man must die. The new man must be developed. Paul died daily. In putting on the new man we put off the old man. Our baptism pledges us both to death and life. ’ In our progressive sanctification the Holy Spirit reproduces in every Christian the dying of our Lord, as well as his living. In every Christian "a death experience runs parallel with his life experience." Not only Paul must fill up "that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in his flesh, for his body’s sake, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24), but all of us must have fellowship with his sufferings. We must suffer with him if we would reign with him. The lamented Dr. Gordon quotes this remarkable passage: "The church is Christian no more than as it is the organ of the continuous passion of Christ." Yes, it is no possible contingency, but a universal fact – we must take up the cross. We must lose our life to find it.

Sixth fact: The solemnity of this occasion was deeply intensified by his announcement of his second coming in power and great glory for the final judgment of all mankind according to their decision of that question which he had presented. All this comes just before the transfiguration. After announcing to them his death; after rebuking other conceptions of the messiahship; after presenting the great universal law of discipleship; now he says, "For the Son of man shall come in his glory, with his angels, and shall reward every man according to his doings.”

Seventh, and last, fact: Mark it well. Then follows the startling announcement that some of them standing there should never taste of death until they saw this second coming.

These seven facts, taken as a whole, constitute the occasion of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. Let us restate them: (1) That while the world had vague and conflicting ideas of his person and missions, his immediate disciples had reached the conclusion that he was the divine Messiah, and had publicly confessed that faith. (2) That upon that public confession he commences for the first time plainly and openly to show that this Messiah must be a sufferer and must die. (3) They indignantly and abhorrently repudiate that conception of the Messiah. (4) He rebukes their protest as coming from the devil. (5) He announces the great law of discipleship, that no man could be a disciple of Jesus Christ without absolute self-renunciation, and without taking up every day the cross upon which he was appointed to die, and following Jesus even unto the appointed death, and that it was simply a question of business – a supreme business question of profit and loss, and they had to decide one way or the other. "If you prefer to find your life, you will lose it; if you prefer to lose your life, you will find it; if you want to take this world, you will lose your own soul; if you want to save your soul, you must renounce the world." Just that, no less and no more. (6) He announces his second coming in power and glory, as a final judge to determine the destiny of men upon this solitary question: "Did you lose your life for my sake?" (7) The still more startling announcement that some people – some of those to whom he was speaking would never taste death until they saw his second coming. That these seven facts, considered as a whole, do in some way constitute the occasion of the transfiguration, is to my mind incontrovertible. Some of the most convincing reasons for the conclusion may be stated.

First: In all the histories the account of the transfiguration follows immediately after the record of these events without & break in the connection. No event of the intervening week is allowed to separate the two transactions. Now, that three historians should, without collusion, follow this method, seems to establish a designed connection between these facts and the transfiguration which followed.

Second: The disheartening protest of the disciples against his position and in favor of the common Jewish idea of an earthly kingdom, would naturally so depress the humanity of Jesus that he himself would need some marvelous encouragement from heaven and would seek it in prayer.

Third: From the same sad cause, it would be necessary that some compensating revelation of future glory must be shown to the disciples in order to make them bear up under the hard condition of present discipleship, and under the awful thought of separation from him by death.

Fourth: It cannot be a mere coincident that the transfiguration is calculated to so exactly supply these things – the encouragement to Jesus and compensation to the disciples, both for the death of Jesus and for the hard terms of present discipleship.

2. The event. – Such being the occasion, then, let us reverently approach the wonderful transaction itself. The scene cannot have been at Mount Tabor in Lower Galilee, as tradition would have us believe. While it is not now necessary to show how insuperable are the objections to Mount Tabor as the place, yet it is important to note, by the way, that little reliance can ever be placed on the exact localities of great events in the New Testament, as indicated by tradition, because the inspired record oftentimes designedly and wisely leaves them indeterminate. It is not small proof of inspiration by him who knew the superstitions of men, and would provide no food to feed it on. Christ left neither autograph nor portrait to be worshiped as relics. None of the historians even/ hint at a personal description of Jesus. We know absolutely nothing of the color of his eyes or hair. Absolutely nothing of his height or size. Worshipers of shrines, relics, and souvenirs derive no sort of help or encouragement from the New Testament. The scene of the transfiguration was evidently near Caesarea Philippi, and on some mountain spur of the Hermon range. It could not have been anywhere else from the circumstances going before and after the event. The time is night, somewhere about seven months before his crucifixion. The object is prayer in some lonely private place. His companions are Peter, James, and John. It must have been an all-night prayer meeting, for they did not come down from the mountain until the next day, and it is stated that the three disciples were heavy with sleep, as on a later and more solemn occasion, these very three men succumbed to the spirit of sleep, through the weakness of the flesh. The original here, however, would lead us to infer that they forced themselves to remain awake, notwithstanding their strong inclination to sleep, and now, late in the night, struggling against an almost irresistible desire to sleep, but yet their gaze fixed upon their Master, who is yet praying, they behold a sight that drives sleep utterly away. What do they see? A wonderful sight indeed; earth never saw a more wonderful one. Mark you, it is no vision or dream. With the use of their natural senses, sight and hearing, being fully awake, they became the wit- nesses of three distinct remarkable supernatural events. These three things are: first, the transfiguration of Jesus; second, the glorified forms of Moses and Elijah; third, the luminous cloud symbol and the voice of the eternal God. Now, let us consider separately each one of these things:

"Transfiguration: – what does the word mean? The word means to transform – to change the form or appearance. In what respect was the appearance or form of Jesus changed? It was this: It is in the night; it is on that lonely mountaintop; and while they look at him, he begins to shine as from a light within. The light seems to struggle through him. He seems to become translucent, and his whole body becomes luminous, as if it were a human electric jet, and the light is white – whiter than any fuller on earth could make it, and his face is brighter than the shining of the sun at midday. Let us carefully collate the several records: Matthew says, "And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart." Mark says, "They went up into that mountain to pray." There are the four separating themselves from all the others and going up into that high mountain to hold a prayer meeting. Luke then says, "And as Jesus was praying, the fashion of his countenance altered," or, as Matthew says, "His face did shine as the sun and his garments became as white as light," or, as Mark says, "And his garments became glistering, exceeding white, so as no fuller on earth could whiten," and, as Luke says, "His raiment became white and dazzling." We notice that two things are referred to, first, the fashion of his countenance, and second, the shining of his garments. Jesus becomes as a pillar of fire to them, as they look at him. That is the first thing they saw that night. Then suddenly there is an interview held with him. Those who come to hold the interview with him are not from hell; they are not from earth. He has gone up on that mountaintop and implored the Father for something. As a result of his prayer, an interview is held with him. Who comes to hold that interview with him? The two most remarkable men of the past: the representative of the law, and the representative of prophecy – Moses, the great law-giver, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets. These three witnesses could instinctively, by spiritual intuition, recognize them. Of course, they had never personally known them, but it was given to them to recognize them. And what do they look like? They are also in glory; they are luminous. There are the three shining bodies together, and they enter into conversation – they are talking. What are they talking about? Now, mark the occasion. Jesus had said to his disciples, "I go up to Jerusalem to die. I must die. There is a’ necessity that I should die, and these disciples abhorred the thought that I should die. Oh, Father, show them by some way that I must die. Is there no one in the past whose evidence would avail?" Out from the past comes Moses and says, "Jesus, I came to talk to you about your death." Out from the land of the prophets comes Elijah and he says, "Jesus, I came to talk to you about your death." The law says the substitute of the sinner must die. Moses comes from the other world, representing the law, saying to the substitute of the sinner, "You must die." Elijah says, "You must die." Every voice from the prophets calls for the death of the Messiah. "And they come to talk to him about his death" – his death that should take place at Jerusalem. Suppose Moses had said this: "Jesus, I died on Mount Nebo. No man on earth knows where my bones are resting. Unless you die, that body will never be raised, never, never." Suppose Elijah had said: "Jesus, I escaped death as to my body. I was translated. I was carried up to heaven, and am now enjoying in both soul and body the blessed glories of the eternal world, upon your promise to die. That promise must be redeemed. I am in heaven on a credit – the credit is on your promise to pay. You must die." "They talked with him concerning his/ death at Jerusalem."

They are now about to leave. They have had their interview, and they are going back, and just as they are about to depart. Peter is terribly frightened, but they never could put Peter in a place where he would not say something. Peter sees that the guests are about to leave, although trembling with apprehension, and not knowing what he did – thinking, however, that he ought to say something, as if he had said, "Lord, they intend to go," and in the original it does not say, let us build three tabernacles; it says, "Lord, I will build three tabernacles, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Now, while Peter said that, there came the third wonderful thing, and the only time that it ever was seen in the New Testament dispensation, though it had often been seen in the earlier days – the cloud symbol of God. How did the cloud symbol of God appear? If it was in the daytime, it appeared as a beautiful pillar of cloud; if it was the nighttime, it appeared as a pillar of fire. Now, the old-time drapery of God, the fire cloud, that had not been witnessed since far off Old Testament days – that fire cloud came down and wrapped Moses and Elijah and Jesus in its folds of light. As it wrapped them, there leaped from its bosom, as leaps the lightning from the clouds, a voice: "This is my beloved Son: hear ye him." And they fell as if lightning had struck them. Fear had taken possession of them from the beginning; their apprehensions had grown more and more demoralizing from the very beginning of the supernatural manifestation, but when this voice spoke – this voice of God, they fell on their faces; they could not bear to face that burning cloud and to hear that awful voice, and there they lie, as still as if dead, until Jesus comes and stoops over them, and touches them, each one, and says: "Do not be afraid," and they rise up and the cloud is gone, and Moses and Elijah are gone. Now, these are the things they witnessed – three entirely distinct things: The transfiguration of Jesus; the glorified appearance of Moses and Elijah; the fire cloud, which was the symbol of the divine presence, and the audible Voice. Such were the wonderful facts of the event. Now comes the next question:

3. The design – What was meant by the transfiguration? We go back and look at it to see if we can gather there the design. We take the testimony of the men who actually witnessed these transaction, in order to get the design. Let’s see what that is. First, he had said that there were some people there that should never taste death until they saw the coming of the Son of man – until they saw the second coming of the Son of man – until they saw the kingdom of God come with power. Unquestionably that is what he said: that there were some people there that should never taste death until they saw the second coming of Jesus Christ. Let’s see what one of the witnesses says about this. I cite the testimony of Peter: "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father, honor and glory when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount." Now mark what Peter says, that in preaching to these people that Christ would come again the second time with power and great glory and as a final judge, he had not followed a cunningly devised fable, but he preached what he had witnessed; that he, on Mount of Transfiguration, had gazed upon the second coming of Christ in some sense, in whatever sense that might be. He had seen it. He was an eyewitness of the power and majesty of that second coming. Let’s see what J John said about it. He was the other witness. In John 1:14, and in the parenthesis of that verse, we have this: "And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father." When did John see his glory, as of the only begotten of the Father? The glory of Christ always in the New Testament when spoken of in its fulness, is that glory which shall attend him when he comes the second time. The first time he came without glory; he came in his humiliation. The second time, he comes in glory, as we learn from Matthew 24: "The Son of man shall come in all of his glory, and all of his holy angels with him, and then shall he sit on the throne of his glory." John says that he, with others witnessed the glory of Jesus Christ, as of the only begotten of the Father. He saw it, and like Peter, he saw it on the Mount of Transfiguration. As a further proof of it, in John 12:24 we have an account of Jesus praying, and he says, "Father, glorify me," and instantly that same voice says, loud as thunder, "I have glorified thee, and will glorify thee." So that the glory that they witnessed was in some sense the glory of the second Coming of Jesus Christ. It was a miniature representation of the power and glory that would be displayed when he does come – an anticipatory scene – presenting to the ye on a small scale that great and awful event in the future.

When Jesus does come, every living Christian will instantly be transfigured. He will take on the resurrection body. He will take on a glorified body – just as Elijah and Enoch did. As Paul puts it: "Behold I show you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" Here was Elijah, the type and representation of that work. Here was Elijah, who without death, by the transfiguring power, had been carried up to heaven. Here he was talking to Jesus.

There is another thing that will take place when Jesus comes. The dead will be raised. The bodies that have been buried and turned to dust are to be reanimated and "are to be glorified in one moment of time. Corruption puts on incorruption; mortality puts on immortality; sleep changes to waking; and the dead rise up and are glorified in the twinkling of an eye. As Paul again puts it: "But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord, shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." Here is Moses representing that thought. Moses died; he did not escape death like Enoch and Elijah. Moses died, and no man has ever been able to tell where he was buried. The devil tried to take possession of his body, but here in this transfiguration scene appears Moses glorified as Elijah is glorified. In type, these represent the two great displays of divine power at the second coming of Jesus Christ, and they are the very two that are needed to be brought to bear on the discouraged heart of the disciples who have been informed that Jesus will die.

They wanted a living Messiah. They wanted an earthly king. To say that he will die means the loss of everything to them. They have not yet looked over the border. Now, how can a revelation be given to them that will compensate them for the awfully disheartening effect of the announcement that their Messiah must die? Why, in order to compensate them, there must be some revelation of the future. They must have an insight into the things which shall be. The curtains must be drawn aside. They must look beyond death. They must see into the spirit world. They must see samples of heavenly glory that are to be brought about by the death of Christ, and as they gaze upon that transfiguration of Jesus, which pledges the resurrection of his body when he dies, they can understand that death; and when they see the forerunner of his death in Moses and Elijah, as types of classes, and can thereby look to the end of time and see all the sleeping bodies brought to life, and the living Christians changed – if anything on earth is calculated to remove their depression, that scene is certainly calculated to remove it.

I venture to say that every Christian has become at times disheartened and depressed when he looked at the sacrifices that have to be made in order to be a Christian; when he looked at the stern and unrelenting laws of discipleship – absolute self-renunciation – absolutely, a man must deny himself. When one denies Christ, what does that mean? "I will not have him to rule over me." Now, when we deny self, what does that mean? "I absolutely abjure thee, O self, as the ruler of my life. I repudiate thee, self. I have another King." When we take up these duties and requirements, that is the start only, but every day of our lives requires us to see to it that self is crucified; that the body shall be mortified; that the deeds of the flesh shall be crucified; that they shall be put to death. When we daily take up that cross, and know that this must go on as long as we live, even up to the very time that we die, where is the compensation? It is in this: If I do not renounce self, if I do not follow Christ to crucifixion, I will ultimately lose self. I will lose my soul. This supreme business question comes up before me for decision: Shall I gain the world and lose myself, or shall I save myself and lose the world? Now, to help a man on that; to help him to decide rightly; to take away from him any discouragement, and the disheartening depression, what can do it so forcibly as to bring him up on a mountain and cause him by night, in the loneliness of its solemn hours, to witness an interview with the glorified spirits that have passed out of earth’s sorrows and pains and disappointments, and now in the midst of the blessedness which is theirs forever. It is to bring him where he can see the ordinarily closed doors of the arching heavens open, and down through the opening the light of the eternal world transfigures everyone upon whom it shines, and looking at that he will say, "Oh, self, die; oh, world, you shall not be my master. Jesus, I am coming; I follow; I take up the cross. I carry it to the place where I must die the appointed death on the appointed cross. I accept it for Christ’s sake." So the transfiguration fits the occasion of it by meeting the needs of the disciples.

Let us now see if that design of the transfiguration met the need of Christ. Oh we must remember that he had humanity, that, he could not help feeling terribly discouraged when these, his chosen disciples, the witnesses of his power, at this late day in his ministry, while they had clearly recognized him as the divine Messiah, yet did not recognize him as a suffering Messiah, and still clung with old Jewish ideas to the thought of an earthly conquering king. How it must have disheartened him! Then, we remember that from the beginning he saw his death, but as he neared it, the shadows on his brow had deepened, and the depressing effect of it weighed him down more and more as he got closer to it, at every approach of it, feeling more and more the anguish of it, and now with these thoughts upon him, he had spent so much time and labor, his loneliness, his solitariness oppresses him, and he wants to pray. He wants to get alone and pray; and on that mountain top he prays: "Oh, Father, nobody down here understands me, nobody, not even my disciples; send me sympathy, send me some revelation that shall cheer and sustain me; let somebody from the upper world come and talk with me here on the edge of the battlefield, where I am breast- ing the tide by myself." And he prays until the glory of God in him bursts through the opaqueness of the flesh and makes translucent, and he is glorified by his importunate prayer. And the Father comes down from heaven, comes in a drapery of clouds, comes in his drapery of fire, and wraps around with its folds of light the dear Redeemer, and speaks to him. "My Son, my beloved Son, my chosen One on earth, hear him! Hear him! Hear him I Not Moses, not Elijah, hear the Son of God." That strengthened him, and he went back to his burden with lighter heart. That is what I understand to be the design of the transfiguration.

4. Its relations – See how the facts of that transfiguration correlate themselves with the near and the remote past and with the near and the remote future.

The facts of the transfiguration reached right over and took hold of the scene of that confession at Caesarea Philippi; they go on back until they touch the prophetic days and grasp the hand of Elijah; they go on back to the days of Israel in the wilderness and take the hand of Moses; they go on back until they touch the first promise of mercy in Eden. Then they go forward until they touch the death in Jerusalem. They touch the resurrection after that death; they reach through the silent centuries of the unborn future and take hold of the second coming; they speak of hovering angels and heavenly glory, and open graves, and the white throne of the judgment, correlating with all the past, and correlating with all the future, harmonizing law and prophecy and gospel; showing that in Jesus, they all meet in perfection, and also showing that in Jesus is the redemption of all the world.

Such is the relation of the transfiguration to the past and present and future.

"Say nothing about it; say nothing about ill" Well, why say nothing about it? "Do not tell it now; wait until I am dead; wait until I have risen from the dead; and when I have risen from the dead you may tell this story, and it will fit into the resurrection so that no man will disbelieve it. If you tell it now they cannot understand it, but wait until I have risen and then it will instantly appear to men to be a miniature resurrection scene."

I have thus presented to you what I conceive to be: (1) the occasion of the transfiguration; (2) the wonderful facts of the event itself; (3) the design of that event; (4) the correlation of that event with the past and with the future, and now what are its lessons for us?

5. Its lessons for us. – There is one thing about a pastor that a congregation never can understand – never can, and that is his concern that the congregation may get upon a higher plane of Christianity. Sometimes it is like a stroke of death. What kind of Christians are we? What kind of self-denial do we now exhibit? What kind of cross-bearing? What kind of discipleship? What kind of decision of the question of profit and loss? And after intense agony, I pray, "Oh, God, multiply the number that will make a full renunciation of self." We ourselves know that the majority of church members are walking on the edge only of practical Christianity; just on the edge of it. Oh, the value of the spiritual power that will come upon all who will utterly decide the question – who will truly say: "I am God’s all over. He is Lord of all my time, and all my money and all of my life." Now and then we find a few that will come up to that – just a few. In view of the low grade of present Christianity, the very few that attain the gift of the Spirit, what is it that keeps pastors from being discouraged? From being utterly disheartened? What is it that keeps despair from spreading her mantle of gloom over his pulpit and over his heart? What is it that keeps away the howling wolves, and the ill-boding owls and ravens, that creeping or swooping from the plutonian shores of night, croak and howl their prophecies of evil? What is it? It is that every now and then he gets on some mount of transfiguration, where after long prayer; where after reconsecration; where after offering up himself and his soul and his body to God Almighty, the heavens open and show him the glorious future, so beautiful, so shining, so near, so enchanting, so drawing, so thrilling, that he goes back, and says, "Well, I can stand anything now." And every now and then God comes so to a church. He did to us, once, while I was pastor in Waco. He did rend the heavens and come down. The fire cloud was on the church. Heaven was near to us. We saw it. We felt it. Its glory could be touched, and under the power of that revival, earth seemed little and insignificant, and all of its claims were DO more than thistledown on the breath of the storm.

O that our children some dark night, awfully dark night, should be up on a spiritual mountain and see a fire church, see a translucent church, a church in touch with angels, a church hearing heavenly voices, a church wrapped in the great fire symbol of God, then might they believe and receive in their trusting hearts an impression that would affect forever and forever their life.

Shall we not pray that God may cause us to take a solemn look at that universal and spiritual and absolute law of discipleship? "If any man would be my disciple, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me. He that loses his life for my sake shall find it." "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" O Lord, we are in the valley just now. Its shadows are as the shadows of death. Lead us, we pray thee, for a little while up to the top of the Delectable Mountains, from whose unclouded summits we may catch again the inspiring, transfiguring view of the Heavenly City. Thus reassuring our desponding hearts, and refreshing our weary minds, we may resume our pilgrimage in hope of speedily arriving at our heavenly home.


1. What things conspire to make the transfiguration a notable event?

2. What are the sources of its history and import?

3. What facts constitute its occasion?

4. What reasons assigned for the conclusion?

5. What was the scene of this event and what left in doubt by the inspired record? Illustrate.

6. What was the time?

7. What was the object of the going on this mountain?

8. Who were Jesus’ companions?

9. What were the events while on the mountain leading up to the transfiguration?

10. Was what they saw a dream or vision?

11. What were the three distinct, supernatural events which they saw here?

12. What is the meaning of the word "transfiguration"?

13. Describe this transfiguration of Jesus.

14. What two Old Testament characters appear in interview here with Jesus, how were they recognized by Peter, James, and John and what was the bearing on the question of heavenly recognition?

15. What was the subject of their conversation, what were the circumstances which led up to it, what was the bearing of the work of Moses and Elijah on this subject, respectively, and how illustrated in each case?

16. What was Peter’s proposition and why?

17. What Old Testament symbol reappeared here and what was its special significance?

18. What voice did they hear and what was its import?

19. What was the design of this incident?

20. What was Peter’s testimony? What was John’s?

21. What was the significance of the appearance of Elijah here and how does this correlate with the New Testament teaching on this thought?

22. What was the significance of the appearance of Moses here and how does this thought correlate with New Testament teaching?

23. What was their conception of the Messiah and what was the bearing of this incident on that conception?

24. What was the requirement of discipleship and what was the bearing of this incident on it?

25. Show that the design of the transfiguration met the need of Christ just at this time.

26. What was probably Christ’s prayer here on this occasion and how does this fit the idea of his need at this time?

27. How do the facts of the transfiguration correlate themselves with the past and the future?

28. What charge did our Lord give his disciples relative to this incident & why?

29. What are the lessons of the transfiguration for us?

30. What illustration of this transfiguration power from the life of the author?

Verses 14-35



Harmony, pages 94-103 and Matthew 17:14-18:35; Matthew 8:19-22; Mark 9:9-50; Luke 9:37-62; John 7:2-10.

When Christ and the three disciples who were with him at the transfiguration returned from the Mount they saw a great multitude gathered about the nine and the scribes questioning with them. Then follows the story of the failure of the nine to cast out the evil spirit of a demoniac boy and Jesus’ rebuke of their little faith, upon which our Lord healed the boy and restored him to his father. This story is interesting from several points of view. First, the case was an exceptional One and so difficult that the nine were unable to cast the Evil spirit out. Second, this is the only case of demonical epilepsy in the New Testament, the description of which by Mark is very vivid and much more in detail than that of either of the other evangelists. Third, Christ’s momentary impatience at dwelling amid such an environment is nowhere else so expressed, perhaps the more distressing from the contrast with the scene of the transfiguration, a few hours before. Fourth, the rebuke of the boy’s father is a fine lesson. He said, "If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." Jesus answered, "If thou canst!" We see here the point of the rebuke. Herefore we have found the form of faith that said, "If thou wilt, thou canst," but this man reversed it: "If thou canst do anything, help us." But the rebuke of Jesus set him right in his faith and then healed the boy. What a lesson for us! So often the Lord has to set us right in our faith before he can consistently give us the blessing. Fifth, the explanation which Jesus gave of their failure and the possibilities of God through the children of faith are a most helpful encouragement to the Christian of today. All difficulties may be removed by the power of faith. Sixth, the prescription of prayer as a means to the strengthen- ing of faith is a valuable suggestion as to the mans of our overcoming. Prayer is the hour of victory for the child of God. This is the winning point for every worker in the kingdom. All victories for God are won in the closet before the day of battle. Let us heed the lesson.

While on the way from Caesarea Philippi Jesus revealed again to his disciples that he must suffer and die and rise again, but they did not understand and were afraid to ask him. They were very slow to comprehend the idea of a suffering Messiah. This they did not understand fully until after his resurrection. This thought is more fully developed in connection with his submitted test of his messiahship which is discussed elsewhere in this INTERPRETATION OF THE GOSPELS.

When they came to Capernaum an event occurred which made a lasting impression on Peter. This was the incident of the half-shekel for the Temple. When asked if his Lord was accustomed to pay the Temple tax, Peter said, "Yes." But Peter did not have the money to pay it with, and our Lord, after showing Peter that he (Jesus) was exempt, told him to go to the sea and take the piece of money from the mouth of a fish and pay the Temple tax for Peter and himself, in order that there might be left to the Jews no occasion of stumbling with reference to him as the Messiah.

In section 70 (Matthew 18:1-14; Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-50) we have the lesson on how to be great, which arose from their dispute as to who among them should be the greatest. To this Jesus replied that the greatest one of all was to be servant of all, and illustrated it by the example of a little child. The characteristic of the little child to be found in the subjects of his kingdom is humility.. Then he goes on to show that to receive one of such little children was to receive him. Here John, one of the "sons of thunder," interrupted him with a question about one whom he saw casting out demons, yet he was not following with them. Then Jesus, after setting John right, went on with his illustration of the little child, showing the awful sin of causing a little one who believes on him to stumble, and pronounces a woe unto the world because of the occasion of stumbling, saying that these occasions must come, but the woe is to the man through whom they come. The occasions of stumbling arise from the sin of man and the domination of the devil, but that does not excuse the man through whom they come.

Now follows a pointed address in the second person singular, showing the cases in which we become stumbling blocks, in which he also shows the remedy, indeed a desperate remedy for a desperate case. This passage needs to be treated more particularly. Then, briefly, what the meaning of the word "offend"? If thy hand offend thee, if thine eye offend thee, if thy foot offend thee; what is the meaning of this word? We find it in the English in the word "scandal," that is, "scandal" is the Anglicized form of the Greek word here used. But the word "scandalize," as used in the English, does not express the thought contained in this text, since that is a modern derived meaning of the word. Originally it meant the trigger of a trap, that trigger which being touched caused the trap to fall and catch one, and from that of its original signification it came to have four well-known Bible meanings. An instance of each one of the four meanings, fairly applicable to this passage here, will be cited. First, it means a stumbling block, that which causes any one to fall, and in its spiritual signification, that which causes any one to fall into a sin. If thy hand causeth thee to fall into a sin, if thine eye causeth thee to fall into a sin, if thy foot causeth thee to fall into a sin, cut it off, pluck it out. It is more profitable to enter heaven maimed than to have the whole body cast into hell. The thought is as we see it in connection with a stumbling block, that we fall unexpectedly into the sin, as if we were going along not looking down and should suddenly stumble over something in our regular path, where we usually walk. Now, "if thine eye causeth thee, in the regular walk of life, to put something in that pathway that, when you were not particularly watching, will cause you to stumble and fall into a sin" – that is the first thought of it.

Its second meaning is an obstacle or obstruction that causes one to stop. He does not fall over this obstacle, but it blocks his way and he stops. He does not fall, but he does not go on. To illustrate this use of the word, John the Baptist, in prison, finding the progress of his faith stopped by a doubt, sent word to Christ to know, "Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?" Evidently showing that some unbelief had crept into his heart that had caused him to stop. He was not going on in the direction that he had been going, and hence, when Jesus sent word to John of the demonstrations of his divinity, He added this expression, using this very word, "Blessed is the man who is not offended in me." "Blessed is the man who in me does not find an obstacle that stops him." Anything that is an occasion of unbelief fulfils this meaning of the word. If thine eye causes something to be put in thy path that suggests a doubt as to the Christian religion, and by that doubt causeth thee that had been going steadily forward, to stop, pluck it out. Let me give another illustration: In the parable of the sower, our Saviour, in expounding why it was that the grain that had fallen upon the rock and came up and seemed to promise well for awhile, afterward, under the hot sun, withered away and perished, says, "There are some people that hear the word of God and, for awhile, seem to accept it, but when tribulation or persecution cometh they are offended – they are stopped." That is the meaning of the word strictly. Persecution and tribulation cometh and an obstacle is put in their path that causes them to stop. Now, if thine eye causes an obstacle to be put in thy Christian path, that causeth thee to stop and not go forward, pluck it out. Yet another illustration: Our Saviour, who had announced a great many doctrines that people could easily understand and accept, suddenly, on one occasion, announced a hard doctrine, very hard, and from that time it is said that many of his disciples followed him no more. They stopped. Now, there was something in them, in the eye or the hand or the foot, that found an occasion of unbelief in the doctrine he announced, and they stopped. I remember a very notable instance, where a man, deeply impressed in a meeting, and giving fair promise of having passed from death to life, happened to be present when the scriptural law of the use of money was expounded, and he stopped. Some obstacle stretched clear across his path. It was the love of money in his heart. He couldn’t recognize God’s sovereignty over money. As if he had said, "If you want me to cry; if you want me to say I am sorry, I will say it; if you want me to join the church, I will join it; if you want me to be baptized, I will be baptized; but if you want me to honor God with my money, I stop."

Now, the third use of the word. It is sometimes used to indicate, not something over which one stumbles and falls into a sin, and not an obstacle that blocks up his pathway, but in the sense of something that he runs up against and hurts himself and so becomes foolishly angry. As when one, at night, trying to pass out of a dark room, strikes his head against the door, and in a moment flies into a passion. "Now, if thine eye causeth thee to run up against an object that when you strike it offends you, makes you mad, pluck it out and cast it from thee."

These three senses of this word have abundant verifications in the classical Greek and a vast number of instances in the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments. But there is a fourth use of the word. That is where the eye has caused a man to turn aside from the right path and to reject the wise counsel of God, and to indulge in sin until God has given him up; then God sets a trap for him right in the path of his besetting sin. In Romans 11:9 we find that use of the word: "Let their table be made a trap for them." That is to say, God, after trying to lead a man to do right, if he persists in doing wrong, the particular sin, whatever hat may be, whether it be of pride, or lust, or pleasure, whatever it may be, that particular, besetting sin which has caused him to reject God, will make the occasion of his ruin, and in the track of it God will set the trap, and the man is certain to fall into it and be lost. Now, these are the four Bible uses of this term "offend." Greek: Scandalon, the noun, and skandalizo, the verb. "If thine eye causeth thee to offend," that is, "If your eye causeth you to put something in your path over which you will unexpectedly fall into a sin; if thine eye causeth thee to put an obstacle clear across your path, so that you stop; if thine eye causeth thee to put some object against which you will unthoughtedly run and hurt yourself and become incensed; if thine eye causeth thee to go into a sin that shall completely alienate you from God, and in the far distant track of which God sets a trap that will be sure to catch your soul – pluck it out."

The next thing needing explanation: People who look only at the shell of a thing may understand this passage to mean mutilation of the body. They forget that the mutilation of the body is simply an illustration of spiritual things. Take a case: One of the most beautiful and sweet-spirited girls I ever knew, before whom there seemed to stretch a long and bright and happy future, was taken sick, and the illness, whatever the doctors may call it, was in the foot, and the blood would not circulate. The doctors could not bring about the circulation and that foot finally threatened the whole body. Then the doctors said, "This foot must be amputated." And they did amputate it. They amputated it to save her life. They cut off that member because it offered the only possible means of saving the other foot and both hands and the whole body and her life. It was sternness of love, resoluteness of affection, courage of wisdom that sacrificed a limb to save the body. Now using that necessity of amputation, as an illustration, our Saviour says, "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off; if thy foot offend thee, cut it off. If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out." But that he does not mean bodily mutilation is self-evident from this: that if we were to cut off our hand we could not stop the spiritual offense; if we were to pluck out the eye we could not stop the spiritual offense on the inside, in the soul; no lopping off to external branches would reach that. But what our Saviour means to teach is this: That as a wise physician, who discovers, seated in one member of the body, a disease that if allowed to spread will destroy the whole body, in the interest of mercy cuts off that diseased limb, so, applying this to spiritual things, whatever causes us to fall into sin, we should cut loose from it at every cost.

One other word needs to be explained, the word "Gehenna." It is a little valley next to Jerusalem that once belonged to the sons of Hinnom. It came to pass that in that valley was instituted an idol worship, and there the kings caused their children to pass through the fire to Moloch, and because of this iniquity a good king of Israel defiled that valley, made it the dumping ground of all refuse matter from the city. The excrement, the dead things, the foul and corrupt matter was all carried out and put in that valley. And because of the corruption heaped there, worms were always there, and because of the burning that had been appointed as a sanitary measure, the fire was always there. Now that was used as an illustration to indicate the spiritual condition of a lost soul; of a soul that had become as refuse matter; of a soul that had become entirely cut loose from God and given up to its own devices; that had become bad through and through; that had become such a slave to passion, or lust or crime, that it was incorrigible, and the very nature of the sin which possessed it was like a worm that never dies. There was a gnawing, a ceaseless gnawing going on, referring to conscience, and there was a burning and a thirst going on. Now those images our Saviour selected were to represent the thought of hell.

Having explained its words, look now at the passage itself: "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out." What is the principle involved in that exhortation? First, that it is a man’s chief concern to see that he does not miss the mark; that he does not make shipwreck; that he does not ruin himself. That is the chief concern of every boy, of every girl, of every man and woman, to see to it that he does not miss the mark of his being; that he does not make shipwreck; that he does not go to utter ruin.

The next thought involved in it is that in case we do miss the mark; in case we do make shipwreck; in case our soul is lost, then there is no profit and no compensation to us in any thing we ever had. "For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" If he misses the main thing, if he makes shipwreck of his own soul, then wherein does the compensation come to him that in his life he had this or that treasure, this pleasure or that; that he was able to attain to this ambition or that; that he for such a while, no matter how long, was on top in society or fashion in the world? What has it profited him if the main thing worthy of supreme concern, is lost?

The next thought is this: Whatever sacrifice is necessary to the securing of the main thing, that we must make. That is what this passage means, and no matter how dear a treasure may be to us; no matter how much we esteem it, if it be necessary that we should give it up or that our soul should be lost, this passage calls on us to give it up. A man may have in a ship a vast amount of money which he idolizes, but in the night he is alarmed by the cry of fire; he rushes upon the deck and he finds that the ship is hopelessly in flames and that the only way of escape is to swim to the shore. Now he stands there for a moment and meditates: "I have here a vast amount of money, in gold. If I try to take this gold with me in this issue in which the main thing, my life, is involved, it will sink me. My life is more than this money. O glittering gold, I leave you. I strike out, stripped of every weight and swim for my life." It means that he ought to leave behind everything that would jeopardize his gaining the shore. A ship has a valuable cargo. It has been acquired by toil and anxiety and industry. It may be that the cargo in itself is perfectly innocent, but in a stress of weather, with a storm raging and with a leak in the vessel and the water rising, it becomes necessary to lighten that ship. Now whatever is necessary to make it float, to keep it above water, that must be done. If there be anything which, if permitted to remain in that ship, will sink it, throw it out. They that do business in great waters know the wisdom of this. Why? It is a question of sacrificing the inferior to the greater and better.

The next thought involved is this: Whenever it says, "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out," I venture to say that it is a demonstration, by the exhortation addressed to us personally, that if ruin comes to us it comes by our own consent. I mean to say that no matter what is the stress of outside seduction, nor how cunningly the devil may attempt to seduce and beguile us, all the devils in hell and all the extraneous temptations that may environ a man can never work his shipwreck if he does not consent.

The next point involved is, that whenever one does consent to temptation, whenever the ruin comes to him, it comes on account of some internal moral delinquency. Out of the heart are the issues of life. Out of the heart proceed murder, lust, blasphemy, and every crime which men commit. I mean to say that as the Bible declares that no murderer shall inherit eternal life, that external incentives to murder amount to nothing unless in him, in the man, in the soul, there be a susceptibility or a liability or moral weakness that shall open the door to the tempter and let in the destroyer.

Now if that be true we come naturally to the next thought in this text, that is, God saves a man, and if God can save a man, he must save him in accordance with the laws of his own nature. That is to say, that God must, in order to the salvation of that man, require truth in the inward part; that nothing external will touch the case; that God’s requirements must take hold, not of the long delayed overt act, but of the lust in the heart which preceded the act and made the act. And therefore, while a human court can take jurisdiction only of murder actually committed, God goes inside of the man and says, "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer." From hate comes murder. If God saves you he must save you from the internal hate. Human law takes hold of a case of adultery. God’s law goes to the eye: "Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart." God requireth truth in the inward part. And if one is saved he must be saved internally; he must be saved, not only from the guilt and penalty of sin, but he must be saved from the love of it and from the dominion of it.

The next point: With that law looking inside, looking at our thoughts, looking at the springs of action, the question comes up, "How shall one save his soul? How shall one so attain to the end of his being as that in the main thing he shall not miss the mark?" He has to look at it as an exceedingly sober question. There is no child’s play about it. He must not rely upon the quack remedies of philosophers and impostors, or rely upon any external rite, upon joining the church or being baptized, or partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The awful blasphemy of calling that the way to heaven! God requireth truth in the inward part, and if we are saved, we must be saved inside. As a wise man, having my chief business to save my soul, I must scrupulously look at everything with which I come in contact. Some men’s weaknesses are in one direction and some in another, but the chief thing for me is to find out my weakness, what is my besetting sin, where is the weak point in my line of defense, where am I most susceptible to danger, where do I yield most readily? And if I find that the ties of blood are making me lose my soul, I must move out of my own family, and therefore in the Mosaic law it is expressly said, "If thine own son, if the wife of thy bosom, shall cause thee to worship idols and turn away from the true God, thou shalt put thine own hand on the head as the first witness, that they may be stoned. Thou shalt not spare." It is a question of our life, and if our family ties are such that they are dragging us down to death, we must strike out for our life. And that is why marriage is the most solemn and far-reaching question that ever came up for human decision. More souls are lost right there, more women go into hopeless bondage, more men are shipwrecked by that awful tie, than by anything else.

Then he goes on to show that these little believers must not be despised, because their angels are always before their heavenly Father, just as the angels of more highly honored Christians. This thought he illustrates with the parable of the ninety and nine, the interpretation of which might be considered as follows: (1) If there are many worlds and but one is lost, (2) if there are many creatures and only man is lost, (3) if there were many just persons, and only one is lost, then we find the lost world, the lost race, the one lost man is near the heart of the Saviour, the principle being that the weakest, the most needy, the most miserable are nearest the Shepherd’s heart. "Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish," is the conclusion of the Saviour.

In section 71 (Matthew 18:15-35) we have our Lord’s great discussion on forgiveness, i.e., man’s forgiveness of man. This subject is amply treated in volume 1, chapter xvi of this INTERPRETATION and also in my sermon on "Man’s Forgiveness of Man." (I refer the reader to these discussions for a full exposition of this great passage.)

In section 72 (Matthew 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62) we have a very plain word on the sacrifices of discipleship. Here three different ones approached Christ asking permission to be his disciples. The first one that came proposed to go with him anywhere. Jesus told him that he had no abiding place; that he was a wanderer without any home, which meant there were many hardships in connection with discipleship. The second one that came to him wanted to wait till he could bury his father, which according to Oriental customs, might have been several years, or at least, thirty days, if his father was dead when he made the request, including the time of mourning. Luke tells of one who wanted first to bid farewell to them of his own house. But Jesus said, "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." The import of all this is that Christ will not permit his disciples to allow anything to come between them and him. He must have the first place in their affections. The expression, "No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God," means that the man who is pretending to follow Christ and is looking back to the things he left behind is not fit for his kingdom. This is a strict test, but it is our Lord’s own test.

Then, following the Harmony, we have, in the next section, the counsel of the unbelieving brothers that Jesus go into Judea and exhibit himself there. But he declined to follow their counsel and remained in Galilee. This incident shows that the brothers of Jesus had not at this time accepted him, which was about six months before his death and thus disproves the theory that the brothers of Jesus were apostles.

We now come to the close of this division of the Harmony in section 74 (Luke 9:51-56; John 7:10), which tells of Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem in view of the approach of the end of his earthly career. This going up to Jerusalem, John says, was after his brothers had gone, and it was not public, but as it were in secret. He sent James and John, the "sons of thunder," ahead to Samaria to make ready for him, but the Samaritans rejected him because he was going toward Jerusalem, which exemplifies the old, deep-seated hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. This section closes with a rebuke to James and John for wanting to call down fire upon these Samaritans. The next chapter of this INTERPRETATION connects with this section and gives the results of this trip to Jerusalem and his ministry in all parts of the Holy Land.


1. What was the incident immediately following the transfiguration?

2. What are the points of interest in the story of the epileptic boy?

3. What revelation did Jesus again make to his disciples while on the way from Caesarea Philippi, how did the disciples receive it and why?

4. Tell the story of Peter and the Temple tax and give its lesson.

5. What was the lesson on "greatness" here and what its occasion?

6. What was the point in the illustration of the little child?

7. What is the lesson from John’s interruption of our Lord here?

8. How does Jesus show the awfulness of the sin of causing a little child who believes on him to stumble?

9. From what do the occasions of stumbling arise and upon whom rests the responsibility for them?

10. What would you give as the theme of Matthew 18:8-9; and Mark 9:43; Mark 9:45; Mark 9:47-50?

11. What are the several meanings of the word "offend" in these passages? Illustrate each.

12. What is the application of all these meanings? Illustrate.

13. Explain the word "Gehenna" as used here.

14. Looking at the passage as a whole, what is principle involved the exhortation? Give details.

15. What reason does Christ assign for the command not to despise one of these little ones and what does it mean?

16. How does he illustrate this

17. In a word what is the author’s position on the subject of man’s forgiveness of man?

18. What is Christ’s teaching here on discipleship and what is the meaning of his language addressed to each of the three, respectively, who approached him here on the subject?

19. What advice here given Jesus by his brothers, how did Jesus regard it, and what the lesson of this incident?

20. What are the closing incidents of this division of our Lord’s ministry and what are their lessons?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 17". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/matthew-17.html.
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