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Saturday, July 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

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Verses 1-3

The Transfiguration on the Mountain

The Lord Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain. These three disciples are the “some” of the previous verse (Matthew 16:28) to whom He said that they “will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom”. In the scene that follows, they get a taste of what it will be like when the Son of Man comes into His kingdom.

This event is introduced with the words “six days later”. Six days is the period of man’s ordinary working hours on earth (Exodus 20:9). When the period of man’s activity is over, the seventh day, the day of rest, comes. The Sabbath, the seventh day, is a picture of the peace of the kingdom of peace. The transfiguration on the mountain gives an impression of this and these disciples are allowed to experience it. The Lord Jesus is the radiant center of that kingdom. All attention is directed to Him.

In the presence of the three disciples He is transformed. The Man Who is outwardly indistinguishable from other people, Who for the natural eye has no “[stately] form or majesty” (Isaiah 53:2), receives another, impressive, glorious appearance. His face shines like the sun. The sun is the picture of the highest dominion and has dominion over the day (Genesis 1:16). He shall shine like this in the kingdom of peace, over which He shall rise as the Sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2).

Then what Zacharias, the father of John the baptist, prophesies when he speaks of “the Sunrise from on high” which will direct the feet of his people on the way of peace will become fully reality (Luke 1:78-1 Esdras :). His garments turning white as the light indicates that all the works of His rule throughout His reign will be perfectly clean and immaculate. He shall exercise this right in a completely transparent manner.

Peter understood all that later. He writes in his second letter that he and the other two disciples have “made known … the power and coming of our Lord Jesus” as “eyewitnesses of His majesty”. He also writes about how they have experienced that the Lord Jesus received from God the Father “honor and glory” when “such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with Whom I am well-pleased’”. All this happened when they were “with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-Job :).

While they are with Him on the mountain, Moses and Elijah appear to them. They do not appear to the Lord Jesus, for they have never been hidden from Him. They are always before Him. Moses and Elijah represent the two pillars on which the Jewish system rests. Moses is the founder of the people in connection with the law. Elijah is the restorer of the relationship between God and the people in connection with the law. The disciples have no problem recognizing them. We see here also that in the resurrection the distinction between persons is maintained, although the earthly relations are over.

Both men speak to the Lord Jesus. From the Gospel according to Luke we know that they speak with Him about the path He must tread to get to the kingdom of peace, of which they enjoy a foretaste here (Luke 9:31).

Verses 4-5

The Father’s Testimony

Peter does not yet understand much of the glory of the Lord Jesus here. In his enthusiasm he proposes to make three tents for the three persons he esteems very highly. In doing so, he falls far short of the glory of Christ. He mentions the Lord first, but he places Him on an equal footing with Moses and Elijah. He sees all three of them as people through whom God has spoken, without realizing that the Lord Jesus is the God of Moses and Elijah.

Peter also places himself too highly by talking about the fact that it is good that “we” are here. However understandable it may be that he wants to hold on to this scene, his words also indicate that he thinks only of himself and not of the other disciples. Above all, it indicates that he has no eye for the work that the Lord Jesus had yet to accomplish. The Lord has spoken about this, but Peter does not pay attention to it.

Then there is the voice of the Father who puts an end to all Peter’s misunderstandings. The Father testifies that Christ is His beloved Son and that He has found pleasure in Him. God is also pleased with people who do His will. However, people always fall short. The Son is the Person in Whom He has been well pleased for all time. The Son is the complete expression of the Father. In everything He does and says, He answers fully to Who the Father is. Therefore He is the Only One Who should be listened to. The only reason to listen to Moses and Elijah when they speak is that they pass on the Son’s words.

The voice of the Father comes from the “bright cloud” that overshadows them. The bright cloud is the same that was always present above the tabernacle. It is the cloud of the glory of God, also called Shekinah by the rabbis, the symbol of God’s dwelling place. Grace can place Moses and Elijah in the same glory as that of the Son of God and connect them to Him. If the ignorant man, in his ignorance, wants to place these three persons next to each other as if they have in themselves the same right to the heart of the believer, it is necessary that the Father stands up immediately for the rights of His Son.

Verses 6-8

No One Except Jesus Himself Alone

When the three disciples hear the voice of the Father who expresses the pleasure in His Son, they fall on their faces. However, this happens more out of fear than for worship. They are still too attached to the earthly glory to appreciate the heavenly glory. Then the Lord comes to them. He who is used to this voice encourages them, as He always did when He was on earth, and says: “Do not be afraid.” He Who is the pleasure of the Father is with them. So why would they be afraid?

When the disciples lift up their eyes again, Moses and Elijah are gone. They see no one else “except Jesus Himself alone”. That is the purpose God has with our lives as well. He wants to take all support from and appreciation for people away from us, that we may be satisfied with the Son alone. The honor to which His Son is entitled cannot be shared with others. Christ is entitled to our undivided admiration and service. We must pray that God will give us an undivided heart (Psalms 86:11).

Verses 9-13

The Coming of Elijah

After the moment of glory on the mountain, the Lord and His disciples descend the mountain again. The Lord is aware of the pleasure of the Father. He is the Son of the Father’s love to Whom all glory belongs. He consciously distances Himself from the glory that is due to Him. He will receive it, but first He must go through death. The glory of God, the fulfilment of the Scriptures, and the blessing for creatures and creation depend on His death.

By descending the mountain again He shows that He is the true Hebrew slave, who says: “I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man” (Exodus 21:5). He could have left as a free man because He had honored the Father in everything, but He chose to descend and go to Jerusalem, to the cross. Because of His love for His Father, for His church and for all God’s children, He did not want to remain in the glory of the mountain, however much He was worth it personally. If He had remained on the mountain, the Father’s will would not have been completely fulfilled, and He would always have remained alone as Man in heaven.

When they descend the mountain again, the Lord commands them not to tell anyone the “vision” they have seen on the mountain. They may only do so after His resurrection. Only then will they receive the Holy Spirit, and only then can the content and scope of the vision be understood. There would be no point in telling others about this now because it would not be understood.

A difficulty arises in the mind of the disciples that relates to the vision they have just seen of the future glory of the Messiah. This difficulty is caused by the teaching of the scribes concerning Elijah. Elijah, so to speak, must come before the coming of the Messiah. They derive this thought from a statement by the prophet Malachi (Malachi 4:5).

‘Why,’ the disciples ask the Lord, ‘do the scribes say, that Elijah must come first, that is, before the revelation of the Messiah, when we have seen that You are the Messiah, without Elijah having come?’ The Lord answers their question, He takes it seriously. He does the same with our questions.

The Lord answers that Elijah will certainly come first. The scribes are correct in this. He confirms the words of prophecy. At the same time, he adds that Elijah will restore all things. The effect of Elijah’s coming is to restore all things. The Son of Man is also yet to come, that is to say, in glory. The Lord speaks about that coming in glory.

But before He will come in that way, it is necessary that He is presented to the people as the promised Messiah to see if the people will accept Him. Now He has come in humiliation to His people to test them. The result is that He is rejected, as God has prophesied in the prophets. Because John the baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17), the Lord Jesus can say that Elijah has already come. But also John as His forerunner (Isaiah 40:3-Deuteronomy :; Malachi 3:1; not: Malachi 4:5-Joshua :) was rejected.

After this explanation, the disciples understand that in John the baptist Elijah has already come, but that the people as a whole did not listen to his message and were therefore not ready to receive the Messiah.

Verses 14-18

Healing a Lunatic Boy

After the high point on the mount of transfiguration, the Lord and the three disciples come down again. There someone comes to Him who falls to His knees before Him. It is someone who is in need. The experience of the glory has only been a short event. The reality of life presents itself again. The same goes for the lives of believers. They have their special moments of being close to the Lord, for example, in meetings. But when the meeting is over, they are again confronted with the reality of every day.

The man asks the Lord to have mercy on his son. He is a lunatic. This disease can be compared to epilepsy, a disease in which someone falls down suddenly. The boy has this disease to a serious degree and suffers a lot, because he often falls into the fire and often into the water. He falls down in the most wide-ranging situations.

Because the Lord was not there, the man brought his son to His disciples. He speaks of “Your disciples”. He expected that they could help him because they are His disciples and were supposed to do what He did. But the disciples have failed. Here another characteristic of man’s unbelief is seen, even of the believer, namely the inability to make use of the power at his disposal, so to speak, in the Lord. There is more faith present in the man who brings his child than in the disciples, because the feeling of need brought him to where there is salvation.

When the Lord comes in, fortunately everything changes. Before He acts in favor toward the father, He first reproaches the unbelief of His disciples. The same word that condemns the unbelief of the disciples calls the sorrowful father to the enjoyment of blessing. The Lord tells the man to bring his son to Him. To enjoy His power, we must be in fellowship with Him through the practical working of faith. We show this faith when we really come to Him with our need. If we do that, we will see that He destroys the power of the enemy and provides for the need.

As long as this dispensation of faith continues, Christ never fails to respond to personal faith with blessing. This is even if His disciples cannot glorify Him because they lack faith. In accordance with his faith in Christ, the father receives his child back, cured.

Verses 19-21

Cause of Failure

The disciples go to the Lord to ask Him about the cause of their failure to heal the lunatic boy. That is a good thing. Thus we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Then He will indicate why it has come about that in our lives on certain occasions there was no faith to do anything in His Name. It is also good to take that place for Him now, already, so He can point out where the fault is with us.

The answer to His disciples makes clear what the problem is. It is about faith, that is to say trust in God that nothing is impossible for Him. Do I believe that? The slightest activity of faith in the heart is sufficient for the present difficulties. For faith, the power of the world, or any other established power, represented by “this mountain”, will fade away.

Verses 22-23

Second Announcement of Suffering

The fame of the Lord gives Him a great following. Many gather together around Him. However, he does not want to be honored for His miracles, but for Who He is. Therefore He speaks for the second time about His suffering, death and resurrection. In the first announcement he speaks about what the Jews will do to Him (Matthew 16:21). Here He speaks about what “men”, the nations, will do to Him, the Son of Man.

His communication of His suffering causes sadness in His disciples. It shows their love for Him. But their sadness also shows that they think only of his death and not of his resurrection. They can’t understand the resurrection and therefore they pass it by.

Verses 24-27

The Temple Tax

When they come to Capernaum, Peter is overwhelmed by a question from “those who collected the two-drachma”, which is the annual temple tax. They ask him if his Master is paying. Because he knows his Master as a good Jew, Peter answers in the affirmative, without asking Him. He has forgotten the glory he has seen on the mountain and the revelation the Father has given him, and descended again to the ordinary level of his own thoughts.

The Lord knows what Peter said to the collectors. After all, he is the Omniscient. When Peter enters the house where He is, He seems to want to ask Him about it. The Lord, however, is ahead of him and has a question for him. The question is about the collection of collect customs or poll-tax by the kings of the earth. It is a question about everyday life and is about from whom the king collect customs or poll-tax. Do they collect customs or poll-tax from their sons or strangers, those who do not belong to their family? With His question the Lord Jesus says that He is the King of the earth and that He sees His disciples as sons of His kingdom.

Peter gives the right answer and that is that the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax from the strangers. Then the Lord says to him that the sons of kings are indeed free from paying customs or poll-tax. He as the King of His kingdom and His disciples as the sons of His kingdom would thus be free from paying customs or poll-tax. But because the time of the establishment of the kingdom has not yet come, He pays. He does so to prevent offense. Although He is the Son of God, He continues to take His humble place as a Jew in patience and submits Himself to the applicable regulations.

By a remarkable miracle He provides the right amount. Peter needs to work for it. He has to go to the sea to cast a fishhook. Then a fish will comes up with a shekel in his mouth. This shekel is not immediately visible, but Peter will find it when he opens the mouth of the first fish that comes up. That shekel is the amount needed to pay the temple tax. As well as the Omniscient Christ is also the Omnipotent Who can do all things, Who ensures that a fish brings the right amount.

Peter is given the task to give that shekel to those who collect the temple tax “for you and Me”. In paying the tax, that is to say in acknowledging the relationships that still exist among God’s people, the Lord binds Peter to Himself. He is first, but He connects him with Himself. In this we see the way the sons of the kingdom are connected with Him in this time. They are connected with Him in the kingdom as it is now present on earth, which is in a hidden form.

We also see in what the Lord also says distinction. He doesn’t say ‘for us’. He maintains the distinction between Him and His own when He says “for you and Me”. He is the King, His own are the sons. The same distinction can be seen in the message that the Lord has for His disciples through Mary after His resurrection. He does not say, ‘I ascend to our Father and to our God,’ but, “I ascend to My Father and your Father and My God and your God” (John 20:17).

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Matthew 17". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/matthew-17.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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