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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament
Matthew 17

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-13

CHAPTER 37

TRANSFIGURATION

Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36. Mark: “And after six days, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, and carries them up into an exceedingly high mountain, privately, alone; and He was transfigured before them, and His garments became shining, exceedingly white as snow, such as no fuller on earth is able to whiten. And there appeared unto them Elijah, with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” Luke 9:30 : “Behold, two men were talking with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who, being seen in glory, were speaking of His departure, which He was about to fulfill in Jerusalem. And Peter, and those who were along with Him, had been burdened with sleep. But keeping awake through the night, they saw His glory, and the two men who were standing with Him.” The transfiguration is the most unearthly scene mortal eyes were ever permitted to behold. Here, again, we see the signal honor conferred by our Lord on Peter, James, and John, who certainly did enjoy a deeper insight into Divine things than the other nine.

a. What was the character of that wonderful scene? It was a prelibation of heaven, come down to earth — i.e., a peep into the glory world; Jesus, for the time, putting on His glory in the presence of Peter, James, and John, that these notable apostles might be prepared to edify us all as eye- witnesses. Their descriptions are very graphic; Mark, Peter’s amanuensis, certifying that His raiment was whiter than any fuller on earth could possibly make it, His countenance and entire person shining with a brightness infinitely eclipsing the noonday sun in his meridian splendor. The scene transpired in the night, perhaps after several hours spent in prayer, in which their weary bodies became sleepy; the transcendent glory, when bursting on them, utterly expelling all drowsiness, so they had no trouble to keep wide awake all the balance of the night, so thrilled with the unearthly glory that they felt like remaining there forever; hence suggested “to build tabernacles.” Amid the scene, Moses and Elijah both appear.

How did the apostles know them? Either by their statues or Divine intuition, and more probably the latter. They appear in their glory, as both of their bodies had been long ago glorified. When Elijah mounted the fiery chariot, he lost all mortality, materiality, and every ounce of his weight, still retaining his identity, which had passed into celestial glory. If Moses was not translated from Pisgah’s pinnacle, he was raised from the dead, thus, in either case, escaping from Satan’s material prison, in consequence of which he gave the archangel Michael an awful battle (Judges 1:9), only to encounter signal defeat, while Moses, with the archangel, sweeps up the shining way, and joins the enraptured host in the city of God. We have in the glorified manifestation of Moses and Elijah a clear confirmation of the glorious destination of all God’s saints; those living on the earth at the Lord’s appearing being translated into the glorified state suddenly (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), like Elijah, when he mounted the chariot of fire; and all the buried saints resurrected, like Moses, when Michael came after him, and took him to heaven; thus Moses and Elijah, representing all the saints of all ages, and thus appearing in their glory, are an incontestable earnest of the glorification awaiting all the saints, some through transition, and others through the resurrection. Moses and Elijah, representing the two great departments of the old disperisation — i.e., the Law and the Prophets, the former being the lawgiver, and the latter, the greatest of the prophets; hence Moses and Elijah here appear in glory, not only confirming the glorification of all the saints, some by translation and others by the resurrection, but as the representatives of the Law and the Prophets, they here appear in the presence of Jesus, to whom they resign their delegated and expiring power, thus recognizing the supercession of the Law and the Prophets by the Kingdom of Heaven. They depart away before the scene is over, signifying the retreat of the old dispensation and the incoming of the new. Luke 9:33 : “And it came to pass, while they were departing from Him [i.e., Moses and Elijah], Peter said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elijah; not knowing what he says.” No wonder Peter felt like staying there forever, as he had really witnessed a prelude of heavenly glory, practically spending those wonderful hours in heaven. Yet he did not understand what he was talking about, as Moses and Elijah had already finished their errand, and were moving back to heaven. Jesus must soon go, and Peter, James, and John, with the other nine, must go to the ends of the earth, preaching the gospel; hence permanently abiding there was utterly out of the question. Amid Pentecostal meetings, especially holiness camps, we frequently are permitted to tarry a little while on the Mount of Transfiguration, reluctant to come down; yet we must come down, and finish our work, fighting sin and Satan in the dark valleys of a lost world. “And He speaking these things, and there was a cloud, and it overshadowed them; and they were afraid while they were entering into the cloud. And there was a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is My Beloved Son: hear ye Him; and while the voice was sounding, Jesus was found alone, and they kept silent, and told no one, in those days, any of those things which they had seen.”

b. A world of investigation and controversy has labored through all bygone ages to locate the Mount of Transfiguration. When I was on Mount Tabor, which is a long way from Caesarea-Philippi, far out southwest, near Nazareth and the Mediterranean Sea, I saw three magnificent stone temples, somewhat in ruins, the Latin monk, in charge of the convent constantly occupied on that summit, pointing them out to me as these three tabernacles which Peter suggested to build — one for Jesus, one for Moses, and another for Elijah. The convent on that mountain perpetuates the memory of the transfiguration. Origen, who was born A. D. 185 — a great preacher and a martyr in his day; his father being a preacher and a martyr; also his grandfather; the latter, of course, having seen the apostles, and having been converted through their ministry — certified, and has left it in his writings, that Tabor was the Mount of Transfiguration. Saint Jerome, who spent thirty years in Palestine in the fourth century, and other Christian fathers, add their testimony, so that, through the ages past, Tabor has been visited by thousands of Christian pilgrims, believing, without a doubt, that while walking over its summit and worshipping in its three tabernacles, they were on the veritable spot of this wonderful heavenly scene, where our Lord brought a prelude of celestial glory down, and permitted mortal eyes to contemplate the unearthly splendors of the bright upper world. It seems almost a pity to mar the sanctity and glory of this illustrious mountain by even insinuating that the adoring myriads who have lived and died, believing without a doubt that they had actually trodden upon that hallowed spot, and lingered in the tabernacles built responsive to Peter’s suggestion, and with their mortal feet trodden the summit where Jesus, Moses, and Elijah once stood, invested with celestial glory. But facts are stubborn things, and I must say that they are unfavorable to the identity of Tabor with the Mount of Transfiguration.

c. Others have labored assiduously to identify it with the Mount of Beatitudes, on which our Lord’s celebrated sermon was delivered, lying a few miles back from Capernaum, and overshadowing it, as this mountain is quite lofty; and Capernaum is the first place mentioned after the transfiguration, and the events which transpired at the base of the mountain; presuming that the six days mentioned as transpiring before the transfiguration were, in all probability, spent traveling, giving them ample time to come from Caesarea-Philippi down to the Sea of Galilee.

d. As to the six days immediately preceding the transfiguration, in which we have not an intimation, much less a record, of anything said or done, it seems quite plausible that they have a symbolic signification, typifying the days of Jehovah.

“Let not this escape your memories, beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8.)

The adverb “as” is hos, and means “about,” vindicating the indefiniteness of the period, simply a long time, about a thousand years, so that we must not emphasize human chronology too rigidly, as God is His own Timekeeper.

“For, not following cunningly devised fables, have we made known to you the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but being made eyewitnesses of His majesty. For receiving from God the Father the honor and glory of such a voice, having been borne to Him from the excellent glory, This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. We heard this voice, borne from heaven, being with Him in the holy mount.” (1 Peter 1:16-18.)

You see from this Scripture that Peter refers to it as a preliminary coming of the Lord, and a confirmation of His sure and certain second and glorious advent, which was thus adumbrated while on this mount, which was made holy by the heavenly scene which there transpired. Now these six days preceding the transfiguration here mentioned, symbolize the six Divine days, aggregating six thousand years, preceding the glorious coming of the Lord.

e. “And having come out from thence, they traveled through Galilee.”

(Mark 9:30.) This statement certainly sweeps away the theories in favor of Tabor, Beatitudes, and all other places, except that region in which they have spent several days in addition to the six here mentioned. Hence the facts certainly favor the conclusion that it was one of the mountains in the vicinity of Caesarea-Philippi. Strenuous efforts have been made to locate the transfiguration on the highest peak of Hermon. This is hardly probable, as it is about eighty miles from there to the loftiest summit, and directly away from Galilee, due north, whereas we have not an intimation that Jesus ever traveled north of Caesarea-Philippi in His earthly ministry. If He had gone so far, we certainly would have some specification of it. Hermon is the highest peak of the great Anti-Lebanon Range, which runs from Northern Syria south to the vicinity of the Galilean Sea, Caesarea- Philippi being in the Jordan Valley, down at the foot of this great range, and many lofty summits round about, well suited to verify the description here given of this celebrated holy mountain. I climbed a lofty mountain, belonging to the Hermon Range, overshadowing Caesarea Philippi, visiting the ruins of a large temple built by Herod the Great, where tradition says Jesus preached. I see no reason why that mountain, or some other one overhanging the Jordan Valley, through which they traveled back to Capernaum, might not have been the veritable Mount of Transfiguration f. Amid the multiplicity of claimants, through ages of superstition, we must conclude that no one knows that veritable mountain. There are so many summits about Caearea-Philippi, and rising along the Anti-Lebanon Range, hanging over the Jordan Valley, any one of which would satisfy the description, that we must leave the matter undecided, simply concluding that the preponderant argument favors some one of those mountains in the vicinity of Caesarea-Philippi, which are convenient to their journey down the Jordan, bearing in mind the affirmation (Mark 9:30), “Having come out from thence, they traveled through Galilee.” Now bear in mind, Galilee runs up almost to Caesarea-Philippi, favoring the conclusion that the Mount of Transfiguration must have been in that vicinity. Some have suggested that, as it took place in the night, they would have been uncomfortably cold on the summit of Hermon, ten thousand feet high.

While I do not believe they went to that summit, as it was too far north, the question of cold is relieved with reference to that mountain, or any other, by the fact that it was midsummer. As Capernaum is the first place mentioned, where they halted in their journey through Galilee, the facts certainly corroborate the conclusion that the mountain was up there near Caesarea Philippi, as they would travel through Galilee all the way to Capernaum. As our Lord knew what floods of superstition and actual idolatry would accumulate on that memorable spot — which has actually taken place on Tabor — I do not wonder that He dropped the veil over it, withholding its name. Peter, writing about it, gives us no clew to its identity, simply calling it the “holy mountain.” Consequently its identity is all at sea, and must so remain, till Peter, James, and John in glory return.

Matthew 17:9. “And they, coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell no one the vision until the Son of man may be risen from the dead. His disciples asked Him, saying, Why then do the scribes say that it behooves Elijah first to come? And Jesus, responding, said to them, Indeed, Elijah cometh first, and will restore all things.” As Elijah here means John the Baptist, how did he restore, verify, complete, all things? John was the greatest of the prophets, and actually wound up the prophetical dispensation, which focalized in Christ, by not only preaching Him, but pointing Him out, and publicly introducing Him to the world. “But I say unto you, That Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did unto him all things which they wished; the Son of man is thus about to suffer by them. Then His disciples understood that He spoke to them concerning John the Baptist.” This transfiguration, taking place about eight months before the crucifixion, was the solemn installation of our Lord into that momentous series of events destined to culminate in His arrest, arraignment, condemnation, execution, resurrection, and ascension, thus unveiling to mortal eyes the heavenly side of His Messiahship. O that you and I may so sink away into God, and lose sight of this world, yea, climb so high up the Mount of Transfiguration, that we shall reach an experience in which we have a constant panorama of these thrilling realities, revelatory of the heavenly state, which is so nigh, and only separated by an intervening veil, liable to drop at any moment, thus revealing to us the unutterable glories of celestial worlds, of which, in the transfiguration, we have a vivid adumbration!


Verses 14-21

DEMONIACAL EJECTMENT

Matthew 17:14-21; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43. Mark: “And having come to His disciples, He saw a great crowd round them, and the scribes arguing with them.” He and the three disciples had been absent from the nine and the multitude during that memorable night of the transfiguration. In the morning, when they come down from the mount, they find an oral debate going on between the nine apostles and the scribes; i.e., the pastors of the Churches, who had gathered with the multitude. The subject of the debate was the failure of the nine to cast out an awfully stubborn and formidable deaf and dumb demon, which had occupied an only son from his infancy. “And immediately all the multitude, seeing Him, became aroused, and running to Him, seized Him;” i.e., gathered about Him, and took Him into a special diagnosis. “He asked the scribes, Why are you disputing with them?” The salient point in the debate was, that as the nine had failed in all their efforts to cast out the demon, at the same time alleging that if their Master were there, He could cast him out; the scribes stoutly disputed their word, and argued with them that if He were there, He would fail just as they had done. “And one of the multitude, responding, said, Teacher, I brought my son to Thee, having a dumb spirit, and when he may seize him, he convulses him; he froths, gnashes his teeth, and pines away.” Matthew says: “He is a lunatic, and suffers exceedingly, and frequently he falls in the fire, and often in the water.” Luke: “And, behold, the spirit takes him, and immediately he cries out, and he convulses him with foam, and scarcely departs from him, contorting him.”

We see from these descriptions that the child was an epileptic, of the very worst form, his convulsions being so frequent and violent as not only to take away the faculty of hearing and speech, but to render him at times insane, raving like a maniac. When these awful convulsions came on him, he screamed and roared at the very top of his voice, falling, rolling, in indescribable agony, gnashing his teeth, foaming at the mouth, and finally pining away, gasping for breath, and apparently ceasing to breathe, looking pale as a corpse, perspiration evanescing, becoming dry, ashy, cold, and to all appearances lifeless. “And I said to Thy disciples that they may cast him out, and they were not able. Responding, He says to them, O faithless generation, how long shall I bear with you?” We see here how grievous their unbelief and consequent failure were to Jesus. Lord, save us from grieving Thee in a similar manner! “Bring him hither to Me; and seeing Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him; and falling on the ground, he continued to wallow, foaming.” Here you see, the demon knew Jesus, having long ago been a pure spirit in the celestial universe, gazing upon the glory of the Son, before he had the misfortune to deflect with the great apostasy, following in the track of fallen Lucifer. See how awfully stubborn and malignant he is! Seeing Jesus, and knowing that his time is short, he seizes the moment left him to execute his wrath on his poor victim, seizing him instantly, convulsing him with horrific spasms, so that, falling on the ground, he wallows, foaming as if he were dying. “And He asked his father, How much time there is since this happened to him? And he said, From his infancy; and frequently he throws him into the fire, and into the water, that he may destroy him; but if You are able to do anything, help us, being moved with compassion in our behalf. And Jesus said to him, If you are able to believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And immediately the father of the little child, crying out with tears, continued to say, Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” Here we see a glorious illustration of the omnipotence of faith.

O what an inspiration this wonderful Scripture flashes out on a desponding Church and a sinking world!

Millions on all sides are sweeping into hopeless ruin; whereas alt that is needed that we may be saved to the uttermost, and our friends and loved ones rescued from Satan to go to heaven with us, is faith in Jesus. It costs nothing but your sins and your doubts, which were Satan’s millstones around your neck, dragging you to perdition. Your family are unsaved, your loved ones hanging over hell by the brittle thread of life. Soon it will be eternally too late. Will you not fly to the mercy-seat in their behalf? I trow, no demon more obstinate, potent, and incorrigible than this one possesses any of them. Though awful devils have them by the throat, Jesus is more than a match for them all. Will you not give Him a chance before demons people hell with the inmates of your home and community? You see here that true faith is accompanied by tenderhearted humility, illustrated by the fact that this man is so intensely exercised for the salvation of his son, that his tears gush out copiously, and flow in rivulets over his face. So get down before God till you, in spite of doubts and devils, with heart-gushing tears, can say, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.”

“And Jesus, seeing that the multitude are running together, rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to him, Dumb and deaf spirit, I command thee, Come out from it and enter no more into him. Crying out, and convulsing him much, he came out. He became like a corpse, so that many said, He is dead.” When Jesus was talking to the man, the multitude, observing that something was going to be done, and all eager to see, immediately began to crowd in from all directions to witness the sight. As this would produce a great confusion, Jesus instantly commands the obstinate demon, who had resisted all the efforts of the nine, to come out. The demon avails himself of the last moment to execute vile retribution against the poor epileptic. So, in the very act of evacuating him, he convulses him so awfully that he pines away, pallid and ghastly as a corpse, and the people all around say, “He is dead.” I have witnessed many scenes of this kind in my revival- meetings, people falling amid frightful convulsions, foaming at the mouth, pining away, gasping for breath, and the unspiritual people around saying, “He is dead,” “She is dead.” I could give you the positive history of many such cases, which I have seen with mine own eyes. Frequently have they been hauled away from my meetings like dead people, but they always came to life.

The physical phase of this case is abundantly illustrated in all of our lunatic asylums, without which our communities would be terrorized this day by raving maniacs. I now have in mind a good, true, and efficient, sanctified Methodist preacher, who, like this boy, had epilepsy, in its worst form, till one and twenty, when a sanctified sister, finding her way to his father’s house, told him about Jesus, and prevailed on him to commit to Him soul and body. Though three times, amid these awful convulsions, he had been laid out and pronounced dead, when he got his eye of faith on Jesus, though all physicians had abandoned him to die, the Blessed Healer, in a moment, cast out the stubborn demon, completely healing soul and body, so that he has never since had a trace of epilepsy; but, responsive to the call he received when Jesus healed and sanctified him, from that day he has been preaching holiness to the Lord.

Matthew 17:19 : “Then the disciples, coming to Jesus, privately said, Why were we not able to cast him out? Jesus said to them, For truly, I say unto you, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Be thou moved hence, and it will be moved, and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind goeth not out except through prayer.” E. V. says, “Through prayer and fasting,” some good man evidently adding “fasting,” feeling that it would strengthen the statement, as it does not here appear in the original. We must remember that the disciples did not fast till after the Lord had left the world, as this would have been out of harmony with the glorious sunshine of His perpetual and omnipotent presence. He said that they would fast after He had gone away. Hence it is all right and pertinent for us to fast, as the Spirit leads, till He returns in glory. We must remember that our Savior is talking about spiritual things, referring to the little mustard seed and the great mountain to illustrate the omnipotence of faith. God appreciates quality rather than quantity. Hence, though your faith may be small, if it is free from doubt, the tiny mustard seed will make the great mountain of sin leap away, and sink out of sight into the sea of forgetfulness.

In these two notable transaction — i.e., the transfiguration glory on the mountain summit, and the casting out of this awfully cruel, stubborn, obstinate demon down at the base, we have a vivid illustration of heaven and hell in close proximity. So terrible is the conflict between the powers of darkness in this world, that we often find the bright summit, the transfiguration glory, and the dark valley, pervaded by infuriated demons, in close proximity. Where God works, Satan works too, et vice versa. Hence the Christian soldier should never be discouraged at the rage of hell and the howl of devils; but on the contrary, in that case, should always take courage, as Satan is not fool enough to waste his ammunition. When the powers of darkness rendezvous and the formidable difficulties intervene, always look out for bright victories.


Verse 22-23

CHAPTER 38

DEATH AND RESURRECTION

Matthew 17:22-23; Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43-45. Mark: “And having gone out from thence, they continued to journey through Galilee.” As Galilee extends up to the very suburbs of Caesarea-Philippi, this passage is a clinching argument for the location of the transfiguration in that vicinity. Luke: “Place these words in your ears; for the Son of man is about to be delivered into the hands of sinners.” Matthew & Mark say: “They will kill Him; and having been killed, on the third day He will arise.” “And they did not know this word, and it was hidden from them, in order that they may not understand it; and they feared to ask Him concerning this word.” This took place in His conversation with His disciples while journeying down the Jordan, from Caesarea-Philippi, back to the sea of Galilee. You observe that this is the second time that He has positively told them about His coming arrest, execution, and resurrection. As you here see, “it was hidden from them,” so they did not understand it. Do you know that this dark veil wrapped the important item in our Lord’s biography till He had actually risen from the dead, though He had distinctly and positively spoken it out to them three times? Why was this revealed to them, and still withheld from them? It was really indispensable that it should be revealed, in order to the completion of the prophetical curriculum, destined, as in all bygone ages, to constitute the basis of faith for all future generations; hence the necessity of its revealment is clear and demonstrative. Then why was it withheld from them, so they never did receive it till after He had risen from the dead? This is equally obvious. If His disciples had understood it, they would have rallied His friends and fought for Him, thus precipitating on the country a bloody revolution, which Jesus did not want. Consequently, the blessed Holy Spirit just took it away from them, so they never caught the idea till after He had risen from the dead.


Verses 24-27

PAYING TRIBUTE

Matthew 17:24-27. “And they, having come into Capernaum, those receiving the half-shekel came to Peter, and said, Does not your Teacher also pay the half-shekel? He says, Yes. And when he came into the house [doubtless Peter’s house, the home of Jesus], Jesus anticipated him, saying, What seems to you, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive taxes or poll-tax? from their own sons, or from strangers? Peter says to Him, From the strangers. Jesus said to him, Then the sons are free. But in order that we may not offend them, going to the sea, cast in a hook, and lift up the first fish that bites; and opening its mouth, you will find a stater; taking it, give to them for Me and you.” As Capernaum is right on the bank of the sea which this day abounds in splendid fish, it was very convenient for Peter to just walk down there, stand on the beach, cast in the hook, and catch the fish. The half-shekel was thirty cents, and the stater just twice the amount, and precisely enough to pay for both of them. So Peter goes, catcheth a fish, returns, and pays the tribute for them both. It is a little strange that there has uniformly been a popular misapprehension of this transaction, explaining it as paying tribute to Caesar for the support of the Roman Government. Such a solution is utterly out of harmony with the whole transaction, as it would make Jesus and Peter the sons of the heathen Roman emperor. Now it is a well-known fact that the half-shekel was the voluntary annual contribution of the faithful Jew to the support of the temple. Since the temple was dedicated to God, and He was the King and Custodian of it, and the Recipient of the contributions cast into the holy treasury, and as Jesus, Peter, and all the saints are members of the Royal Family, of course they are free from taxation, as Peter truly responded in reference to similar transactions in earthly governments, the children of the king being exempt, while aliens paid the tribute. While Jesus and Peter were under no obligation to make the contribution, yet you see they do it for the sake of peace and harmony. We would do well to emulate their example. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” All the money belongs to God. When we can promote peace and harmony by a gratuitous contribution, let us follow the example of our Leader in this transaction.

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on Matthew 17:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/matthew-17.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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