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Bible Commentaries

The Fourfold Gospel

Matthew 17

Verses 1-13

Subdivision D.
(A Spur of Hermon, near Cæsarea Philippi.)
aMATT. XVII. 1-13; bMARK IX. 2-13; cLUKE IX. 28-36.

c28 And it came to pass about eight days {asix days} cafter these sayings [Mark agrees with Matthew in saying six days. Luke qualifies his estimate by saying "about." But if we regard him as including the day of the "sayings" and also the day of the transfiguration, and the other two as excluding these days, then the three statements tally exactly. The "sayings" referred to were the words of Jesus with regard to his suffering at Jerusalem], that aJesus taketh {ctook} awith him Peter, and James, and John his brother [These three, as leaders among the apostles, needed the special encouragement which was about to be given. For further comment, see Mark 9:30). Moreover there is little doubt that at that time and for centuries previous there was an inhabited fortress upon Mt. Tabor ( Joshua 19:12; Jos. B. J. i. 8, 7; Vit. 37). Moreover, Mt. Tabor is not a high mountain, its elevation above the sea being but 1,748 feet. Hermon, on the contrary, is the highest mountain in Palestine, its elevation, according to Reclus, being 9,400 feet. It was Jesus’ custom to withdraw for prayer by night ( Matthew 14:23, Matthew 14:24, Luke 6:12, Luke 21:37, Luke 22:39) and the transfiguration took place at night.] 29 And as he was praying, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment became white and dazzling. a2 and he was transfigured [i. e., transformed; the description shows to what extent] before [418] them; and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. bglistering, exceeding white; so as no fuller on earth can whiten them. [We may conceive of the body of Jesus becoming luminous and imparting its light to his garments. The Christian looks forward to beholding such a transfiguration and also to participating in it-- 1 John 3:2.] a3 And, behold, there appeared unto them ctwo men, who were Moses and {bwith} cElijah; band they were talking with Jesus. [The three apostles could identify Moses and Elijah by the course of this conversation, though it is possible that miraculous knowledge may have accompanied miraculous sight.] c31 who [i. e., Moses and Elijah] who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. [The word for decease is "exodus," an unusual word for death. It means a departure and is, as Bengel says, a very weighty word, since it includes the passion, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.] 32 Now Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep [it being night]; but when they were fully awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. 33 And it came to pass, as they were departing from him, aPeter answered and said {banswereth and saith} aunto Jesus, bRabbi, cMaster, aLord, it is good for us to be here: band let us make three tabernacles; aif thou wilt, I will make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. cnot knowing what he said. b6 For he knew not what to answer; for they became sore afraid. [Peter’s fears overcame his discretion, but did not silence his tongue. Though he trembled at the fellowship of Moses and Elijah, he also realized the blessedness of it and could not let them depart without an effort to detain them, though the best inducement that he could offer was to build three booths, or arbors, made of the branches of trees, for their and Christ’s accommodation. By thus speaking, Peter placed Jesus upon the same level with Moses [419] and Elijah--all three being worthy of a booth.] c34 And while he said these things, a5 While he yet speaking, behold, bthere came aa bright cloud bovershadowing them: {cand overshadowed them:} and they feared as they entered into the cloud. [Clouds often roll against the sides of Mt. Hermon, but the brightness of this cloud and the fear which it produced suggests that it was the Shekinah, or cloud of glory, which was the symbol of God’s peculiar presence-- Exodus 13:21, Exodus 13:22, Exodus 19:9, Exodus 19:18, Exodus 24:16, Exodus 40:34, Exodus 40:35, 1 Kings 8:10.] aand behold, bthere came a voice out of the cloud, asaying, This is my beloved Son, cmy chosen: ain whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. [This command contains the chief significance of the entire scene. Spoken in the presence of Moses and Elijah, it gave Jesus that pre-eminence which a son has over servants. He is to be heard. His words have pre-eminence over those of the lawgiver and the prophet ( Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 1:2). Peter recognized Jesus as thus honored by this voice-- 2 Peter 1:16-18.] 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. [As every man is who hears the voice of God.] 7 And Jesus came and touched them and said, Arise, and be not afraid. [As mediator between man and God, Jesus removes fear.] b8 And suddenly looking round about, a8 And lifting up their eyes, bthey saw no one any more, save Jesus only with themselves. c36 And when the voice came, Jesus was found alone. [Leaders and prophets depart, but Christ abides-- Hebrews 3:5, Hebrews 3:6.] b9 And as they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them, that they should tell no man what things they had seen, save when the Son of man should have risen again from the dead. a9 And Jesus commanded them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead. [The people were not ready for the publication of such an event. To have told it now would only have been to raise doubts as to their veracity.] b10 And they kept the saying, [420] questioning among themselves what the rising from the dead should mean. [Jesus spake so often in parables and made so frequent use of metaphors that the apostles did not take his words concerning the resurrection in a literal sense. They regarded his language as figurative, and sought to interpret the figure.] cAnd they held their peace, and told no man in those days any of the things which they had seen. a10 And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come? bHow is it that the scribes say that Elijah must first come? [They were puzzled by the disappearance of Elijah. They looked upon him as having come to fulfill the prophecy of Malachi ( Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:6), but they marveled that, having come, he should so soon withdraw, and that they should be forbidden to tell that they had seen him, since the sight of him would be some sign of Jesus’ Messiahship.] a11 And he answered and bsaid unto them, Elijah indeed cometh first, and restoreth {ashall restore} all things [this sentence leads some to think that Elijah will appear again before the second coming of our Lord, but the words are to be interpreted in connection with the rest of the passage]: band how it is written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things, and be set at naught? [If the writings concerning Elijah perplexed the apostles, those concerning the Messiah perplexed them also. From one set of prophecies they might learn something about the other. Elijah came, but the Scriptures concerning him were so little understood that he was put to death. The Messiah also came, and the prophecies concerning him were so little understood that he, too, would be set at naught.] 13 But I say unto you, that Elijah is come, aalready, and they knew him not, but did {band they have also done} unto him whatsoever they would. Even as it is written of him. aEven so shall the Son of man also suffer of them. 13 Then understood the disciples that he spake unto them of John the Baptist. [Malachi used the name of Elijah figuratively to represent John the Baptist. [421] See pp. 102, 284. That there shall be a second coming of Elijah in fulfillment of this prophecy is hardly possible, for the office of Elijah is prophetically outlined as that of the restorer. But Elijah could not restore Judaism, for that dispensation had been done away with in Christ. He could hardly have chosen to restore Christianity, for even if it should need such a restoration, a Jewish prophet would be ill-suited to such an office. One of the apostles would be vastly preferable.]

[FFG 418-422]

Verses 14-20

Subdivision E.
(Region of Cæsarea Philippi.)
aMATT. XVII. 14-20; bMARK IX. 14-29; cLUKE IX. 37-43.

c37 And it came to pass, on the next day, when they were come down from the mountain, b14 And when they came to the disciples [the nine apostles which had been left behind], they saw a great multitude about them [We last heard of the multitude at Mark 8:34. See Exodus 34:29), but this can hardly have been so, for it would have been at variance with the secrecy which Jesus enjoined as to his transfiguration. Moreover, so important [422] a feature could hardly have escaped from the narratives of all three evangelists. Undoubtedly the amazement was caused by the sudden and opportune return of Jesus. Those who urge that this was not enough to produce amazement show themselves to be poor students of human nature. The multitude had been listening to and no doubt enjoying the questions of the scribes. The unexpected appearance of Jesus therefore impressed them with the sudden sense of having been detected in wrong-doing which invariably leads to amazement. Moreover, those who remained loyal to Jesus would be equally amazed by his approach, since they could not but feel that an exciting crisis was at hand.] a14 And when they were come to the multitude [i. e., when Jesus and the multitude met], bhe asked them, What question ye with them? [He surprised the scribes by this demand and they saw at once that he knew all and they felt rebuked for their unwarranted exultation, and so kept silent.] c38 And, behold, athere came to him a man, bone of {cfrom} the multitude, akneeling to him, banswered him, ccried, saying, bTeacher, a15 Lord, bI brought unto thee my son, who hath a dumb spirit; ahave mercy on my son: for he is epileptic, and suffereth grievously; cI beseech thee look upon my son: for he is mine only child. 39 and behold a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; b18 and wheresoever it taketh him, it dasheth him down: cand it teareth him that he foameth, band grindeth his teeth, and pineth away: cand it hardly departeth from him, bruising him sorely. [When the scribes did not answer, the father of the demoniac boy broke the embarrassing silence by telling Jesus about the matter in question. His child was deaf, dumb, and epileptic, but all these physical ailments were no doubt produced by the demon or evil spirit which possessed him. The phrase "hardly departeth from him" rather suggests the continual unrest in which the demon kept his victim rather than that the demon ever really relinquished his possession of him. Pauses in the delirium of agony were regarded as departures of the [423] demon.] a16 And I brought him to thy disciples, band I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; c40 And I besought thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not. bthey were not able. aand they could not cure him. 17 And Jesus answered and said, {banswereth them and saith,} aO faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? cbring hither thy son to me. bunto me. [As there was no reason to accuse the apostles of perversity, it is evident that the rebuke of Jesus is addressed generally to all and not particularly to the disciples. The perverse faithlessness and infidelity of the scribes had operated upon the multitude, and the doubts of the multitude had in turn influenced the apostles, and thus, with the blind leading the blind, all had fallen into the ditch of impotent disbelief. The disbelief of the people was a constant grief to Jesus, but it must have been especially so in this case, for it fostered and perpetrated this scene of weakness, mean-spiritedness, misery, and suffering which stood out in such sharp contrast with the peace, blessedness, and glory from which he had just come.] 20 And they brought him unto him: c42 And as he was yet a coming, bwhen he saw him [saw Jesus], straightway cthe demon dashed him down, and bthe spirit tare him grievously; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. 21 And he asked his father, How long is it since this hath come unto him? And he said, From a child. 22 And oft-times it hath cast him both into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: {ahe falleth into the fire, and oft-times into the water.} [By causing the long-standing nature of the case and the malignity of it to be fully revealed, Jesus emphasized the power of the cure] bbut if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us. 23 And Jesus said unto him, If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth. [Jesus echoed back the "if thou canst" which the man had uttered. If Jesus marveled at the faith of a Gentile which trusted the fullness [424] of his divine power, he also marveled at the disbelief of this Jew which thus coolly and presumptuously questions the sufficiency of that power. In the remainder of his answer Jesus shows that the lack of power is not in him, but in those who would be recipients of the blessings of his power, for those blessings are obtained by faith.] 24 Straightway the father of the child cried out, and said I believe; help thou my unbelief. [He confessed his faith, but desired so ardently to have the child healed that he feared lest he should not have faith enough to accomplish that desire, and therefore asked for more faith.] 25 And when Jesus saw that the multitude came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I command thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. [Jesus had found the multitude when he came down from the mountain, but the excitement in this multitude was evidently drawing men from every quarter, so that the crowd was momentarily growing greater. A longer conversation with the man might have been beneficial, but to prevent the gathering of any larger company Jesus acted at once and spoke the words of command. Since the demon was manifestly of a most daring, impudent, and audacious nature, Jesus took the precaution to forbid it attempting to re-enter its victim, a precaution which the conduct of the demon abundantly justified.] 26 And having cried out, and torn him much, he came out: and the boy became as one dead; insomuch that the more part said, He is dead. [The malicious effrontery and obstinacy displayed by this demon stands in marked contrast to the cowed, supplicating spirit shown by the Gergesene legion. See Matthew 13:32). Faith has such power with God that even little faith becomes well-nigh omnipotent in an age of miracles.] b29 And he said unto them, This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer. [Prayer was the means of increasing faith. Demons, like spirits in the flesh, have different degrees of will force, some being easier to subdue than others, and this once, being particularly willful and obstinate, required more faith to expel it.]

[FFG 422-426]

Verses 22-23

aMATT. XVII. 22, 23; bMARK IX. 30-32; cLUKE IX. 43-45.

b30 And they went forth from thence [from the region of Cæsarea Philippi], and passed through Galilee [on his way to Capernaum]; and he would not that any man should know it. [He was still seeking that retirement which began on the journey to Tyre. See John 7:3, John 7:4. See page 439.] [426] 31 For he taught his disciples [the reason for his retirement is here given: he wished to prepare his disciples for his passion], and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered up [the present tense is used for the future to express the nearness and certainty of the event] into the hands of men, a22 And {cBut} awhile they abode in Galilee, cwhile all were marvelling at all the things which he did, aJesus csaid unto his disciples, 44 Let these sayings sink into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered up into the hands of men. [We have here two notes of time during which Jesus spoke of his passion. It was all the while he was in Galilee, between his return from Cæsarea and his departure into Judæa, for which see page 439. The length of time suggests that the sad lesson was oft repeated, but was at a time when the marvels of his works strengthened the faith of the disciples so as to enable them to bear the instruction.] band they shall kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again. {aand the third day he shall be raised up.} [For comment on similar language see page 306.] And they were exceeding sorry. [Peter’s experience taught them not to attempt to correct Jesus while thus speaking, so there was nothing left for them but to grieve at his words.] c45 But they understood not this {bthe} saying, cand it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it [What was told to them was not for their present but their future benefit, and therefore they were left to puzzle over the words of Jesus]; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying. [Not so much from any awe with which they regarded him, as from the delicacy of the subject itself, and their own sorrow, which shrank from knowing it more fully.] [427]

[FFG 426-427]

Verses 24-27

(Capernaum, Autumn, A. D. 29)
aMATT. XVII. 24-27.

a24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received the half-shekel came to Peter, and said, Doth not your teacher pay the half-shekel? [The law of Moses required from every male of twenty years and upward the payment of a tax of half a shekel for the support of the temple ( Exodus 30:12-16, 2 Chronicles 24:5, 2 Chronicles 24:6). This tax was collected annually. We are told that a dispute existed between the Pharisees and Sadducees as to whether the payment of this tribute was voluntary or compulsory. The collectors of it may have thought that Jesus regarded its payment as voluntary, or they may have thought that Jesus considered himself exempt from it because he was so great a rabbi. Though this temple tax was usually collected in March, Lightfoot informs us that the payment of it was so irregular that its receivers kept two chests; in one of which was placed the tax for the current year, and in the other that for the year past. The demand was made upon Jesus at Capernaum because that was his residence, and it was not made sooner because of the wandering life which he led. It appears that since the first of April he had been in Capernaum only once for a brief period, probably no longer than a Sabbath day ( John 6:22-24). The Jewish shekel answered to the Greek stater, which has been variously estimated as worth from fifty to seventy-five cents. The stater contained four drachmæ, and a drachma was about equivalent to a Roman denarius, or seventeen cents.] 25 He saith, Yea. [Peter answered with his usual impulsive presumption. Probably he had known the tribute to be paid before out of the general fund held by Judas; or he may have assumed that Jesus [428] would fulfill this as one of God’s requirements.] And when he came into the house, Jesus spake first to him [without waiting for him to tell what he had said], saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? the kings of the earth, from whom do they receive toll or tribute? from their sons, or from strangers? 26 And when he said, From strangers, Jesus said unto him, Therefore the sons are free. [The argument is this: If the sons of kings are free from the payment of tribute, I, the Son of God, am free from God’s tribute. The half-shekel was regarded as given to God--Jos. Ant. xviii. 9. 1.] 27 But, lest we cause them to stumble [lest we be totally misunderstood, and be thought to teach that men should not pay this tribute to God], go thou to the sea [of Galilee], and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a shekel: that take, and give unto them for me and thee. [Jesus paid the tribute in such a manner as to show that the whole realm of nature was tributary to him, and that he was indeed the Son of the great King. Some have thought that our Lord’s beneficence, in paying Peter’s tax also, was an evidence that Peter, too, was exempt from tribute. But the conclusion is not well drawn. Had this been intended, Jesus would have said "for us," and would not have used the words "for me and thee," which distinguished between the exempted Son and the unexempted subject. Though afterward Peter might possibly have claimed exemption as a child of God by adoption, he was not yet free from this duty to pay this tax-- John 1:12.] [429]

[FFG 428-429]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on Matthew 17". "The Fourfold Gospel". Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.