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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

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Verses 1-13

Mat 17:1-13

The Transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-13.
Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36)
J.W. McGarvey

1. after six days.—Six days after the time of the conversation last mentioned.

Peter, James, and John.—There were two objects to be considered in selecting witnesses of the transfiguration; first, to insure the desired secrecy (Matthew 17:9); and second, to insure from the event itself the best final results. On account of the preeminence which these three apostles now had and were yet to acquire, they were the most likely to turn to good account the impression which the scene would make on themselves, and they were probably the most likely to keep the event a secret until the time should come for making it known. The present increase of their faith would also bring an indirect advantage to the entire company, even though the others knew not what had caused it.

into a high mountain.—The scene of the transfiguration was formerly supposed to be Mt. Tabor, a very beautiful conical mountain west of the lake of Galilee; but as Jesus was on his tour to Cæsarea Philippi, which town was situated at the base of Mt. Hermon, it is now generally believed that the latter is the mountain mentioned in the text. Moreover, Mt. Hermon better corresponds to the designation "a high mountain;" for it is the highest mountain in Palestine, being about 10,000 feet above the level of the sea. Its top is covered with almost perpetual snow, and is visible from high points in all parts of Galilee and Judea. Some lofty terrace on its side would have been in every way a suitable spot for the transfiguration.

2. transfigured before him.Transfigured means changed in form, yet the description indicates only a change in the appearance of his person. Though "his face did shine as the sun," we suppose that the features maintained their natural form; and though "his raiment was white as light"—that is, light reflected from some polished surface—we suppose it was unchanged in other particulars. It is impossible for us to realize his appearance until we shall be like him and see him as he is. (1 John 3:2.)

3. Moses and Elias talking.—It must have been from the course of the conversation that the disciples learned that the visitors were Moses and Elias; for they could not have known them by sight. They talked, as we learn from Luke, about his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.

4. Then answered Peter.—There was a divine attraction in the scene, a foretaste of heaven’s own glory, and no wonder that Peter exclaimed. "It is good for us to be here." But his proposition to build tabernacles (σκνας, booths made out of branches from the trees) for the three glorified persons to dwell in, was hasty and inconsiderate. The best excuse for it is the one given by Mark: "He knew not what he should say: for they were frightened." It shows that men in the flesh are not pro pared to judge of the fitness of things in the spiritual world. In all probability many of our most cherished conceptions of that world are as incongruous as that of the frightened Peter.

5, 6. While he yet spake.—The scene had been witnessed long enough by the disciples, and it was abruptly terminated by the introduction of another. The entire transaction, as we may safely infer from Luke’s narrative, occurred in the night. (Notice, that Jesus had been praying until the disciples were "heavy with sleep;" and that they came down from the mountain "on the next day." Luke 9:28; Luke 9:32; Luke 9:37.) Out of the womb of darkness had suddenly appeared the three glowing forms of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and now, while the disciples were trembling at that sight, there floats near to them out of the same darkness a cloud all radiant with light like that which shone from the face of Jesus, and as it begins to overhang them, they hear that voice which has never yet been heard by mortals except with fear and trembling. It came just as Peter’s incongruous proposal had escaped his lips, and it is no wonder that the three fishermen "fell on their faces and were sure afraid."

This is my beloved Son.—The words uttered are a repetition of the oracle which was heard at the Jordan (Matthew 3:17), with the addition of the significant words, "Hear him." This command contains the chief significance of the entire scene. Uttered in the presence of Moses the lawgiver, and of Elijah the prophet, it meant that Jesus should be heard in preference to the law and the prophets. In the exalted preeminence thus bestowed on Jesus, accompanied by a change of his appearance harmonious with the glory of his position, his divine majesty was displayed in a manner never witnessed on earth before or since. Peter afterward presented this view of the transaction, when he wrote, "We followed not cunningly devised fables when we made known to 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." (2 Peter 1:16-18.)

7, 8. they saw no man.—Their prostration when they heard the voice of God prevented them from seeing the departure of Moses and Elias, and the disappearance of the glory. When Jesus touched them and told them to arise, he alone was before them, and he was there in his natural appearance.

9. Tell the vision to no man.—To have published abroad the vision could at that time have done no good; for the people would have discredited the story and would have reflected adversely on the veracity of the three disciples. But to lock up the secret in the breasts of these three was to cause them to reflect on it much and to converse with one another about it often. Furthermore, the more intensely and the longer it burned within them as a secret, the more joyously would they speak of it when the proper time arrived, and their own miraculous powers rendered credible all that they said of it. That they told it then is evident not only from Peter’s words above quoted, but from its being recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, none of whom were witnesses of the event, and all of whom wrote before the publication of Peter’s epistle.

10-13. the disciples asked him.—Expecting a literal fulfillment of Malachi’s well known prediction concerning the coming of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6), the disciples were surprised that when he appeared on the mountain he did not remain to do the work predicted of him; hence their question. Jesus teaches them a second time that Malachi used the name Elijah figuratively to represent John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:12-13. Comp. note on Matthew 11:14.)

The Transfiguration - Matthew 17:1-13

Open It

1. What is the most spectacular event you have ever witnessed?

2. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done or said?

3. If you received an all-expense-paid trip for four to Europe, who would you take with you?

Explore It

4. How much time elapsed between Christ’s prediction of his death and the Transfiguration? (Matthew 17:1)

5. Which three disciples were with Christ on the mountain? (Matthew 17:1)

6. Where did Christ and his three disciples go? (Matthew 17:1)

7. What happened to Christ on the mountain? (Matthew 17:2)

8. Who else appeared and began talking to Jesus? (Matthew 17:3)

9. What did Peter volunteer to do? (Matthew 17:4)

10. What do you think prompted Peter to say he would build shelters? (Matthew 17:4)

11. What happened while Peter was speaking? (Matthew 17:5)

12. How did the disciples react when God spoke out of the cloud? (Matthew 17:6)

13. Who calmed down the disciples? (Matthew 17:7)

14. What did Jesus say to the disciples as they departed? (Matthew 17:9)

15. What question did the disciples ask Jesus? (Matthew 17:10)

16. How did Jesus answer the disciples? (Matthew 17:11-12)

17. What did the disciples learn about John the Baptist? (Matthew 17:13)

Get It

18. How would you have reacted if you had been with Christ for the Transfiguration?

19. What does this passage tell you about the relationship between Jesus and God the Father?

20. What memories or insights do you think Peter, James, and John took home with them from this incident?

21. In what way is it difficult for us to worship God?

22. How might seeing Christ in all His glory prompt us to obey Him more completely?

23. In what ways does God reveal Himself to us today?

Apply It

24. How can you make an effort to listen to Jesus this week?

25. What could you do today to give Christ the glory He deserves?

26. What could you do over the next three months to become more adept and more faithful in worshiping God?

Verses 14-27

Mat 17:14-27

An Obstinate Demon Cast Out, Matthew 17:14-21.
Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43)
J.W. McGarvey

14. to the multitude.—From the expression "When they were come to the multitude," we infer that Jesus and the three had left a multitude when they went into the mountain, and that they now return to the same.

14-16. have mercy on my son.—The father’s description represents the son as a lunatic subject to fits. The term lunatic (moonstruck), and the Greek word which it here represents (σελνιαζω), came into use from the superstitious belief that the affliction was caused by a malign influence of the moon; and this idea arose from the fact that in some cases of insanity the symptoms vary at monthly intervals. But although the term originated in this way, it is applied in usage to all kinds of insane persons; consequently we can not infer from its use in this case that the young man’s insanity was periodic, or that his father supposed it to be caused by the moon. On the contrary, as we learn from Mark’s account, the father believed, as our text represents (18), that the affliction was caused by a demon. The failure of the disciples to cast out the demon increased the distress and anxiety of the father as he came to Jesus and kneeled down before him with his petition.

17. O faithless and perverse.—This lamentation, showing that Jesus had become wearied and saddened by the constant manifestations of insufficient faith among his disciples, was not addressed to the father of the youth, but to the disciples and the multitude. Some infidel writers have represented this speech as a manifestation of impatience and irritation inconsistent with the perfection of character ascribed to Jesus. If it were true that the speech exhibits impatience and irritation, it would still be a question whether these feelings, kept under proper restraint, are inconsistent with a perfect human character. The rebuke itself was certainly just, and, under the circumstances, altogether proper; then why should the feeling which naturally accompanies such a rebuke, be improper? The perfection of human character consists not in the impassiveness of a statue, but in the just and harmonious exercise of all the emotions which belong to our nature.

18. the child was cured.—The unsuccessful attempt of the disciples argues nothing against the miraculous powers of Jesus, seeing that the demon departed immediately when commanded by him. It proves only that the disciples did not at this time fully exert the power over demons which Jesus had imparted to them.

19, 20. Because of your unbelief.—In order to work a miracle it was necessary not only to have a miraculous endowment, but also to exercise faith. This is declared in the Savior’s answer, and it had already been indicated to the disciples at the time of Peter’s attempt to walk on the water. (Matthew 14:31.) The faith in question was the belief that what was commanded would be done—faith in the power with which they were endued. When they spoke doubtingly to the demon he had power to resist them.

faith as a grain of mustard seed.—Faith comparable to a mustard seed is very weak faith; and if this would enable them to remove "this mountain" (the lofty Mt. Hermon), how weak must be the faith they had exercised! This remark added a rebuke to the explanation.

21. by prayer and fasting.—As weakness of faith was the point of failure, we understand that the prayer and fasting would be effective, not by imparting directly the power in question, but by intensifying their faith, and thus enabling them to fully exert the power which had been imparted to them. That "this kind" goes not out but by prayer and fasting, shows that it was more difficult to cast out this kind than some other kinds. Demons, like spirits in the flesh, are characterized by different degrees of will-force, and the one in question was an obstinate demon. (See the parallel in Mark, where the account is more circumstantial.)

Second Prediction of His Death, Matthew 17:22-23.
Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43-45)

22. while they abode.—While they were yet abiding in Galilee, subsequent to the transfiguration, and before their departure into Judea. Again, as on the first occasion (see note on Matthew 16:21), Jesus makes the discouraging announcement of his death at a time when their faith in him was in liveliest exercise. Three of them had just witnessed his transfiguration, and all had seen a demon, whom they could not cast out, depart promptly at his command.

23. exceeding sorry.—The effect of the second prediction was quite different from that of the first. Then Peter rebuked his. master, and uttered an expression of incredulity (Matthew 16:21-23); but now they were exceedingly sorry. Their sorrow arose partly from the disheartening thought of his death, and partly, no doubt, from the fact that he persisted in repeating an announcement which they knew not how to credit.

Argument of Section 12

We have now reached the close of the tour to Cæsarea Philippi; for the first verse of the next paragraph (Matthew 17:24) locates Jesus again in Capernaum. The history of this tour and of the one to lyre and Sidon, contains proofs of the claims of Jesus not only conclusive but overwhelming. The casting out of two demons, one from the girl near Tyre and Sidon, and the other from a boy at the foot of Mt. Hermon, the innumerable cures at the lake shore, and the feeding of four thousand hungry men with seven barley loaves and a few little fishes, have once more exhibited his divine power; while his compassion for the woman of Canaan, and his unwillingness to send the four thousand away hungering, have exhibited once more his goodness. It is also shown, by the conversation at Cæsarea Philippi, that no one in Galilee, not even his enemies, counted him less than a prophet, while his immediate attendants, who had the best opportunity for judging, had reached the assured conviction that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. The two predictions of his own death proved his divine foreknowledge, and his consciousness of being engaged in a mission of self-sacrifice; while the vision of the transfiguration at once displayed his divine majesty, and proclaimed him the supreme lawgiver and the prophet of prophets.

Matthew here brings to a close his account of the public career of Jesus in Galilee, reserving for the next and last section of this general division of his narrative only a private conversation between him and his disciples. We think that the reader who will carefully review the arguments of the several sections will realize that they present an array of evidence that could not be honestly resisted; and that the Galileans who had seen them all, but still refused to believe and repent, most richly deserved the woes that Jesus uttered against them. And if the sentence pronounced on them was just, what shall be said of those in our day who repent not though they see all that the Galileans saw, and all yet to be related by Matthew and the other New Testament historians, and see all in the light which the accumulating evidence of centuries has thrown upon them? "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?"

The Healing of a Boy With a Demon - Matthew 17:14-23

Open It

1. How does it feel to have a problem you can’t solve?

2. Where is the line between being obsessed with death and never coming to grips with your mortality?

3. Why do some people seem to have greater faith than others?

Explore It

4. When Jesus returned with Peter, James, and John from the scene of the Transfiguration, what did he find? (Matthew 17:14)

5. Who approached Jesus? How? (Matthew 17:14)

6. What did the man who approached Jesus say? (Matthew 17:15)

7. How did the man describe his child’s situation? (Matthew 17:15)

8. Who had already been unable to help the man’s son? (Matthew 17:16)

9. What reply did Jesus give when the man said Jesus’ disciples had been unable to help? (Matthew 17:17)

10. How did Jesus resolve the problem presented to Him? (Matthew 17:17-18)

11. What question did the disciples ask Jesus? When? (Matthew 17:19)

12. How did Jesus answer his disciples’ question? (Matthew 17:20)

13. What did Jesus say is the answer to the impossible? (Matthew 17:20)

14. What spiritual disciplines did Jesus recommend for confronting serious obstacles? (Matthew 17:21)

15. What sober subject did Jesus again bring up when the disciples came together in Galilee? (Matthew 17:22-23)

Get It

16. How do you imagine the nine disciples felt as they attempted to cast the demon out of this man’s boy?

17. How do you think the disciples felt later when Jesus rebuked them?

18. Why do you think Jesus was upset by His disciples’ lack of faith?

19. What do you see as the purpose for fasting?

20. In what areas of your life do you find it difficult to believe and trust in God?

21. If we truly believe in heaven and that we’ll see our fellow Christians again in eternity, why do we grieve when a Christian dies?

Apply It

22. What impossible task can you assault with your faith this week?

23. What spiritual discipline will you practice this week?

24. How can you help someone who is hurting today?

The Temple Tribute, Matthew 17:24-27

24. Doth not your master pay.—The question of the collectors implies that the tribute was not compulsory, but voluntary; and that consequently it was not the Roman poll-tax, for it was compulsory. (See further below, Matthew 17:25-26.)

25. Jesus prevented him.—The word prevent has here its primary, but now obsolete sense. Derived from the Latin prevenio, to go before, or to precede, it means here to anticipate. From the fact that you get before a man to hinder him, the word acquired the sense in which it is now currently used—a sense which it has acquired since our English translation was made. Everywhere in the Bible it means to precede, or to anticipate.

25, 26. of whom do the kings.—The argument is this: As the kings of the earth take tribute from strangers, and not from their own children, so I, being a Son of the King for whom this tribute is collected, should be free from paying it. It is clear from this argument that it was the Jewish temple tribute which was in question; for the force of the argument depends on the assumption that Jesus was a son of the king for whom the tribute was collected. (For an account of this tribute, see 2 Chronicles 24:5-6; Exodus 30:12-16.)

27. lest we offend them.—Basing his compliance now on the ground of expediency, and not on that of absolute right, Jesus tells Peter how to get the money, and directs him to pay it. When the hook was cast and almost instantly brought up a fish with a piece of money of the required value in its mouth, Peter saw another proof that Jesus was truly the son of the king for whom the tribute was demanded. His foreknowledge that Peter would catch the fish, and his power in putting the coin there were both exhibited.

piece of money.—The Greek word (στατ ́ηρ) is indefinitely translated, because the value of the coin would not be known to the common English reader from its name. It was the Attic stater, about equal to the Jewish shekel and to the American half-dollar. As this paid for Peter and Jesus both, the amount of the tribute for each person was the same that had been prescribed by Moses—a half-shekel. (Exodus 30:13.)

The Temple Tax - Matthew 17:24-27

Open It

1. How would you go about reforming the tax laws in this country?

2. Why is it tempting to cheat on our taxes?

3. How involved should Christians be in government?

Explore It

4. When did Jesus and His disciples speak with the tax collectors? (Matthew 17:24)

5. Whom did Jesus and His disciples encounter upon their arrival in Capernaum? (Matthew 17:24)

6. What question did the tax collectors ask Peter? (Matthew 17:24)

7. How did Peter respond to the tax collectors’ questions? (Matthew 17:25)

8. Who spoke to Peter first when Peter entered the house? Why? (Matthew 17:25)

9. What tax question did Jesus ask Peter? (Matthew 17:25)

10. How did Peter answer Jesus? (Matthew 17:26)

11. What did Jesus say about the obligation to pay taxes? (Matthew 17:26)

12. Why did Jesus agree to pay the temple tax? (Matthew 17:27)

13. What unusual directions did Jesus give Peter for coming up with the money to pay the temple tax? (Matthew 17:27)

Get It

14. In what ways do Christians not fit in or belong in our culture?

15. Why should we pay taxes?

16. How do God’s laws and human laws fit together?

17. In what ways (if any) are Christians "above the law"?

18. How do non-Christians react when Christians act as if they don’t have to comply with worldly laws?

19. What are the pros and cons of churches being exempt from taxes?

20. How is it possible for us to both serve Christ and obey the government?

Apply It

21. How does your behavior need to change this week so you can better represent Christ as his ambassador in the world?

22. What changes do you need to make the next time you do your taxes to make sure you pay all that you owe?

23. What areas of your life do you need to place under the control of the Holy Spirit today?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 17". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/matthew-17.html.
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