Sunday, May 28th, 2023
Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible Coke's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 17". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tcc/ matthew-17.html. 1801-1803.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 17". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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The transfiguration of Christ: he healeth the lunatic, foretelleth his own passion, and payeth tribute.
Anno Domini 31.
Matthew 17:1. And after six days— That is, about six days if we reckon exclusively, and about eight days if we reckon inclusively, after our Lord had accepted the title of Messiah. See Luk 9:28 who has it, about eight days after. The two accounts differ only, as if one should say, that Christ appeared to his disciples after his death, another after his resurrection: the connection with the end of the former chapter must be attended to here, as in many other places. Heylin. Tradition has generally conferred the honour of the transfiguration on mount Tabor, famed in ancient history for the victory which Deborah and Barak gained over Sisera, Judges 4:14. Roland observes, that this tradition took its rise from Mar 9:2 where it is said, that Jesus carried Peter, James, and John into a high mountain apart by themselves. It seems the original words κατ ιδιαν, apart, were thought to describe the position of the mountain; and because Tabor is very high, and stands in the plain of Esdraelon, at a distance from other hills, they thought it could be said of no other mountain so properly, that it is an high mountain by itself. Hence the tradition of our Lord's being transfigured on this mountain might arise; especially as this mountain is not only high, but verdant also, and woody, and of a beautiful regular form; nevertheless the whole account determines the transfiguration to some mountain not far from Caesarea Philippi, rather than to Tabor, which was situated in the south of Galilee: for after the transfiguration, when Jesus had cured an epileptic who was also possessed by a demon, it is said, Mar 9:30 that they departed and passed through Galilee, and then to Capernaum. Now it is not very probable that the Evangelist would in this manner have related our Lord's journey from the mount of transfiguration to Capernaum, if that mountain had been in Galilee, the region in which Capernaum stood, especially if, as the continuators of Chemnitz's Harmony affirm, the word παραπορευεσθαι signifies to pass through quickly, secretly, and as it were in a journey: yet, upon the faith of the tradition mentioned above, theChristians very early built a monastery and church on the top of Tabor, which, according to the account of travellers, spreads itself into an ample plain, surrounded with a wood. The church was dedicated to Jesus, and his two attendants Moses and Elias; and from 2Pe 1:18 they call the mountain itself the Holy Mount. Our Lord admitted to the singular honour of his transfiguration, Peter his most zealous, James his most active, and John his most beloved disciple. It was necessary that this remarkable occurrence should be supported by sufficient evidence: hence it was that three of the disciples were chosen, because so many witnesses were required to establish a fact by the Jews; and no more were chosen, because this number was sufficient. Besides this reason for electing these three persons in particular, we may add, that Peter was the most sanguine and the most forward speaker among the apostles, that James was the first martyr, and that John, being the survivor of all the other Apostles, gave a sanction to this record, as it is most probable that he had a sight of all the other Gospels, and likewise confirmed it by his personal testimony as long as he lived. See Macknight, Renald's Palaest. Illust. lib. 1 and Maundrell's Journey, p. 112.
Matthew 17:2. And was transfigured before them— The word μεταμορφωθη implies either that there was a transfiguration made on the substance of his body, according to the import of the word in the best classic writers; (See Philippians 3:21.) or that the outward appearance only of his body was altered, as seems most probable from the manner in which St. Luke has expressed it. In this transfiguration the face of Jesus became radiant and dazzling; for it shone like the sun in its unclouded meridian clearness, and so was incomparably more glorious than the face of Moses at the giving of the law: at the same timehis garments acquired a snowy whiteness bright as light, and sweetly refulgent, but in a degree inferior to the radiancy of his countenance. Thus for a little while, during the state of his humiliation, the Son of God permitted the glory of his divinity to break forth, as it were, and shine through the veil of his human nature with which it was covered. See Macknight and Calmet.
Matthew 17:3. And behold, there appeared—Moses and Elias— See Luke 9:30., &c. respecting the remainder of this transaction.
Matthew 17:8. And when they had lifted up their eyes, &c.— This transfiguration of our Lord was intended for several important purposes. About six days before it happened, Jesus had predicted his own sufferings and death; at the same time, to prevent his disciples frombeing dejected by the melancholy prospect, as well as from falling into despair when the dismal scene should open, he told them, that though in appearance he was nothing but a man, and affliction was generally to be the lot of his disciples, he would come hereafter in great glory as universal Judge, and render unto every man according to his deeds, ch. Matthew 16:27-28. And for proof of this he declared, that some of themselves should not taste of death till they saw him coming in his kingdom; saw a lively representation of the glory which he spake of, and were witnesses to the extent of his power as judge, on his enemies, the unbelieving Jews, who were to be punished by him with the most terrible destruction that ever befel any nation. The first article of his promise he fulfilled by the transfiguration, wherein he gives three of his Apostles both a visible representation, and also a clear proof of the glory in which he will come to judgment. That this was one principal end of the transfiguration, and of the voice from heaven which attended it, we learn from St. Peter, who urges both, to demonstrate the certainty of Christ's coming: 2 Epist. Matthew 1:16-18. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; but were eye-witnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour 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.—Nevertheless, other purposes might likewise have been served by the transfiguration: as, 1. The conference which our Lord had with Moses and Elias, concerning the sufferings that he was to meet with in Jerusalem, might animate him to encounter them with resolution, and make his disciples sensible how agreeable it was to the doctrine of Moses and the Prophets, that the Messiah should be evil-intreated and die, before he entered into glory.—2. The appearing of these two great men, so long after they had gone into the invisible world, was a sensible proof and a clear example of the immortality of the soul, very necessary in those times, when the opinion of the Sadducees was so prevalent.—3. To find Moses and Elias assisting Jesus in the new dispensation, must have given great satisfaction to the converted Jews, and particularly the Apostles, who thus could not doubt that the Gospel was the completion and perfection of the law. For had it not been so, Moses, the giver of the law, and Elias, who with a flaming zeal had maintained it in times of the greater corruption, would not have appeared on earth to encourage Jesus in his design of setting it aside.—4. The threeApostles were allowed to be witnesses of their Master's glory in the mountain, that they might not be offended by the depth of affliction into which they in particular were soon to see him plunged.—5. The transfiguration demonstrated, that all the sufferings befalling Jesus, were on his part perfectly voluntary, it being as easy to deliver himself from dying, as to have adorned himself with celestial glory.—6. The glory with which our Lord's body was adorned in the transfiguration, exhibited a specimen of the beauty and perfection of the glorified bodies of the saints after their resurrection. This the Apostle intimates, Philippians 3:21. Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. It is also intimated by St. Luke: for although the glory of Moses and Elias at the transfiguration was vastly inferior to that of Jesus, he says expressly, that they appeared in glory; not because they appeared in heaven, but because they appeared in glorified bodies, like to those which the saints shall have in heaven. There can be no doubt of this, with respect to Elias, for his body was changed and fitted for immortality when he was translated; and as for Moses, though he had not his own body, he might have one formed for the occasion. See Macknight.
Matthew 17:9. And as they came down, &c.— Jesus and his disciples having been in the mountain all night, (See Luke 9:37.) the transfiguration may be supposed to have happened either in the day-time, or in the night: that it happened in the night-time is probable, from the disciples falling asleep while Jesus prayed; a circumstance which could hardly happen by day to all the three, and in the open air. Next morning, as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged the Apostles to conceal what they had seen, till he should arise from the dead. He knew that the world, and even his own disciples, were not yet capable of comprehending the design of his transfiguration, nor of the appearance of Moses and Elias; and that if this transaction had been published before his resurrection, it might have appeared incredible, because nothing hitherto but afflictions and persecution had attended him. See Macknight, and for an explication of the following verses, the note on Mark 9:10; Mark 9:50.
Matthew 17:11. Elias truly, &c.— True, Elias was to come first, and to set all things right: Matthew 17:12. But I tell you, &c.
Matthew 17:15. For he is lunatic— Σεληνιαζεται . The English word lunatic always implies madness; but the Greek word is applied to any disease which is under the influence of the moon, such as the epilepsy, which seems to have been the distemper wherewith this man's son was afflicted by the power of the demon which possessed him. See also for this history the parallel places in St. Mark and Luke, who relate it more circumstantially than St. Matthew.
Matthew 17:20. Because of your unbelief— When the disciples were come with our Lord, they askedhim the reason why they could not cast out that particular demon; to which he replies, because of your unbelief.—"Knowing that you doubted whether I could enable you to cast out this demon, I ordered it so, that he would not go out at your command, for a reproach of the weakness of your faith." We may observe that the disciples had attempted to cast him out. To encourage them, our Lord describes to them the efficacy of the faith of miracles; If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, &c. If you have but the least degree of the faith of miracles, you may say to the vast mountain whence we just now came down, Move thyself, and go to some other place, and it shall obey you. Ye shall by that faith be able to accomplish the most difficult things, in all cases where the glory of God and the good of his church are concerned. It is certain that the faith which is here spoken of may subsist without saving faith: Judas had it, and so had many, who thereby cast out devils, and yet will at last have their portion with them. It is only a supernatural persuasion given to a man that God will work miracles by him at that hour. Now, though I have all this faith so as to remove mountains, yet if I have not the faith which worketh by love, I am nothing. Not only the persons on whom the power of working miracles was bestowed, were obliged to have faith likewise, in order to the exercise of that power; but it was a different kind of faith from that which was necessary in the subject of the miracles. For it consisted, first, in a just and high notion of the divine power, by which the miracle was to be effected: secondly, as we observed, in a firm persuasion that the miracle was to be wrought at that particular time. Now this persuasion was to spring from a two-fold source: 1. A consciousness of the power which Christ had conferred on them when he ordained them his Apostles: 2. It was to arise from a sensible impression made upon their minds by the Spirit of God, signifying to them that a miracle was to be performed at that time. Accordingly, the Apostles, and such of the first Christians as were afterwards honoured with the power of miracles, never attempted to exerciseit without feeling an impression of this kind; as is plain from St. Paul's leaving Trophimus at Miletum, sick.—Wherefore as the nine had, in all probability, attempted to cure the youth spoken of in this account, and had made the attempt with some degree of doubtfulness, it is no wonder that they were unsuccessful. To remove mountains is a proverbial expression, which signifies the doing of any thing seemingly impossible, as we may learn from Zechariah 4:7. When the Jews had a mind to extol any of their doctors, they were used to say of him that he plucked up mountains by the roots. In this description of the efficacy of faith, there is abeautiful contrast between the smallness of a grain of mustard seed, to which their faith is compared, and the vast size of the mountain that was to be removed thereby. Dr. Heylin finely remarks, "All inanimate nature is passive to Deity, and therefore infallibly executes what it is designed for. When faith is consummate in the human nature, that becomes alike susceptible of the divine energy."
Matthew 17:21. This kind goeth not out, &c.— Prayer and fasting could have no relation to the ejection of demons, but so far only as they had a tendency to increase the faith of miracles in him who had that power formerly conferred upon him. For example, prayer, by impressing a man's mind with a more intimate sense that all things whatsoever depend upon the infinite and incomprehensible power of God, raises his idea of that power to a greater sublimity than can be done in the way of ordinary speculation. And as for fasting, by weakening the animal life, it subdues such passions as are nourished by continual repletion of body. Hence fasting has a tendencyto free the mind from the dominion of passion, which never fails to occasion a great inward perturbation, and at times has been found to make even holy men inattentive, at least to the more silent impressions of God's Spirit. Fasting therefore produces an inward quietness and calm, very favourable to the growth of faith
Matthew 17:22. And while they abode in Galilee— It should seem that the wonder of the discipleswasaccompaniedwith proportionably high expectations of happiness in that temporal kingdom, which they were now convinced Jesus could easily erect. Our Lord, knowing this, thought fit when they came to Galilee, the country where he had the greatest train of followers, to moderate his disciples' ambition, not only by concealing himself for awhile, forbearing to preach and work miracles as he returned through Galilee, but also by predicting a third time his own sufferings and death. Upon this they were exceeding sorry, taking no comfort from the mention that he made of his resurrection: the prediction concerning his death raised such fears in their minds, that they durst not ask him to explain it; especially as they remembered that he had often inculcated it, and reprimanded Peter for being unwilling to hear it.
Matthew 17:24. And when they were come to Capernaum— Josephus has expressly asserted, that each of the Jews used yearly to pay a didrachma, or half shekel, the piece of money here mentioned, and in value about fifteen-pence of our currency, to the service of the temple, (See Antiq. lib. 18. 100. 9.) a custom which probably took its rise from the demand of that sum from each of the Israelites when they were numbered, Exodus 30:13. Thus Casaubon, Hammond, and many other great critics, understood it. It was gathered every year through all their cities; and, as it should seem from the manner of the collectors' making the demand, was a voluntary thing, which custom rather than law had established. See Nehemiah 10:32. Beza is of opinion, that it was the poll-tax levied by the Romans, after Judea was reduced into the form of a province, (see Ch. Matthew 22:17.) and which Agrippa Major, in the reign of Claudius, remitted to the Jews. If this was the tribute which the collectors demanded of Peter, the import of their question was this: "Is your master of the sect of Judas of Galilee, whose opinion is, that taxes should be paid to no foreign power?" They demanded the tribute for Jesus from Peter, either because the house in which Jesus lived was his, or because they observed him to be more forward than the rest, or because none of them were with him at that time but Peter. See Macknight.
Matthew 17:25-27. He saith, Yes— Peter told the collectors, that his Master would pay tribute, and consequently, made a sort of promise to procure it for them; yet when he considered the matter more minutely, he was afraid to speak to the Messiah concerning his paying taxes upon any pretences whatever. In the mean time, Jesus knowing both what had happened, and what was turning in Peter's thoughts, saved him the pain of introducing the discourse: Jesus prevented him, saying, what thinkest thou, Simon, &c.? hereby insinuating, that because he was the Son of the Great King, to whom heaven, earth, and sea, and all things in them belong, he was not obliged to pay tribute, as not holding any thing by a derived right from any king whatever. Or if, as is more probable, the contribution was made for the service and reparation of the temple, his meaning was, that being the Son of Him to whom the tributewas paid, he could justly have excused himself. Nevertheless, that he might not give offence, He sent Peter to the lake, with a line and a hook, telling him, that in the mouth of the first fish that came he should find a stater, a Grecian piece of money so called, equal in value to two didrachma, or one shekel of Jewish money, the sum required for himself and for Peter. There can be no reason to suppose, with some commentators, that the piece of money was created on this occasion; but if the fish had accidentally swallowed it, perhaps as it was falling into thewater near some other prey, one cannot forbear remarking how illustrious a degree of knowledge and power our Lord discovers in the event before us. Jesus chose to provide the tribute-money by miracle, either because the disciple who carried the bag was absent; or because he had not so much money as was necessary. Farther, he chose to provide it by this particular miracle rather than any other, because it was of such a kind as to demonstrate that hewas the Son of the Great Monarch worshipped in the temple, and who rules the universe. Wherefore, in this verymanner of paying the tax, he shewed Peter that he was free from all taxes; and at the same time gave his followers this useful lesson, that in matters which affect their property in a smaller degree, it is better to recede somewhat from their just rights, than by stubbornly insisting on them to offend their brethren, or disturb the state. Instead of strangers, Matthew 17:25-26. Dr. Campbell reads others. We postpone the Inferences on the transfiguration, and the cure of the lunatic, to the other Evangelists, and subjoin here Inferences on our Lord's payment of the tribute-money.
Inferences.—All the other histories set forth the power of Christ; this shews both his power and obedience; his power over the creature, his obedience to the civil authority. Capernaum was one of his own cities: to his host therefore the collectors repair for the tribute. Doth not your master, say they, pay tribute? All Capernaum knew that Christ was a great prophet; his doctrine had delighted them, his miracles had astonished them; yet when it comes to a money matter, his share is as deep as the rest. Questions of profit admit no difference: and whatever reverence may be challenged by the sacred tribe, who cares how little they receive, how much they pay? Yet no man knows with what mind this demand was made, whether in a churlish grudging at Christ's immunity, or in an aweful address to the servant, rather than the master.
Peter had a ready answer at hand; I do not hear him require them to stay till he should go in, and learn his Master's resolution; but as one well acquainted with the mind and practice of his Lord, he answers, Yes; Peter well knowing that he not only gave but preached tribute. When the Herodians had laid snares for him, supposing that so great a prophet would be for insisting on the liberty and exemption of God's chosen people, he repels their artifices in their own way, and tells them that the stamp argued the right,—Give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. O Saviour! if thou by whom kings reign didst not withhold the payment of tribute, what power under thee can deny it to those who rule for thee?
The demand was made without doors; but no sooner is Peter come in, than he is prevented by his Master's question, What thinkest thou, Simon? Of whom, &c. The very interrogation was a sufficient answer to his intended inquiry. He who could thus know the heart was certainly, by true right, liable to no human exaction. But O Saviour! may I presume to ask, What this is to thee? Thou hast said, my kingdom is not of this world; how then does it concern thee what is done by the kings of the earth, or imposed upon the sons of earthly kings? Thou wouldst be the son of a humble virgin, and choosedst not a royal but a servile state; but it is thy divine royalty and Sonship which thou here justly urgest. Hence the argument is irrefragable: "If the kings of the earth do so privilege their children, that they are free from all tributes and impositions, how much more shall the King of heaven give this immunity to his only Son? So that in true reason I might claim an exemption for me and my train."
Our Saviour was free, and yet would not urge that freedom. He was free by natural right, yet he would not be so by voluntary dispensation, lest an offence might be taken. Surely, had there followed an offence, it had been taken only, and not given; Woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh! It cometh by him who gives it; it cometh by him who takes it when it is not given; no part therefore of this censure could have cleaved unto our Lord either way: yet such was his goodness, that he would not suffer an offence even to be unjustly taken at that which he might justly have denied. We may hence learn that meekness of wisdom, which will teach us to seek the interest of others rather than our own, and to consider how we may edify mankind by the abundance of our good works, rather than how we may excuse ourselves in the omission of any.
To avoid the unjust offence even of publicans, Jesus will work a miracle. What would not one of a loving spirit do for peace? Any thing surely, which is not expressly forbidden in the word of God. Peter is sent to the lake, and that not with a net but with a hook: he knew a net might enclose many fishes: a hook could take but one. The disciple was now in his own trade: with that hook he must go and angle for the tribute-money! a fish shall bring him a stater in his mouth, and that fish which bites first. What an unusual bearer is here! What an unlikely element to yield a piece of ready coin! I adore thine infinite knowledge and power, O Saviour! which could make use of the unlikeliest means, and serve thyself of the very fishes of the sea, in a business of earthly and civil employment. Thy knowledge, in penetrating into the bowels of this animal, though in the sea; thy power, in directing the very fish to Peter's hook, though thou thyself wert at a distance! how must this have encouraged both Peter and his brethren in a firm dependence on the Divine Providence!
It was not out of need that our Saviour did this: what veins of gold and mines of silver lay open to his command! but out of a desire to instruct Peter, that, while he would be tributary to Caesar, the very fishes of the sea were tributaries to him. How should this encourage our dependence on that omnipotent hand of the Saviour, which hath heaven, earth, and sea at his disposal! still he is the same for us his members, as he was for himself the head: rather than offences shall be given to the world, by a seeming neglect of his dear children, he will cause the very fowls of heaven to bring them meat, and the fishes of the sea to bring them money. O let us then ever look up to Him by the eye of our faith, and not be wanting in our dependence on Him who cannot be wanting in his providential care of us.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, As Christ had so lately spoken of the Son of man's coming in his kingdom, he here gives them a glimpse of his glory on the mount of transfiguration. We are told,
1. When and where this happened, and who were the spectators. It was six days after the former discourse before recorded; or, according to St. Luke, about eight, he taking in the day the discourse passed, and that on which the transfiguration happened; but the other evangelists only mentioned the intervening space of time. The place was the top of a mountain apart, whither he had retired for prayer, with three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, whom he was pleased to favour with the glorious vision, the lively impression of which dwelt long after on their minds. See 2 Peter 1:16-18.
2. The manner of his transfiguration. As he was praying, Luk 9:29 the glory of the Divinity burst forth, and he who bore the form of a servant suddenly appeared in the form of God, Philippians 2:6. His face as the sun shining in its strength, dazzled the beholders with its transcendant lustre, and such bright beams darted from his glorified body, that, surrounded with irradiation, his very raiment glittered, and became white as the light—An aweful pleasing sight! Happy the favoured souls who then beheld him! and yet far happier they who shall with open face behold him on the mount of God, and be changed into the same image, fashioned like to his glorious body.
3. The attendants who waited on him, Moses and Elias. They too appeared in glory, known probably to the disciples by immediate revelation, or by the conversation they heard, which we are told, Luk 9:31 respected Christ's suffering and death at Jerusalem.
4. Overwhelmed with wonder and delight, Peter, the ready spokesman for his brethren, expresses the exulting rapture of his heart, and wishes for the continuance of the glorious vision. Fain would he for ever there fix his abode, and, with a mixture of commendable piety and inconsiderate weakness, proposes to make three booths, where Christ with his celestial visitants might dwell; scarce knowing what he said through the transport of his mind. Note; (1.) They who have ever known experimentally the sweetness of communion with Jesus, and have by faith beheld some of his glory, long to maintain the delightful intercourse; for it is good to be with him. (2.) The place to enjoy Christ's visits is not in the busy world, or gay circle, but in retirement, meditation, and prayer: in this mount of the Lord he may still be seen.
5. A bright cloud, at the instant Peter spoke, overshadowed them, the emblem of the Divine presence; and from the excellent glory issued forth the voice of God the Father proclaiming the dignity, excellence, and acceptableness of his dear Son Jesus, and enjoining on them solemn attention to all his words: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. Where we may observe, (1.) That this was a repetition of what had been declared at Christ's baptism, containing the grand truth on which our everlasting hopes depend, that God is well pleased with the undertaking of Jesus, and is in him reconciling sinners to himself, satisfied with his substitution on their behalf, and therefore not imputing their trespasses unto them. (2.) There never has appeared but one person under the sun concerning whom God could fully say, In him I am well pleased, and that was his own Son. Him therefore we must hear, since only by and through him can God be well pleased with us: the infinite merit of his righteous obedience unto the death of the cross must be alone our trust; his word of gospel-grace our constant rule, his will our duty and delight. Lord, speak thou to my heart, that I may thus hear thee!
6. Terrified with the appearance of the Divine Majesty, and trembling at the voice of God, the disciples prostrated themselves on the earth in silent adoration, conscious of their own vileness, and afraid to lift up their eyes before the holy Lord God. But Jesus kindly approached and quieted their fears, encouraged them to arise, and bid them not be afraid; the voice which they had heard was not that of an angry God, but of the Father of mercies; not speaking out of the thick darkness, as on Mount Sinai, the demands of an inexorable law, but, out of the bright cloud of Gospel light and love, publishing salvation, and pointing them to a Redeemer. Note; (1.) It is through the infinite merit of Christ alone that we can with boldness approach the throne of God. (2.) Jesus is the comforter of his afflicted people; and when we are dismayed under what we feel or fear, and ready to sink down in despair, his words of consolation revive our drooping heads, and embolden us to look up.
7. Rising at the command of Jesus, when they looked around the vision had disappeared, and Moses and Elias were gone. Jesus however still remained with them in his usual form, as before the transfiguration. Note; If Christ remain with us, we can easily rest content with the loss of any thing besides.
8. He charged them as they came down from the mount, to take no notice of the vision they had seen, but reserve it till his resurrection from the dead, when that would add credibility to their report, which now, considering the state of sufferings which was before him, might be disbelieved and rejected.
9. A difficulty arose in the disciples' minds; revolving what had passed; the short stay that Elias made; and the injunctions of secrecy laid upon them; why it should be so often inculcated by the scribes that Elias must first come, publicly ushering in the appearing of the Messiah; and this question they begged their Master to resolve: which he does to their full satisfaction. He tells them, it was true that Elias must be the forerunner of the Messiah, as was prophesied, Mal 4:5-6 and by his preaching restore all things, preach the doctrine of repentance, and direct the people to him who comes to make all things new. But this had already been fulfilled; there had appeared one in the spirit and power of Elias, whom they knew not as the person meant by the prophesy; and him the scribes and Pharisees in general had rejected, and treated with contempt: and Herod had murdered him. And as they had persecuted to death the messenger, so would they deal by the Master, that Son of man, whose way he was sent to prepare, who would suffer the like indignities, cruelty, and death itself, by their hands: Note; (1.) When we do not thoroughly understand any passage of Scripture, we must go to Christ on our knees, and shall find prayer the best means of arriving at all necessary truth. (2.) If we be treated with insult and cruelty by the world, let it not be thought strange; we are compassed with a great cloud of witnesses who have trod the way before us. Lastly; the disciples now understood clearly what he meant, and that John the Baptist was the person to whom he pointed; and from the fulfilment of the prophesy in him, they received a fresh confirmation of their faith in Jesus, as the Christ.
2nd, The next day, when Jesus, with the three disciples, returned from the mountain to the rest of their company and the people who waited for him, he found his presence greatly needed, and opportunely arrived to give a fresh display of his power and mercy.
1. An afflicted father addresses him on his knees, in behalf of his only son, possessed with a devil, a lunatic, and frequently seized with epileptic fits, in which he fell into the fire or water, which-ever he chanced to be near, to the great hazard of his life. In the absence of Christ he had applied in vain to the disciples, who were unable to cast out the evil spirit; so that, unless Jesus could help, the case was desperate. Note; (1.) Tender parents suffer in every pang which their children feel. (2.) Under all their diseases of body or soul, we must carry our children's miseries to Jesus, and at least commend them in prayer to him, when every other means and method fail.
2. Christ compassionates the case, and bids the patient be brought to him; but he directs a sharp rebuke to that perverse and faithless generation the Scribes and Pharisees, and the people, who probably insulted the disciples on their failing in attempting the cure, and imagined this was a case which would baffle the Master's skill. Justly he upbraids them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, after all the miracles that he had wrought before them; and well might he refute any longer to bear with their perverseness. Yet his patience waits, and he will give them fresh instances of his power, that at least they may be inexcusable in their rejecting him. Note; (1.) Nothing is so provoking to the Redeemer, as the perverseness and unbelief of those, to whom he has long vouchsafed the means of grace. (2.) Men's wickedness will not prevent the exercise of Christ's goodness; and if this lead them not to repentance, it will heap up wrath upon them against the day of wrath.
3. Jesus with a word dispossessed the devil, and the child immediately received a perfect cure. Before his authoritative command, Satan fell a vanquished foe; and by the word of Jesus, the sword of the Spirit, and the shield of faith, shall we still triumph over the powers of darkness, and see the arch enemy of our souls bruised under our feet.
4. The disciples took the first opportunity, when alone, to inquire of their Master why they had failed in attempting the cure, and dispossessing the evil spirit; being concerned perhaps for their reputation among the people, or fearful left they had provoked the Lord to withdraw that miraculous power which he had once bestowed upon them. Note; When we see ourselves baffled in contending with the powers of evil, it becomes us seriously to inquire how we came to fail, and by what means the fault may be amended.
5. Christ gives them a full answer: it was their unbelief which prevented the cure. While the multitude in general were utterly faithless, they were culpable in a lesser measure; for though they were not utterly destitute of faith, they had at this time failed in the exercise of it. For, else, the least measure of this miraculous faith, possessed and exerted, was sufficient to remove the mountain now before them, and to do whatever else should be needful to confirm the truth of their mission, and to promote the glory of God and the good of mankind, however to human view impossible: but this faith must be the fruit of earnest prayer and fasting, the means appointed of God for obtaining it. Some refer the words, this kind, not to faith, but to the devils, supposing some more difficult to be dispossessed than others, and considering this as another reason why they could not succeed. See the critical notes. Note; (1.) Whenever we fail in duty, and are foiled in temptation—to this we must ever ascribe it, it is because of our unbelief. (2.) Though we may not be classed with unbelievers, yet have we daily cause to lament the weakness of our faith. (3.) The faith of miracles has ceased; we cannot now say to this mountain, remove: but it is as great an instance of divine power, and requires as real an exercise of divine faith, to remove the mountains of guilt and corruption. And, blessed be the Lord, this faith remaineth in all the faithful people of God.
3rdly, While they were journeying through Galilee, in their return to Capernaum, we are told,
1. That Jesus again took occasion to remind his disciples of the sufferings to which he must be delivered up through the treachery and malice of wicked men, who, thirsting for his blood, would murder him by the most cruel and ignominious death. See Luke 24:7. But for their comfort he added, that on the third day he should rise again.
2. His disciples appeared exceeding sorry, and deeply affected with what he told them. They did not understand what his rising again meant, and then all the rest appeared dark and dismal, and utterly contradictory to those opinions of the Messiah which they had entertained. Note; Through the darkness of our minds we suffer, needlessly, many a gloomy hour under afflictive providences. We do not look to their end, or understand how all these things are working together for our good: if we did, we should be always rejoicing.
4thly, The tribute mentioned Matthew 17:24, &c. was probably the half shekel, about fifteen pence in value, which every Jew, above twenty years of age, paid annually to the temple for the maintenance of the service. See the notes.
1. The collectors of this tax applied to Peter, at whose house, probably, Jesus abode when at Capernaum, Chap. Mat 8:14 to know if his Master did not pay the usual tribute. And Peter, not doubting his Master's readiness to comply with the established law, answered in the affirmative.
2. Jesus prevented him, as he came to speak to him of the matter, with a question which shewed his omniscience, as being acquainted with the purpose of his coming, and the right he had to exemption, had he chosen to plead his privilege. Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? The answer was obvious: and Peter instantly replied, such taxes could be exacted from none but strangers, since to tax their own children would be absurd and useless. Then, said Jesus, are the children free; and consequently I, who am the Son of God, for the service of whose temple this tribute is levied, am excused from the payment of it. Nevertheless he waves his right, though so poor as to be unable, without a miracle, to furnish the pittance demanded; and, to avoid the appearance of offence to those who, not knowing his character, might be led to esteem him, if he had refused to pay, a despiser of the temple, and thereby might be prejudiced against his doctrine, he orders Peter to go to the sea, and baiting his hook, to take up the first fish which came to it, in the mouth of which he would find a stater, a piece of money of the value of a Jewish shekel, which would just suffice to pay for both, and remove all occasion of offence. We may learn hence, (1.) The divine perfections which shone forth in Jesus during his humiliation. All creatures are under his controul, and subservient to his pleasure: he is acquainted with all that passes in the heart of man and in the depths of the sea; thus, even when in the form of a man, shewing still his divine power and Godhead. (2.) If Christ paid tribute, and submitted to the existing powers, who can plead a right to exemption? (3.) In many cases it is a Christian's duty to wave his title to what may be strictly his due, and even to suffer in his secular interests, rather than give offence, or prejudice any against the Gospel. We shall in the end be no losers by such self-denial. (4.) When Christ would work a miracle, Peter must use the appointed means; for it is in the way of diligence in duty, not in sloth, that we can expect a divine interpolation in our behalf. (5.) When Christ could have furnished all his wants for ever, he chose just a sufficiency for the present emergence, and depended for a subsistence afterwards, in the ordinary way; to teach us, if we have enough for to-day, to trust God for the morrow.