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Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

Matthew 17

Verse 1

After six days (μεθ' ημερας εξ). This could be on the sixth day, but as Luke (Luke 9:28) puts it "about eight days" one naturally thinks of a week as the probable time, though it is not important.

Taketh with him (παραλαμβανε). Literally,

takes along . Note historical present. These three disciples form an inner group who have shown more understanding of Jesus. So at Gethsemane.

Apart (κατ' ιδιαν) means "by themselves" (alone , μονους, Mark has it) up (αναφερε) into a high mountain, probably Mount Hermon again, though we do not really know. "The Mount of Transfiguration does not concern geography" (Holtzmann).

Verse 2

He was transfigured before them (μετεμορφωθη εμπροσθεν αυτων). The word is the same as the metamorphoses (cf. Ovid) of pagan mythology. Luke does not use it. The idea is change (μετα-) of form (μορφη). It really presents the essence of a thing as separate from the σχημα (fashion), the outward accident. So in Romans 12:2 Paul uses both verbs, συνσχεματιζεσθε (be not fashioned) and μεταμορφουσθε (be ye transformed in your inner life). So in 1 Corinthians 7:31 σχημα is used for the fashion of the world while in Mark 16:12 μορφη is used of the form of Jesus after his resurrection. The false apostles are described by μετασχηματισομα in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15. In Philippians 2:6 we have εν μορφη used of the Preincarnate state of Christ and μορφην δουλου of the Incarnate state (Philippians 2:7), while σχηματ ως ανθρωπος emphasizes his being found "in fashion as a man." But it will not do in Matthew 17:2 to use the English transliteration μεταμορφωσις because of its pagan associations. So the Latin transfigured (Vulgate transfiguratus est) is better. "The deeper force of μεταμορφουσθα is seen in 2 Corinthians 3:18 (with reference to the shining on Moses' face), Romans 12:2" (McNeile). The word occurs in a second-century papyrus of the pagan gods who are invisible. Matthew guards against the pagan idea by adding and explaining about the face of Christ "as the sun" and his garments "as the light."

Verse 3

There appeared (ωφθη). Singular aorist passive verb with Moses (to be understood also with Elijah), but the participle συνλαλουντες is plural agreeing with both. "Sufficient objectivity is guaranteed by the vision being enjoyed by all three" (Bruce). The Jewish apocalypses reveal popular expectations that Moses and Elijah would reappear. Both had mystery connected with their deaths. One represented law, the other prophecy, while Jesus represented the gospel (grace). They spoke of his decease (Luke 9:31), the cross, the theme uppermost in the mind of Christ and which the disciples did not comprehend. Jesus needed comfort and he gets it from fellowship with Moses and Elijah.

Verse 4

And Peter answered (αποκριθεις δε ο Πετρος). "Peter to the front again, but not greatly to his credit" (Bruce). It is not clear what Peter means by his saying: "It is good for us to be here" (καλον εστιν ημας ωδε εινα). Luke (Luke 9:33) adds "not knowing what he said," as they "were heavy with sleep." So it is not well to take Peter too seriously on this occasion. At any rate he makes a definite proposal.

I will make (παιησω). Future indicative though aorist subjunctive has same form.

Tabernacles (σκηνας), booths. The Feast of Tabernacles was not far away. Peter may have meant that they should just stay up here on the mountain and not go to Jerusalem for the feast.

Verse 5

Overshadowed (επεσκιασεν). They were up in cloud-land that swept round and over them. See this verb used of Mary (Luke 1:35) and of Peter's shadow (Acts 5:15).

This is (ουτος εστιν). At the baptism (Matthew 3:17) these words were addressed to Jesus. Here the voice out of the bright cloud speaks to them about Jesus.

Hear ye him (ακουετε αυτου). Even when he speaks about his death. A sharp rebuke to Peter for his consolation to Jesus about his death.

Verse 7

And touched them (κα αψαμενος αυτων). Tenderness in their time of fear.

Verse 8

Lifting up their eyes (επαραντες τους οφθαλμους αυτων). After the reassuring touch of Jesus and his words of cheer.

Jesus only (Ιησουν μονον). Moses and Elijah were gone in the bright cloud.

Verse 9

Until (εως ου). This conjunction is common with the subjunctive for a future event as his Resurrection (εγερθη) was. Again (Mark 9:10) they were puzzled over his meaning. Jesus evidently hopes that this vision of Moses and Elijah and his own glory might stand them in good stead at his death.

Verse 10

Elijah must first come (Ελειαν δε ελθειν πρωτον). So this piece of theology concerned them more than anything else. They had just seen Elijah, but Jesus the Messiah had come before Elijah. The scribes used Malachi 4:5. Jesus had also spoken again of his death (resurrection). So they are puzzled.

Verse 12

Elijah is come already (Ελειας ηδη ηλθεν). Thus Jesus identifies John the Baptist with the promise in Malachi, though not the real Elijah in person which John denied (John 1:21).

They knew him not (ουκ επιγνωσαν αυτον). Second aorist active indicative of επιγινωσκω, to recognize. Just as they do not know Jesus now (John 1:26). They killed John as they will Jesus the Son of Man.

Verse 13

Then understood (τοτε συνηκαν). One of the three k aorists. It was plain enough even for them. John was Elijah in spirit and had prepared the way for the Messiah.

Verse 15

Epileptic (σεληνιαζετα). Literally, "moonstruck," "lunatic." The symptoms of epilepsy were supposed to be aggravated by the changes of the moon (cf. Matthew 4:24).

He has it bad (κακως εχε) as often in the Synoptic Gospels.

Verse 17

Perverse (διεστραμμενη). Distorted, twisted in two, corrupt. Perfect passive participle of διαστρεφω.

Verse 20

Little faith (ολιγοπιστιαν). A good translation. It was less than "a grain of mustard seed" (κοκκον σιναπεως). See Matthew 13:31 for this phrase. They had no miracle faith. Bruce holds "this mountain" to be the Mount of Transfiguration to which Jesus pointed. Probably so. But it is a parable. Our trouble is always with "this mountain" which confronts our path. Note the form μεταβα (μετα and βηθ).

Verse 23

And they were exceeding sorry (κα ελυπηθησαν σφοδρα). So they at last understood that he was talking about his death and resurrection.

Verse 24

They that received the half-shekel (ο τα διδραχμα λαμβανοντες). This temple tax amounted to an Attic drachma or the Jewish half-shekel, about one-third of a dollar. Every Jewish man twenty years of age and over was expected to pay it for the maintenance of the temple. But it was not a compulsory tax like that collected by the publicans for the government. "The tax was like a voluntary church-rate; no one could be compelled to pay" (Plummer). The same Greek word occurs in two Egyptian papyri of the first century A.D. for the receipt for the tax for the temple of Suchus (Milligan and Moulton's Vocabulary). This tax for the Jerusalem temple was due in the month Adar (our March) and it was now nearly six months overdue. But Jesus and the Twelve had been out of Galilee most of this time. Hence the question of the tax-collectors. The payment had to be made in the Jewish coin, half-shekel. Hence the money-changers did a thriving business in charging a small premium for the Jewish coin, amounting to some forty-five thousand dollars a year, it is estimated. It is significant that they approached Peter rather than Jesus, perhaps not wishing to embarrass "Your Teacher," "a roundabout hint that the tax was overdue" (Bruce). Evidently Jesus had been in the habit of paying it (Peter's).

Verse 25

Jesus spake first to him (προεφθασεν αυτον ο Ιησους λεγων). Here only in the N.T. One example in a papyrus B.C. 161 (Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary). The old idiomatic use of φθανω with the participle survives in this example of προφθανω in Matthew 17:25, meaning to anticipate, to get before one in doing a thing. The Koine uses the infinitive thus with φθανω which has come to mean simply to arrive. Here the anticipation is made plain by the use of προ-. See Robertson's Grammar, p. 1120. The "prevent" of the Authorized Version was the original idea of praevenire, to go before, to anticipate. Peter felt obliged to take the matter up with Jesus. But the Master had observed what was going on and spoke to Peter first.

Toll or tribute (τελη η κηνσον). Customs or wares collected by the publicans (like φορος, Romans 13:7) and also the capitation tax on persons, indirect and direct taxation. Κηνσος is the Latin census, a registration for the purpose of the appraisement of property like η απογραφη in Luke 2:2; Acts 5:37. By this parable Jesus as the Son of God claims exemption from the temple tax as the temple of his Father just as royal families do not pay taxes, but get tribute from the foreigners or aliens, subjects in reality.

Verse 26

The sons (ο υιο). Christ, of course, and the disciples also in contrast with the Jews. Thus a reply to Peter's prompt "Yes." Logically (αραγε) free from the temple tax, but practically not as he proceeds to show.

Verse 27

Lest we cause them to stumble (ινα μη σκανδαλισωμεν αυτους). He does not wish to create the impression that he and the disciples despise the temple and its worship. Aorist tense (punctiliar single act) here, though some MSS. have present subjunctive (linear). "A hook" (αγκιστρον). The only example in the N.T. of fishing with a hook. From an unused verb αγκιζω, to angle, and that from αγκος, a curve (so also αγκαλη the inner curve of the arm, Luke 2:38).

First cometh up (τον αναβαντα πρωτον ιχθυν). More correctly, "the first fish that cometh up."

A shekel (στατηρα). Greek stater = four drachmae, enough for two persons to pay the tax.

For me and thee (αντ εμου κα σου). Common use of αντ in commercial transactions, "in exchange for." Here we have a miracle of foreknowledge. Such instances have happened. Some try to get rid of the miracle by calling it a proverb or by saying that Jesus only meant for Peter to sell the fish and thus get the money, a species of nervous anxiety to relieve Christ and the Gospel of Matthew from the miraculous. "All the attempts have been in vain which were made by the older Rationalism to put a non-miraculous meaning into these words" (B. Weiss). It is not stated that Peter actually caught such a fish though that is the natural implication. Why provision is thus only made for Peter along with Jesus we do not know.

Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright © Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)
Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 17". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/matthew-17.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.