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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

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Verses 1-27

Let's turn now in our Bibles to Matthew chapter seventeen. The seventeenth chapter of Matthew actually begins with the twenty-eighth verse of the sixteenth chapter. It's unfortunate that the men who divided the Bible into chapters and verses made the chapter distinction where they did. They should have taken and included the twenty-eighth verse of chapter sixteen into chapter seventeen, and it would have eliminated a lot of questions. Because Jesus is talking to His disciples there at Cesarea Philippi and is talking to them about His death, and about the glory of His Father that He is going to bestow, and His coming in the glory of His Father, with His angels, rewarding every man according to his works.

Then Jesus said, "verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, until they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom"( Matthew 16:28 ). Now from that, there are people who have assumed that Jesus no doubt failed, because all of the disciples who were standing there did die, and the Lord has not yet come in His kingdom. So it's a very confusing thing. It would seem that Jesus made a false prediction of His return.

However, if you don't have the chapter distinction, and you don't stop at the end of chapter sixteen, but you go immediately into chapter seventeen, you'll find out what Jesus was referring to. "Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in His kingdom",

And after six days Jesus takes Peter, James and John His brother, and brought them up into high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him ( Matthew 17:1-3 ).

So Jesus was referring to the fact that some of His disciples, and those that He was referring to were Peter, James and John, that they were actually going to see Him in the glory of His kingdom, and so He took them up into the high mountain. Now they were at Caesarea Philippi, which is at the base of Mount Hermon. And so it is quite obvious that the high mountain that He took them into was Mount Hermon.

Now in years to come when they sought to establish the Holy Land as a tourist attraction for Christians from throughout the world, in establishing where the holy sights were, that is where the events actually happened, most of the holy sights were established by the mother of Constantine some three hundred years, plus or minus, after Jesus was crucified. And she established the holy sights by her feelings when she stood in a spot, "oh, this feels like the spot where He must have been born. I feel an interesting sensation. Surely this must be the cave where He was born. Or this must be the place where the angel announced to Mary that she was going to conceive and have a child. This must be the place where He lived." And she went around the country establishing these holy sights, and they begin to build then these churches on these holy sights to commemorate these places where Jesus supposedly did these various things.

In her establishing of the holy sights it's obvious that she wasn't too familiar with the scriptures. And it's also obvious that they wanted to make it convenient for tourists. So they established the sight of the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, which is sort of in the middle of the land near the Sea of Galilee, and in the area of the Valley of Megiddo. They said that's where Jesus was transfigured, so they would have an excuse to build a huge church on the top of Mount Tabor. And after all, how many tourists are going to journey all the way up to Mount Hermon to see the place where He was transfigured.

The multiplying of the loaves and fishes; though it was around the upper end of the lake near Bethsaida, yet, at that time there weren't any roads going around into that area, and so they established a church down near Magdala, which is closer to where all of the tourists can go. And so that's where they established the loaves and fishes.

And then the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, they established that in the place the Church of the Crucifixion, within the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. Though the scripture tells us plainly that they took Him outside the walls, in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden and in the garden a cave. So they have established that inside the gate of Damascus, and they have, of course, recently excavated the ancient gate of Damascus. And you can actually see the very gate that Jesus no doubt went through when He went over to Golgotha and was crucified. But it was convenient for tourists to get things close together, and so they established the holy sights that way.

Tabor is not an especially high mountain; in fact, it isn't even as high as Mount Gaber, right in that same area. Hermon is the highest mountain, 9800 feet high. And is the fact that Jesus was all the way up in Caesarea Philippi, it doesn't seem reasonable that He would hurry down to Mount Tabor, which would be a good six-day journey, I mean really hustling, in order that He might go up to the top of, to be transfigured for His disciples. But traditions such as the -- would have you and -- and when you go there, if you go with someone other then me, they probably take you to Tabor and let you get the same sensation that Constantine's mother got, as you stand in the place.

There are three Churches of the Ascension on the top of the Mount of Olives, and all of them swear that theirs is on the exact spot. One will even show you a footprint that He left in the rock when He ascended. Even though the scripture said, He went as far as Bethany and there He ascended into heaven. But they didn't read that gospel, and so they established all the Churches of Ascension on the top of the Mount of Olives. So I guess distorting news isn't anything new.

So Jesus was referring to the fact that these disciples were going to see Him in His glory. And as He was transfigured before them, they actually saw God's glory upon Him. He was transfigured. His face did shine as the sun and His raiment was as white as the light. And there appeared unto Him, Moses, and Elijah talking with Him. Matthew does not tell us what they were talking about, but Luke's gospel tells us that they were talking to Him about His death that He was soon to accomplish in Jerusalem. They were there talking to Him.

Now, what tremendous persons to talk to Jesus. Moses, who of course stood for the law, and Elijah who was the head of the prophets. And inasmuch as in the law, all of the sacrifices and the feast and so forth where spelled out. Now He who was the fulfillment of all of this, which was just a shadow. Now the substance, Christ is here and the sacrifices which were all just a shadow of that which was to come, is now to be fulfilled. And so Moses is no doubt talking to Him and has himself a better understanding than even when he wrote the Pentateuch. Elijah talking with Him also concerning this death that He was to experience.

Then answered impulsive Peter, [our good friend] and said unto Jesus, It's good for us to be here: if you will, let us make here three tabernacles; one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah ( Matthew 17:4 ).

Isn't it interesting what stupid things we say when we should keep our mouths shut? But sometimes we think, well, we ought to say something, and when we talk for just the sake of being, many times people just talk for the sake of talking and that's always dangerous. You put your brain in neutral and start talking; it's amazing what will come out. And you think, "I got to say something". And so impulsive Peter, got to say something, "Lord, it's good for us to be here, let's build three tabernacles, for Moses, Elijah and you".

But while he spoke, he was interrupted by a bright cloud that over shadowed them ( Matthew 17:5 ):

You remember in the Old Testament there was a bright cloud that lead the children of Israel when they came out of the bondage of Egypt, and that cloud followed them or led them through the wilderness. And it was the cloud that represented the Shekinah, the glory of God. Later when the tabernacle was completed, and they were ready to begin the sacrifices, this bright cloud descended there on the tabernacle, the glorious presence of God. It was that which filled the Holy of Holies. And then later on when Solomon had completed the temple, and when they dedicated the temple, again this bright cloud came upon it.

And now once more, the bright cloud.

And the voice out of the cloud, which said: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him ( Matthew 17:5 ).

They had heard the law. The had heard the prophets, but now God is saying, "hear Him."

In Hebrews chapter one, we read those momentous words. "God who at sundry times, and in divers manners spoke unto our fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His own dear Son"( Hebrews 1:1-2 ).

And so the Father is affirming, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him." The law is represented, the prophets are represented, but now God is saying, "listen to Him," the full revelation of God, the pure revelation of God, the true revelation of God in Jesus Christ. "Hear ye Him."

And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and they were frightened. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, don't be afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man is risen again from the dead ( Matthew 17:6-9 ).

Now just keep this quiet, don't go spreading it until I am risen from the dead.

And His disciples [a little confused,] said, Why is it that the scribes tell us that Elijah must first come? ( Matthew 17:10 )

Now again the question of Elijah and this question is a legitimate question, because in the last of the books of the prophets in the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, and in the last chapter, in fact one of very last promises of the old testament, the fifth verse of chapter four of Malachi, "Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord, and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."

So here is a prophesy that before the Lord comes, Elijah will first come to turn the hearts of the people to their fathers, that is to the religion of their fathers, and to the God of their fathers. And thus believing that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Peter had just confessed this six days earlier. "We know you're the Messiah, then where is Elijah? If Elijah has to first come, and here you are, where is Elijah?"

Now it needs to be noted, that Jesus declared, and notice carefully, verse eleven,

Elijah shall truly first come, and restore all things ( Matthew 17:11 ).

Jesus is reiterating the fact that that will happen; Elijah will indeed come and restore all things. Now the confusion in the minds of the disciples arose over the fact that they were anticipating that Jesus would immediately establish God's kingdom upon the earth. They were expecting it in their lifetime. They were waiting for Him to establish God's kingdom upon the earth. What they didn't know is that from the time of the Ascension of Jesus Christ until His coming to establish the kingdom, would be a long period of time. They did not foresee this two thousand-year interval that would exist, and thus, anticipating the immediate establishing of the kingdom. How do you fit together the fact that Elijah is going to first come? And Jesus repeats the prophecy of Malachi. "Elijah shall indeed first come, and restore all things."

Now when we get into the book of Revelation and John is dealing with the third section of the book, as he is talking about the things which will be after the church things, John declares in chapter eleven that he saw these two witnesses, and God gave to them power to witness for a period of time, three and a half years. And during the time of their witness, they will be able to exercise supernatural-type power. They will be able to stop the heavens, that it rain not during the time of their prophecy. They'll be able to call down fire from heaven to consume their enemies. The very things that Elijah did while he was here upon earth; praying, and it rained not, calling down fire upon the captains who were commissioned by the king to bring him back as captive.

And it is obvious that one of the two witnesses in Revelation chapter eleven will indeed be Elijah, and that is the complete fulfillment of what the Lord has declared here. Elijah shall first come and restore all things. However, inasmuch as there was a double coming of the Messiah, first in humiliation to bear the sins of many, to die in the place of us for our sins, and His second coming to come in power and glory to establish the kingdom of God.

So there were two forerunners, the one John the Baptist, and Jesus then said,

But I say unto you, that Elijah has come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatever they pleased. Likewise also will the Son of man suffer of them. And the disciples understood that He was speaking to them of John the Baptist ( Matthew 17:12-13 ).

Now when Zacharias the priest was in the temple offering the incense, because when they cast lots that was his chore that he received in that particular course of his priesthood. As he was standing before the altar of God, offering the incense, suddenly there appeared unto him the angel Gabriel. And he was frightened, and he said, "Fear not, Zacharias, for you have found favor with God, and your wife Elisabeth in her old years is going to conceive and bear a son, and thou shalt call his name John, and he will go forth in the Spirit and in the power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers"( Luke 1:13-17 ).

Now that was the prediction made by Gabriel to Zacharias the father of John the Baptist. And of course Zacharias said, "How can this be? My wife is an old woman, she is stricken with years, that is, she is bent over in years." And the angel said. "Because you've doubted the word of God, you'll not be able to speak until the day that the child is born"( Luke 1:18-20 ).

And the people all wondered why Zacharias was in the temple so long because they were waiting outside. The people would wait outside, and the priest would come out and give them God's blessings and so they were waiting for that blessing. And man, he was in there, and they watched the sundial going down, and what's taking him so long? And finally when he came out, they were amazed that he wasn't able to give them the blessing. He wasn't able to speak. He went back to the hill country. His wife Elisabeth conceived, and of course John the Baptist was born.

Now when John began his ministry he attracted many people. And they came out of the villages and out of the cities to be baptized, and to hear his words. And because the people were gathering to him, there was a stir among the Pharisees and Scribes and all, and they sent out certain men to him, to find out where he got his authority to do these things. Who gave you the authority? Who are you anyhow? Are you the Messiah? No. Are you Elijah? He said, no. Yet Jesus is declaring, "if you're able to receive it, this is Elijah, of whom the scripture spake".

Now not the complete fulfillment, not the restoring of all things, that the children to their fathers, and the restoring of the religious order, that will come when Elijah comes again preceding the coming of Jesus Christ during the time, just after the church is removed. So I have no anticipation of seeing Elijah, even as I have no anticipation of seeing the anti-christ. And I am not looking for Elijah. I am not looking for the anti-christ. I am looking for Jesus Christ to come and take me to be with Him, and then is when these other events will be triggered.

So Elijah will come again, Jesus said that. Elijah shall indeed come first to restore all things. "But Elijah has already come", Jesus said, "And they did not know him, but have done to him whatever they wished, and they are going to do the same, so am I going to be suffering at their hands."


When they came to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is a lunatic ( Matthew 17:14-15 ),

The word in the Greek, literally is, "he's been struck by the moon". Now in those days, they felt that insanity was related to sleeping under a full moon, and thus the word, "lunatic". The word "Luna" in Latin, of course, is "moon".

And this is a feeling that has existed for many centuries, even before Christ's time. They felt that there was some relationship to mental illness and the moon. There does seem to be some kind of a relationship between mental illness and the moon because I know at full moon, it seems that all the loonies come out. In fact so much so, that during full moon the first couple days before and after, we always take the phone off the hook at night, because all times during the night we get phone calls from loonies during full moon. And it seems to be that it does something to them, and activates some kind of weird trigger inside their brains that cause them at full moon to begin to react and all.

So he is saying, "have mercy on my son, he's been struck by the moon." There was insanity there,

he is sore vexed: for oftentimes he falls in the fire, and many times in the water. And I brought them to your disciples, and they could not cure him ( Matthew 17:15-16 ).

Now it is interesting that this, of course, is after the time that Jesus had given to His disciples power over unclean spirits. And they went out and ministered in His power, and they came back rejoicing that even unclean spirits where subject unto them. And Jesus said, "don't rejoice that unclean spirits are subject unto you, but rejoice that your names are written in the Lamb's book of life." But they had exercised this power over unclean spirits, but here they seemed to be unable to do so.

I would like to point out one thing here that I think is quite significant, and I think that it is almost a rule. It seems to me that Satan is waiting at the bottom of the hill of every spiritual high experience that you may have. I know that after having a very beautiful spiritual experience, it seems that I am always tested and tried by the enemy. He tries to immediately come and rob you of that which God has given. You know God just blesses you and you're so excited and thrilled. "Oh Lord, it's good to be here, wow this is glorious, I don't want to leave Lord, I want to stay right here."

But you've got to keep going, and so when you get to the bottom of the hill, it seems like Satan is just waiting there to smack you, and to take away all of the glory and all of the blessing that you've just received. And so it is well to be armed, and to realize that no matter how great my spiritual blessing, I do not have an immunity from the attacks of the enemy. And many times after our greatest blessings, he is there to try to distract, to destroy, that which God has done.

And so here is this father, kneeling before Jesus, pleading for his son, and the disciples were unable to help him.

Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour ( Matthew 17:17-18 ).

So that which the disciples were unable to do, Jesus did immediately without a lot of hallow-balloo. He just rebuked the devil, and it departed out of him.

Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? ( Matthew 17:19 )

It's a good question because they had been given authority and power, and here is one where they sought to do it, but were unable to do so.

And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove hence in the yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind [that is this kind of faith] only goes out by prayer and fasting ( Matthew 17:20-21 ).

Now the disciples are wondering why they were powerless in this situation, and Jesus said, because of your unbelief. Now in another gospel it tells us, that while they were bringing this boy to Jesus, the devil threw him on the ground. The devil that was possessing him threw him on the ground, and he began to wallow on the ground, and everybody began to run to see what was happening. And it was very possible that when they brought the young man to the disciples that this demon manifested himself probably in some dramatic way, before the disciples, and they became so amazed at the power of the demons, and the demons ability to so distort and destroy a life, that they lost sight of the power of God.

And many times when we are observing the power of Satan and the work of the enemy by just our observation, unbelief begins to fill our hearts. We are so amazed at the power of Satan to destroy a life, that we forget the tremendous power of God, which is greater.

There are some very interesting stories of demonic activity even in this twentieth century. One of the most outstanding of all of them was of Theresa, who was in protective custody in the Bilibibe prison in the Philippines, because of these demons that would attack her, and bite her all over her body. When the attack was over she would end up with bite marks on the back of her neck, and on her back, places where it was totally impossible for her to bite herself. She was in solitary confinement, in a padded cell, but yet these attacks would take place.

The finest psychiatrists in all of the Philippines were brought to treat her, and none of them could do her any good. They finally suggested that they call for an American missionary, and at this time Reverend Sommeral and Bob McAllister were brought in to deal with the girl, Theresa. As they came in, these demons began to attack her. They saw her in one of these fits, and these bloody bite marks began to break out all over her body. And you look at something like that, and I tell you, suddenly unbelief begins to arise. I mean you believe in Satan and Satan's power, and you think, "Wow, that's horrible. Look at that." And it begins to strike sort of fear and terror in your own heart.

But these men fasted and prayed, and they were able through the power of the name of Jesus to command these evil spirits to leave her. When Theresa was freed, she told then Lester Somerall and Bob McAllister how these demons had been molesting her sexually. And how that whenever any man would approach her, that's when they would attack her because they were insanely jealous of any man approaching her, and that's when they would begin their attack on her body. And they warned her that when demons are cast out, they will come back and try and re-inhabit the body. And when they come back, that she was just to claim the victory of Jesus, and call on the name of Jesus and all. Which in a couple of days, these demons did come back, and she began to go into this fit, calling upon the name of Jesus and all, and she was delivered completely.

A very interesting and fascinating story. It was written up actually in Life Magazine, not her deliverance, just her case, because it was in the psychiatric annals. And her deliverance, of course, is told by Lester Somerall in his book called, "Bitten by Demons." He was the minister that God used, he and Bob McAllister to set Theresa free.

But when you see this kind of demonic activity, you become sort of captured by the power of demon activity that has a tendency of just sort of diminishing your faith. But thank God, greater is He that is in us, then he that is in the world. And we do have authority over all of these forces and powers. And as children of God we don't need to fear, we don't need to be in a position of, "oh, my, did you see that," or, "oh, isn't that awful." But we have authority and power through Jesus Christ over every force and power of darkness.

So Jesus said, "it's because of your unbelief, that's why you couldn't do it. Because if you just had the faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to the mountain over there, be removed and cast into the sea." It makes you wonder just how much faith do we have. "Howbeit," Jesus said, "This kind only goes out by fasting and prayer". That is, this kind of faith, or it could refer to this kind of demon; it could have been a demon of greater authority and power, because demons are ranked in authorities and powers.

And while they were still there in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: and they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry ( Matthew 17:22-23 ).

Now He told them this over and over, He was telling them this. He is on His road now to the cross. These are His final days. He is in Galilee, but soon they'll be journeying towards Jerusalem, and He is on the road to the cross. And so He is warning them over and over. "I am going to be slain, they're going to kill me. I am going to be betrayed, they're going to kill me, but on the third day I rise again."

Well, by the time Jesus said, "they're going to kill me," there was this thing that went on in their minds, "oh, no", and they never heard, "and I am going to rise again the third day." Somehow they had blanked that out. It wasn't until after His resurrection that they began to remember, "oh, yeah, He said He was going to rise on the third day, all right." But they didn't remember that part until after His resurrection.

It's interesting how that so many times we hear some shocking news, and our minds just sort of blank out with shock, and we don't hear the rest of the story. We don't record it; it doesn't sink in. We're so shocked by what we've heard. And whenever Jesus would talk about His death it was so shocking to them, because if He dies then how am I going to be prime minister. And they were so upset by His talk of His death, that they just didn't pick up the fact that He was also saying, "but on the third day I am going to rise again". And it is interesting that on the third day none of them were looking for His resurrection.

And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth your master pay tribute? And he said, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What do you think Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? And Peter said unto him, Well, strangers. Jesus said unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go down to the sea, and cast in your hook, and take up the fish that you first catch; and when you open his mouth, then you'll find a piece of money: take it and give it to them for both of our taxes ( Matthew 17:24-27 ).

I love this. Once a fisherman, always a fisherman. Necessary to pay your taxes. Now Jesus could have said to Peter, now go dig over under the tree and you'll find a coin in the dirt or something. But what fisherman wants to be digging holes, unless he is digging for worms. He tells him to do something he enjoys doing, something that Peter just really loved. He loved to fish. So the Lord said oh, let's combine a little pleasure with business. Go fishing Peter, cast your hook in and the first fish that you catch when you pull it up, open it's mouth, take out the coin, and go pay our taxes for us.

You know serving the Lord can be the most delightful thing in the world. Jesus said, "my yoke is easy, my burden is light"( Matthew 11:30 ). God doesn't lay some heavy horrible burden upon us, and say, "all right, carry that." He delights to do good things for His children. God just delights doing good things for you.

Now you, who are fathers, if your son should come up to you and say, "Well Dad, I've just been thinking this morning how neat it is to live here at home. You pay all the bills; you give me money for my clothes. I don't have to worry about the light bills. I don't have to worry about food; it's always on the table. It's been so neat living here, Dad. I really appreciate all you've done for me. And I was just thinking Dad, and just to show my appreciation, today I want to do anything you want me to do. I just want to show you how thankful I am."

Now which of you fathers, if you had a son who came to you and said such a thing, would not first of all faint. But when they threw the water on you, and you recovered, what do you think you would say to your son, who has come to you in such appreciation, giving himself totally to your disposal? Would you try to think of the rottenest, most miserable job that he has been slacking on for months, "All right, I've got you where I want you, you know. First of all, start with those smelly garbage cans, and scourer them, get them clean." And lay out all of those miserable tasks. I don't think so.

If you're anything like me, I would be so pleased to see this attitude in my son. I'd want to make this a great day for him. I love him. He may not be as appreciative as he should, but I still love him. And the fact that he is showing some appreciation, I want to do something good for him. I say, "why don't we forget everything today, and let's go water skiing. Or, "I hear the surf is up, why don't we get our boards and go down and spend a day at the beach." I'd want to do these things that he would delight and be pleased in.

And you know our heavenly father is no different. When you come to God and say, "Oh, Lord I appreciate so much being your child. You've taken such good care of me and I really thank you and appreciate all that you've done. I don't have to worry, because you are watching over me, and I just want to give myself to you completely. Whatever you want me to do, Father, I am available to you."

Well, God doesn't think of all the miserable, nasty, rotten things now. Do this, do that, and make you rue the day that you committed your life fully to Him. He said hey, why don't you go fishing, that is, if you enjoy fishing. He let you do the things you like to do. He delights in giving good gifts to His children. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Matthew 17". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/matthew-17.html. 2014.
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