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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-27

Matthew 17:2 . He was transfigured before them. Μεταμορφωθη , was transformed before them. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record this vision; and name the three selected witnesses. Peter had just confessed the Divinity of the Lord, and received a blessing. James, the first martyr of the twelve, and John, had been surnamed sons of thunder. Now they were admitted to see the glory which the twelve had confessed; and it was, as it would seem, afore to prepare them to attest the agony of the Lord in the garden.

His face did shine as the sun. The indwelling godhead burst forth with the visible splendour of uncreated glory, so as to make the three apostles, though familiar with miracles, fall to the ground.

Matthew 17:3 . There appeared unto them Moses and Elias, talking with him. Talking of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. Luke 9:31. Here Moses, as the founder of the Hebrew nation, and Elijah, as the reformer; the one representing the law, the other the prophets, were the deputation to attest his passion, and witness the completion of the prophecies. Of what other subject should they speak, but of that which had been the theme of prophecy from the beginning?

Matthew 17:5 . This is my beloved Son. ‘ Ο υιος μου , filuis ille meus. Here the article seems to have a double force, not so much to distinguish Christ from all other sons, as to designate his incomparable glory, as of the only begotten of the Father.

Matthew 17:9 . Tell the vision to no man until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. This would be a premature disclosure of the secrets of heaven, for the scribes had taught that the Messiah should abide for ever, and never die.

Matthew 17:10 . Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? The prophet Malachi announced his coming, in Malachi 4:5, but it was connected with the burning of Jerusalem, and the utter destruction of their temple. But the true Zion was cheered with the rising of the Sun of righteousness on the church, while the Hebrew sun should be darkened, and their stars fall. Elias was already come, and had announced that the Roman axe was already laid at the root of the jewish tree. John had come in the spirit and power of Elias to close the old dispensation, and to introduce the new, saying “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John, as in Joel 2:23-32, had said, “Be glad ye children of Zion,” the christian church. “Ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied; for in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.” But as our Saviour said, “Truly Elias shall first come, and restore all things.” And again, “Elias is already come.” Some have thought that Elias will yet come, and prepare the way for the second advent of Christ. Be that as it may, the jews when they circumcise, set an empty chair for Elijah, hoping that he will yet come, and gather them from the lands of their dispersion.

Matthew 17:14 . There came a certain man, kneeling down to him. See on Mark 9:16, where this case is more fully related.

Matthew 17:22 . While they abode in Galilee. The Saviour having showed them his glory, now apprises them of the cross. Thus from the beginning the cross was made preparatory to the crown.

Matthew 17:24 . Doth not your master pay tribute: τα διδραχμα , the didrachma, the contribution for the support of the temple. See note on Exodus 30:13.

Matthew 17:27 . A piece of money. Στατηρα , a stater, which is said to be two didrachms. By consequence, the sum required was but the fourth part of a shekel for each person.


Come thou weak and weary soul, and leaving the world to the noisy multitude below, let us ascend with the Saviour to Tabor, that we may behold his glory, and associate with celestial beings. Here the Saviour manifests himself to the faithful, as he does not unto the world. To this mountain, the antechamber of heaven, Christ ascended for prayer; for it is only in the higher acts of faith and prayer that the soul beholds as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and is changed into the same image.

The transfiguration, or change of the formation of Christ was designed as an honour and a crown of glory to the Saviour before he was led to Calvary; for so the victims of the altar were often crowned with garlands. It was intended also to support the disciples against the sight of their Master’s agony and crucifixion; for whenever we have any great trial at hand, God is not wanting to fortify us by previous support. It was designed to give the church a lively image of heaven; and to attest the Godhead of Christ by three celestial, and by three earthly witnesses. This transformation of Christ displays his Godhead. While he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was changed. At his baptism a glory descended to mark his anointing for the ministry; but here the indwelling divinity burst forth in native lustre, nor could the eyes of the apostles bear to behold it. This glory, visibly seen everywhere in the old testament, is the most assured proof that mortals can have of the presence of God.

The Godhead of Christ is farther testified by the voice from the excellent glory. This is my beloved Son. Moses and Elias were only servants, angels and prophets were sons only by creation and adoption; but Christ is the Son by ineffable generation, being one substance with the Father. So the Bath Col or voice is illustrated in the first chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews.

The voice not only attested the person, but sanctioned the mission of Christ. Hear ye him. Moses had said that the soul that would not hear him should be cut off, as was the whole jewish nation for rejecting and crucifying him.

This voice marks also the existence of the adorable Trinity, as was noticed in our Lord’s baptism. Who could here speak from heaven but the Father? Who is this favourite, this beloved Son, whose incomparable honours do not excite the jealousy, but the fresh adoration of angels? This is He who had glory with the Father before the world existed. This is JEHOVAH of armies, JEHOVAH strong and mighty, prepared to return to his Father’s house. Therefore his herald angels summoned the thrones of glory to open the gates and everlasting doors of heaven for the admission of his glorified humanity. Oh adorable triune God, happy in thyself, from everlasting to everlasting, receive for ever to thyself the united homage of heaven and of earth.

Regarding the transfiguration as an image of our immortality and life, we may farther remark, that heaven is a place of social happiness. The company was not large, but it was select; it was a deputation of the church above, and of the church below. Here was Moses who closed the patriarchal dispensation; here was Elijah, father of the prophets; here were Peter, James, and John, leading founders of the new-testament church; and here was Jesus, head and Lord of all. As Adam knew Eve at first sight, so these illustrious men knew one another by intuitive knowledge. St. Paul was consoled by the thought, that he should know all his converts, and that they would be his crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord. Heaven is a place of rational and supreme delight. They talked with Christ concerning what he should accomplish in Jerusalem. Luke 9:31. Moses and Elias had their eye on the fulfilment of type and of prophecy; they endeavoured to trace the wisdom, love, and faithfulness of God in the redemption of man, that they might be the joyful messengers of happy tidings to the church above, which without us cannot be made perfect. Nor is there any higher happiness for believers than to search the scriptures, and to contemplate the glory of Christ, and the life to come.

The happiness of heaven completely exempts us from the cares and tears of life, while it gratifies every wish with consummate felicity. Lord, it is good for us to be here: let us build tabernacles. Then Peter really forgot both wife and mother, then James and John forgot their aged father, yea and the unregenerate multitude were no more recollected.

Heaven is a place of gradation of happiness, and a variety of divine employment. Many of the patriarchs walked with God, and many of the prophets received the highest marks of the divine favour; yet Moses and Elias had the first of evangelical honours. Nor did it occasion jealousy, as pagan mythology often profanely suggests concerning its gods, for all in heaven being perfectly happy, they have perfect confidence in the good pleasure of God. Jealousy makes demons of unsanctified professors, but confidence is the filial fruit of perfect love.

The transfiguration marks farther, the permanent glory of our Saviour’s kingdom. When the disciples, after the stupor, opened their eyes, they saw no one, save Jesus only, indicating that the glory of the law and the prophets should retire, or be absorbed in the unfading glory of Christ. Oh my soul, if this be glory, or all that mortals are permitted to know of glory, make no difficulty of ascending the high mountain, though with weak and weary steps. Heaven shall repay the toil in the exceeding great reward: and we know that we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 17". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/matthew-17.html. 1835.
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