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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Matthew 17

Verses 1-99

Ch. 17: 1 13 . The Transfiguration

Mark 9:2-13 ; Luke 9:28-36

1 . after six days ] Within a week of Peter’s confession. St Luke has “about an eight days after,” according to the common Jewish reckoning, by which each part of a day is counted as a day.

Peter, James, and John ] The three who were chosen to be with their Master on two other occasions, (1) the raising of Jairus’ daughter, (2) the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

a high mountain ] A contrast suggests itself, between this mountain of the Kingdom of God, and the mountain of the kingdoms of the world, ch. 4:8.

An old tradition placed the scene of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. It is known, however, that the summit of Tabor was at this period occupied by a fortress, and there is no hint given of Jesus being in that neighbourhood. Many regard one of the spurs of the snowcapped Hermon as the most likely spot. Cæsarea Philippi, the last named locality, lies under Hermon, and its glittering cone of snow may have suggested the expression in Mark “exceeding white as snow,” if, indeed, the words “as snow” are to be admitted into the text.

2 . was transfigured before them ] St Luke mentions that this was “as He prayed.” The glorified change may be illustrated by Mark 16:12 , “He appeared in another form unto two of them.” The word implies more than a change of mere outward semblance.

as the light ] A hint that the Transfiguration took place at night, which is also rendered probable by the statement of St Luke that the three apostles were “heavy with sleep,” that they “kept awake,” that they descended “the next day,” ch. 9:32 and 37.

3 . Moses and Elias ] (Elijah). The representatives of the Law and the Prophets. The whole history of the Jewish Church is brought in one glance, as it were, before the Apostles’ eyes in its due relation to Christ. St Luke names the subject of converse: they “spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31).

4 . let us make ] Read, with the best MSS., “ let me make .” The transition to the singular is in keeping with Peter’s temperament; he would like to make the tabernacles. Meyer. By “tabernacles” are meant little huts made out of boughs of trees or shrubs.

This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased ] words that recall the baptism of Jesus; ch. 3:17.

8 . they saw no man, save Jesus only ] Christ, who came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets, is left alone. To His voice alone the Church will listen.

9 . the vision ] = “what things they had seen” (Mark); “those things which they had seen” (Luke).

10 . Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? ] The truth of the resurrection was new to the disciples, see Mark 9:10 . “If thou art the Messiah,” they say, “and shalt rise from the dead, surely the scribes are wrong in teaching that Elijah must precede the Messiah.”

Jesus shews that the prophecy of Malachi 4:5 was fulfilled in John the Baptist. Others contend that our Lord’s words do not necessarily mean this, but that Malachi’s prediction, though partially fulfilled in John the Baptist, should have a more literal accomplishment before Christ’s second coming.

11 . restore all things ] To restore is strictly to bring back to a lost perfection, then to develope, raise, to introduce a purer, nobler epoch; here specially to proclaim the kingdom of God. Cp. Acts 1:6 , and ch. 19:28.

12 . knew him not ] did not recognise him as the Elijah prophesied by Malachi.

13 . understood ] See note ch. 16:12.

14 21 . A Lunatic Child is cured

Mark 9:14-29 , where the scene and the symptoms of the disease are described with great particularity. Luke 9:37-42 .

14 . when they were come to the multitude ] Some will recall Raphael’s great picture of the Transfiguration, in which the contrast is powerfully portrayed between the scene on the mount, calm, bright, and heavenly, and the scene below of suffering, human passions, and failure.

15 . for he is lunatick ] This is the only special instance of cure in the case of a lunatic. They are mentioned as a class, ch. 4:24. The word literally means “affected by changes of the moon.” There appears to be some truth in the notion that there is an access of mania at the time of lunar changes. See Belcher, Our Lord’s Miracles of Healing , p. 131.

St Mark describes the child as foaming, gnashing with his teeth, and pining away. St Luke mentions that he “crieth out.” All these were epileptic symptoms; “the child was a possessed epileptic lunatic.”

17 . O faithless and perverse generation ] addressed to the scribes and the multitude thronging round, as representing the whole nation. The disciples, if not specially addressed, are by no means excluded from the rebuke.

20 . ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence ] Such expressions are characteristic of the vivid imagery of Eastern speech generally. To “remove mountains” is to make difficulties vanish. The Jews used to say of an eminent teacher, he is “a rooter up of mountains.” See Lightfoot ad loc .

21 . this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting ] Those only whose own spiritual life and faith are made strong by self-denial and by communion with God in prayer are able to cast forth this kind of evil spirit.

22, 23 . The Second Announcement of the Passion

Mark 9:31 ; Luke 9:44

Both St Mark and St Luke add that the disciples “understood not this saying.” It was difficult for them to abandon cherished hopes of an earthly kingdom, and “might not Jesus be speaking in parables of a figurative death and resurrection?” See note, ch. 16:21.

24 27 . Jesus pays the half shekel of the Sanctuary

Peculiar to St Matthew

24 . they that received ] i. e. “the collectors of.” After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple the Jews were obliged to pay the two drachmæ into the Roman treasury. Joseph. B. J . vii. 6. 6.

tribute money ] Literally, the two drachmæ . This was not a tribute levied by Cæsar or by Herod, but the half-shekel (Exodus 30:13 ) paid annually by every Jew into the Temple treasury. The “sacred tax” was collected from Jews in all parts of the world. Josephus ( Ant. xvi. 6) has preserved some interesting letters from Roman proconsuls and from Augustus himself, to Cyrene, Ephesus, and other communities, directing that the Jews should be allowed to forward their contributions to the Temple without hindrance.

It would be interesting to know whether the Jewish Christians continued to pay the Temple-tax in accordance with this precedent.

25 . prevented ] anticipated him by answering his thoughts. To prevent is (1) to “go before,” “to anticipate” then, “to precede” either (2) to aid, or (3) to hinder.

custom or tribute ] taxes (1) indirect and (2) direct; on (1) things and on (2) persons.

of their own children, or of strangers? ] i. e. of their own sons, or of those who do not belong to the family, namely, subjects and tributaries.

26 . then are the children free ] “the sons are exempt from tribute.” The deduction is, “Shall He whom thou hast rightly named the Son of God pay tribute to the Temple of his Father?” The Romans called their sons free ( liberi ), as opposed to slaves.

27 . a piece of money ] Literally, a stater; a Greek silver coin equivalent to the Hebrew shekel, or to four drachmæ in Greek money.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 17". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.