Thanks for continuing to read through the book of Matthew together. I pray for you to grow closer to Christ as you read about Jesus and the words he spoke. Today we see Jesus with his disciples on a mountain top be transfigured into a glorious body with Moses and Elijah.
17:1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.NRSV The time frame of six days later probably alludes to Exodus 24:16, where it is recorded that Moses waited for six days before meeting the Lord on Mount Sinai. The words also tie into 16:28, where Jesus had told the people that “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (niv). If Jesus had been referring to his coming transfiguration, then three of those with Jesus at the time (Peter, James, and John) did get a glimpse of the kingdom during this significant event. While Luke says “about eight days” had passed (Luke 9:28), his was a more general reckoning, measuring partial days as whole days. Mark also wrote that this event occurred six days after Jesus’ previous conversation (see Mark 9:2). Jesus singled out Peter and James and John for this special revelation of his glory and purity. Perhaps they were the ones most ready to understand and accept this great truth. These three disciples comprised the inner circle of the Twelve. Seeing Jesus transfigured was an unforgettable experience for Peter (see 2 Peter 1:16).
|LIFE APPLICATION – TIME AWAY|
|This was Jesus’ retreat—a mountain trip with special friends, a brief taste of glory, then a return to ministry. He took the time for it.|
|So should you. Get away from phones, office, factory, highways, and advertising. Shake the stress out. Read something fun, eat something different. Pray a little longer than usual. Retreats provide a different pace, a change of scenery, adventure, rest, and a chance to meet with God. Take time for it.|
Jesus took the disciples up a high mountain—either Mount Hermon or Mount Tabor. Mount Hermon is about twelve miles northeast of Caesarea Philippi (where Jesus had been in 16:13); Mount Tabor is in Galilee. A mountain was often associated with closeness to God and readiness to receive his words. God had appeared to both Moses (Exodus 24:12-18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8-18) on mountains.
17:2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.NRSV The Transfiguration was a glimpse of Jesus’ true glory, a special revelation of his divinity to Peter, James, and John. This was God’s divine affirmation of everything Jesus had done and was about to do. It reminds us of the experience of Moses on Mount Sinai when, for six days, the glory of the Lord appeared to him in a cloud. Jesus had spoken to the disciples about his impending death, and they had not understood (16:21). He had assured them that those who followed him would receive great reward (16:27). The disciples wondered how this could be true if Jesus were to die. The Transfiguration clearly revealed not only that they were correct in believing Jesus to be the Messiah (16:16), but that their commitment was well placed and their eternity was secure. Jesus was truly the Messiah, the divine Son of God.
The Greek word translated “transfigured” is metamorphothe, from which we get our word “metamorphosis.” The verb refers to an outward change that comes from within. Jesus’ change was not a change merely in appearance; it was a complete change into another form. On earth, Jesus appeared as a man, a poor carpenter from Nazareth turned itinerant preacher. But at the Transfiguration, Jesus’ body was transformed into the glorious radiance that he had before coming to earth (John 17:5; Philippians 2:6) and that he will have when he returns in glory to establish his kingdom (Revelation 1:14-15). The glory of Jesus’ deity came from within; it was inherent within him because he was divine, God’s only Son. The glory shone out from him and his clothes became dazzling white. His face shone like the sun recalls Moses’ experience recorded in Exodus 34:29-35. The white was not of this earth; it was a white that no human had seen. These were the radiant robes of God, clothing “white as snow” (Daniel 7:9). The expression “dazzling white” suggests supreme glory, purity, and holiness. Mark and Luke also described how Jesus’ clothes and face shone (Mark 9:3; Luke 9:29). Peter, James, and John saw what Jesus will look like when he returns to bring his kingdom. See Revelation 1:9-18 for John’s description of the glory of Christ.
17:3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.NIV Moses and Elijah were considered the two greatest prophets in the Old Testament. They were the primary figures associated with the Messiah (Moses was his predictor and Elijah was his precursor), and they were two people who saw theophanies—that is, special appearances of God (Exodus 24; 1 Kings 19). Moses represented the Law, or the Old Covenant. He had written the Pentateuch and had predicted the coming of a great prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Elijah represented the prophets who had foretold the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5-6). Moses’ and Elijah’s presence with Jesus confirmed Jesus’ messianic mission to fulfill God’s law and the words of God’s prophets (5:17). Their appearance also removed any thought that Jesus was a reincarnation of Elijah or Moses. He was not merely one of the prophets. As God’s only Son, he far surpassed them in authority and power. Also, their ability to talk to Jesus supports the promise of the resurrection of all believers. Colossians 3:4 says, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (niv).
|LIFE APPLICATION – HEAVEN ISN’T QUIET|
|If the Transfiguration was a foretaste of heaven, we should note that these three people were doing something very important: talking together.|
|In God’s world, relationships count highly. People are individuals, with minds and hearts and opinions. People are also part of a wider whole, connected by relationships built on sharing of minds, hearts, and opinions. Friendship is the key.|
|Find time and opportunity to talk with people, to build friendships, to share yourself with others. Churches bent on doing activities that “count for the kingdom” will not neglect essential time to just talk—it’s a taste of heaven here on earth.|
17:4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”NIV Elijah and Moses were talking with Jesus, and there is no indication that Peter was addressed. But Peter impetuously interrupted to suggest making three shelters, one for each of them. He may have had in mind the Feast of Tabernacles, where shelters were set up to commemorate the Exodus, God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt when the Israelites lived in temporary lean-tos or shelters as they traveled (Leviticus 23:42-43). Peter wanted to build three shelters for these three great men to show how the Feast of Tabernacles had been fulfilled in the coming of God’s kingdom. He may have thought that God’s kingdom had come when he saw Jesus’ glory (as seen in his words it is good for us to be here). Perhaps Peter had overlooked Jesus’ words that suffering and death would precede glory. He saw the fulfillment of Christ’s glory for a moment and wanted the experience to continue. He wanted to act, but this was a time for worship and adoration. Perhaps Peter was only trying to be hospitable when he offered shelters to all three important people. Regardless of his motives, he had mistakenly made all three men equal. He had missed Jesus’ true identity as God himself.
17:5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”NKJV Just as God’s voice in the cloud over Mount Sinai gave authority to his law (Exodus 19:9), God’s voice at the Transfiguration gave authority to Jesus’ words. A bright cloud suddenly appeared and overshadowed this group on the mountain. This was not a vapor cloud, but was, in fact, the glory of God. This was the cloud that had guided Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 13:21), that had appeared to the people in the wilderness (Exodus 16:10; 24:15-18; 34:5; 40:34-38), that had appeared to Moses (Exodus 19:9), and that had filled the temple with the glory of the Lord (1 Kings 8:10).
God’s voice spoke from the cloud, singling out Jesus from Moses and Elijah as the long-awaited Messiah who possessed divine authority. As he had done at Jesus’ baptism, the Father was giving verbal approval of his Son (3:17). God was identifying Jesus as the dearly loved Son and the promised Messiah.
God then commanded Peter and the others to hear Jesus, not just their own ideas and desires about what lay ahead. The command recalled the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (niv), and it identified Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of that prophecy. The Greek verb akouete, translated “listen,” means not merely hearing, but obeying what is heard.
|LIFE APPLICATION – WHO IS JESUS?|
|The voice on the mountain proclaimed Jesus as God’s “beloved Son.” Many images catch sides of Jesus, from classical art to the musical’s Superstar. But at the heart of it, Jesus is God’s beloved Son who deserves our worship and obedience. Not just a friend, more than a moralist, greater than a fearless leader—this is the Christ. Follow him, worship him.|
17:6-8 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.NIV When the disciples heard God’s voice speaking directly to them as they were enveloped by the luminous cloud, they were terrified.
|Throughout Scripture, the visible glory of deity creates fear (see Daniel 10:7-9). But Jesus, ready always to calm every fear, came and touched them, telling them not to be afraid. Peter may have wanted to keep Jesus and Elijah and Moses there in shelters on the mountainside, but his desire was wrong.||I advise and exhort you, with all love and tenderness, to make Jesus your refuge. Flee to him for relief! Jesus died to save such as you; He is full of compassion.
The event was merely a glimpse of what was to come. Thus, when they looked up, the cloud and the prophets were gone. The disciples had to look only to Jesus. He alone was qualified to be the Savior to die on the cross to forgive sin.
17:9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”NIV Jesus instructed Peter, James, and John not to tell anyone about what they had seen, presumably not even the other disciples because they would not fully understand it, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. This is the only injunction to silence given by Jesus with a time limit. It suggests that once the temporary time limit had expired, the three would not need to keep Jesus’ identity secret anymore. Furthermore, after the Resurrection, these disciples would understand the Transfiguration and be able to correctly interpret and proclaim it. They would realize that only through dying could Jesus show his power over death and his authority to be King of all. The disciples could not be powerful witnesses for Christ until they had grasped this truth. It was natural for the disciples to be confused because they could not see into the future. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but they had much more to learn about the significance of his death and resurrection.
17:10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”NIV The appearance of Elijah on the mountain caused a question in the disciples’ minds. Based on Malachi 4:5-6, the Jewish scribes believed that Elijah had to appear before the Messiah to usher in the messianic age. Elijah had appeared on the mountain, but he had not come in person to prepare the people for the Messiah’s arrival (especially in the area of repentance). The disciples fully believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but they wondered where Elijah was, for he must come first.
|LIFE APPLICATION – BIBLE CONUNDRUMS|
|The question raised in Matthew 17:10 was intelligent and important. The Scriptures seemed to insist that Elijah return prior to the Messiah.|
|Jesus answered the question in a way that instructs us about this and many other Bible puzzles: He has the answer, and his answer properly interprets all the Scriptures.|
|Most Christians have a variety of questions about the meaning of this Bible verse or that, this reference or that. Taking Jesus’ response here as the cue, the proper answer to all Bible questions emphasizes Jesus as Lord and Savior, His Word as authoritative above all.|
|The proper way to learn the Bible is to start with Jesus. The proper goal of learning the Bible is to end with Jesus.|
17:11-13 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”NIV Jesus explained to the disciples that the teachers of the law correctly understood that Elijah would come before the Messiah and bring spiritual renewal (see Malachi 4:5-6). But the fact that Elijah would come and restore all things would not change the plan of salvation that would require the suffering and rejection of the Son of Man. That the Messiah would suffer was written in Scripture (for example, Psalm 22:14, 16-17; Isaiah 53:1-12). The prophecies would not have been written if they were not going to be fulfilled. Jesus was showing the close connection between the Cross, the Transfiguration, and the messianic passages in the Bible. He was also reminding them that if they rejected the reality of his suffering, they would not have in mind the things of God.
Elijah was supposed to come first, but Jesus explained that, in fact, Elijah had already come. Matthew added, Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.NRSV Jesus was referring to John the Baptist, not to a reincarnation of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. John the Baptist had taken on Elijah’s prophetic role—boldly confronting sin and pointing people to God. Malachi had prophesied that a prophet like Elijah would come (Malachi 4:5). John the Baptist had come and had restored all things just as Malachi had foretold. He had come like Elijah to prepare the way for the Messiah’s first coming (3:1-3); Elijah himself will reappear before Jesus’ second coming (see Revelation 11).
As “Elijah” then, John the Baptist’s work of restoration also involved suffering. Elijah was severely persecuted by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel; later he fled for his life (1 Kings 19). John also suffered when Herod and Herodias did to him everything they wished, ultimately leading to his death (14:1-12). The religious leaders rejected John the Baptist (Luke 7:30), the Messiah’s herald; thus, they would ultimately reject the Messiah himself. This further supports Jesus’ words to the disciples that suffering is the necessary prelude to glory. There is no easy road for true followers of Jesus.
JESUS HEALS A DEMON-POSSESSED BOY / 17:14-21
17:14-15 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water.”NRSV Jesus, Peter, James, and John came down from the mountain and returned to the other nine disciples (Luke 9:37 says this occurred “the next day”), who apparently were with a crowd. Mark explains that a crowd surrounded the disciples and some teachers of the law who were in a heated argument. The nature of the argument is not stated, but we can assume that the religious leaders were arguing with the disciples about their power and authority or about the power and authority of their Master, because the disciples had tried and failed to cast out a demon (17:16).
A man came from the crowd and knelt before Jesus. Respectfully calling Jesus Lord, he asked for mercy on his son, who was an epileptic. Mark gives more detail, for the man explained that he had come looking for Jesus to heal his son who was possessed by an evil spirit, making him unable to utter any sound (also he could not hear, see Mark 9:25). This was not just a case of epilepsy; it was the work of an evil spirit. The demon’s destructive intent is seen in that the boy would often fall into the fire or water.
17:16 “So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”NKJV Having heard of Jesus’ power to cast out demons, the father had come to Jesus, hoping for a cure for his son. He brought his son to the disciples to drive out the spirit, an appropriate request since the disciples had been given this power (10:1). The disciples could not drive out the demon, however, even though they had been given power to do so (10:8). Matthew records the failure of the disciples throughout this section (14:16-21, 26-27, 28-31; 15:16, 23, 33; 16:5, 22; 17:4, 10-22). It serves to teach that the power to heal is God’s, not ours. We must appropriate it by faith.
17:17-18 “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”NIV Jesus cried out in exasperation, fed up with unbelief and lack of faith. His unusual words carry a biting rebuke. They parallel Moses’ frustration as intercessor for God’s people (Deuteronomy 32:5, 20) and portray God’s frustration with his people (Numbers 14:11; Isaiah 63:8-10). The disciples had been given the authority to do the healing, but they had not yet learned how to appropriate God’s power. Jesus’ frustration was with the unbelieving and unresponsive generation, including the crowd, the teachers of the law (scribes), the man, and the nine disciples. His disciples merely reflected that attitude of unbelief so prevalent in the society.
“Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.NRSV Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy (Mark’s Gospel describes how the demon convulsed the boy terribly one last time before leaving, Mark 9:26). Demons are never pleased to be told to leave their human dwellings, yet they have no choice but to submit to the higher authority. As always when Jesus healed, the cure was complete.
17:19-20 Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith.”NIV The disciples had been unable to drive out this demon, and they asked Jesus why.
|They had cast out demons before; why hadn’t this demon responded? Jesus pointed to their lack of faith. Perhaps the disciples had tried to drive out the demon with their own ability rather than God’s. If so, their hearts and minds were not in tune with God, so their words had no power. Their question revealed their error; they centered on themselves (we), not on Christ.||Obedience is the one sure characteristic of the surrender of faith. Faith that is not coupled with obedience is a pretense.
“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”NIV Jesus pointed to the disciples’ lack of faith. Jesus wasn’t condemning the disciples for substandard faith; he was trying to show how important faith would be in their future ministry. It is the power of God, not our faith, that moves mountains, but faith must be present to do so. The mustard seed was the smallest seed known. But like the mustard seed that grew into a large garden plant (13:31-32), even a small “seed” of faith is sufficient. There is great power in even a little faith when God is with us. If we feel weak or powerless as Christians, we should examine our faith, making sure we are trusting not in our own abilities to produce results but in God’s. If we are facing problems that seem as big and immovable as mountains, we must turn our eyes from the mountain and look to Christ for more faith. Then, as Jesus promised, nothing will be impossible. It is not the “amount” of faith that matters; rather, it is the power of God available to anyone with even the smallest faith. We cannot fail when we have faith.
|LIFE APPLICATION – FAITH|
|Jesus underlined the importance of faith and suggested that none of our mountains can stand before it. This remarkable statement has been wrongly used to mean:|
|If you’re sick and prayers do not seem to make a difference, you’ve got a serious problem with faith.|
|Anything you pray for should happen. You’ve got a magical power over other people and events.|
|The Himalayas themselves should be portable, if your faith is strong enough.|
|So let’s get clear: Faith is not a carte blanche to supernatural power. Faith does not make God your personal genie. But . . .|
|Faith is the strongest power in the world, for it connects with God. God rewards faith, even weak faith, and God loves our trust of him, even beginning trust. Where faith is alive and growing, God is present and active. Every day, pray for faith to grow. Every day thank God for the connection that assures us we are not alone.|
17:21 “However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”NKJV Jesus explained that this kind [of demon] does not go out except by prayer and fasting and that the disciples had not depended on God’s power through prayer. God’s power must be requested and relied upon in each instance.
Prayer is the key that unlocks and reveals faith. Effective prayer needs both an attitude of complete dependence and the action of asking. Prayer demonstrates complete reliance on God. It takes our mind off ourselves and focuses it totally on God. This helps us deal with difficult situations.
JESUS PREDICTS HIS DEATH THE SECOND TIME / 17:22-23
17:22-23 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.NRSV The disciples still resisted Jesus’ predictions of his suffering and death. This was the second time he clearly told the disciples that he (the Son of Man) would suffer (see 16:21). Whereas Jesus had spoken before about being rejected, this time he added the element of betrayal. He again said that he would be killed and that he would rise on the third day. There was again the assurance of victory, although the disciples always seemed to miss this point. They never rejoiced or marveled that he would be raised; instead, they were greatly distressed at his talk of death.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SLOW TO UNDERSTAND|
|The disciples didn’t fully comprehend the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection until Pentecost (Acts 2). We shouldn’t get upset at ourselves for being slow to understand everything about Jesus. After all, the disciples were with him, saw his miracles, heard his words, and still had difficulty understanding. Despite their questions and doubts, however, they believed. Don’t repress your doubts or questions as if they are wicked— talk about them with Christian friends. And even when you don’t have all the answers, look to Jesus for help and direction.|
PETER FINDS THE COIN IN THE FISH’S MOUTH / 17:24-27
17:24 When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?”NRSV This return to Capernaum would be Jesus’ last visit prior to his death. All Jewish males (age twenty and older) had to pay a temple tax every year (Exodus 30:11-16). The amount was equivalent to about two days’ wages for the average worker. The money went for public sacrifices and then for the upkeep of the temple. If any was left over, it would be used for the upkeep of Jerusalem, which was considered part of the temple property. This tax was even collected from Jewish males who lived outside of Palestine. Enormous sums of money came in from such places as Egypt where there were 8 to 10 million Jews. Tax collectors set up booths to collect these taxes. Only Matthew records this incident—perhaps because he had been a tax collector himself. These collectors of the temple tax were probably the temple commissioners who went through Palestine annually (these were not the same people who collected the Roman tax, such as Matthew). These collectors came to Peter. He may have been seen as a leader in this band of Jesus’ followers, or he may have been approached because he was “head of the household” and a homeowner in Capernaum (Mark’s Gospel records that Jesus and the disciples were in the house, presumably Peter and Andrew’s; see Mark 1:29; 9:33). These men asked Peter if Jesus (your teacher) would be paying the temple tax. To not pay the tax indicated a desire to separate from the religious community.
17:25-26 He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?”NRSV Peter answered a question without really knowing the answer, putting Jesus and the disciples in an awkward position. Jesus used this situation, however, to emphasize his kingly role. Jesus’ question generalized the issue from the Jewish tax to all taxes. The words “toll” and “tribute” refer to the indirect local tax collected at customs houses by the publicans and to the poll tax or census tax on each family, collected by imperial officers and put directly into the imperial treasury. The kings of the earth collected such taxes from others, but never from their children. The royal family and inner circle of the imperial court were exempt. Thus, it was correct when Peter said, “From others.”NRSV Likewise, Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free.”NRSV Children of the king do not need to pay taxes. If the tax is the temple tax, then it belongs to God, and as a royal child of the king, there would be no need for Jesus to pay tax to his Father. By these words, Jesus once again establishes his identity as the Son of God.
Some Christians have used this verse as a license for not paying taxes because they are the children of the king and therefore free from such obligations. But Jesus was applying the metaphor to himself, as is evident by the context. So this passage says nothing one way or the other about our obligation to the government. (See Romans 13:1-7 for further details on this issue.)
17:27 “However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”NRSV Just as kings pay no taxes and collect none from their family, Jesus, the King, owed no temple tax because he and his “children” belonged to another “kingdom.” But Jesus supplied the tax payment for both himself and Peter rather than offend those who didn’t understand his kingship. The word for “give offense” is skandalizo, meaning “cause to stumble.” Jesus said that he and his followers did not have to pay taxes but should submit to it for the sake of those who did not believe. Jesus taught his disciples that at times it would be important to submit for the sake of their witness. (See also Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; Titus 3:1-3, 8; 1 Peter 2:13-17.)
Although Jesus supplied the tax money, Peter had to go and get it. Ultimately all that we have comes to us from God’s supply, but he may want us to be active in the process. God sovereignly controls and answers the needs of his children.
As God’s people, we are foreigners on earth because our loyalty is always to our real King—Jesus. Still, we have to cooperate with the authorities and be responsible citizens. An ambassador to another country keeps the local laws in order to represent well the one who sent him. We are Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). Are you being a good foreign ambassador for him to this world?
|LIFE APPLICATION – SMART CHRISTIAN COMPROMISE|
|Jesus had every right to boycott the temple tax, but he chose instead to pay it. Everywhere Christians live, imperfect laws require us to choose when to go along, when to resist. Jesus made it clear that we must choose our battles, that there is a time to “go along.”|
|But when is compromise acceptable, and when is it contemptible?|
|Jesus never compromised when the truth of God was at stake, including the truth about his own mission. However, civil or religious procedures that have not caught up to his truth, but that do not challenge or undermine it, are not worth the image of stubbornness that resisting them would provoke.|
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.