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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

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Verses 1-23


In the first of these chapters there are several revelations, from one of which we take the title of the lesson.

We need not dwell on the first section (Matthew 16:1-4 ), in which Jesus once more rebukes the Pharisees and Sadducees. Nor need we dwell on the second section which is self-explanatory (Matthew 16:5-12 ). But at the third (Matthew 16:13-16 ) we reach something of much importance. Of course, Jesus knew what men said of Him, but the question of Matthew 16:13 was to lead up to the confession of Peter, which in the outcome became His own formal claim to the Messiahship, the first He had made. The answer of Matthew 16:14 shows that the people knew Him not, as it is today, at the drawing to a close of the Christian age (compare 2 Peter 2-3). In the face of this, Peter’s confession is wonderful, including “all upon which personal faith in the Son of God rests.”

But it is wonderful also in that it is a supernatural revelation to Peter (Matthew 16:17-20 ). The time is now ripe for Jesus to reveal that great fact, the mystery of His church, which had been hid from former ages. There is in the Greek of Matthew 16:18 a play upon the words “Peter” and “rock.” The first is petros, which means “a little rock,” a piece of a large rock. The second is petra, which means “rock.” Christ does not mean to build His church on Peter, but on the confession of Himself as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Christ is the rock. Peter is careful to tell us this (1 Peter 2:4-9 ). The word for church, ecclesia, is found here for the first time, and means an assembly of called-out ones. Israel was called out of Egypt and assembled in the wilderness (Acts 7:38 ), and the town meeting at Ephesus was an assembly, an ecclesia (Acts 19:39 ). Note the future tense, “I will build my church.” There was no church before, nor did it subsequently come into existence till the day of Pentecost. Nor did Peter receive “the keys” of the church, but of the “Kingdom of the heavens” (Matthew 16:19 ), which is “the sphere of Christian profession,’’ or Christendom. A key is a badge of authority, and whatever it meant for Peter, it meant for all the apostles as is seen by comparing the whole verse with Matthew 18:18 , where the thought is repeated and applied to all. Peter never assumed any special authority (see Acts 15:7-19 ; Galatians 2:11-15 ; 1 Peter 1:1 ; 1 Peter 5:1 ). Just what is meant by the authority here conferred is not clear. Some think it was that exercised by Peter in opening the door of the gospel to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, and to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius (Acts 2:38-42 ; Acts 10:34-46 ). Others think it is a general authority constituted in the great commission (Matthew 28:12 ). At all events, it was not what Rome thinks it is, for the eternal destiny of souls is held in the power of Christ alone (Revelation 1:18 ).

The first revelation of His death following is hardly second in importance to the preceding revelation of His church, except that it has been anticipated; but the outcome of it in the case of the disciples is of the deepest instruction (Matthew 16:21-27 ). The time had not come earlier for this revelation, and now that it had come how poorly prepared were the disciples to receive it (Matthew 16:22-23 )! Peter’s rebuke is explained by his expectation that the earthly Kingdom would be immediately set up, and his disappointment in losing the worldly advantages which would be his at that time. His temptation of Christ was not different in essence from that of Satan in the wilderness, who would have Christ take the Kingdom other than by the Cross (Matthew 16:23 ). This was the occasion for a discourse on the denial of self (Matthew 16:24-27 ).

The closing verse of the section above indicates that the expectation of the disciples will be realized at the second coming of Christ, and to strengthen their faith as to this the transfiguration follows (Matthew 16:28 ; Matthew 17:8 ). It is to the transfiguration that Matthew 16:28 refers, inasmuch as three of them standing there saw Him “coming in His Kingdom” in miniature, in that event. For an inspired corroboration of this, read 2 Peter 1:16-18 . To quote the Scofield Bible:

The scene contains in miniature all the elements of the future Kingdom in manifestation: (1) the Lord, not in humiliation, but glory; (2) Moses, glorified, representing the redeemed who have passed through death into the Kingdom; (3) Elijah glorified, representing the redeemed who have entered by translation; (4) the three disciples not glorified, representing Israel in the flesh in the future Kingdom; (5) the multitude at the foot of the mountain (Matthew 17:14 ), representing the nations who are to be brought into the Kingdom after it is established over Israel. For the third point, read 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 ; for the fourth Ezekiel 37:0 , and for the fifth Isaiah 11:10-12 and many other places.

It remains to speak of the disciples’ question about Elijah (Matthew 17:9-13 ), suggested by His appearance on the mountain, and which carries us back to Malachi 3:1 ; Malachi 4:5-6 . Here are two distinct prophecies, the first fulfilled in John the Baptist who had come “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17 ); and the second yet to be fulfilled before the Lord returns a second time. This will be doubtless after the church is translated.


1. How many divisions have been found in this lesson?

2. To what was the confession of Peter equivalent so far as Christ was personally concerned?

3. Give in your own words the play on the words “Peter” and “rock.”

4. Have you examined 1 Peter 2:4-9 ?

5. What is the Greek word for church, and its meaning?

6. When did the church of Christ come into existence?

7. Have you examined the texts touching on Peter’s supposed authority?

8. What are the views about the power of the keys?

9. What explains Peter’s rebuke of Christ?

10. How is Matthew 16:28 explained?

11. How does the transfiguration show us Christ “coming in His kingdom”?

12. How would you explain Christ’s words about Elijah?

Verses 24-27


The first announcement of His death and resurrection by our Lord in the last lesson, connected His suffering with the act of His own nation, while this predicts the part played in it by one of His own band (Matthew 17:22-23 ). It furnishes a starting point for a new lesson as in the other case.

The incident concluding chapter 17, is full of suggestive teaching. It is the temple tribute that is in mind, about sixty cents of our money, and Peter in saying “Yes,” has already lost the significance of His confession of Christ.

If He were “the Son of the living God,” then was it not His glory that had appeared in the temple, and why should He pay tribute? But He surrenders His personal right, after He again makes it clear to His disciple. How His glory as Creator flashes forth in the miracle of the piece of money!

“At the same time” the disciples ask the question beginning the next chapter. Did our Lord’s words about “the keys of the Kingdom of the heavens” in the preceding chapter awaken this inquiry? (Compare Luke 9:46 .) How selfish and worldly was their ambition still! The Lord’s answer (Matthew 18:2-4 ), is what He gave to Nicodemus (John 3:0 ). It is a question whether in Matthew 17:5 the reference is to a “little child” in the literal or in the spiritual sense, but the words “believe in me” (Matthew 18:6 ), turn the scale in favor of the latter. Matthew 18:7 and Matthew 18:9 are hard to apply in that connection, but they teach the necessity of removing all stumbling-blocks out of our way. Matthew 18:10 brings us back to the little child in the literal sense. Some think the words mean that every such child has its guardian angel. Some that every believer has such an angel. While others take the word “angel” in the sense of “spirit” (Acts 12:15 ), and interpret the passage to mean that if such little children, who belong to the kingdom die, their disembodied spirits behold the Father’s face in heaven in other words they are saved.

In the section now reached (Matthew 18:15-20 ), we meet for the second and last time in this Gospel the word “church,” which has special interest because her executive power in the earth is spoken of. It is plain until we come to Matthew 18:18 , which is to be understood not as limited to the apostles and their “successors” so-called, but as including the whole of the local church in any place gathered unto the name of the Lord Jesus. He sanctions in heaven what she thus binds or loosens on earth. What a promise that in Matthew 18:19-20 ! What mighty things has it accomplished, and it still holds good!

The law of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35 ), is in answer to Peter’s question, inspired by the preceding, probably. In that case, however, our Lord had been speaking about restoring a brother to the church, while here it is a question of personal grievances, and the forgiveness must be unlimited (compare Luke 17:3-4 ).

At chapter 19 we find Jesus in Judea again, His last visit there prior to His crucifixion. Had we this Gospel alone to consider it would appear as the

first visit of Jesus after His baptism, but as a matter of fact there were at least two visits intervening, judging by John’s record.

Once more His enemies are at His heels, this time on the divorce question (Matthew 19:3-12 ). The Pharisees were divided about this, the school of Hillel holding that man might put away his wife for almost any cause, and that of Shammai, only for adultery. Our Lord goes back of Moses to the beginning (Matthew 19:4-6 ). Moses never commanded writings of divorcement, but allowed or suffered it (Matthew 19:7-8 ) in cases where there was suspicion of adultery (Numbers 5:0 ). The actual sin was punishable by death. The Lord’s command in the matter is plain and authoritative (Matthew 19:9 ). But the disciples think that under such circumstances it is better not to marry at all (Matthew 19:10 ), which leads Christ to say that some are unfitted for it by nature, some have been mutilated by wicked men, while some remain unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom (Matthew 19:12 ). All are not able wisely to remain unmarried, but where they are, it is not a man-enforced celibacy, but a divinely-bestowed gift. This seems to some to be the meaning of Matthew 18:11 .

The incident of the little children (Matthew 19:13-15 ) shows that the disciples had not caught the significance of the teaching of the previous chapter. But blessed be God, there is a place for children in the Kingdom. The parents in these cases must have been believers, setting an example to others to bring their offspring to Christ for His salvation and blessing.

The next incident brings before us a typical religious man of the world (Matthew 19:16-26 ) through which we are taught that salvation is of God, and not dependent on the deeds of man. The Lord rebukes him for calling Him “good” (Matthew 19:17 ), because the young man was thinking of Him as a man merely, and “There is none righteous, no not one.” He then meets him on his own ground. If he would do something to earn eternal life, there is but one thing to do; but this he is shown never to have done. If he really loves his neighbor as himself he would share what he had with his neighbor. The sequel shows how self-deceived he was (Matthew 19:22 ). “The eye of the needle” (Matthew 19:24 ) was a proverb among the Jews. After the gates of a city were closed at night, caravans could not enter. There were narrow openings at the side large enough for the human traveler to pass through but not his beast of burden. This opening was called “the eye of a needle.”

Out of this event grows the conclusion of this lesson down to Matthew 20:16 . The self-seeking disciple again comes into view (Matthew 19:27 ), and also the condescension of our Lord Who does not rebuke but graciously instructs him (Matthew 19:28-29 ). The “regeneration” here means the renewal of the earth when the Kingdom is finally set up (Romans 3:18-25 ).

The Kingdom will be administered over Israel through the apostles according to the ancient theocratic judgeship (Judges 2:28). But the promise holds something for all the faithful as well as the apostles (Matthew 19:29 ). The meaning of Matthew 19:30 is illuminated by the parable of the laborers in the next chapter which was uttered “to keep the disciples from a spirit of self- righteousness.” God will give rewards in that day as may seem best to Him. They are not the legal outcome of our works even as saved sinners, but the expression of God’s grace. We should be careful in the interpretation of parables not to seek a meaning or application of every detail, for in doing so we are as apt to teach error as truth.


1. What distinction is made between the first and second announcements of Christ’s death?

2. Paraphrase the story of the miracle of the tribute money.

3. How has the latter part of Matthew 18:10 been interpreted?

4. To whom do we understand the power of Matthew 18:18 to be granted?

5. Where is Jesus at the beginning of chapter 19, and thereafter?

6. What is the Lord’s teaching about divorce?

7. What lesson may be learned from Matthew 19:13-15 ?

8. What is the main lesson taught by the incident of the rich young ruler?

9. Explain the proverb “the eye of the needle.”

10. What does “regeneration” mean in Matthew 19:28 ?

11. What is the main teaching of the laborers in the vineyard?

12. Of what are we to be careful in the interpretation of parables?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Matthew 17". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/matthew-17.html. 1897-1910.
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