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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

Matthew 17:1. After six days, Luke: ‘about an eight days,’ i.e., ‘about a week.’

Peter and James and John his brother. His companions in Gethsemane (chap. Matthew 26:35; Mark 14:37), Peter the leader, James the first to suffer martyrdom, and John the beloved disciple who lingered longest on earth.

A high mountain apart. The transfiguration probably took place in the night. 1 . Jesus had gone up into the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28), which He usually did at night (Luke 6:12; Luke 21:37; Luke 22:39; Matthew 14:23-24). 2 . The Apostles were heavy with sleep. 3 . They did not descend till the next day (Luke 9:37) 4 . The transfiguration itself could be seen to better advantage at night than in daylight. On Mount Hermon snow would be visible, adding a natural splendor to the scene.

Verses 1-13

After our Lord’s prediction of His sufferings and hint of His glory (chap. Matthew 16:21-28), three chosen disciples receive a supernatural testimony and pledge of that glory. But the primary purpose probably was to give to our Lord, at this crisis, consolation from His Father, who by an attesting voice ushered in the sufferings as He had done the successes. The scene of the transfiguration according to tradition was Mount Tabor, in Galilee; but it was more probably Hermon, which was near Cesarea Philippi, an uninhabited and lofty mountain, and better fitted to be the scene of a secret revelation. Mount Panium and a mountain near the lake, have also been suggested, but with less reason.

The Transfiguration, a Sabbath revelation (‘after six days’); an earnest of the resurrection, a prophecy of Sabbath rest and privilege. Three witnesses, three accounts; the same human company in Gethsemane, but a different heavenly visitant. Our Lord’s inherent glory burst forth, an anticipation and prophecy of His future glory. Moses and Elijah: the one had represented Christ’s sufferings in type, the other in prophecy: the Old and New Testaments agree, and centre in the cross; Christ is revealed as Lord of the invisible world, as well as of the future kingdom of glory. Peter’s proposal; an expression of fear and perplexity, and yet of gratitude for privilege; like privilege often produces like desire to rest before the time. The dark cloud on Mount Sinai; the bright cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration. The attesting voice, now a command to hear Him, as He went to death. Jesus only; the new covenant established on its own evidence, the Master’s authority proclaimed as sufficient. When Christ should come forth from the grave, the truth about Him could come out from secrecy (Matthew 17:9). Elijah had appeared; the true fulfilment of prophecy was in the coming of John the Baptist; what was done to him a prelude of what the rulers of the Jews would do to Christ. Those who reject the preacher of repentance will soon crucify the preacher of salvation.

Verse 2

Matthew 17:2. And he was transfigured before them, as witnesses. Peter afterwards mentions it (1 Peter 1:16-18) and John alludes to it (John 1:14). The change in His appearance took place while He was praying (Luke 9:29).

His face did shine as the snow, and his garments became white as the light. Mark: ‘And his garments became glistening, exceeding white; such as no fuller on earth can so whiten them.’ Luke: ‘The fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and dazzling.’ No explanation is possible that denies the supernatural element. Our Lord’s inherent glory burst forth; added to this there was an external heavenly illumination affecting His garments and surrounding Moses and Elijah, reaching its highest manifestation in the luminous cloud spoken of in Matthew 17:5.

Verse 3

Matthew 17:3. And behold. The second stage of the miraculous occurrence.

There appeared unto them. These persons were really present. It was not a vision, as is plain from the account of Luke.

Moses and Elijah. The two chief representatives of the Old Testament (the law and the prophets). Both were forerunners of the Messiah, and had also fasted forty days. They came from the invisible world, appearing ‘in glory’(Luke 9:31), in a glorified form. They were recognized by the disciples, probably by intuition.

Talking with him. ‘Of his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem’ (Luke). Even on the mount of transfiguration the cross is in the foreground, and these Old Testament saints were probably then instructed in regard to it. The appearance of these two persons has been connected by some with the manner of their departure from earth. But this point cannot be pressed. Mark’s account seems to give a certain prominence to Elijah (‘Elijah with Moses’).

Verse 4

Matthew 17:4. Lord, it is good for us to be here, etc. Luke, ‘not knowing what he saith,’ to which Mark adds: ‘for they became sore afraid’ He wished to remain there, and perhaps to detain Moses and Elijah, since they were about to depart (Luke 9:33). The glory was so dazzling, the privilege seemed so great, the companionship so choice, that he would cling to the enjoyment, and let the toils and duties of the future go.

I will make. The other accounts (and the common reading here) have: ‘let us make.’ ‘I’ indicates ardent, self-confident feeling.

Three tabernacles, or ‘booths.’ Peter speaks of a ‘tabernacle’ (2 Peter 1:13-14) just before referring to this event

One for thee, etc. Lange: ‘That form of anti-christian error which appeals to the authority of Peter has given rise to the erection of three tabernacles (Moses: the Greek Church; Elijah: the Roman Church; Christ: the Evangelical Church).’ This analogy is not to be pressed. Peter, in his inconsiderateness, may have thought of inaugurating a new communion, with Christ for its centre, Moses its lawgiver, and Elijah its zealot, thus amalgamating externally the Old and New Testaments.

Verse 5

Matthew 17:5. Behold, a bright cloud. ‘A sign from heaven ‘granted to the Apostles, though refused to the Jewish leaders. A luminous cloud, not dark like that on Sinai. It was analogous to the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night in the wilderness and to the Shekinah of the Old Testament; a symbol of the glory resting on the New Testament Church, separating between the holy and the unholy, and a type of the splendor of the New Jerusalem. Comp. ‘in the clouds: ‘chap. Matthew 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27.

Overshadowed them, i.e., our Lord, Moses, and Elijah, since the voice came from ‘out of the cloud.’ A bright cloud could render them invisible as readily as a dark one.

And behold a voice, etc. The culmination. The ‘visible presence’ of God was followed by an ‘audible presence,’ giving a solemn attestation to the Messiah and Son of God, at a time when His rejection by the chosen people had begun and His death been foretold to His disciples.

Hear ye him. Obey Him, as well as listen to Him. Hear Him , more than law or prophecy (Moses and Elijah). Their remaining carnal Messianic hopes were thus opposed.

Verse 6

Matthew 17:6. And when the disciples heard it, etc. Matthew 17:6-7, peculiar to Matthew. The fear began when the cloud overshadowed the Lord and the two Old Testament saints (comp. Luke 9:34), but culminated at this visible and audible manifestation of the Father’s presence.

Verse 7

Matthew 17:7. Came and touched them. Comp, similar occurrences, Isaiah 6:5-7; Daniel 10:9-10; Revelation 1:17.

Verse 8

Matthew 17:8. Save Jesus only. Without Moses and Elijah. The hour of glory was over, and the Lord now in His usual lowliness, resumed His intercourse with them, and returned to the labors of His ministry, which were awaiting Him at the foot of the mount. The sufficiency of His authority is implied, in view of the command of Matthew 17:5.

Verse 9

Matthew 17:9. As they were coming down. This would require some time.

Commanded them. A special prohibition.

Tell the vision to no one. ‘Vision ‘does not imply that the occurrence was a kind of dream, or like the visions seen by the prophets. The narrative itself forbids this; the other accounts use the phrase: ‘What things they had seen.’

Until the Son of man be risen from the dead. It was too soon to tell of it; even the three understood very little (Mark 9:10). This injunction would also serve to impress the occurrence on their minds; discussion of it during the intervening period of persecution would occasion doubts or carnal expectations. Besides it involved new light concerning the state of the dead, which could not be received until the resurrection of Christ. The necessity for concealment then ceased.

Verse 10

Matthew 17:10. Why then? The connection with what precedes is, according to Alford: ‘If this was not the coming of Elijah, was he yet to come? If it was, how was it so secret and so short?

Verse 11

Matthew 17:11. Elijah indeed cometh. Our Lord confirms the view, that Elijah should come (Malachi 4:5).

Shall restore or ‘establish anew,’ all things. Comp. Malachi 4:6. The actual work of restoration was however the work of the Messiah, for which Elijah should prepare the way (comp. Luke 3:4; Acts 3:21).

Verse 12

Matthew 17:12. Elijah is come already. Comp, chap Matthew 11:14. The prophecy of Malachi had been fulfilled in John the Baptist, so far as the first coming of the Messiah was concerned.

They knew him not. They recognized, neither John the forerunner of the Messiah, nor the Messiah himself. Like persecution followed like unbelief.

Verse 13

Matthew 17:13. He spake unto them of John the Baptist. Our Lord referred to John, but this does not exhaust the meaning of the prophecy in Malachi. The passages bearing on the subject indicate strongly another appearance of Elijah (whether the same person or not is of course unknown to us) before the second coming of Christ, to do a similar preparatory work. In every great spiritual movement there must be one who precedes ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah.’

Verse 14

Matthew 17:14. Kneeling to him. An act of homage, not necessarily of worship. The scribes were questioning with the disciples; the multitude were amazed and ran to Him (Mark 9:14-17). The failure of the disciples (Matthew 17:16) had probably occasioned a denial of Christ’s authority on the part of the scribes. Hence the agitation of the crowd.

Verses 14-21

All three Evangelists place this miracle immediately after the transfiguration (Luke: ‘the next day’). This ‘may be regarded as one of the evidences of the genuineness and authenticity of the narrative, and against the mythical hypothesis.’ Meyer. Lesson: On earth we may not rest on the mount of spiritual delight, but must go down into the valley of duty (Raphael has grouped the two events in his masterpiece). The subject of this miracle had all the symptoms of epilepsy and was also possessed. The inability of the disciples to cure him, the questionings of the scribes (mentioned by Mark) and the faith of the father, all give additional interest to the occurrence. Thus the training of the Twelve, now the all-important matter, was earned on. The nine disciples in the valley had ventured without sufficient faith into a conflict with Satan and the scribes. The Master came to their aid, to enforce the needed lesson. The people, on whom the failure of the disciples had produced an effect, now wondered again (Luke 9:43), but the current of hostility was not checked. Mark is fuller and independent in his account.

Verse 15

Matthew 17:15. For he is lunatic, or ‘epileptic.’ The former phrase is more correct etymologically, the latter best defines the disease in this case, since all the symptoms are those of epilepsy. In chap. Matthew 4:24, ‘lunatics’ are distinguished from those ‘possessed.’ Many of those possessed had symptoms altogether different. The peculiar difficulty in this case was the combination of this possession and epilepsy. The lad was an only son (Luke 9:38).

Verse 16

Matthew 17:16. Thy disciples. Including the nine Apostles.

Verse 17

Matthew 17:17. Unbelieving and perverse generation. The failure to cure, the catechizing of the scribes, and the effect produced on the people, proved that all present were unbelieving and liable to be led astray. But the term ‘generation’ requires a still wider reference to the race and generation, whom this company represented.

How long shall I be with you? An expression of displeasure. He would not long remain on earth and bear with their unbelief and perversity. Less probably, it means that the disciples soon could not have Him to come thus personally to supply their lack of faith and power.

To me, emphasizing His power, despite the failure of the disciples. Mark (Mark 9:20-25) narrates a fearful paroxysm in the lad when brought to Jesus; a description of his case from the father with a new entreaty; the challenge given by our Lord to his faith, and his humble, tearful answer; the movement of the crowd excited by the previous failure and controversy; the language addressed to the evil spirit.

Verse 18

Matthew 17:18. And the demon went out from him. Mark describes the process. The lad lay as is usual after a very severe epileptic fit. But an entire cure followed. The multitude marvelled (Luke 9:43), but probably did not believe.

Verse 19

Matthew 17:19. To Jesus apart. In a ‘house’ (Mark 9:28).

Verse 20

Matthew 17:20. Because of your little faith. A general answer, the specific one is recorded by Mark (and in Matthew 17:21, which is to be omitted). The attempt showed some faith, the failure ‘little faith.’ The revelation of our Lord’s death may have caused despondency and doubt.

As a grain of mustard seed. Small, yet living (chap. Matthew 13:33), and capable of rapid increase, while their faith had decreased.

Ye shall say unto this mountain. Probably pointing to one in sight. Comp. chap. Matthew 21:21. This promise of power to remove the most formidable obstacles, is misunderstood, only when power over material things is deemed greater than spiritual power.

Nothing shall be impossible unto you. The statement is limited by the preceding part of the verse. Comp. chap. Matthew 21:22.

Verse 21

Matthew 17:21. The two oldest manuscripts, the best of the later ones (cursives), some very ancient versions, omit this verse, and there are other reasons for doubting its genuineness. If retained: ‘Howbeit’ should be changed to ‘but .’ See notes on Mark 9:29, where the passage is to be retained.

Verse 22

Matthew 17:22. They were abiding in Galilee. The first prophecy did not take place in Galilee (chap. Matthew 16:13; Matthew 16:21).

Delivered up, etc. The Son of God would be left to the power of men; a new feature in the prediction.

Verses 22-27

The definite details as to time and place show that our Lord repeated His prediction of His sufferings (chap. Matthew 16:21-23). Our Lord now left the foot of the mount and passed through Galilee (Mark 9:30); the prediction was made while the people were still wondering (Luke 9:43). We infer that they passed directly from Mount Hermon into Galilee; on the way our Lord made this declaration; reaching Capernaum, the question about tribute was put. Both incidents belong together in the education of the Apostles for the events which were so soon to come. This was the last visit to Galilee, the last miracle there. It is unlikely that a visit to Jerusalem (at the Feast of Tabernacles, John 7:2-14) intervened.

Verse 23

Matthew 17:23. They were exceeding sorry. No remonstrance now, but sorrow, partly from natural affection, partly from the dashing of their false hopes. The strife as to who should be greatest, which followed (chap. Matthew 18:1), shows that their views were still incorrect; Mark and Luke speak of their failure to understand. Men are still slow to learn the meaning of the death and resurrection of our Lord.

Verse 24

Matthew 17:24. Capernaum. His usual residence, hence the place where the temple tax would be collected from Him.

They that received the half-shekel, which every male Jew above twenty of age paid (in addition to the tithes) for the support of the temple. Not a Roman tax, although changed into this after the destruction of Jerusalem. The receivers were not publicans, but those acting for the Jewish authorities. The value of a shekel is variously estimated from 50 to 70 cents ( 2 s. 3 d. to 3 s.).

Doth not your master? They expected an affirmative answer. The temple tax was obligatory; see Exodus 30:13 ff. (comp. 2 Chronicles 24:5-6). Josephus implies the same obligation.

Verse 25

Matthew 17:25. Jesus spake first to him, anticipated his statement by superhuman knowledge of what had occurred.

Toll or tribute. Duties or taxes. From their sons, or from strangers, i.e., those not of their household.

Verse 26

Matthew 17:26. Surely then the sons are free. Peter had lately confessed that Jesus was ‘the Son of the living God;’ and yet now so readily admits the obligation to pay the temple-tax. The real Temple need not pay tribute to that which foreshadowed it. The saying does not refer to taxes to the State (see chap. Matthew 22:19), nor imply that the clergy should be exempt from taxation. Christians are free, not from the duties of citizens, but from the yoke of legality the priesthood would put upon them.

Verse 27

Matthew 17:27. But lest we should cause them to stumble. Some ‘little ones’ might thus be made to stumble (see chap. Matthew 18:6 ff.); the time was not ripe for asserting this freedom; our Lord was still ‘under the law’ for us.

Thou shalt find a shekel (a ‘stater’ = to four drachmas, the exact amount needed). To explain this as meaning the value of the fish is frivolous; no single fish thus caught had such a value. The piece of money was in the mouth of the fish. Our Lord here exhibits miraculous power, in drawing by the force of His will this fish to that place at that time, as well as foreknowledge of the event. The two coincide in Divine operations. This miracle was not a freak of power, but had a definite and proper motive; the money was provided in a way that asserted Christ’s dignity to Peter, and yet gave no offense. The fisherman must resume his old occupation to discharge the debt he had so readily acknowledged. Our Lord’s position, not his poverty, called for this provision.

For me and thee. Not ‘for us.’ A distinction kept up throughout the Gospels (comp. John 20:17). Our Lord’s humility and glory both appear here.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 17". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/matthew-17.html. 1879-90.
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