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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Matthew 17

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-9

C. The Church as a Spiritual Communion, in opposition to the Solitary Tabernacles of Spurious Separation from the World. Matthew 17:1-9

(The Gospel for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany.—Parallels: Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36)

1And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, [and, καί] James, and John his brother, and 2 bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,[FN1] And [he] was transfigured before them: and his face did shine [shone][FN2] as the sun, and his raiment [garments] was [became, ἐγένετο] white as the light 3 And, behold, there appeared[FN3] unto them Moses and Elias4[Elijah] talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make [I will make][FN4] here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias [Elijah]. 5While he yet spake [was yet speaking], behold, a bright [luminous, φωτεινή] could[FN5] overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said [saying, λέγουσα], This is my beloved Song of Solomon, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid 7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid 8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no Prayer of Manasseh, save Jesus only 9 And as they came down from [out of][FN6] the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no Prayer of Manasseh, until the Son of man be [is] risen again[FN7] from the dead.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Matthew 17:1. Since the fourth century tradition has fixed on Mount Tabor, in Galilee, as the locality of this event. See the description of it in Schubert and others. This opinion Isaiah, however, evidently untenable. Not only was Mount Tabor inhabited to its summit at the time (see Robinson), but it seems exceedingly improbable that Jesus would have so suddenly left His retreat in the highlands of Gaulonitis, and transferred the scene of one of His most secret revelations to Galilee, where He was everywhere persecuted. Besides, Matthew 17:22 implies that the change of residence to Galilee took place at a later period, while in Mark 9:30 it is distinctly stated, that after these events Jesus had secretly passed through Galilee.

The highest mountain-top in Gaulonitis was Mount Hermon. Accordingly, some fix upon Hermon itself as the scene of this event; others on Mount panius, near Cæsarea Philippi. But from the description of the mountain, and the statement in Matthew 17:9, that “they came down” from its height, it seems likely to have been Hermon.

After six days.—So Matthew and Mark. Luke has it ὡσ εὶἡ μέραι ὀκ τώ. According to the common phraseology, the expression, about eight days, denoted a week—or, after six days, adding the day of Peter’s confession. During a whole week the disciples had been bearing about, and meditating upon, the revelation which Christ had made concerning His cross. At the close of it, the Lord prepared for them the first Sabbath of the New Testament,—an earnest and foretaste both of His resurrection and of the Christian Sabbath.

[Alford and others suppose that the transfiguration probably took place in the night, for the following reasons: 1) Jesus had gone up to the mountain to pray, Luke 9:28, which He usually did at night ( Luke 6:12; Luke 21:37; Luke 22:39; Matthew 14:23-24). 2) The Apostles were asleep, and are described as having kept awake through this occurrence, διαγρηγορήσαντες, Luke 9:32. 3) They did not descend till the next day, Luke 9:37. 4) The transfiguration itself could be seen to better advantage at night than in daylight.—P. S.]

Matthew 17:2. And He was transfigured.—Matthew and Mark use the term μετεμορφώθη; Luke expresses it, ἑγένετο τὸ εἶδος τοῦ προσώπου αὐτοῦ ἕτερον, κ.τ.λ. According to Luke, this transformation of His appearance took place while He was praying. According to Matthew, His face shone as the sun, and His garments became white (bright) as the light. Luke has it: “the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering [λευκὸς ἑξαστράπτων, white-glistening, weissleuchtend]” Mark dwells upon the brightness of the raiment: “it became shining, exceeding white as snow, so [such] as no fuller on earth can white [whiten] them.” Meyer observes, that “this event is not to be regarded as a parallel to what is recorded in Exodus 34:29, since the shining of Moses’ face was the consequence of the preceding appearance of God.” As if the text did not refer to a different presence of God from that recorded in Exodus 34! “We know how the human countenance is often lit up by joy, beautified by affection, or wonderfully transformed by the peace and blessedness realized in the hour of death. The revelations vouchsafed to the prophets often made them pale as death ( Daniel 10), at other times resplendent with joy. The face of Moses shone when he came down from Mount Sinai, so that no one could bear to look upon his countenance. In the text, we have the highest instance of this kind which could possibly occur in human experience. The infinite fulness of the Spirit was poured out over His whole being; the heavenly glory of His nature, which was still concealed under His earthly appearance (and during His conflict with the kingdom of darkness), now broke forth.” (Leben Jesu, ii2, 905)[FN8] Meyer rightly remarks, that this manifestation of His δόξα was an anticipation of His future state of glory ( John 12:16; John 12:23; John 17:5; John 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Matthew 13:43).

Matthew 17:3. And behold!—Indicating that this was even more marvellous than His own transformation.

There appeared unto them.—The readingώ̓φθη, B, D, does not alter the sense. The vision of Moses and Elijah was outward and actual, though implying, at the same time, a peculiar subjective state on the part of the disciples, which was caused by their communion with Jesus. Luke [a physician by profession] furnishes what might be called a psychological account of the matter, when he describes them as heavy with sleep and yet awake throughout. The proximity of these glorified spirits produced, not indeed a morbid state of somnambulism, but a peculiar moral state, like that of the ancient seers. It is an idle inquiry, how they came to know the persons who appeared on this occasion; we presume that they immediately recognized the vision in the same manner as they beheld it.

Moses and Elijah.—The appearing of these blessed spirits explains the change which passed on the Lord. For the time He exchanged His intercourse with this world for that with the world above. The fact that a person looks very differently in the midst of festive joy, and when engaged in the ordinary labor of his calling—on a journey, or surveying the scene from a mountain height, and surrounded by his daily cares—while triumphantly standing forth on behalf of some great principle, and when weighed down by temptation or trials,—affords a very faint analogy of this transformation. Commonly, Jesus was engaged in conflict either with the lust or the sorrow of this world; on this occasion, it was the festive celebration of the Messiah.

Talking with Him.—Meyer remarks that we have no information as to this conversation. But the Evangelist Luke states that “they spake of His departure which He should fulfil at Jerusalem.” This also furnishes the key to the meaning and object of this vision. It presents the two chief representatives of the Old Covenant as the forerunners of the Messiah, and as acquainted with and cognizant of His impending course of suffering. Hence this may be regarded as an evidence of the agreement of the Old and New Testaments in reference to the sufferings of the Messiah.

Matthew 17:4. Lord, it is good for us to be here.—Not: It is well that we the disciples are here (Paulus, Baumgarten-Crusius, Meyer), that we may provide dwellings for a longer stay; for, although ἡμᾶς precedes ὧδε, the expression evidently includes the Lord. Hence we adopt the common explanation of the verse (proposed by Chrysostom, etc.): It is good for us to be in this place—in opposition to Jerusalem; but not as contrasted with the impending sufferings, as is often assumed. The latter would imply that Peter had again lapsed into the carnal views expressed in Matthew 16:22, which were incompatible with that kingdom of Messiah which was to be established by suffering. On the contrary, we understand the words of Peter as implying that he was even willing to give up the prospect of that coming glory, satisfied if, separated from the world, he could continue, with the Lord and His companions, in spiritual communion with Moses and Elijah. At a still later period we find him ready for suffering, though in the sense of a conflict of suffering by the sword. Hence we may trace the following course of development in his spiritual history: 1. Anticipation of the glory of Messiah in connection with the ancient national polity; 2. in opposition to that polity, but as victorious over it; 3. relinquishment of the hope of the Messianic kingdom in this world, both in its sufferings and its glories; 4. willingness to suffer—but with the sword in hand; 5. after his denial of the Saviour, simple willingness to suffer—in hope; 6. anticipation of the glory of the kingdom through suffering and conflict by the sword of the Spirit. These various stages of his experience may be regarded as respectively typifying the Jewish Church—the Gentile Church under Constantine the Great—the monastic Church—the Popish Church, with its two swords—and (5,6) the true Church, with its sword of the Spirit.

Three tabernacles.—Arbors, forest tents, hermitages.

Matthew 17:5. Beholdand behold.—A threefold progression, commencing in Matthew 17:3. The first miracle was Christ transfigured and surrounded by the beatified spirits of the representatives of the Old Covenant. The second miracle was the bright cloud, which constituted the sign from heaven, refused to the Jewish authorities who had asked for it, and now granted, unsolicited, to the disciples. The third miracle was the revelation of the Father by a voice from heaven.

A luminous cloud.—The expression νεφέληφω τεινή denotes a light-like, luminous cloud, and not merely “a bright cloud or mist lit up by the sun” (Paulus), (φωτεινὸς ἥλιος). It was of the same kind as the cloud at the ascension, or the clouds of heaven at the advent of the Son of man ( Matthew 24:30 : καὶ τότε φανήσεται τὸ σημεῖον τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἑν τῷ οὐρανῷ. Mark 13:26 : καὶ τότε ό̓ψονται τὸν νἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐρχόμενον ἐν νεφέλαις μετὰ δυνάμεως πολλῆς καὶ δόξης. Luke 21:27 : ἐν νεφέλῃ μετὰ δυνάμεως καὶ δόξης πολλν͂ς. Comp. Daniel 7:13). Hence, this was the sign from heaven, the real Shechinah (שְׁכִינָה Talmud. prœsentia Dei; from שָׁכִן to lie down, to rest, to dwell), of which that in Exodus 13:21; Exodus 40:34, formed the type, and which in turn was a symbol of the spiritual glory resting on the New Testament Church, separating between the holy and the unholy ( Isaiah 4:5), and at the same time also a type of the splendor of the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:23.

Overshadowed them; αὐτούς.—According to Le Clerc, all present; according to Wolf, Bengel, etc, the disciples; according to de Wette and Meyer, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. De Wette appeals in confirmation of his view to the account given by Luke. But to us his narrative conveys the impression that all present were overshadowed by a dazzling light, which, as it were, separated them from the earth generally; while Jesus, Moses, and Elijah entered into the cloud which hovered over them, floating along with it. There seems to have been a mutual attraction—of the cloud downward, and of the glorified figures upward. A prelude this of the ascension. Olshausen explains the expression “overshadowed,” as implying that the light was so overpowering and dazzling as to prevent their looking into the cloud. “The strongest light is = σκότος. Hence the latter is used in Scripture instead of the former. The Lord is said to dwell in φὼς ἀπρόσιτον, and again in darkness, 1 Kings 8:12; Exodus 20:21.” Meyer misses the point in remarking that such a cloud would overshadow or place the figures in semi-darkness, etc. The effect of the cloud was to overshadow the disciples, or for the time to separate them, on the one hand, from the immediate bodily vision of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and of God coming to them; and, on the other, from the profane world. The shadows of a heavenly night were closing around them. Thus Mary had been overshadowed by the δύναμις ὑψιστου. Under the Shechinah which overshadowed the Virgin, and separated her from the whole ancient world, bringing her into the most immediate divine presence, Christ was conceived, through the inspiration of heavenly faith.

A voice.—Comp. Luke 2:14; Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; John 12:28. Similarly in 2 Peter 1:17; John 1:33. The solemn attestation of the Messiah and Son of God, vouchsafed to the Jewish theocracy by the voice from heaven, heard by John the Baptist, and through him by the whole nation, had been rejected by the unbelief of the representatives of the synagogue and of the schools. Hence another direct testimony was now granted, this time to the Apostles as the representatives of the ὲκκλησί.—Hear ye Him,—αὐτοῦ ἀκούετε, in an emphatic sense. The divine attestation of Jesus which they had just witnessed, implied the duty of perfect obedience, and of complete self-surrender. At the same time, this command would also convey to the disciples that ideas such as those which Peter entertained, about the kingdom of the Messiah and about the Church, must be laid aside.

Matthew 17:7. And Jesus came and touched them.—Comp. Isaiah 6:5-7; Daniel 10:9-10; Revelation 1:17.

Matthew 17:8. Save Jesus only.—The moment had now arrived when the Lord required no further testimony from Moses or Elijah in the presence of His disciples. Hitherto the Old Testament had been their warrant and evidence for the New. But now the New Covenant was not only self-evidenced, but serving as confirmation of the Old. The expression also indicates that the hour of festive joy, in anticipation of the coming glory, was now past. From their fellowship with the spirits of the blessed, they were now to descend into the world and into fresh conflicts.

Matthew 17:9. The vision.—Ὅραμ α; the outward and objective manifestation which they had seen in a state of prophetic inspiration. Different views are entertained about the reason of this prohibition. Meyer suggests that the Lord wished to prevent erroneous expectations of Elijah. We are inclined to take a more general view of the matter. For the object aimed at, it sufficed that the principal nucleus of the Church, or the confidential disciples of Jesus, should be strengthened by this glance of spiritual realities, while the secrecy with which it was invested would tend to preserve the deep and powerful impression. Besides, the vision could not have been related to the other disciples without including Judas among them. In all likelihood it would have incited envy, carnal hopes, or doubts in their minds. The people were, of course, not prepared to receive such a communication. Those among them who were favorably disposed would again have given way to outbursts of enthusiasm; while the adversaries would have either directed their hatred and persecutions to the three disciples who had witnessed the glory of Christ, or else sought to controvert and to shake their blessed conviction of the spiritual realities which had opened before them. Not till after the resurrection of Christ from Sheol was the world to be taught how much better and happier than, in their dread of death, they had hitherto imagined, was the state of the pious in Sheol (for example, Moses and Elijah). The fact that Christ—the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever—had all along lit up the gloom of Sheol, was only to appear when, at and by His resurrection, Sheol it self ceased to exist.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. See the Exegetical an Critical Notes.

2. The history of the Transfiguration.—Various views are entertained on this subject: 1. It has been regarded as merely a vision. Thus Tertullian (Contra Marc. iv22), Herder, and Gratz2. Meyer regards it as partly a vision, and partly an objective reality. The appearance of Moses and Elijah was, in his opinion, merely a vision; while the glorious change in the outward appearance of Jesus was an objective reality3. All the ancient dogmatic writers characterize it as a purely outward and visible event. To this Meyer objects, that it would imply that the resurrection of Moses was past; as if the spirits of the blessed were necessarily destitute of all corporeity or form. To the same effect Grotius remarks: Hæc corpora videri possunt a Deo in hunc usum asservata; while Thomas Aquinas suggests that Moses made use of a body not his own.[FN9] 4. A number of natural explanations of the event have been hazarded. Thus it has been represented—(a) as a vision in a dream (Gabler, Rau, Kuinoel, even Neander); (b) accompanied by a thunder-storm (Gabler); (c) as a meeting between Jesus and two secret, unknown adherents (Kuinoel, Venturini, Paulus, Hase); (d) as an atmospheric phenomenon (Paulus, Ammon). 5. Ewald regards it as a real occurrence, but with mythical embellishments6. Schulz, Strauss, and others represent it as a pure myth, on the ground of the injunction to keep it a secret, which they regard as a fiction.[FN10] 7. It has been viewed as an allegory, or a figurative representation of the spiritual light imparted on that occasion to the disciples respecting the character and work of Jesus (Weisse). 8. In our opinion, it belongs to a higher sphere of existence, combining the two elements of outward manifestation and spiritual vision (see Leben Jesu, ii2, p904; and on the general question, ii1, p41). Even Meyer, who represents one part of the narrative as an objective reality, and the other as merely a vision, admits that although the voice from heaven was a spiritual and inward transaction, yet it seemed an outward perception to those who were in a state of vision.

3. The transfiguration of the Lord was a manifestation of the spiritual world in the midst of earthly life. It was as if the Lord had already entered His mansions of glory. Viewing it as a stage in the history of His personal development, the transfiguration may be characterized as occupying a place intermediate between the walking on the sea, and the hearing the voice from heaven in the precincts of the temple, John 12. “In certain diseases, a luminous appearance of the body has been observed by physicians as a strange and rare symptom. This may serve at least to show the physical possibility of such an emission of light from the body, although it has never been noticed as marking the highest state of health and vigor.” Both the founder and the restorer of the kingdom of God under the Old dispensation, who had equally been removed from this world in a miraculous manner ( Deuteronomy 34:6; 2 Kings 2:11) and Jesus Himself (whose resurrection was at hand), were transfigured into the same glorified state. O. von Gerlach: “At His baptism Jesus had as the Son of Man entered that new kingdom of God upon earth which He Himself had founded. But at the transfiguration He had reached the period of His history, when, having fully shown His active obedience, He was to display chiefly His passive obedience. This may be described as a season of rest in His half-accomplished victory.”

4. The meeting of the Lord with Moses and Elijah conveys a threefold lesson. (a) It shows the bearing of the future upon the present world. The dead are waiting the appearance of the Lord. He lit up the gloom of hades, brought life to its inmates, and threw open its gates. The most exalted of the departed spirits here do homage to Him. (b) It discloses the bearing of the visible upon the invisible world. The event here recorded may be regarded as the earnest and commencement of Christ’s preaching to the spirits in prison. It was succeeded by the movement which took place among the dead when Christ arose ( Matthew 27:42), and fully realized when He descended into hades to preach the gospel there ( Matthew 12:40; Ephesians 4:9; 1 Peter 3:19; 1 Peter 4:6).[FN11] (c) We gather how this world and the next meet, so to speak, and coalesce in the resurrection of Jesus. The difference of time and circumstances here gives place to a higher unity. The disciples were now taught that the sufferings and death of the Messiah did not sever the connection between Him and the Old Testament,—more especially, that between Jesus and the lawgiver who condemned blasphemers to death, and even the zealous prophet who had called down fire from heaven; while these very sufferings constituted the superiority of the Saviour over the representatives of the Old dispensation. “Again, as at Jordan, did the representatives of the two covenants meet.” Besides, the gulf of space was also bridged over by this event. In the person of Christ the barriers which separate between this and the other world began to give way. They gave place to a higher unity. This transition was completed at His resurrection. Hence also this meeting may be characterized as an anticipation of the final “reconciling” of things in heaven and in earth ( Colossians 1:20).

5. The cloud.—(“Not a dark cloud, like that which rested on Sinai.” O. von Gerlach.)—It served not merely as a figure of the presence of God, but, like the pillar of cloud and of fire which intervened between Israel and the Egyptians, it had a twofold aspect—bringing light to the one party, and concealing it from the other. “As the brightness which overshadowed them may be regarded as a manifestation of heavenly in the midst of earthly life, so the luminous cloud as the outward garb which heavenly life prepares for itself from earthly objects, since it cannot appear in all its inherent glory. Similarly is the light of heaven tempered for our earth by the intervention of clouds,” which reflect that light for us as need requireth. To us it appears exceedingly significant, that the cloud which separated the disciples from the Lord appeared at the very moment when Peter uttered a saying which, as we have seen, was indicative of his peculiar state of mind. Hence the command, “Hear ye Him,” may be regarded as in a special manner addressed to him.

6. From Luke 9:33 we gather that Peter addressed this proposal to the Lord when he saw Moses and Elijah about to part from Him. It was then that the cloud overshadowed them, and the voice from heaven was heard. It seems as if Peter would have outwardly detained those blessed spirits to protract the glory of that hour. “He wished to institute a sort of high-church establishment,[FN12] or to found a monastic order. The communion which he was about to inaugurate was to have Christ for its leader, Moses for its lawgiver, and Elijah for its zealot,—in short, there was to be an outward amalgamation of the Old and New Testaments. Hence the attempt to detain those who now enjoyed a spiritual existence, and to perpetuate their terrestrial appearance in this world. Thus spake Simon, not Peter—a type of that Church which still appeals to his authority. The Evangelists add, by way of apology, ‘He wist not what he said’ ” (Leben Jesu, ii2, p907). He was now ready in one sense to renounce the world; but his surrender was merely outward. The proposal forcibly recalls to our minds a later scene and utterance: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”

7. The prostration of the disciples at the vision, reminds us of the similar experience of the prophets. At another time, John experienced the same awe ( Revelation 1), showing the infinite majesty of Christ’s appearance. Such also shall be the effect of the sign from heaven on the nations of the earth in the day of judgment ( Matthew 24:30).

8. The object of this vision.—Before the disciples could with safety descend into the depths of temptation connected with the cross of Christ, they were, so to speak, fastened to heaven by the cords of this vision. “The Church was to have fellowship with spiritual realities, and with the world of spirits, before those weak hearts could be converted into bold and triumphant witnesses to meet the world, death, and hell” (Leben Jesu, ii2, 909).

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

The anticipation of Christ’s final glory.—The miraculous transfiguration of the Lord a pledge of our miraculous transfiguration by the Lord.—And after six days; or, the first week of suffering on the part of the disciples, previous to the sufferings of the Lord Himself: 1. Its beginning: the confession of Peter, and the announcement of the Lord’s sufferings2. Its employment: familiarizing their minds with thoughts of the cross3. Its close: a glorious Sabbath on the holy mount.—The three intimate disciples of the Lord an image of His close followers in the Church: 1. John, as representing the friends of Jesus who rest on His breast; 2. Peter, or the servants of Christ who prepare the extension of His kingdom; 3. James, or the courageous and persevering witnesses of His cross: Or, contemplation, preaching, and martyrdom.—We must be willing to follow the Lord to the summit of a high mountain, if we wish to see His own glorious light shed over the deep valley of His humiliation and sufferings.—The holy mountains.—Prayer the path to glory (see the Psalm which ascend from supplication to praise).—Prayer the direction of the heart toward heaven.—How by prayer the heart of the pilgrim may outstrip his footsteps to the heights of transfiguration.—The transfiguration of Jesus on the mount at once the deepest mystery and the most glorious revelation.—The transfiguration of the Lord an earnest of the transfiguration of His sufferings.—The brightness of spiritual joy, as reflected by the flame of the sacrifice of a heart which surrenders all unto God.—The shining raiment of Christ the garb of believers.—The natural body destined to become a spiritual body, 1 Corinthians 15.—The Church of Christ at its first festive season appearing as a spiritual communion: 1. A communion of the saints of the Old and New Covenant; 2. of the Church below and the Church above; 3. of the Lord and His disciples; 4. of the Father, and of all the blessed spirits who serve the Son.—The suffering Saviour in His relationship to Moses and Elijah.—The office of the law, and that of the gospel, 2 Corinthians 3:7.—The three glorified figures, and the three non-glorified figures—between them the Father—a picture of the Church universal, militant and triumphant.—Moses a witness of immortality under the New Testament.—The history of Peter’s spiritual development a type of that of the Church.—The good intention, and the error of Peter: 1. He was anxious to display the agreement between the Old and New Covenants; but by an outward amalgamation, not by their internal connection2. He was ready to renounce the world; but by an outward institution (such as monasticism and anchoretism), not by an inward Acts 3. He wished to perpetuate this season of spiritual fellowship; but by giving it an outward and fixed form, not by converting it into a spring of hidden life.—That form of antichristian error which appeals to the authority of Peter has given rise to the erection of three tabernacles (Moses: the Greek Church; Elijah: the Roman Church; Christ: the Evangelical Church).—While Peter was speaking, a cloud intervened, which for a while separated the disciples from their Lord.—The bright overshadowing cloud, a figure of the gospel as the great revealed mystery, 1 Timothy 3:16.—How the heavenly voice ever continues to resound through the Church: “This is My beloved Son!” (See 2 Peter 1:17.)—How the disciples received a fresh prophetic consecration when they were overawed by the majesty of God.—The awe of the elect under the manifestations of the Lord.—How Christ restored His disciples from the awe produced by this Revelation, in order that they might experience its blessedness!—When they raised their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus alone—true of religious experience generally: 1. It applied to the disciples in reference to Moses and Elijah; 2. to the Reformers and their knowledge; 3. to believers and the ground of their salvation.—During our whole earthly pilgrimage we must always again come down from the Mount of Refreshment.—In order to rise the higher, we must ever be ready to descend lower and lower.—We should jealously watch over our Christian experiences, and not lightly divulge them.—All our spiritual comforts are granted to strengthen us for the conflicts which we have to encounter, until the last decisive conflict.—The transformation on the mount, a symbol of Christ’s eternal glory, John 17.

Starke:—Nova Bibl. Tub.: How blessed to enjoy close fellowship with Jesus! for then shall we be allowed to see His glory.—The Lord bestows a peculiar measure of heavenly comfort on those whom He calls to greater than ordinary trials.—Special revelations and communications are special gifts which all are not able to bear.—Christ’s glory on the mount a foretoken of His greater glory in heaven, Revelation 1:12.—How great will be the brightness of the saints in glory, when they shall be transformed into the image of the glorified body of Christ! 1 Corinthians 15:41.—Majus: All the glory of this world is not worthy to be compared with the transcendent glory of eternity.—Canstein: Satan and his kingdom is darkness; Christ and His glory (His kingdom) pure light.—Hedinger: The blessed communion of the saints in glory.—The communion of the Church militant and triumphant.—Zeisius: Thus the doctrine of immortality is established and sure.—The saints of former ages will return in greater glory.—Osiander: Those who have tasted (even in small measure) of the powers of the world to come, will forget all that is transitory, even though it have been glorious. Zeisius: If Peter so soon recognized Moses and Elias, whom he had never seen, what must be the mutual recognition of the elect, and what their communion in heaven!—See to it, that you be found in Christ and God will also be well pleased in you, Ephesians 1:6.—Canstein: Sinful men cannot approach unto God without a Mediator.—Cramer: Christ’s hand is strong to heal; whatever He touches becomes vigorous, strong, and sound.—Osiander: God reveals Himself unto us, not to destroy, but to save.—Such also will be Christ’s voice at the last day, “Arise, and be not afraid!” John 5:25.—In Christ the law and the prophets are fulfilled: hence Moses and Elias must vanish, and Christ alone remain; for there is salvation in none other, Acts 4:12.—Zeisius: Truths have their destined time of revelation from God, Daniel 12:4; Daniel 12:8-9.—High revelations should not exalt any one, 2 Corinthians 12:7.—Cramer: In the discharge of our ministerial duties we should do nothing without a special call, or for the purpose of advancing our own reputation and glory.

Braune: The lawgiver (Moses) and the preacher of repentance (Elijah) give way at last before the glory of the Son of God.—Jesus alone.

Gerlach:[FN13]—When entering upon His sufferings, the Lord Jesus was confirmed in His dignity.—In this vision the disciples were to recognize—1. The unity and connection of the Old and New Covenants; 2. that of the kingdom of grace and of glory; 3. of out perishable earthly, and of the glorified body.—With what calmness Christ entered into a state by which His disciples, in their weakness and carnality, were overpowered.—The similarity of the glory of Christ and that of Moses, and their difference ( 2 Corinthians 3; Exodus 34:29). 1. Moses only reflected a higher light; Christ was received into it2. The glory of Moses was dazzling and terrifying; that of Christ, though overpowering, was full of comfort3. The glory of Moses gradually vanished; while the transfiguration of Christ remained till the cloud concealed Him from view.

Lisco:—This foretaste of blessedness must have lightened the cross, strengthened the disciples for the coming conflict, and awakened within them a longing after full perfection.

Heubner:—The transfiguration of the Lord in its practical import: 1. So far as the Lord Himself was concerned, it served to strengthen Him on the path of sorrow and suffering on which He was about to enter2. So far as the disciples were concerned, it served as an evidence that Jesus was the Son of God; it implied a promise of support under severe trials, and a pledge of the resurrection of the body.

Sermons on the transfiguration, by Ephraim Syrus, Theremin.—J. Müller (in Fliedner’s Ein Herr, ein Glaube): the three stages in the Christian life: the transfiguration of Jesus, the emotion of the disciples, the thronging of the people.—Uhle: How we should act when hearing reports of extraordinary operations of grace: 1. We are not at once to reject the account; 2. nor to attempt exciting or forcing a revival; 3. but in the humble and faithful discharge of our work, to await a gracious manifestation from on high.—Rambach: Heaven on earth: 1. Where it may be found: (a) In secret fellowship with God; (b) in a life of spiritual love and friendship; (c) in the courts and at the altar of the Lord2. How it should be sought: (a) By preserving purity of heart (or by perseverance in the faith); (b) by constant increase of spirituality in our wishes and inclinations (or sanctification); (c) by ever keeping before our minds and hearts our eternal calling (or watching and prayer).—Carstädt in Zurn’s Predigt-Buch, Matthew 1843: How Christ is still transfigured in those who follow Him up to the mountain.—Hagenbach: Seasons of transfiguration in the life of Christians.—Gruner: The spirits of our friends in glory hovering around us so long as we continue worthy of them. [Compare a most eloquent sermon of Dr. Fr. W. Krummacher on the Transfiguration, at the close of his Elijah the Tishbite.—P. S.]

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Matthew 17:1.—[After apart there ought to be a period, and he inserted after And in Matthew 17:2.—P. S.]

FN#2 - Matthew 17:2.—[There is no necessity for did in translating έ̓λαμψε.—P. S.]

FN#3 - Matthew 17:3.—[The third person singular, ὤφθη, is preferred by Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Alford, and is better attested, especially by Codd. Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, than ὤφθησαν, but it has no effect upon the English translation. Lange translates: erschienen, not erschien.—P. S.]

FN#4 - Matthew 17:4.—Codd. B, C, etc, read: ποιήω, I will make. So Lachmann, Tischendorf, [Alford]. The lect. rec, ποιήσωμεν, let us make, corresponds with the text in Mark and Luke. [The first person singular, ποιτ́σω, is also supported by Cod. Sinait, and is more in keeping with the ardent temperament and self-confidence of Peter.—P. S.]

FN#5 - Matthew 17:5.—B, D, and most of the authorities read νεφέλη φωτεινή (bright cloud), against νεφ. φωτός (cloud of light). The sense is essentially the same.

FN#6 - Matthew 17:9.—The critical authorities and editions favor ἐκ, out of, against ἀπό from. It indicates probably that they proceeded from a mountain-cave.

FN#7 - Matthew 17:9.—B, D, etc, ἐγερθῇ

FN#8 - This bursting forth of the inherent glory of Christ is hardly sufficient to account for the brilliancy of His garments. I see no objection to call to aid an external heavenly illumination, which undoubtedly surrounded Moses and Elijah as they descended from heaven.—P. S.]

FN#9 - Delitzsch, Bibl. Psychologie. p369, supposes that Moses assumed an immaterial yet external visible (?) appearance conformable to his former body.—P. S.]

FN#10 - Strauss views the transfiguration as a poetic imitation of the event related, Exodus 24:1; Exodus 34:29 sq, when Moses went up to Mount Sinai into the presence or Jehovah, and on returning “his face shone,” that the children of Israel were afraid to come nigh him. Strauss thinks the only alternative lies between his mytho-poetic and the old orthodox view. See his new Leben Jesu, 1864, p516 sqq. But the circumstantial agreement of the three Evangelists in their account the definite chronological date of the event, its connection with what follows, the allusion to it by one of the wit cases in 2 Peter 1:16-18, and the many peculiar traits to which no parallel is found in the transfiguration of Moses, make the mythical view impossible here. Renan, in his Vie de Jesus, ignores the transfiguration.—P. S.]

FN#11 - Compare here my note on p228 sqq.—P. S.]

FN#12 - In German: Hochkirche, a term often improperly used by German writers as a noun, and as identical with the established church of England, when high church, low church, and broad church are adjectives only to designate the different parties or theological schools in the Anglican Church, or in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. It is surprising that the Edinb. translation literally renders High Church, which, to the best of my Knowledge, is never used as a noun in good English.—P. S.]

FN#13 - Gerlach and Lisco adhere to the tradition that Tabor was the mount of transfiguration. But it would betray weakness and want of freedom to insist upon this point in a sermon simply on account of the catholic tradition.


Verses 10-13

D. The Church as wholly unknown and hidden. Matthew 17:10-13

( Mark 9:11-13.)

10And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias [Elijah] 11must first come? And Jesus [he][FN14] answered and said unto them,[FN15] Elias [Elijah] trulyshall first[FN16] come [cometh], and [shall] restore all things.[FN17] 12But I say unto you, That Elias [Elijah] is come already,[FN18] and they knew him not, but have done unto him [with him, ἐν αὐτῷ] whatsoever they listed [would, ἠθέλησαν]: likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of [by, ὑπ̓] them 13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Matthew 17:10. Why then?—Although the particle οϋ̓ν seems at first sight to connect this query with the preceding prohibition of Christ (Meyer), it rather refers to the fact that Elijah had departed, and was not accompanying them (Grotius, Michaelis, Fritzsche, Olshausen, and the author in his “Leben Jesu”).[FN19] Euth. Zigaben, and others, erroneously interpret the clause: Why did Elijah not come before Thee (not till now)?—Equally untenable is the view of Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Neander, who understand it as implying the inquiry, whether the appearance of Elijah which had just taken place was that to which the scribes referred, or whether another was till to be expected. Still more erroneous is the glossary of Schleiermacher and others, that the disciples remarked that Elijah had not yet appeared. Light-foot observes (on the passage): It was expected that Elijah should come and settle the controversies pending between the various Jewish schools, bring back the pot of manna and Aaron’s rod, and sanctify the people by a lustration.

Matthew 17:11. Elijah truly shall first come, or lit. and according to the true reading: Elijah indeed cometh.—Jesus confirmed this doctrine, which was based on Malachi 3:13; Malachi 4:5. He adds: καὶ ἀπο κατα στήσει πάντα, “which is derived (says de Wette correctly) and somewhat enlarged from Malachi 4:6, ‘he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers’ (compare Luke 1:17); and Matthew 3:1, ‘and he shall prepare the way before Me’ ( Luke 3:4). Properly speaking, the αποκατάστασις πάντων (according to the Sept. Malachi 4:6), comp. Acts 3:21, is specially the work of the Messiah, and Elijah could only be said to prepare the way for it.” Of course the expression must be understood as merely implying such a preparation. Meyer: A restitutio in integrum of the position and circumstances of the theocracy, which was to be effected by the Messiah, and prepared and introduced by Elijah.—In the confirmatory reply of Christ, the present έ̓ρχεται is used in the tense of the future, while the future tense in the next clause indicates that the Lord enters into this dogma. Hence it is not incompatible with what follows: “Elijah is already come.”

Matthew 17:12. But I say unto you.—A more distinct explanation of the disclosure which He had already made on an earlier occasion, Matthew 11:14. Hence we conclude that the prophecy of Malachi concerning the advent of Elijah was fulfilled, in the proper sense, in the appearance of John the Baptist, who had accomplished the preparatory ἀποκατάστασις by his preaching of repentance, by his testimony to Jesus and by pointing his disciples to Him, as well as by his martyrdom.

They knew him not.—In his peculiar character as the forerunner of the Messiah (or in respect of the fulfilment of the prophecy concerning Elijah). The persons here alluded to were his contemporaries generally, more especially the scribes ( Matthew 17:10). Comp. Matthew 11.

Done unto him, or better: with him.[FN20]—ΙΙοιεῖν έ̓ν τινι, not classical, taken from the Septuagint, Genesis 40:14; Daniel 11:7; 33:39].—Whatever they would, ὅσαἠθέλησαν.—In wilful apostasy from their living connection with the prophets, and in opposition to the obedience due to him. A prelude this to the similar and decisive rejection of the Messiah Himself.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. On the fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi, see the preceding notes and Matthew 11. Otto von Gerlach remarks: “It refers to the ministry of one or more messengers of God, in the spirit and power of Elijah. In this sense, Elijah had reappeared in John and in the same sense will another Elijah precede the second coming of the Lord.” But we must maintain: 1. That the prophecy of Malachi was distinctly fulfilled in John the Baptist2. That in the same sense no other Elijah can come, as the Old Covenant, which both represented, is abrogated by the gospel.—Still, in every age, the Lord has His forerunners of the order of Elijah, and especially before His final appearance.

2. On descending from the mountain, the fact of Christ’s future sufferings is immediately brought forward again. Gladly would the disciples have taken the glorified spirits down with them into the conflict with the unbelief of the world. The question seems to have haunted their minds, Could not Elijah prevent the impending conflict and sufferings? To this mental objection, Christ replied, according to Mark, “How it is written of the Son of Prayer of Manasseh, that He must suffer many things, and be set at nought.” In other words, they were to read the prediction concerning Elijah in the light of those concerning the Son of Man. Then follows the declaration: Elijah is indeed come; but, so far from preventing the sufferings of the Messiah, he himself has fallen in the service and ministry of God. From this the disciples might infer what His future would be. And now, more than ever before, were they to feel that they were about to witness the most solemn and awful conflict, and that a deep abyss of suffering, into which they were immediately to descend, intervened between the old and the new order of things.

3. All mere traditionalism and ritualism are here denounced as arbitrary will-worship, and a demoniacal service of the flesh and of self. The blessed spirits who represented genuine and divine tradition—the prophets, restorers and reformers of the kingdom of God—received the same treatment at the hands of these guardians of outward and legal traditionalism, as civilized men do who land on inhospitable shores, inhabited by savages and cannibals. In short, they failed to understand and see what their own symbols implied, nor did they acknowledge their living embodiments, because their will was perverted, and, while feigning the strictest adherence to the letter of the law, they in reality served the will of the flesh.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

The fresh perplexities of the disciples on descending from the Mount of Transfiguration.—After the barrier which separates this life from the other has fallen, the deep abyss of the cross opens, intervening between the old and the new order of things.—How the scribes by their false literality perverted even the word of God into traditions, and transformed it into dangerous error.—The Scripture has been fulfilled in a much wider sense than that elicited by the dead learning of the letter only.—How traditionalism fails to recognize Elijah, even while studying his description as given in the word.—Self-seeking under the garb of traditionalism.—The true Church of the Lord hidden and unknown amidst the old and formal community of Israel.—The great messengers of God, known only by report in the world: 1. They were announced, but not properly expected2. They came, but were despised and ill-treated3. While actually in the world, their future coming was still expected with fanatical anticipations.—Even in this world, a distance wide as the poles intervenes between the children of God and the servants of the devil.—Traditionalism persecuting and murdering the living prophets, and at the same time adorning the graves of the old prophets whom their fathers had murdered ( Matthew 23:29).—The glorious day of God is hid in this mortal life from the children of darkness.—Elijah had just been among them; yet they still continued to expect and to teach that Elijah would come. All God’s dealings and works are spiritual, and pass by unknown and unnoticed on account of the carnal services which men mistake for the reality.—The spirit of true religion, and a dead ministry and services.—John the Baptist the Elijah of his age: 1. The affinity of their character; 2. of their mission; 3. of their success (Elijah prepared the way for the Messianic prophecies— John, for Christ Himself).—The age of Elijah and that of John 1. The external difference between them (in the one case, unbelief and apostasy from the law; in the other, traditionalism). 2. Their internal agreement (in the one case, worldliness, apostasy, and hatred of the prophets; in the other, obduracy against the voice and reproofs of the Spirit).—The sufferings of John a foretaste of the sufferings of Christ.—Preserve in your hearts the blessed mystery of the Mount of Transfiguration, and then boldly descend into the terrors of the valley.

Starke:Majus: We must not take in a literal sense what is intended to be spiritually understood in Holy Writ, as this would necessarily give rise to errors.—Quesnel: There never was an age which had not its Elijah, zealous and jealous for the honor of God; but woe to him who stops his ears!—The world knows not the children and the servants of God, 1 John 3:1.—All witnesses to the truth must suffer sorrow, ignominy, and tribulation, Acts 14:22.—Jesus the best expositor of Scripture.

Heubner:—All preachers of repentance are forerunners of Christ.—Great men have commonly the same fate.—From the fate of His forerunner, the Lord Jesus might anticipate what awaited Himself.—Ἀποκαθιστάναι, i.e, to restore the ancient, divine, and original order of things. But the main point Isaiah, to determine the right date, and what the genuine original really is.—Thus we are to go back for our authority to the time of the Apostles, and not, like the Roman Catholics, to the state of things immediately before the Reformation.

Footnotes:

FN#14 - Matthew 17:10.—Ιησοῦς is omitted in Codd. B, D, L, Z, etc [also in Cod. Sinait, and in all the modern crit. editions See Tregelles and Alford.—P. S.]

FN#15 - Matthew 17:11.—Αυτοῖς, unto them, is omitted in B, C, D, etc, and by Lachmann and Tischendorf. [The literal tranaslation, therefore, according to the oldest reading, would be: And He answering said.—P. S.]

FN#16 - So also Meyer and Alford.]

FN#17 - Matthew 17:11.—[Ηλίας μὲν έ̓ρχεται καὶ ἀποκαταστήσει πάντα; Lange: Elias kommt freilich und wird Alles wi-derherntellen;, Ewald: Elia zwar kommt und wird Alles wieterherstellin; Conant: Elijah indeed comes and shall restore all things. The present tense in the first verb is simply an assertion of the certainty at the coming of Elijah without reference to the past or future, and involves, therefore, no contradiction with ῆδη ῆ̓λθεν in Matthew 17:12. The verb έ̓πχεσθαι, however, like the English to come, and the German kommen, includes in the nature of the case the significance of the future tense, comp. John 4:23 : έ̓ρχεται ώ̓ρα καὶ νῦν έ̓στιν; John 4:21; John 14:8; John 16:2, and the part. præs. ἐρχόμενος of the Messiah, Matthew 3:11, and the apocalyptic formula: δ ων καὶ δ ην καὶ δ ἐρχόμενος. There Isaiah, therefore, no necessity whatever to resort in such cases, after the old fashion, to a supposed Hebraism, an arbitrary enallage temporum. which falls with the assumption that the Hebrew language uses promiscus the past for the future and vice versâ, an error which has been amply refuted by Ewald, Krit. Grammat, p 523 sqq. Comp. also Winer’s Grammat, §40, p237; and Alex. Buttmann’s Grammat. des N. T. (Berlin, 1859), p176.—P. S.]

FN#18 - Matthew 17:12.—[Better: already come, ἢδη ή̓λθεν.]

FN#19 - Alford refers οὖν to both, the withdrawal of Elijah from the eyes of the disciples, and the injunction of the Lord lot to tell the vision. How should this be? If this was not the coming of Elijah, was he yet to come? If it was, how was it so secret and so short[illegible]—P. S.]

FN#20 - Lange: an ihm gethan]


Verses 14-21

E. The Church as working Wonders by the Power of Spiritual Prayer and Fasting. Matthew 17:14-21

( Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43.)

14And when they[FN21] were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain[FN22] Prayer of Manasseh, kneeling down to him, and saying, 15Lord, have mercy on my son; for he is lunatic [σεληνιάζεται], and sore vexed [sorely afflicted]:[FN23] for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water 16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not curehim 17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you [bear with you, ἀνέξομαι ν̔μῶν]Bring him hither to me 18 And Jesus rebuked the devil [him, αὐτῶ], and he [the demon, τὸ δαιμόνιον][FN24] departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very[FN25] hour 19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? 20And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief [little faith]:[FN26] for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed [mustard], ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be 21 impossible unto [to] you. Howbeit [But, δέ]this kind goeth not out but [except] by prayer and fasting.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

“In all the three synoptists, the cure of the lunatic follows on the transfiguration—a circumstance which may be regarded as one of the evidences of the genuineness and authenticity of the narrative, and against the mythical hypothesis.” Meyer.

Matthew 17:14. Kneeling down to Him.—He saluted Him, doing homage with bended knees: γονυπετων αὐτόν.

Matthew 17:15. Lunatic.—Meyer seems to suppose that lunacy and epilepsy, and demoniacal possession excluded each other. Our conviction, on the other hand, Isaiah, that a certain amount of nervous derangement uniformly accompanied all demoniacal possessions. Comp. our previous remarks [on Matthew 4:24, p96, and on Matthew 8:28, etc, pp164–166]. The suggestion of Olshausen, that they were partly caused by sensual indulgences, appears to us based on a confusion of two different states—surrender to the power of demons, and to that of sin.

Matthew 17:17. Perverse Generation, γενεὰ διε στραμμέν η..—The expression is not merely intended as a general designation, but has a peculiar and distinctive meaning. It implies perversion, in the sense of being seduced or led astray (διαστρεφεσθαι). In their grief at the announcement of the Lord’s impending sufferings, the disciples who had been left behind, had, at least partially, given way to the spirit of the world. A slight analogy may here be traced to the return of Moses from the mount, when he found the people assembled around the golden calf. According to the ancient expositors, these words of Jesus were addressed to the person who sought relief; according to Calvin, to the scribes; according to Paulus, Olshausen, and others, to all the people present; according to Bengel, de Wette, and Meyer, to the disciples. No doubt the Lord referred primarily to the disciples, though evidently as in connection with the persons by whom they were surrounded. The rebuke itself may be regarded as a gentle moral exorcism, addressed to them before the Lord proceeded to cure the demoniac. Meyer speaks of the “strong feeling” expressed by Jesus. This should, however, be viewed in its higher bearing as an indignant emotion, by which the Saviour first of all expelled the spirit of dejection from the circle of His disciples.

How long shall I bear with you?—De Wette remarks: “Jesus here blames their want of self-dependence, their continual dependence upon Him, since He would so soon have to part from them (έ̓σομαι), and that they so often put His patience and forbearance to the test.” In that case, the first ἕωςπότε would mean: not long shall I be with you; and the second: too long, etc. But this view is evidently untenable. Besides, in the parallel passage in Luke, the expression ἑως πσ́τε occurs only once. But, on the other hand, we must not understand it as implying, I have been and borne too long with you. In our opinion, the consciousness of His approaching departure from the disciples seems to have led the Saviour to a twofold application of it to present circumstances: How soon will you require, in dependence on My Spirit, to stand and act alone! and again: How soon shall your present state of weakness, which calls for infinite forbearance on My part, require to give place to spiritual decision!

Bring him hither.—Although this is addressed to the disciples, it must also have applied to the father of the lad. According to the narrative in the Gospel by Mark (which furnishes a number of details), the crowd gave way at the appearance of Christ. The people ran to meet the Lord,—foremost among them, no doubt, the father of the child, and the disciples. The scribes probably followed more slowly, the lad being in their company. While they were bringing him to the Lord, he was seized with a fearful paroxysm whenever he came within sight of Jesus. See also the narratives in Mark and Luke.

Matthew 17:18. And Jesus rebuked him.—In accordance with His ordinary method of healing demoniacs. See above. The details of the cure are furnished by Mark and Luke.

Matthew 17:20. Because of your unbelief [better: want of faith, διὰ τὴν ἀπιστίαν].—The reproof does not refer to unbelief in regard to the divine power of effecting this miracle. In point of fact, they had attempted to cure the child. But Christ here alludes to their dejection on account of His impending sufferings, which arose from unbelief of the heart. They had not yet sufficiently exercised prayer and fasting, which would lead them to full renunciation of the world.

As a grain of mustard.See Matthew 13:33.—To remove mountains.—Comp. Matthew 21:21, where the expression is even more strongly worded than here. In both cases, it is a figure implying the removal of the most formidable obstacles, 1 Corinthians 13:2. For legends about the removal of mountains, see Calovius and Starke. Similar miracles were ascribed, amongst others, to Gregory Thaumaturgus and Hilarion.—Among the Jews, an eloquent teacher was described as one who removed mountains. Stier, 2. p242.

Matthew 17:21. This kind, τοῦτοτὸγένο ς.—Various explanations of this expression: 1. It has been applied to the demons generally, as constituting a “kind.” Thus Chrysostom, Fritzsche, and others2. This particular kind of demons. Grotius, de Wette, Meyer3. Sieffert refers it to the ἀπιστία of the disciples4. Theile applies it very strangely to the Apostles, in the sense, this kind of men proceed no further than prayer and fasting (!)—The second view (of Grotius, etc.) is so far supported by the circumstance, that the case of this demoniac was peculiarly aggravated. He was dumb and deaf; he threw himself into the fire and into the water, foamed and gnashed, and could only be healed during a fearful paroxysm. After the evil spirit had left him, he fell down as if dead; and the Lord was obliged to restore him by a second miracle, taking hold of him by the hand. Still it were a mistake to regard this demoniacal possession as different from others in kind, and not merely in degree, and hence as constituting a peculiar kind, for which specific prayer and fasting were required. The Lord rather conveyed to His disciples that they had not preserved or cultivated the state of mind and heart necessary for the occasion, that they were not sufficiently prepared and collected to cast out so malignant a demon. The dumbness and deafness indicated a melancholy and obstinacy, from which, in their dejection about the impending sufferings of Christ, the disciples themselves were not at that moment quite free. Besides, we must not forget on all such occasions that Judas was still among them.

Prayer and fasting.—Some commentators erroneously apply this statement to the diseased person. Thus Chrysostom: the prayer and fasting of the sufferer. Paulus: proper diet and abstinence (!) Ammon: invigoration of the soul by devotional exercises, and depression of the body by suitable abstinence. De Wette, Meyer, and others correctly refer it to the conditions necessary for such a faith as to work miracles. Meyer regards Matthew 17:20-21 as a gradation. But even in Matthew 17:20 the term mountain is intended to convey the idea of a very great difficulty, such as that before them. Hence Matthew 17:21 is intended to furnish directions in what particular manner they were to prepare for meeting this kind of demons. The demons of such deep melancholy could only be overcome by the sacrifice of most earnest prayer, and complete renunciation of the world.

From the circumstance (recorded by Mark) that during the absence of Jesus the scribes had mingled with the disciples, Neander infers that the transfiguration must have taken place in Galilee. But there is no reason for assuming that scribes had not also resided in the territory of the Jewish prince Philip.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. The great contrast: Christ’s transfiguration on the mount, and the scene of misery and unbelief in the valley below, here brought together in immediate contact. In the art of painting, Raphael has solved the difficult problem [in his famous Transfiguration, the last creation of his genius, representing Christ with Moses and Elijah in heavenly glory above, gazed at by the three favorite disciples at their feet, and the frightful scene of the lunatic below.—P. S.].

2. The disciples at the foot of the mountain were to be strengthened for the impending conflict in a manner quite different from that by which the three more intimate disciples of Jesus were prepared for it. They were to be taught and trained to stand alone. Still, despite their number, they were thrown into peculiar difficulties. At that particular season they were asked to cure a peculiarly severe case of demoniacal possession; they were surrounded by hostile scribes, ready to draw the worst inferences from their inability to afford relief, and to dispute with them; while the crowd of spectators were in danger of giving way to frivolity and derision. Hence, also, the multitude were greatly agitated when Christ appeared. The heavenly leader had to repair a severe defeat of His adherents. He accomplished it instantaneously and victoriously; thus at the same time both humbling their unbelief, and evoking and strengthening their faith. The three more intimate disciples of Jesus had been strengthened by the experience of communion with the blessed spirits of heaven. The rest were now strengthened along with them by witnessing the power of their Lord, which proved victorious over the worst demons of hell.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

How closely the Church of Christ borders on the precincts both of heaven and of hell!—Christ the King and Lord of all blessed spirits, and the conqueror of the lost.—In the Church of Christ it appears how both heaven and hell exert their influence upon earth.—The descent of the Lord and of His disciples into the valley: 1. Illustrated by the descent of travellers from bright mountain heights to dark gorges of valleys; 2. a lively image of the conflicting experiences realized by those who now descended from the mountain; 3. a foretoken of the descent of Christ into the kingdom of the dead.—The cure of the lunatic child itself a great victory, and accompanied by two other miracles1. This miracle was rendered more difficult—(a) by the character of the sufferer; (b) by the failure of the attempt made by the disciples; (c) by the malicious questions of the scribes; (d) by the presene of a perplexed multitude; (e) by the circumstance that the faith of the father of the child was shaken, although immediately restored2. The introductory miracle: the removal of the wrong state of feeling in the persons assembled, and of the inward dejection of the disciples3. The supplementary miracle: the rescuing of the child from the deadly stupor which proved all but fatal.—Although the Church of Christ may appear weak in many of its members, it always retains possession of miraculous power in its Lord.—How the disciples of Jesus ought to recover themselves from their unbelief, when they observe the loss of their power.—The error of the disciples on the mount, and the error of those in the valley. The former wished to surrender themselves to the vision of heavenly objects, or to a merely contemplative life; the others ventured without sufficient faith upon the most trying conflict with the world and hell (attempting the cure, disputing with the scribes, and risking their reputation before the people).—“If ye have faith as a grain of mustard,” etc.—In what order must our faith remove mountains? 1. First of all, the unbelief out of our own heart; 2. then unbelief in those who are disposed to believe; 3. after that, the unbelief of the world. The disciples miscarried in their work, because they reversed the right order.—We are to remove, first of all, the mountain which stands nearest in our path.—In this instance, the Jewish authorities had placed themselves in the way of the disciples as a mountain which they could not remove.—Faith can only achieve what it has recognized and felt as the will and call of God. But this it will certainly accomplish in the strength of the Lord.—Faith makes no experiments; what it undertakes is already decided and done in the counsel and power of God.—“This kind goeth not out” etc.—Prayer and fasting are the fundamental conditions of the victory of faith over the kingdom of darkness: 1. Prayer as faith, taking hold on the Lord and deriving strength from Him2. Fasting as faith in its practical renunciation of the world.—We can only overcome the spirit of melancholy in the world by a cheerful renunciation of the world.

Starke:—J. Hall: Felt need makes a man at once humble and eloquent.—Great is the misery of one bodily possessed; but infinitely greater that of one spiritually possessed.—Canstein: Satan makes use of natural causes (such as lunacy) for his designs.—There are, no doubt, even at the present day, many incurable diseases which are ascribed to natural causes (alone), and which yet may be (jointly) the effects of the invisible evil spirit.—Quesnel: God often allows His servants not to succeed in the cure of souls, partly as a Judgment on these souls, and partly to humble and arouse His servants.—The indignation of Christ.—Cramer: His reproofs and chastisements, Psalm 141:5.—Osiander: If Jesus bears with our great weaknesses, should we not bear with those of our brethren? 1 Peter 3:8.—Cramer: Teachable scholars should be willing to acknowledge their dulness, and should often ask questions.—Zeisius: Unbelief stands in the way of the power and manifestations of the Lord, while faith at all times works miracles and removes mountains, if not materially, yet spiritually.—Hedinger: Behold how we must grapple with the powers of darkness.

Heubner:—The father of the lunatic, a consolatory example for poor parents who have children similarly afflicted.—They should seek help from Christ Himself.—The patience of Christ toward His disciples.—Let ministers ask themselves why they have so little success in their work.—We cannot expect to drive out the evil spirit, if our state of mind be in harmony with that which he produces.

Footnotes:

FN#21 - Matthew 17:14.—Codd. B, Z. [and Cod. Sinait.] omit αὐτῶν, and so does Lachmann. Tischendorf reads ἐλθών after Cod D, Vulgate, al. [This must refer to a former edition, for in the editio septima of his large Greek Testament, 1859, Tischendorf reads: ελθον των αὐτων. So does Alford.—P. S.]

FN#22 - Matthew 17:14.—[Certain is an unnecessary interpolation, which dates from Tyndale and was retained in all the later Protestant E. V. But Wiclif and the N. T. of Rheims omit it.—P. S.]

FN#23 - Matthew 17:15.—Κακως πάσχει. Lachmann reads έ̓χει B, L, Z, [also Cod. Sinait.], which is probably an emendation, since πάδχει seemed to be superfluous after κακῶς. So Meyer. [Mark has instead of it έ̓χον πνεῦμα ά̓λαλον and hence Lange translates here: hat ein böses Leiden, has a malignant enil.—P. S.]

FN#24 - Matthew 17:18.—[The tranposition of devil and the pronoun in some of the English versions, is an attempt to improve the style of the original, which is no part of the translator’s work, least of all in the Bible.—P. S.]

FN#25 - Matthew 17:18.—[From that hour, ἀπὸ τῆς ώ̓ρας ἐκείνης. Very is an unwarranted addition, which presents the case more strongly than the sacred writer, in his natural simplicity and modesty, intended.—P. S.]

FN#26 - Matthew 17:20.—[Lachmann reads with his authorities ὀλιγο πιστὶαν little faith. This may be an emendation to soften the expression, as Meyer and Alford assume; but it has the authority of the Vatican, and of the Sinaitic MS. If we retain ἀπιστίαν, with Tischendorf and Alford, it should be rendered want (absence) of faith, instead of unbelief, which is too strong.—P. S.]


Verse 22-23

F. The Church in its human weakness. Matthew 17:22-23

( Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43-45.)

22And, while they [again] abode[FN27] in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed [is about to be given up, μέλλει παραδίδοσθαι] into the hands of men;23And they shall kill him [will put him to death], and the third day he shall be raised [rise] again.[FN28] And they were exceeding sorry.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Matthew 17:22. The expression ἀναστρεφο μένων indicates that they had returned into Galilee. But as the former circumstances had not changed, the object of this visit must have been to prepare for the last journey of Jesus to Jerusalem.

The Lord was now ready, and His disciples were forewarned. Hence He returned to Galilee in order to commence the journey which was to bring Him to Golgotha. In all probability He did not pass over the sea, but went privately through Upper Galilee to His own country, as the expression παρεπορεύοντο in the Gospel of Mark seems to intimate, which has been understood by some as referring to bye-roads (Grotius). It was on this occasion that His brethren asked Him to attend the feast at Jerusalem—that He declined to go up with the company of pilgrims—that He privately went afterward, and unexpectedly made His appearance at the Feast of Tabernacles. Then followed the events connected with it, and His last visit to Capernaum, Matthew 17:24.

Jesus said unto them.—Not a mere repetition of what He had formerly intimated to the disciples; for the term παραδίδοσθαι conveyed an additional element of information,—viz, that He was to be given up and surrendered,—an intimation which was afterward more fully explained. Jesus passed privately through Galilee ( Mark 9:30). On this secret journey He prepared His disciples, in the wider sense of the term, for the issue before Him. An analogous expression, only more comprehensive, occurs in Matthew 20:19.

Matthew 17:23. And they were exceeding sorry.—For further details, see the accounts in Mark and Luke. This communication, in its effects on the disciples, is not incompatible with the fact that Jesus had so clearly intimated His resurrection. Irrespective of its bearing upon them in their individual capacity, the announcement of Christ’s crucifixion implied what would affect their views about the future of the world. The death of Jesus on the cross involved the destruction of their whole scheme—of their hopes of a Messianic temporal kingdom, and of their expectation of a state of immediate glory in this life.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. The young and newly-formed band of members of Christ’s Church now began to anticipate the immeasurable consequences of His course of suffering. Thus the transition from the Jewish to the Christian view of the relation between the first and second æon was preparing. A change such as this would necessarily be accompanied by manifold doubts, struggles, and conflicts.

2. It may be regarded as an evidence of the work of Christ in the hearts of His disciples, that they endured this conflict; nor can we wonder that, notwithstanding all this preparation, they felt deeply perplexed during the solemn and awful interval between the last supper and the resurrection.

3. Thus it seems as if, like a timorous fugitive, the Lord had to pass by mountain tracks and bye-roads through His native land, in order to prepare. His friends for His impending sufferings.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

The journey of Jesus through Galilee, now and formerly.—How everything wears a different aspect as the end draws nigh!—The secret journey of Jesus through His native land, a comfort to persecuted believers at all times.—How faithfully and calmly the Lord foretold His end to His disciples!—The Church of Jesus in its first human sorrow about the divine sufferings of Jesus: 1. The nature of this grief, in distinction from the peculiar sorrow about Christ’s death: it was exalted, though not yet sacred2. Its form and expression. Contrast between the narrative in the gospel, and the festivals to commemorate the event, introduced by the mediæval Church3. Its ground: acquiescence in Christ’s sufferings, implying the surrender of all worldly views, hopes, and expectations.—Difference between human and divine sorrow in connection with the cross.—Heavenly wisdom and strength of the Lord Jesus.—The Lion of the tribe of Judah did not hesitate to assume the appearance of a fugitive.—Like a chased roe upon the mountains, and yet Himself, 1. the Lamb, 2. the Lion.

Starke:—Canstein: When the time of our departure draws nigh, we should prepare our friends for it.—Osiander: How salutary is the remembrance of the cross!

Gossner:—Christ could not find attentive hearers, when preaching on the subject of His approaching death.

Heubner:—In mercy, God often grants us foretokens of heavy trials to come.

Footnotes:

FN#27 - Matthew 17:22.—Lachmann reads: συστρεφομένων [to turn about with, to gather together], with Cod. Vaticanus I. [and Cod. Sinaiticus], for ἀναστρεφομένων [to return, to move about, to sojourn]; Meyer regards it as a glass to prevent ἀναττρεφομένων from being understood of return into Galilee; hence in the interest of the tradition of Tabor as the locality of the transfiguration. [So also Alford.—P. S.]

FN#28 - But even if we read with Tischendorf and Alford: ἐγερθήσεται, it should be translated: he shall rise, as in Matthew 8:15; Matthew 8:26; Matthew 9:6; Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:7; Matthew 25:7, etc. In the N. T, and with later Greek writers, verba media in the reflective or intransitive sense, prefer the passive form of the aorist to the middle form. Comp. Alex. Buttmann: Grammatik des neu-testament-lichen Sprachidioms, p45,19, and165; also Robinson: Lexic, sub ἐγείρω, middle intransitive, to awake, to arise.—P. S.]


Verses 24-27

G. The Church at free, and yet voluntarily subject, and paying Tribute to the ancient Temple at the time of its approaching end. Matthew 17:24-27

24And when they were come to Capernaum,[FN29] they that received [the receivers of the] tribute money [τὰ δίδραχμα i.e, two drachmas, or half a shekel][FN30] came to Peter, and said, Doth not your Master pay tribute [τὰ δίδραχμα]? 25He saith, Yes. And when he was [had] come into the house, Jesus prevented him [anticipated him],[FN31] saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom [customs, τέλη] or tribute? of their own children [of their sons, ἀπὸ τῶν υἱῶν αὐτῶν],[FN32] or of strangers26[the other folks, τῶν ἀλλοτρίων i.e, those not of their household]?[FN33] Peter [he][FN34] saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children [the sons, οἱ νἱοί] 27free. Notwithstanding [But], lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money [a stater, στατῆρα i.e, four drachmas, or one shekel]: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Circumstances connected with this event.—Jesus had returned from the Feast of Tabernacles at Jerusalem. He had explained the symbolical import of the temple service, and shown how it was fulfilled in His own life. The drawing of water ( John 7:37); the lighting up of the temple ( Matthew 8); the temple as His Father’s residence, where He appeared as the King’s Son; the fountain of Siloah ( Matthew 9); the theocracy itself ( Matthew 10)—all pointed to Him. Immediately afterward, the Jews had brought, before the ecclesiastical tribunal, the man born blind, whom Jesus had restored, and finally excommunicated him ( Matthew 9:34); which implied that Jesus Himself had been excommunicated previous to this event, probably ever since the cure of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda ( Matthew 5). The Lord now waited in retirement at Capernaum for the next festive season. So far as we know, He performed no further miracles in Galilee. The cure of the man afflicted with dropsy, which occurred at the end of this period, took place under very peculiar circumstances ( Luke 14:1-24). From the retirement of the Lord, His enemies might almost have inferred that He now intended to settle down in Galilee, to give up His work, and to submit in silence to the institutions of the land.

Matthew 17:24. The receivers or collectors of the didrachmas, or the double drachma.—The demand of the temple-tax from Jesus, although primarily addressed to Peter, forms a contrast to the relation in which Jesus had placed Himself toward the temple when in Jerusalem. The Lord, who was the living and real Temple, was to pay tribute to the types and shadows of this reality, or to the legal symbols of the temple. According to Exodus 30:13; 2 Chronicles 24:6, Joseph. Antiq. 18, 9 (see Wetstein, Michaelis, and Ewald, Alterthümer, 320), every male from twenty years old was obliged to pay half a shekel yearly for the temple service. This half shekel was equal to two Attic drachmas (one shekel=four Attic drachmas, Joseph. Antiq. iii8, 2). According to the LXX. ( Genesis 23:15; Joshua 7:21), the Alexandrian drachma was equal to half a shekel The whole shekel amounted to about2s. 6d. sterling, or about60 cents in American money.[FN35] After the destruction of Jerusalem, this tax went to the Roman capitol. It was due in the month Adar (March). Hence it may be inferred that Jesus was in arrears. The supposition of Wieseler (Chronol. Synopse, p264), that the demand for the temple tribute was only made about the time when it was actually due, and that it must hence have been a Roman tax, is erroneous. Local payments might be delayed by absence. (The same remark may also apply in reference to the objection, that the presentation of the infant Jesus must necessarily have taken place before the flight into Egypt.) The use of the solemn term τὰ δίδραχμα indicates that it was a religious, not a secular tax; the plural number implying, as Meyer observes, that it was annually and regularly levied, not that on this occasion it was asked both for the Lord and His disciples. Besides, the supposition of a Roman impost would be entirely incompatible with the reasoning of the Saviour. Of course, ideas derived from the theocracy could not have been applied to the Roman government. This act of the officials of the temple may be regarded as an indication of the feeling of the priests. The servants began to act rudely toward Jesus, who had become an offence to their superiors. Still, there is a certain amount of good-natured simplicity about their conduct, and it almost seems as if they fancied that Jesus was about quietly to settle down in Capernaum.

Doth not your Master pay the double drachma?—Manifestly presupposing the expectation that He would pay—not, as some have supposed, a doubt, that, since priests and Levites were free, He might wish to claim a similar exemption.

Matthew 17:25. Jesus anticipated him.—This anticipation implies a miraculous knowledge of Peter’s assent. Τελη, vectigalia, duties on merchandize, customs; κῆνσος capitation or land-tax. [Peter’s affirmative answer to the tax-gatherers was rather hasty, and lost sight for a while of the royal dignity and prerogative of his Master, who was a Son in His own house, the temple, and not a servant in another’s, and who could claim the offerings in the name of His Father.—P. S.]

Or of strangers.—Not of the princes, but of their subjects.

Matthew 17:26. Then are the Sons free.—A conclusion a minori ad majus. The earthly royal prerogative serves as a figure of theocratic right. God is King of the temple-city; hence His Son is free from any ecclesiastical tribute.[FN36]—De Wette regards the passage as involving some difficulties, since Jesus had disowned every outward and earthly claim in His character as Messiah, and had become subject to the law.[FN37] Accordingly, this critic suggests that Jesus had only intended to reprove the rashness of Peter’s promise, and to suggest the thought to him (as he was still entangled with Jewish legalism), that, in point of law, the demand made upon Him was not valid. On the other hand, Olshausen maintains that Jesus asserted His exaltation over the temple-ritual (as in Matthew 12:8 : The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath—One greater than the temple). Meyer reminds us, that although as Messiah Jesus was above the law, yet in His infinite condescension He submitted to its demands. This explanation is so far more satisfactory. But commentators seem to forget that the breach between the ancient theocracy and the ἐκκλησία had already begun in Judæa and Galilee, and that Jesus had entered on His path of sufferings. It was inconsistent to reject, and virtually (though perhaps not formally) to excommunicate Jesus, and yet at the same time to demand from Him the temple tribute. And in this sense the Apostles themselves were included among the υἱοί (in the plural). They were to share in the suffering and in the excommunication of their Master. Paulus and Olshausen apply the expression to Peter in connection with Jesus; Meyer regards it as a locus communis referring to Jesus alone, since, in the argument as used in the text, it could only designate the Lord Himself. But, according to the Apostle Paul, believers have fellowship with Christ in virtue of their υἱοθεσία, and in Him are free from the law. “The Roman Catholic Church employs this passage to prove the freedom of the clergy from taxation, at least in reference to ecclesiastical charges” (Meyer). In our opinion, it would be more appropriate to deduce from it the freedom of the living Church from the burdens of the law. [The inference of the Roman Catholics would prove too much, viz, the freedom of all the children of God from taxation.—P. S.]

Matthew 17:27. But lest we should offend them.—Meyer refers the latter expression to the tax-gatherers: Lest we should lead them to suppose that we despise the temple. As, in dealing with the Phari sees ( Matthew 15), Christ did not avoid giving them offence, we are led to infer that in the present instance it would have been an offence to “these little ones.” Besides the tax-gatherers, many other persons in Capernaum, who could not clearly apprehend the spiritual bearing of Christ’s conduct, might readily have taken offence, under the impression that He placed Himself in opposition to the temple.

A piece of money, lit.: a stater.—A coin=4drachmas, or about a Prussian dollar [or rather less, about60 cents].

Various views are entertained in reference to this miracle. 1. De Wette contents himself with calling attention to the difficulties connected with the orthodox view of the narrative (the miracle was unnecessary; it was unworthy of Jesus, since He had on no other occasion performed a miracle for His own behoof; it was impossible, since a fish could not have carried a stater in its mouth, and yet bite at the hook, as Strauss misstated the case). 2. Paulus and Ammon have attempted to represent it as a natural event. Thus Paulus paraphrases the language of Jesus: When thou openest the mouth of this fish to detach the hook, it will be found worth a stater. [A wonderful price for a fish caught with a hook!] Or, If there on the spot (αὐτοῦ) you open the mouth to offer the fish, etc3. Strauss characterizes it as a myth, derived from legends connected with the lake of Galilee.[FN38] Similarly, Hase represents it as figurative language, referring to the success accompanying the exercise of their calling, which tradition had afterward transformed into a miraculous event5. Ewald makes the curious comment, that we do not read of Peter having actually caught such a fish, but that the saying was one which might be readily employed, as pieces of money had sometimes been found in fishes6. It has been regarded as a miracle, in the proper sense of the term. (a) As a miracle of power, directly performed. The fish was made to fetch the coin from the deep, and then to come up to the hook. So Bengel.[FN39] Or, (b) As a miracle of knowledge on the part of Jesus. So Grotius and Meyer. Adopting the latter explanation, we would call attention to the fact, that in performing this miracle the Lord was equally careful to maintain His rights as King of Zion, and to avoid giving offence. Hence the tribute, for which Peter himself was naturally liable, was to be procured through the personal exertions of that Apostle. But, as in this case he acted as the representative of the Lord, the money was miraculously provided. All the requirements of the case seem to us sufficiently met by the fact, that Jesus predicted that the first draught of Peter would yield the sum needed. Hence the words, “When thou hast opened his mouth,” might almost be regarded as a metaphor for “when thou takest off the hook”—in which case it would imply simply a prediction that Peter would catch a very large and valuable fish. But the statement, that he would find a piece of money, conveys to our minds that the Apostle was to discover the stater in the inside of the fish. The main point of the narrative, however, lies in this, that the stater was to be miraculously provided. By his rashness, Peter had apparently placed the Lord in the difficulty of either giving offence, or else of virtually declaring Himself subject to tribute. Under these circumstances, the Lord looked and descried the stater in the lake; and the miraculous provision thus procured might serve both for Himself and for Peter.

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. We have here a remarkable instance of the vast difference between giving offence to the “little ones” and to the Pharisees. Similarly, we learn from the narrative that Christian wisdom must be able to discover a way out of every seeming conflict of duties, since such conflicts can only be apparent, not real.

2. It were a great mistake to suppose, that because Matthew does not record that Peter actually caught the fish, found and paid the stater, all this did not really take place. But, on the other hand, we infer from this omission, that the great object of the Evangelist was to record the spiritual import, rather than the outward circumstances, of this event. It was intended to set before the Apostles the principle which should regulate the future relations between the free Church of the gospel and the ancient legal community at the time of the cessation of its services and ritual. The point here lies in the contrast between the sons of the King, or of the true theocracy, and mere subjects, who in the text are very significantly called ἀλλότριοι, strangers. Christ and His people are the children of the kingdom; the Jewish legalists its subjects, or rather its bondsmen. (Comp. John 8:35 : The servant abideth not for ever in the house, or in the temple; but the Son abideth there for ever.)

3. “The children of the kingdom, who themselves are the living temple, could not be made outwardly or legally subject to the typical services of the temple. As the free children of God, they were superior to all such bondage. But perhaps some historical claim might yet be urged upon them, or else they were not to shock the prejudices of some of these ‘little ones’ (comp. Matthew 18). Hence, in all such cases, it was their duty to avoid giving offence, and to perform what was expected from them. But in so doing, they would display such joyousness, freedom, and princely grandeur, as to vindicate their liberty even in the act of submitting to what might seem its temporary surrender” (Leben Jesu, iii. p170). It is scarcely necessary to add, that by professing adherence to a particular ecclesiastical system, we, as Christians, incur the obligation of contributing to its support. Every such profession is a voluntary obligation, which, among other things, implies the duty of outwardly contributing for its maintenance.

4. There is something peculiarly characteristic of Peter in this history. With his usual rashness, he would make the Lord Jesus legally subject to tribute. This obligation he has now himself to discharge, and that by means of a fish (the symbol of a Christian) which is found to have unnaturally swallowed a stater.

5. In this instance, also, Christ did not perform a miracle “for His own behoof,” but as a sign for others.

[Trench (Notes on the Miracles, p379): “Here, as so often in the life of our Lord, the depth of His poverty and humiliation is lighted up by a gleam of His glory; while, by the manner of His payment, He reasserted the true dignity of His person, which else by the payment itself was in danger of being obscured and compromised in the eyes of some, The miracle, then, was to supply a real need, … differing in its essence from the apocryphal miracles, which are so often mere sports and freaks of power, having no ethical motive or meaning whatever.”—P. S.]

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

The great danger of the servants of Christ to attempt bringing Him, in His Church, in subjection to tradition.—The outward, secular subjection of the children of God under outward temple ordinances, a contradiction1. In general: they who possess the reality, are expected to be in subjection to shadows2. In a special sense: it is required of the stones of the living temple to maintain the symbolical temple buildings, of the living sacrifices to promote the typical sacrifices, of the children of the Spirit to maintain the emblems of spiritual things.—Contradiction of hierarchism: it excommunicates and yet levies tax upon the children of the Spirit.—Cupidity of the mediæval Church in seeking the fortunes and possessions of those who were stigmatized as heretics.—Important consequences implied in the rash assent given by Peter.—How Christ avoided giving offence to devout prejudices, Romans 14:13.—The humility and the glory of Christ in paying the temple-tribute.—How Christians, in bearing witness to their faith, may preserve their liberty while voluntarily surrendering it for the sake of charity.—The three draughts of Peter.—How Christians (fishes) who have the world (a piece of money) in their hearts, may be caught and made subservient to outward ordinances.—A Christian will always find a miraculous way of escape through the intricate mazes of apparently conflicting duties.—The Lord prepares a way even in our greatest difficulties, viz, those of conscience.—If we have anticipated the Lord, we must cabmit to severe tests of our obedience.—How the Lord can most gloriously repair the damage done by His people by their rash anticipations of His decisions.

Starke:—Quesnel: Jesus humbles Himself, and submits to all human ordinances. (The text, however, does not refer either to the payment of civil taxes or to any secular arrangements.)—Let us avoid giving offence to any one.—Let us avoid the appearance of evil.—Canstein: It does not matter though the children of God may not possess what they require; God will care for them (though the text does not imply that the whole company of disciples at Capernaum did not possess the small sum of about three shillings demanded of them).—Zeisius: Christ, Lord over all His creatures, even in His estate of humiliation.

Gerlach:—While Jesus never forgot, from false humility, what was due to Him, He only manifested His dignity before those who were capable of understanding Him, and at the same time was willing to become the servant of all.

Heubner:—Ministers must be ready to prove that they really despise earthly things.—Humiliation and exaltation combined in this event.—We may submit to civil oppression even while preserving in our minds and hearts our dignity and rights.

Footnotes:

FN#29 - Matthew 17:24.—Different readings, but of no bearing on the sense.

FN#30 - Matthew 17:24.—[Tribute money and tribute is a generalizing explanatory rendering of τὰ δίδραχμα, lit: the double drachma, or what is its equivalent in Hebrew, the half-shekel. The definite article means: the obligatory, customary. Tyndale, the Geneva, and the Bishops’ Bible translate: poll-money; Cranmer, and King James’s Revisers: tribute- money; the Rheims Version: the didrachmes; Campbell: the didrachma; Archbishop Newcombe, Norton, Conant, and the revised N. T. of the A. B. U.: the half-shekel. Luther: Zinsgroschen; de Wette, van Ess, Allioli: die Doppeldrachme; Ewald: Zinsgulden (with the note: jährliche Tempelsteuer); Lange: Doppeldrachma, and in parenthesis. Tempelsteuer. In the English Bible the term double drachma, or half-shekel, might be retained with a marginal note: the annual tribute to the temple, or the temple-tax. As our Authorized Version now stands, the relation between the value of the annual temple-offering (2drachmas or half a shekel) and the piece of money miraculously supplied, ver2 (4drachmas or a shekel), is lost to the English reader.—P. S.]

FN#31 - Matthew 17:25.—[Προέφθασεν αὐτóν, from προφθάνω, to prevent, to forestall, which occurs only here in the N. T.; but the verb simplex φθάνειν occurs seven times. The English Version (since Cranmer), here as also in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 (we shall not prevent, μὴ φθάσωμεν, them who are asleep), and several times in the O. T, uses the word prevent in the old English sense=prœvenire, to come or go before, to precede (so also in the Common Prayer Book: “Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings, with Thy most gracious favor”); but now it has just the opposite meaning to hinder, to obstruct. On the contrary the old English verb to let, which is used in the E. V. of 2 Thessalonians 2:7 for κατέχειν, to hold back, to detain, to hinder, to prevent, and in Romans 1:13 for κωλν́ειν (was let, i.e, prevented, hitherto), is now only used in the sense to permit, to leave (lassen); or also to lease. In such cases, which, however, are very rare, the common reader of the Bible is apt to be misled and should be guarded by marginal notes. Campbell renders our passage: before he spake, Jesus said to him; Norton: before he had spoken of it, Jesus said to him; Tyndale the Genevan Bible, Wakefield, Conant better: Jesus spake first, saying. But our anticipated him is more literal and corresponds with the usual German Version: kam ihm suvor, etc.—P. S.]

FN#32 - Matthew 17:25.—[Sons is more expressive here, especially in view of the bearing of the analogy on the Sonship of Christ (see my footnote on Matthew 17:26), than children, or Kinder as Luther has it. Ewald and Lange, also, translate: Söhne. The possessive own of the E. V. is hardly necessary (although Lange too, inserts in smaller type eigenen), and might convey the false idea that the contrast was between the children of the kings and the children of others, while the contrast is between the princes and subjects, or the rulers and the ruled.—P. S.]

FN#33 - Matthew 17:25.—[Strangers, like the alieni of the Vulgate and the Fremde of Luther’s and Ewald’s versions, is almost too strong a term for ἀλλότριοι, which in this connection means simply those who are not υἰοὶ τῶν βασιλεων, who do not belong to the royal household. Hammond (one of the best of the older English commentators) renders: other folks; do Wette and Lange: andere Leute. I would prefer subjects if it were not too free.—P. S.]

FN#34 - Matthew 17:26.—Πέτρος is omitted in B, D, etc. [Also in Cod. Sinaiticus and in all the modern critical editions.—P. S.]

FN#35 - Dr. Lange estimates the value of the shekel at21 gute Groschen or more (afterward, Note on Matthew 17:27, at 23 to24Groschen or about a Prussian dollar). But its value is differently estimated from2s. 3d. to over3s sterling, or from50 to70 cents. Before the Babylonian exile the shekel was only a certain weight of silver, since the time of the Maccabees ( 1 Maccabees 15:6) a coined money; but as these coins grew scarce, it became customary to estimate the temple dues (a half shekel) as two drachmas. It must not be confounded with the gold coin, more accurately called shekel, which was equal not to four, but to twenty Attic drachmas. See the Dictionaries, sub שֶׁקֶל, σίκλος Shekel, also sub δίδραχμα and ἀργύριον, especially Winer, sub Sekel (Bibl. Realwörterbuch, vol. ii, 448 sqq.); W. Smith, sub Money (Dictionary of the Bible, vol2, 404sqq.); and Dr. M. A. Levy: Geschichte der jüdischen Münsen, Breslau, 1862 (which is mentioned as an important work in Smith’s Dict, sub Shekel, vol3, p1246; but which I have not seen myself).—P. S.]

FN#36 - In Latin the intimate relation between sonship and freedom might be thus rendered: Liberi sunt liberi. The plural υίοί is necessitated by the figure of the “kings of the earth,” and does not interfere with Christ’s unique position as the only begotten of the Father, but rather establishes it by way of analogy, since there is but one King in heaven. Grotius: “Plurali numero utitur, non quod ad alios eam extendat libertatem, sed quod comparatio id exigebat, sumta non ab unius sed ab omnium regum more ac consuetudine.” Trench: “It is just as natural, when we come to the heavenly order of things which is there shadowed forth, to restrain it to the singular, to the one Son; since to the King of heaven, who is set against the kings of the earth, there is but one, the only begotten of the Father” Observe also in Matthew 17:27 Ha says not: for us, putting Himself on a par with Peter, but: for Me and thee; comp. John 20:17 : “unto My Father, and your Father,” and His uniform address to God: “My (not: Our) Father,” all of which implies His unique relation to the Father.—P. S.]

FN#37 - This objection of de Wette rests on a false assumption and is inconsistent with his own admission, in his note on Matthew 17:24 that the temple-tax was a theocratic or religions, not a civil, tax, a tribute to God, not to Cæsar. Many commentators—O igen, Augustine, Jerome, Maldonatus, Corn. a Lapide, Wolf, even Wieseler (Chronol. Synopse, p265), and others—have overlooked and denied this fact and missed the whole meaning of the miracle by the false assumption that this money was a civil tribute to the Roman emperor, like the penny mentioned on a later occasion. Matthew 22:19. The word tribute in the E. V. rather favors this error. The emperor Vespasian converted the temple-tax into an imperial tribute, but this was after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, as Josephus expressly states, De Bello Judges 7:6; Judges 7:6.—P. S.]

FN#38 - Strauss profanely calls it “den mährchenhaften Ausläufer der See-Anekdoten,” and in his new Life of Jesus, 1864, p84, be endeavors to ridicule Dr. Ebrard for supposing, very unnecessarily, that the fish spit the piece of money from the stomach into the throat the moment Peter opened its mouth. In this case there is no assignable occasion, or Old Testament precedent, or possible significancy of a mythical Action.—P. S.]

FN#39 - So also Trench (Notes on the Miracles, p385): “The miracle does not lie in the mere foreknowledge on the Lord’s part as to how it should be with the fish which came up; but He Himself, by the mysterious potency of His will which ran through all nature, drew the particular fish to that spot at that moment, and ordained that it should swallow the hook. We may compare Jonah 1:17 : ‘The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.’ Thus we see the [illegible]s, here of animal life unconsciously obedient to His will; that also is not out of God, but moves in Him, as does every other creature. 1 Kings 13:24; 1 Kings 20:36; Amos 9:3.” Yet Trench does not assume that the stater was miraculously created for the occasion, but brought in contact with the [illegible]ash by a miraculous coincidence.—P. S.]

 


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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at BibleSupport.com. Public Domain.

Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 17:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/matthew-17.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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