Bible Commentaries
Matthew 17

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-27

Only six days intervened before the three disciples witnessed the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus. Luke says, "about eight days after these things," for no doubt he counts the day the Lord spoke, and the day of the transfiguration, while Matthew counts only the intervening days. We are not told what mountain was the scene of this wondrous event, but the high mountain apart reminds us of the majestic greatness of the coming kingdom, high above and apart from the institutions of men. He alone is transfigured, His face shining as the sun, His clothing as white as the light. The shining of His face emphasizes His deity, for the sun is too bright to look upon, significant of the radiance of the glory of God. The pure whiteness of His clothing teaches the apostles perfection of all His attributes. The vision is too dazzling for the natural man to take in or understand, and even Peter fails to discern its great significance.

While the Lord alone is here transfigured in majestic beauty and glory, yet Moses and Elijah miraculously appear with Him. This gives us a brief, fleeting picture of the coming kingdom -- Christ in the place of supreme glory; Moses, typical of saints who have before died and been buried; Elijah representing those who will be. caught up to heaven without dying. This is the heavenly side of the kingdom; while Peter, James and John represent the earthly aspect of it.

But Peter has little learned his lesson from the Lord's words of Ch.16:33. Instead of quietly listening, he is ready to speak without sober reflection. Rather than simply deeply admiring the Lord Himself, he says, "Lord, it is good for us to be here," and adds his own personal proposal, "if thou wilt, let us make three tabernacles." Are we not also often too forward in proposing what should be done for the Lord? In such a case, man's natural desires will come to the fore, for a present kingdom with man exalted. The Lord had before spoken of His death, not of dwelling in tabernacles. But more solemnly still, Peter would give a place of pre-eminence to Moses and Elijah, as well as to the Lord.

These things must be solemnly reproved by the intervention of God the Father Himself in a miraculous way. A bright cloud over shadowed them, which Luke tells us caused them to fear (Luke 9:34). The Father's voice from the cloud draws all attention exclusively to the person of His beloved Son in whom He finds His delight; and pointedly adds, "hear ye Him." It is He who will give instructions, not Peter. The voice itself caused them further fear, and they rightly fell on their faces. But when the work of serious soul-searching had been accomplished in this way, the Lord Jesus in tender compassion touched them, hiding them to rise and dismiss their fear. However, He was no longer transfigured, and Moses and Elijah had disappeared. They saw no man save Jesus only. The vision was brief, now He is again seen in lowly humiliation, yet the one worthy of undivided attention.

However, though the vision was intended for their present encouragement and instruction, the Lord charges them not to speak of it to anyone until He was raised from the dead. He uses the term also, "the Son of Man," little as they understood that this involved His relationship toward all mankind, not only toward Israel. They evidently obeyed His charge: it was not until much later that Peter wrote of it (2 Peter 1:16-18). His suffering must come before His glory.

Again they miss entirely His words as to His resurrection, but ask about the teaching of the scribes that Elias (Elijah) must first come. Malachi 4:5-6; Malachi 4:5-6 is very plain that Elijah would come before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. The Lord Jesus answered that this was true, but that Elijah had already come, and men had done what they pleased wit h him, and would similarly inflict suffering on the Son of Man. Then they rightly understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist. John was certainly not personally Elijah, but was the same type of prophet as Elijah, one who stood apart from the people, pressing upon them the claims of God's righteousness. This is seen inLuke 1:17; Luke 1:17: "He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias." No doubt however this is only a partial fulfilment of Malachi's prophecy, for another prophet of the same character will arise when Israel is about to face the horror of the great tribulation. This seems to be one of the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3.

Now in striking contrast to the vision on the mount, a man brings to the Lord his son who is tormented by a demon. The man apparently thought he Was both a lunatic and demon Possessed (Cf. Mark 9:17), though Matthew 4:24 makes a distinction between the two conditions. His falling often into fire or water indicates his inability to control his susceptibility to strange temptations.

The disturbed man had brought his son to the disciples, but they could not cure him. It is this that draws out the Lord's lamenting words, "O faithless and perverse generation." For the disciples had been sent for the purpose of costing out demons (Ch.10:1). Their inability then proved both their lack of faith and their perversity, which implies their using wrongly what they were entrusted with. The power given them to cast out demons was not only neglected; it must have been misused, just as we too may misuse abilities given us. Gift is given us to be of help to others, yet we may use it for our own self-gratification, as the Corinthians used the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:1-40).

But whatever the failure, the Lord is still the resource: He rebuked the demon, causing it to leave the boy. In Matthew His authority is emphasized, so that there is no mention here of the details of His patient labour, as in Mark, the gospel of the Servant (Mark 9:20-27): the child is cured from that hour.

In answer to the disciples' question, the Lord tells them that their unbelief was the reason for their inability to cast out the demon. "This mountain" of which the Lord speaks then is the obstacle of their own weak spiritual condition. Genuine simplicity of faith would banish the obstacle, and make nothing impossible. Certainly this implies that nothing consistent with the will of God would be impossible, for faith sees the will of God as predominant. It is impossible to have faith for anything that is contrary to His will. He has laid down the path for faith in His word: if we do not follow it, the obstacle is in ourselves.

Verse 21 however shows that there are different kinds of evil spirits, and this kind required prayer and fasting to expel. This does not deny what He has already said, but further explains it; for prayer is the very expression of dependent faith: in fact it is the positive side of faith; while fasting emphasizes its negative side. That is, faith, while depending on God, also judges every selfish motive. These two things connect with verse 17, for "faithless" indicates lack of confidence in God's Positive power, while "perverse" implies the negative attitude of lack of self-judgment. Indulging ourselves is not the real energy of faith, for it perverts the use of God's gifts merely for personal benefit.

Gain (in verse 22) the Lord declares to His disciples the serious facts concerning His imminent rejection, death and resurrection, as He had clearly done in Ch.16:21. In hearing this they were exceedingly sorry, but again missed the wonder of the counsel of God in His promised resurrection.

Back in Capernaum Peter is approached by the collectors of the temple tax and asked if his Master did not pay this tribute. Exodus 30:12-16 had required one half shekel of every Israelite over twenty years. This was only a one-time matter, but the Jews had established the custom of requiring it every year. In Exodus it was called "atonement money," and certainly nothing like this could rightly be asked of the Lord of glory. Yet the Lord does not use this basis in speaking to Peter, but asks him if the king of the earth take tribute from their own sons or from strangers. Peter can only answer, "Of strangers." "Then," the Lord says, "are the sons free." God does not take tribute from His own Son; and in fact the Lord identifies Peter with Himself (though at the time Peter did not understand the truth of sonship) by intimating that neither He nor Peter should be required to pay this tribute.

Beautifully however He shows His kind consideration of men's thoughts in not desiring to offend them, as well as His sovereign power over circumstances. Peter finds in the mouth of the first fish he brings up the money to pay the tax for both his Lord and himself. What a lesson for us not to be insistent on our financial rights: God will care for this, even if a miracle is required for it.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Matthew 17". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.