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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Matthew 17:0


The Transfiguration of JesusJesus Transfigured on the MountThe TransfigurationThe TransfigurationThe Transfiguration
Matthew 17:1-8Matthew 17:1-13Matthew 17:1-8Matthew 17:1-4Matthew 17:1-8
Matthew 17:5
Prophecies About ElijahMatthew 17:6-8The Question about Elijah
Matthew 17:9-13 Matthew 17:9-13Matthew 17:9Matthew 17:9-13
Matthew 17:10
Matthew 17:11-12
Matthew 17:13
The Healing of a Boy with a DemonA Boy is HealedAn Epileptic Child HealedJesus Heals a Boy with a DemonThe Epileptic Demoniac
Matthew 17:14-20Matthew 17:14-21Matthew 17:14-20Matthew 17:14-16Matthew 17:14-18
Matthew 17:17-18
Matthew 17:19Matthew 17:19-20
Matthew 17:20-21
Matthew 17:21 Matthew 17:21 Matthew 17:21 (not included)
Jesus Again Foretells His Death and ResurrectionJesus Again Predicts His Death and ResurrectionThe Passion Foretold a Second TimeJesus Speaks Again about His DeathSecond Prophecy of the Passion
Matthew 17:22-23Matthew 17:22-23Matthew 17:22-23Matthew 17:22-23bMatthew 17:22-23
Matthew 17:23c
Payment of Temple TaxPeter and His Master Pay Their TaxesMoney for the Temple TaxPayment of the Temple TaxThe Temple Tax Paid by Jesus and Peter
Matthew 17:24-27Matthew 17:24-27Matthew 17:24-27Matthew 17:24Matthew 17:24-27
Matthew 17:25a
Matthew 17:25b
Matthew 17:26a
Matthew 17:26-27

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. The transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-13 (cf. Matthew 17:1-11; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36; 2 Peter 1:16-18)

B. Healing of the demonized boy, Matthew 17:14-23 (cf. Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-42)

C. The Temple tax for Peter and Jesus, Matthew 17:24-27 (this was unique to Matthew)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why are the same events recorded in all three Synoptic Gospels?

2. Why do the details sometimes differ between these accounts in the other Gospels?

3. Why did Jesus choose an inner circle of disciples?

4. Why did Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration?

5. What is the significance of God's statement in combining Psalms 2:0 and Isaiah 42:0?

6. How is Matthew 17:0 related to Matthew 16:0 in the prediction of Jesus' suffering and death?

7. Why is the phrase "Son of Man" so applicable to Jesus?

8. Was John the Baptist Elijah reborn?

9. How is faith related to exorcism and healing?

10. What are demons? Are they still in our world?

11. Does the term "mountain" in Matthew 17:20 refer to physical manipulation of objects or to dealing with life's problems?

12. If Jesus predicted His own betrayal, death and resurrection so often, why were these events so surprising to the disciples?

Verses 1-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 17:1-8 1Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" 6When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. 7And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, "Get up, and do not be afraid." 8And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.

Matthew 17:1 "six days later" The parallel passage in Mark 9:0 also has six days, but Luke 9:28 records eight days. This is not so much a contradiction as it is two different ways of describing a week.

"Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother" These men made up an inner circle, not of Jesus' favorites, but of those who possibly were more spiritually attuned and teachable (cf. Matthew 2:13; Matthew 4:5; Matthew 12:45). James died early. God is no respecter of persons. See chart at Matthew 10:2.

"and led them up on a high mountain by themselves" Matthew apparently deliberately compares Moses on the mountain in Exodus 19:24; Exodus 24:1 and this transfiguration experience of Jesus. The four areas of comparison would be

1. they both were up on a mountain

2. God spoke out of the cloud in both instances(cf. Exodus 24:16)

3. Moses'face shone, (cf. Exodus 34:29), and Jesus' whole body shone

4. those around Moses were afraid, as were those accompanying Jesus

There has been much discussion about which mountain this was. The traditional site is Mt. Tabor, but this is much too far from Caesarea Philippi. Some say it was Mt. Hermon, which is quite possible. More probably it was Mt. Miron, the highest mountain in the boundary limits of the Promised Land; it is also located on the way from Caesarea Philippi to Capernaum.

Matthew 17:2 "and He was transfigured before them" This is a compound Greek term from "after" (meta) and "form" (morphç). The term "transfiguration" comes from the Latin Vulgate. We get the English term metamorphosis from the Greek compound term. The theological connotation is that Jesus' eternal divine nature broke through His human nature. The term is also used of what happens in a spiritual sense to believers (cf. Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

We learn from Luke 9:28 that this occurred while they were praying. It may have even been at night after a long walk up this mountain; therefore, the disciples would have been tired and sleepy. This event has some parallels to the Garden of Gethsemane experience.

"His face shone like the sun" This seems to be another feature of Matthew's Gospel that attempts to present Jesus as the new Moses, Moses' face also glowed (cf. Exodus 34:29-35).

This is not to be understood as an equivalency .

1. Moses' face faded

2. Moses concealed the fading

3. Moses received the word of God, Jesus is the word of God (cf. Matthew 5:17-48)

"His garments became as white as light" White is uniquely associated with heaven/heavenly beings/glorified saints.

1. Jesus' transfiguration

2. angels at His tomb, Matthew 28:3

3. angels at His ascension, Acts 1:8

4. angels (lit. "elders") around the throne, Revelation 4:4

5. angelic heavenly army, Revelation 19:14

6. glorified saints, Revelation 3:4-5, Revelation 3:18; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13

Matthew 17:3 "Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him" There has been much discussion as to why it was Moses and Elijah. Some say this represents the Law and the Prophets. They were both eschatological figures, Moses out of Deuteronomy 18:0 and Elijah out of Malachi 4:0. Others say that both of them had unusual deaths. Both of them represented the old order and were encouraging Jesus as He was inaugurating the new order. How the disciples knew that it was Moses and Elijah is uncertain unless they were dressed in a characteristic way, by their speech, or Jesus told them.

Like the miracles and predictions of Jesus, this experience was as much for these disciples'faith and spiritual growth (cf. Matthew 17:5) as it was for Jesus' encouragement.

Just one added point, this shows the believers of the OT were still alive! It affirms a conscious afterlife after a physical death.

Matthew 17:4 "Peter said to Jesus" Peter interrupted and answered a question that was never asked, which was characteristic of Peter.

"I will make three tabernacles here" The implication was "Let's stay up here (first class conditional sentence). This experience was so wonderful and spiritual." In some ways this functions like the temptation experiences in Matthew 4:0-another way for Jesus to bypass the cross. This was possibly the reason why this account was preserved for us-Jesus showing Himself to be truly God to the disciples and their attempt to turn Him away (cf. Matthew 16:22-23) from His predestined death (cf. Mark 10:45). In the same literary context (cf. Matthew 19:16-17), Jesus tells again of His impending death (cf. Matthew 17:9-13, Matthew 17:22-23).

Matthew 17:5 "a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold a voice out of the cloud said" This bright cloud was related to the Shekinah cloud of glory of the Old Testament, which was a symbol of the personal presence of God. This cloud appeared once before at Jesus' baptism (cf. Matthew 3:17). Peter alludes to it later in 2 Peter 1:17-18. There may even be some connection between God speaking out of this cloud and the rabbinical concept of the bath kol, which was the way during the interbiblical period of confirming the will of God since there was no prophet.

This phrase "overshadowed them" is from the same Greek root used to refer to the conception of Jesus by the Spirit in the virgin Mary in Luke 1:35.

What God said is significant. The parallel in Luke it combined a quote from Psalms 2:7 (My Son) and Isaiah 42:1 (My Chosen One, cf. Luke 9:35). Psalms 2:0 is a royal Davidic Psalm and Isaiah 42:0 is the beginning of the Servant Songs of Isaiah. Here we have the full deity of Jesus combined with the ministry of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah (cf. Mark 9:28; Luke 9:28-36). This reflects the prophecy of Genesis 3:15.

"listen to Him" This is a present active imperative which reflects Deuteronomy 18:15, Deuteronomy 18:18-19 and is implied in Isaiah 42:1. To be a follower of Jesus not only invoked a theological understanding of His person and mission, but also an obedience (note. Deuteronomy 18:20)!

Matthew 17:6 "they fell face down to the ground and were terrified" The people of the Bible believed that to see God was to die (cf. Exodus 33:20-23; Judges 6:22-23; Judges 13:22; John 1:18; John 6:46; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 4:12). God's voice terrified these Apostles as it had earlier terrified the people of God at Mt. Sinai (cf. Exodus 19:16). Remember, Matthew presented Jesus as the second law giver, or the second Moses (cf. Deuteronomy 18:15).

Matthew 17:7 "Jesus came to them and touched them" They were asleep (cf. Luke 9:32). This may have been a nighttime experience where the glory of Jesus may have shone all the more brilliantly against the background of the night sky. This touch was a gesture of Jesus' care for them.

"Get up, and do not be afraid" These are both imperatives. They address the issue at hand.

1. no we can not stay here on the mountain (aorist imperative)

2. do not be afraid of this experience of the closeness of God (present imperative)

This experience was to promote action, not inaction, and courage in the task, not fear!

Verses 9-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 17:9-13 9As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead." 10And His disciples asked Him, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" 11And He answered and said, "Elijah is coming and will restore all things; 12but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." 13Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.

Matthew 17:9 "Jesus commanded them, saying, 'Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead'" This is the Messianic secret (cf. Matthew 8:4; Matthew 9:30; Matthew 12:16; Matthew 16:20; Mark 1:44; Mark 3:12; 5:47; Mark 7:36; Mark 8:30; Mark 9:9; Luke 4:41; Luke 5:14; Luke 8:56; Luke 9:21). "Tell" is an aorist active subjunctive used in an aorist active imperative sense. Luke 9:30 says that they told no one. The problem was, what were they going to tell? Jesus was already having problems being known as a miracle healer and the gospel was not yet finished. There would come a time, as Jesus mentioned in Matthew 17:9, after He had been raised from the dead (He told them this several times in several ways, but they never seemed to hear it or get its implications), that the theological content of this encounter would be understandable.

Verse Matthew 17:9 also implies that this was a reference to the sufferings of Jesus (cf. Matthew 16:21ff), which shows that Peter's attempt to keep them on the mountain was another subterfuge of Satan.

Matthew 17:10 "His disciples asked Him, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first'" This referred to the prophecy of Matthew 17:1 and 4:5. There has been much discussion about the answer which Jesus gave. He stated specifically that Elijah had already come in the ministry of John the Baptist (cf. Matthew 11:10, Matthew 11:14; Mark 9:11-13; Luke 1:17). However, when the Pharisees asked John in the Gospel of John (Matthew 1:20-25) if he was Elijah, he flatly denied it. This seeming contradiction can be handled by the fact that John denied that he was a resuscitated Elijah, but Jesus affirmed that John symbolically fulfilled the preparation ministry of Elijah. They both dressed and acted in similar ways, so the identification would be obvious in the minds of the Jews who knew about Elijah and who heard and saw John the Baptist (Luke 1:17).

"So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands" This is a recurrent theme after Peter's confession (cf. Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:9, Matthew 17:12, Matthew 17:22-23; Matthew 20:18-19). He told them about His suffering, but if they could have heard, He also told them of His resurrection. A suffering Messiah was so alien to their Jewish traditions that they simply could not receive it!

Verses 14-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 17:14-18 14When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, 15"Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him." 17And Jesus answered and said, "You unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me." 18And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.

Matthew 17:15 "Lord, have mercy on my son" The title "Lord" (kurios) can simply mean "sir" or "mister" (lit. kurie), yet in some contexts it taken on theological connotations. This is probably one of them.

The man's request is an implied question. Will Jesus have mercy (aorist active imperative) as the man requested? This is the question which the OT had predicted, the Messiah would have mercy (cf. Isaiah 35:2-6; Isaiah 61:1-2). Jesus' power and compassion (cf. Matthew 9:27; Matthew 15:22; Mark 10:47, Mark 10:48; Luke 17:13) were the " signs" that the Jewish leadership sought!

NASB, NJB"he is a lunatic" NKJV, NRSV, TEV"he is an epileptic" NJB"he is demented"

A much more detailed account of this ailment is found in Mark 9:18-20. The term "epilepsy" was literally the term "moon struck" or "lunatic." This particular illness was caused by a demon (cf. Matthew 17:18). There is a major attempt in the New Testament to differentiate between demon possession, which often causes physical ailments, and physical disease itself (cf. Matthew 4:24). This was an account of an exorcism, not a healing.

Matthew 17:16 "I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him" This was highly unusual, for Matthew 10:1, Matthew 10:8 tells us they had this delegated power. The exact reason for their failure in this instance was specified as their lack of faith and prayer. A much more detailed account of the dialogue between the father and Jesus is recorded in Mark 9:21-24.

Matthew 17:17 "and Jesus answered and said, 'You unbelieving and perverse generation'" This was an allusion to Deuteronomy 32:5, Deuteronomy 32:20. In Jesus' temptation experience (i.e., Matthew; Luke 4:0), He quoted Deuteronomy three times. He must have known and loved this book.

The textual question is to whom Jesus is speaking.

1. the disciples (cf. Matthew 17:19-20)

2. the man/the crowd/that generation

3. the Jewish leaders

4. fallen humanity in general

It is interesting that "generation" often has a negative connotation (cf. Exodus 1:6; Deuteronomy 1:35; Deuteronomy 32:5; Psalms 12:7). Notice how these unbelievers are characterized.

1. evil and adulterous, Matthew 12:39

2. faithless and perverse, Matthew 17:17

3. adulterous and sinful, Mark 8:38

4. unbelieving or faithless, Mark 9:19

5. wicked, Luke 11:29

6. crooked, Acts 2:40

7. crooked and perverse, Philippians 2:15

Matthew 17:18 "the boy was cured at once" For a much more graphic account, see Mark 9:26. It must be remembered that each of the Gospel writers recorded these accounts in his own way for his own unique purposes and audiences. Therefore, it is important to try to understand each of them individually before consulting the others and combining the information (cf. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart in How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, pp. 113-134).

Verses 19-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 17:19-21 19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not drive it out?" 20And He said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,'and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you." 21[" But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting." ]

Matthew 17:19 "Why could we not drive it out" Jesus answers this question in Matthew 17:20 where He said, "You have so little faith." This was a repeated comment by Jesus (cf. Matthew 6:30; Matthew 8:26; Matthew 14:31; Matthew 16:8). The Apostles were not super saints. There are no super saints!

Matthew 17:20

NASB"the littleness of your faith" NKJV"your unbelief" NRSV"your little faith" TEV"do not have enough faith" NJB"you have so little faith"

The oldest Greek manuscripts, including א and B, have "little faith" (olieopistis), while others including C, D, L & W, have "unbelief" (apistis). Because the first term was so rare it was probably original. The UBS4 gives it an "A" rating.

"if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move over here to there'" The mustard seed was the smallest seed known to the Jewish people. Jesus was not emphasizing the power of human faith itself, but the object of their faith. Jesus was not disparaging their need for faith; it is crucial (cf. Hebrews 11:1). From Matthew 21:21 it seems that " little faith" is characterized by Jesus as "doubt." This is a third class conditional sentence; He assumed they would have faith. The concept of a mountain being moved was a proverbial way of referring to a major problem. This can be seen in Isaiah 40:4; Isaiah 49:11; Isaiah 54:10. Some believe that Jesus gestured to the mountain where He had just been transfigured the night before.

Matthew 17:21 Verse 21 is not found in the Greek text of either Siniaticus (א) or Vaticanus (B). It seems to have been incorporated by very early copyists from the parallel account in Mark 9:29, where it is included in the original text. The UBS4 gives its exclusion an "A" rating.

Verses 22-23

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 17:22-23 22And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; 23and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day." And they were deeply grieved.

Matthew 17:22

NASB"while they were gathering together in Galilee" NKJV"while they were staying in Galilee" NRSV"as they were gathering in Galilee" TEV"when the disciples all came together in Galilee" NJB"one day when they were together in Galilee"

There is a Greek manuscript variation at this point. The ancient manuscripts א, and B and the Greek text used by Origen have "all came together," while C, D, L & W have "abode." The first term was misunderstood by early scribes and changed to the more familiar text. The reason the twelve were divided into four groups of three was that they took turns traveling with Jesus and returning home for brief periods to check on their families. This verse speaks of the disciples and Jesus meeting at a certain place.

Matthew 17:22-23 "the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised again on the third day" Jesus showed His prophetic insight about His suffering and death (cf. Matthew 16:21ff.; Matthew 17:9, Matthew 17:12; John 10:11, John 10:15, John 10:17, John 10:18). Jesus was beginning to lay the foundation for the disciples'understanding of what was going to occur during the last week of His life. From this passage we learn that Jesus would be turned over to the Gentiles (i.e., the Romans, cf. Matthew 20:19).

Matthew 17:23 "and they were deeply grieved" Both of the Gospel parallels in Mark (Matthew 9:32) and Luke (9:45) add that they did not understand but were afraid to ask. It is amazing that the Sanhedrin understood Jesus' prediction about His resurrection but the disciples were absolutely surprised by His appearance in the upper room (cf. Luke 24:36-38).

Verses 24-27

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Matthew 17:24-27 24When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" 25He said, "Yes." And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" 26When Peter said, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are exempt. 27However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin. Take that and give it to them for you and Me."

Matthew 17:24

NASB"the two-drachma tax" NKJV, NRSV, TEV"the temple tax" NJB"the half shekel"

This referred to a half shekel tax which was voluntarily given annually by Jewish men between the age of twenty and fifty. It was to pay for temple maintenance. It was due some time in March and, therefore, if our understanding of the time setting of this passage is correct, Jesus was late paying this tax. This tax was possibly based rabbinically on Moses'appeal in Exodus 30:11-16 for the Tabernacle. Although it was a voluntary tax, it was considered to be important and obligatory by orthodox Jews. The coin found in the fish's mouth would pay the tax for both Peter and Jesus.


Matthew 17:25-27 This verse shows Jesus claiming exemption from the tax because of who He was, yet He paid the tax in order to fulfill all righteousness (cf. Matthew 3:15). Jesus wanted to reach His contemporary Jewish culture.

Matthew 17:25 "Jesus spoke to him first" Did Jesus overhear the conversation or was He using His foreknowledge? This question comes up again and again in the Gospels!

"customs or poll-tax" In this paragraph there are three different taxes addressed.

1. the Jewish tax (two drachma, Matthew 17:24)

2. local taxes (customs, Matthew 17:25)

3. poll-tax (Roman imperial tax, cf. Matthew 22:17)

Matthew 17:26 "the sons are exempt" This is a powerful statement of Jesus' royal Messiahship. He is the true, ideal Davidic King and His followers are the royal children who pay no taxes! What is surprising is that the Jews (i.e., the Jewish collection of the temple tax) are depicted as not children!

Matthew 17:27 Many have criticized this account because it seems to be Jesus using His Messianic powers for personal purposes. It was the ongoing exercise of Jesus' miraculous powers that was used to train the disciples and increase their faith. In this account, Jesus showed His power over nature and His foreknowledge, which would help Peter in the days to come when he experienced difficult times in his own pilgrimage of faith. It was recorded for us!

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Matthew 17". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/matthew-17.html. 2021.
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