Matthew 17
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Raphael's famous picture at the Vatican gives us an external representation of this wonderful event. But we want to get behind the canvas and discover the meaning of it, if it is to be something more to us than a theatrical transformation scene, something better than a spectacular display.

I. THE GLORY OF CHRIST. The external splendour had a meaning. If it was not a purely artificial radiance created in order to dazzle the eyes of the disciples, it must have corresponded to a wonderful illumination and glory in the soul of Jesus. Moses' face shone after he had been communing with God on Sinai (Exodus 34:29). The face of Stephen took on an angelic lustre in view of martyrdom (Acts 6:15). Jesus had been speaking of his approaching death quite recently (Matthew 16:21), and of the victory of self-sacrifice (Matthew 16:25). During the Transfiguration his death was the topic of his conversation (Luke 9:31). Then we may justly infer that the splendour that shone out from him corresponded to his exaltation of spirit in devoting himself to death. It was the glory of sacrifice. Jesus is most glorious in freely giving himself up for the salvation of the world.

II. THE HEAVENLY VISITORS. It is commonly assumed that Moses and Elijah had come to complete the picture that was displayed before the wondering eyes of the chosen three. But would they have been sent for so slight an object? It is more probable that, like the angels who ministered to him on other occasions, they were sent to cheer Jesus himself. He had looked for sympathy from his disciples when he had confided in them the dark secret of his doom, but he had failed to receive it, and instead he had heard the voice of the tempter in the impatient reply of one of his most intimate friends (Matthew 16:22, 23). Thus he was left alone in his meditations of death. But the sympathy which failed him on earth was afforded by the founder of Judaism and the leader of the prophets - both men whose end on earth was mysterious - returning from the heavenly world.

III. THE PERPLEXED DISCIPLES. The splendour overwhelmed the three. Two were speechless. The third had not the gift of silence; and wishing to say something when he had nothing to say, he made a foolish remark. This showed, again, how far the Master was above his disciples, how little they could enter into his life. But it also showed a measure of right feeling in St. Peter. It was good to be on the mount with Christ. We cannot retain the ravishing moments of heavenly rapture. But we can cherish them if ever we are visited with them. At least we can learn that it is good to be anywhere with Jesus, good to meditate on his Passion, good to behold his glory.

IV. THE DIVINE VOICE. The voice which had been heard before at the baptism (Matthew 3:17) is heard again on the mount, but with an addition to its message.

1. God owns his Son with delight. Was this voice for the cheering of Jesus as well as for the guidance of the disciples? Under the circumstances this seems probable. God was not only pleased with Jesus because he was his Son, but also because his Son pleased him. At first this was on account of the innocent character of Jesus, and his resolve to dedicate himself to his work in baptism; now it is because of the courage and devotion with which he will face death.

2. God commends his Son to men. "Hear ye him." This is the addition. Christ has disciples now; and Christ has proved his right to be heard. It is not enough to adore him in his glory; we must listen to his voice of teaching and obey his word of command. - W.F.A.

The intention of this scene seems to have been to inaugurate the sufferings of Christ, and to set him apart as the Lamb of God who was to take away the sin of the world. Being a public event, it behoved that it should be witnessed, and the same three men are chosen as witnesses of the rehearsal of his sufferings who are afterwards witnesses of the sufferings themselves in Gethsemane - the three most closely bound to him in affection. On both occasions their conduct proved how utterly helpless we are in the matter of our own salvation. One would have expected they would have been forward to aid their Master, or, if not to aid, at least to sympathize with him. But on both occasions they fell asleep. The world's redemption had really to be transacted in spite of the world; the best men of the world were indifferent, were asleep, when the crisis of the battle was passing, when its Redeemer was agonizing on its behalf. To our Lord the strength received from the Father by prayer was more needful than the restoring sweetness of sleep. In it was to be found more real detachment from care, more vital renewal of energy. It was probably for his encouragement and that of the disciples that this earnest was given of his triumph over death, and of his glorified condition. The significance of the reappearance of Moses and Elias is not hard to discern. They came as representatives of the two great economies through which God had dealt with men, and guided them to himself, to lay down their office, and recognize Christ as the One in whom the Law and the prophets were fulfilled. Every acceptable sacrifice of the Mosaic economy was acceptable through the sacrifice of Christ. Every hope kindled by the prophets rested for its fulfilment on him. And how do they testify their homage? "They spake," says Luke, "of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." The Law was to find its highest fulfilment in the most lawless of transgressions; prophecy found its richest in that which seemed to destroy hope itself. In the persons of these two our Lord would see as at one view all who had put their trust in God from the foundation of the world; all who had put their faith in sacrifice, believing that God would find a true Propitiation; all who had hoped in his tender mercy, and through dark and troublous times had strained to see the Consolation of Israel. The whole anxiety of guilty consciences, the whole longing sigh for the promised Messiah that had breathed through the ancient Church, at once becomes audible to his ear, and confirms his resolution that their trust shall not be put to shame. Steadfastly does he set his face to go to Jerusalem, more than ever determined that the glorified state which Moses and Elias have attained shall, by his shame and death, be secured to them, and to all those of whom they are the firstfruits. To complete the act of installation it was requisite, not only that the former mediators should resign their office, but that the real Mediator should be definitely nominated; and therefore a voice is heard from the cloud saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." And so, with no witnesses but these disciples, the world's history is transacted. It is summed up in these three, God commanding, God encouraging, God fulfilling; and these three are summed up in one - God saving. "When the disciples lifted up their eyes, they saw no mall, save Jesus only."

I. First, we learn that CHRIST IS NOW THE ONE MEDIATOR BETWEEN GOD AND MAN. The one command now is, "Hear ye him." When Moses and Elias retired, and the disciples saw no man, save Jesus only, the whole burden of legal ceremonial fell from their shoulders. With the one temple of the Lord's body left to view, how simple must all religion and service have seemed, consisting simply in their loving and cleaving to their Lord and Master - the compassionate, considerate, righteous Lord Jesus Christ! We are often satisfied with the means of grace, the things that lead to Christ. But God calls you to come to Christ's self. "Hear ye him." You have a life-and-death question to settle, and for the settling of it there is for you, in the world, "no man, save Jesus only."

II. CHRIST IS OUR SUFFICIENT SAVIOUR. If your troubles and difficulties seem the most real things in the world to you, remember him who chose suffering for his portion, that you might be partakers of his glory. If you are despondent on account of your spiritual condition, remember this sure foundation of all preaching, this proclamation of Christ by God himself. The one utterance of God in New Testament times is this intimation, three times heard by Christ, that by laying down his life for sinners God was well pleased with him. Only by coming can you please him. Indifference to the voice would have been guilt in the apostles; it is equal guilt in you.

III. THE CONDUCT OF PETER WARNS US AGAINST TOO MUCH DREAD OF SUFFERING, OR OF BEING CALLED TO ENTER A CLOUD; and against too much desire to rest in any one experience or state. The darkest cloud your Lord calls you to enter will be irradiated by his presence. And if by any experience you have obtained stronger faith or a more lively sense of Christ's worth, be not anxious to build a tabernacle for sweet experiences, while there are countless works of charity, patience, energy, awaiting you. Believe that the whole line of earthly experiences can be lit up with God's present favour. - D.

And six days after. This note refers to the conversation Jesus had with his disciples, in which he said, "The Son of man shall come," etc. (quote Matthew 16:27, 28). But the apostles are all dead, and the kingdom is still future. The Transfiguration, then, must be viewed as a symbolic anticipation and pledge of the kingdom, and Peter and James and John were those referred to who should not taste death until they had seen the Son of man coming in his kingdom; and they saw this when they were "eyewitnesses of his majesty on the holy mount." We propose to show -


1. It exhibits the signs of a new dispensation.

(1) Here is humanity the shrine of Deity. This as a fact existed in the Incarnation. It is roundest in the Transfiguration. This is a new thing. Formerly the Holy Spirit was with men, now he is in them (see John 14:17). The indwelling of the witnessing Spirit characterizes this dispensation.

(2) Moses and Elijah shine in the glory of Jesus. The Law is illustrated by the light of the gospel. Its sacrifices and ablutions now become full of glorious meaning. So are the prophets illustrated. Their personal history is seen to have been typical. Their predictions of Messiah are fulfilled.

(3) Christ is the source of gospel law. The "voice" rebuked Peter's mistake in proposing to make equal tabernacles. "Hear ye him." No longer listen to Moses and the prophets otherwise than as they are heard in the accents of Jesus.

2. It exhibits the signs of a spiritual dispensation.

(1) Here is a remarkable concurrence. Moses fasted forty days in the wilderness of Sinai. So did Elijah. Jesus likewise fasted forty days in "the wilderness" - probably the same. Of no other is this recorded. Here are all those together in glory.

(2) The life of those forty days proclaimed that "man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word" - the precept and the promise "of God." This spiritual life may be studied in the history of that remarkable forty days of the life of Jesus after his resurrection. We are "risen with Christ."

(3) While they fasted from natural food, they feasted on spiritual. While the Israelites fasted during their forty years in the wilderness, they feasted on the bread from heaven.

(4) So the sun-clothed woman - the true Church of Christ - was nourished in the wilderness by the pure Word of God during these "forty and two months" in which she fled from the face of the Jezebel of Rome. The counterpart of this was the feeding of the prophets in the caves by good Obadiah, when they fled from the persecutions of the meretricious Queen of Samaria.

3. It exhibits the tokens of gospel grace.

(1) However glorified, Jesus still remembers Calvary. The matter of the conversation m the mount of glory was the decease he should accomplish at Jerusalem. And now he is in the height of heaven he lives there to make intercession for us.

(2) Calvary is the theme of celestial rapture. It is the burden of the song of the redeemed. Holy angels take up the strain.

(3) Prejudices are dissipated in the light of eternity. "Peter answered," viz. to the conversation about the decease, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." This was the same Peter who, six days earlier, had the presumption to rebuke Jesus for referring to the same decease (see ch. 16:22).


1. Jesus will yet appear in royal state.

(1) In the visions of the prophets the two advents of Messiah are blended; and it is only in the fulfilment of the circumstances of the first advent in humiliation that we get clear views of those of the second advent in glory.

(2) Of this glory there were remarkable prophetic anticipations in the glorious Divine forms or similitudes of Old Testament times.

(3) The Transfiguration is a still clearer anticipation. For here we have not only the semblance of a beatified humanity; we have the true humanity of Jesus beatified by the glory of the Godhead.

2. The bright cloud manifested the presence of angels.

(1) If we compare the passages in which the glorious advent of Christ is described, we shall see that those which mention the "clouds" omit the mention of accompanying angels; and so contrariwise, those which mention the "angels" omit the mention of clouds.

(2) Wherever Christ's presence is promised, the presence of his retinue of angels is understood, if not expressed. They are ever present with him in the assemblies of his saints (see Ecclesiastes 7:6; 1 Corinthians 11:10).

(3) Clouds and angels are promiscuously the chariots of God. The clouds of angels were with him in his ascension (cf. Psalm 68:17, 18; Ephesians 4:8-10; see also Psalm 18:10; Psalm 104:1-4).

3. Moses represented the sainted dead.

(1) His appearance upon the mount was a kind of specimen of the resurrection. He had a grand death when, on the mountain summit, God bowed his august head out of heaven and kissed away the soul of his servant. His body was buried. Then there was a contention about this (see Jude 1:9). Was it with respect to the appearance of Moses in this scene?

(2) It was a sample of the first resurrection. The resurrection of the just will take place in two acts (see Revelation 20:4-6). In the first resurrection the "ancients" will appear in glory with Christ (cf. Isaiah 24:23; Daniel 12:1-3);

(3) May we hope for this distinction (see Philippians 3:8-11)? Let us strive.

4. Elijah represented the living who shall be changed.

(1) Paul had special revelation on this subject (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

(2) These transfigurations will occur during the course of the reign of Christ over the earth. Sinners will die off quickly. Saints will be changed - translated (see Luke 17:34-37).

(3) Of these, Elijah was a specimen. He was translated to heaven in a fiery chariot, and must have been transfigured in his transit. Flesh and blood cannot enter heaven.

(4) What a mingled scene is here! Christ with the glory of the Father. Clouds of angels. Elijah representing the quick. Moses representing the dead. The apostles representing the Church on earth. Heaven and earth will be thus blended in the kingdom of Messiah.

(5) Have we not a note of the time of the kingdom in the "six days'" interval? Does it not correspond with the six ages of Barnabas mentioned in his Epistle? Is this wholly without countenance from Scripture (cf. Daniel 12:12, 13; Hosea 6:2; Hebrews 4:9; 2 Peter 3:8)? There is a wonderful future for the Christian. - J.A.M.

On three occasions it is reported that our Lord took three of the disciples apart with him; and it was always the same three. We need not, however, assume that the reported cases were the only cases. Observing them, we note that they were representative instances. In the first case, the raising of the little maid, special witnesses were needed for the surprising miracle, the restoration of the dead. In the other two cases - Transfiguration and Gethsemane - we have glimpses of the private life and experience of Jesus with which the ordinary disciples had no direct concern. It need not have been told us how, or when, or where Jesus conducted his private devotions, or what happened on such occasions. Jesus had these three with him for two reasons.

1. For company.

2. That the revelation of his mystery might be kept for a while, and revealed when the life manifestation was complete, and his Divine Person and mission could be understood. The reason for the selection of these three is to be found in our Lord's estimate of character. He illustrates the Divine election, which is always a Divine selection, in view of fitness for position. In these three men we can see a power of faith, and a power of enthusiastic personal attachment, which suffice to account for their selection.

I. THEIR MISSION WAS TO KEEP THEIR SAVIOUR COMPANY. It is strange that in times of distress and excitement we both crave to be alone, and crave to have some one trustworthy with us. We have mingled feelings - we want to be alone; we cannot bear to be alone. In his fellowship with us in this peculiarity we gain a full impression of our Lord's humanity. It comes out even in a more striking way in Gethsemane.

II. THEIR MISSION WAS TO RECEIVE IMPRESSIONS FROM OUR LORD'S PRIVATE LIFE. It would not have been a private scene if all the disciples had been on the mount. Our Lord had a private life quite distinct from that public life which was the common property of disciples. Our Lord had right to that private life undisturbed. And yet some of the best revelations of his "Person" and "mission" came to view in such strictly private experiences as Gethsemane and Transfiguration; so a selection from the apostolate was permitted to invade his privacy.

III. THEIR MISSION WAS TO KEEP SECRET FOR A TIME THEIR IMPRESSIONS. The twelve would never have kept such a secret. The three might, especially as they really did not understand the scene. They had to keep it as a mystery which time would unfold.


St. Luke materially adds to our knowledge of this scene when he tells us the subject of the conversation of this mysterious company. They "spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." It may be seeing deeper into the mystery of the scene if we can apprehend that, for the time, Jesus was out of the bodily and within the spiritual sphere to which Moses and Elias belonged. Instead of thinking that they came down to him, it is better to think he was with them. That Transfiguration was the temporary freedom of the Son of God from his body limitations; a temporary resumption of heavenly conditions in a heavenly sphere; a freedom from the human for the sake of a time of Divine and spiritual communion. The scene lay in that region of the supernatural which was the proper, the eternal, sphere of the Son of God. The Transfiguration cannot be understood apart from a careful estimate of Christ's circumstances and moods of mind at this time. He had been virtually rejected in Galilee. His work there was finished. He retired northward, depressed in spirit. The failure in Galilee seemed a foreshadowing of the great failure. He was beginning to tread the pathway at whose end was a cross of shame. But why did Christ anticipate? Why did he not do the duty of the hour, and leave the morrow to take care of the things of itself? Explain that the virtue of Christ's death lay in its being a voluntary surrender; no mere accident - a real sacrifice. Then it must be known, distinctly thought about, and accepted beforehand. The glory came when he, in prayer, was wrestling to gain a full acceptance of this will of God that he should suffer. A part of his comforting came from the communion of representative men.

I. THE LIGHTER VIEW OF THE REAPPEARANCE OF MOSES AND ELIAS. There is a view with which we are so familiar that, maybe, we have never even thought of criticizing it. All the commentaries say, "The representatives of the Law and the prophets," though the reason for choosing Elijah to represent the prophets is never suggested. These two men are assumed to have given the witness of the Jewish Church to our Lord's death.

II. THE DEEPER VIEW OF THE REAPPEARANCE OF MOSES AND ELIAS. "The presence of Moses and Elias suggests far off unknown relations to, and vibrations of joy to, the pre-Messianic children of light." "He conversed with his great predecessors, Moses and Elias, who could thoroughly sympathize with him, and whose work his death was to fulfil." These were the two men most profoundly interested in the recovery and redemption of men. And therefore they were so supremely interested in the work of Christ. Even these three disciples could not give Jesus full sympathy. St. Peter's foolish talk showed that they could not. Jesus found sympathy in glorified saints. - R.T.

The Transfiguration does not stand alone in our Lord's life. There are two other scenes with which it may be compared. "The one is the descent of the Holy Ghost on him, under the symbol of a brooding dove, after his baptism." The other is the sound as of thunder, and the responding voice of the Father, saying of his Father-Name, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." And it should be noticed that the first direct manifestation of God to Christ - at his baptism - occurred as the beginning of his active mission as a Teacher. The second - at the Transfiguration - occurred as the starting of Christ on the suffering portion of his mission. And the third - the thunder voice - as a precise assurance and encouragement when our Lord was entering upon his Passion.

I. THE KEYNOTE OF CHRIST'S LIFE WAS DOING HIS FATHER'S WILL. See his words at twelve years of age. He would not only do his Father's will, but do it in the Father's way; and bear it, if it involved bearing. Our Lord's meat and drink were to do the will of his Father.

II. THE JOY OF CHRIST'S LIFE WAS TO RECEIVE SIGNS OF THE DIVINE APPROVAL. We can hardly imagine how delightful to the obedient Son must have been these voices out of heaven. And never was the voice more strengthening than when our Lord was proposing to himself a full surrender to the Father's will, which involved humiliation, suffering, seeming failure, and death. Christ purposed to "accomplish a decease." The term is a striking and suggestive one. Christ's death was something he did, "accomplished;" it was not merely something he suffered. His own will was in it. He laid down his life. He gave himself for us. He offered in sacrifice his obedient Sonship. That saves us. That Moses and Elias approve. That God the Father approves. The Transfiguration was chiefly intended for our Lord himself. "It was a great gift of his Father, an acknowledgment of his faithfulness up to this point, and a preparation for what lay before him." "To Jesus the recognition of his Father's voice must have been a repetition of the transcendant joy of the baptismal greeting. Must we not say that for the moment all else was forgotten, or in that absorbed; that

"He heard not, saw not, felt not aught beside,
Through the wide worlds of pleasure and of pain,
Save the full flowing and the ample tide
Of that celestial strain"? R.T.

It almost seems as if St. Peter's foolish speech spoilt the scene. It is said that "while he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them." It might be a "bright cloud," but it effectually shut out from view the glorified visitors and the transfigured Lord. True, out of it came the marvellous voice, which so alarmed the disciples that they "fell on their face, and were sore afraid." But when the cloud passed, and Jesus bade them "arise," the glory was all gone; there was only Jesus, and he was just as they were accustomed to see him. It is a peculiarity of Mount Hermon that a cloud will be seen to form with extreme rapidity on its summit, and with equal rapidity disperse and disappear, The point on which we dwell is, that St. Peter made a grave mistake when he wanted a special scene to be made a permanent one. The transitory and the permanent each have their mission and their proper relations. There is no wisdom in wishing to confuse them. Take each in its place. Illustrate this.

I. THE TRANSITORY IS THE GLORIFIED CHRIST; THE PERMANENT IS THE HUMAN CHRIST. Only for a little while could the earth bonds be loosened, and the glory which Christ was, shine freely out. That was not fitting for the continuous earth relations. For the present the permanent thing was the human body, with its limitations, endurances, and sufferings. But the relief moments must have brought holiest joy. (For Christ's voluntary limitations, see Philippians 2.)

II. THE TRANSITORY IS THE SEASON OF HIGH REVELATION; THE PERMANENT IS THE COMMONPLACE, EVERYDAY CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE. Christian biographies preserve records of ecstatic scenes and experiences enjoyed by Christ's people. In their very nature such things must be transitory. They would not be what they are if they continued. But what a help and cheer they are to us in the wearing and wearying experience of everyday Christian life! Yet is not this the fact - we might oftener have the cheer of vision and revelation if we set ourselves in the way, and climbed the lonely mount for prayer?

III. THE TRANSITORY IS THE RELIEF time; THE PERMANENT IS THE WORK TIME. But a man cannot permanently work unless he secures his transitory reliefs. The restings of life are not idlings or wastings. Transfiguration means soul preparations for Calvary.

IV. THE TRANSITORY IS THE TRIUMPH TIME; THE PERMANENT IS THE SUFFERING TIME. What makes life so hard is that successes are so brief. Right upon them we have to be down in the valleys of toil and suffering. - R.T.

After the Transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples came down the mountain side. Ecstasies, even in religion, have their sombre interludes. But in these we may still remain in the blessed company of Jesus. As they descended, Jesus "commanded his disciples, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead." This command astonished them. Interpreting the prophets, the scribes expected Elijah to come as the harbinger of Messiah. As Elijah had now appeared, the disciples were eager to proclaim this as the accomplishment of the prophecy. But they were now further surprised to learn that the prophecy had already been fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist. Our Lord had before spoken to this effect (see Matthew 11:14); but these disciples, Peter, James, and John, appear then to have been absent on a preaching excursion. Note: It is the fate of prophecy to be fulfilled without being noticed by the world. "But the wise shall understand." Let us consider -


1. The scribes looked for the Tishbite.

(1) They did so the recognized public interpreters of prophecy. Isaiah spoke of a harbinger of Messiah (see Isaiah 40:3-5). This harbinger is mentioned again, and distinguished as "Elijah the prophet" (see Malachi 4:5, 6). The scribes concluded that Elijah the Tishbite literally should appear.

(2) They "knew not" John the Baptist in the character of Elijah. He did not answer their expectations as the literal Elijah. Neither did his testimony to Jesus suit their prejudices. Jesus did not come as that secular king whom they fondly hoped to See. So does the spirit of the world blind the spiritual vision.

(3) The disciples of Jesus were influenced by the teaching of the scribes. They therefore rejoiced to see here in the holy mount the literal Elijah; and fain would they conclude that this was the fulfilment of the prophecy. They were accordingly eager to bear testimony to what they had seen. It had not occurred to them, any more than to the scribes, to identify the Baptist as the Elijah of the prophet.

2. Yet was the Baptist the Elijah of prophecy.

(1) Gabriel announced him in this quality. To Zacharias the angel said of John, "He shall go before the face of the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him" (Luke 1:17). The reference here to the Prophet Malachi cannot be mistaken.

(2) Zacharias, in the spirit of prophecy, confirmed the testimony of Gabriel. "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways" (Luke 1:76).

(3) John came accordingly "in the spirit and power of Elijah." Like that prophet, his dwelling was in the wilderness; his attire was rough; and his habits were simple and severe (cf. 2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4). His preaching was repentance. "To turn the heart of the [believing] fathers to the [unbelieving] children, and the heart of the children to their fathers," and thus to avert the curse of God from the land.

(4) John roundly announced himself to be that voice in the wilderness of which Isaiah spake (see John 1:23).

3. In this quality John was recognized by Jesus.

(1) He did so practically, for he did not commence his preaching until John had ended his public ministry. Thus: "When he heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee," and it is added, "From that time began Jesus to preach" (cf. Matthew 4:12-17; Mark 1:14, 15).

(2) The importance of this question of time is evident also from the reference to it again by Peter when he came to preach the gospel to Cornelius (see Acts 10:36, 37). Peter evidently viewed it as an important mark of Messiah.

(3) Jesus in his teaching, as well as in his conduct, acknowledged John as the Elijah of prophecy. He did so to the multitude after the retirement from him of certain disciples of John who came to him with a message from John in his prison. "This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee And if ye will receive it, this is Elijah, which is to come" (see Matthew 11:10-14). In this passage our Lord refers to both the prophets who mention the harbinger of Messiah, Isaiah and Malachi, and applies their prophecies to John. In the text also Jesus declares John to be "that Elijah" as "come already."


1. Such a coming may be presumed.

(1) For Christ is yet to come in judgment. Before his Transfiguration he announced this solemn fact (see Matthew 16:27). The Transfiguration was itself a symbolic anticipation of that coming. As the first advent of Christ was heralded by an Elijah, so may we presume that the second advent also will be.

(2) Daniel distinguishes the first and second advents of Messiah; otherwise the comings are so blended in the visions of prophecy that they appear as one. The distinction is now fully manifest since the first advent has taken place. By parity of reasoning we may infer that the prophecies concerning the harbinger are to be fulfilled in two acts.

(3) Differences may be presumed in the two appearances of the harbinger to correspond to the differences of the two advents of Messiah. The Baptist came in symbols of sorrow, without miracle, to introduce Messiah as a Priest coming to suffer for sin. The coming Elijah may be expected to appear in symbols of power, working miracles, to introduce Messiah in his quality of King.

(4) To anticipate this second coming, Elijah appeared in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Trypho objects to Justin Martyr that Messiah can have no power until anointed by Elijah. He overlooked the fact that Jesus was anointed with the Holy Ghost when he was baptized by John (cf. Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:37, 38). That anointing was to inaugurate Christ as a Prophet. But when Elijah was present in the holy mount, Jesus received his further anointing as a King.

2. The presumption is now confirmed.

(1) John's disclaimer that he was Elijah, while he declared himself to be the voice crying in the wilderness (see John 1:21-23), can only be reconciled on the understanding that Elijah was yet to come in another form. Mede makes John the Baptist to come again instead of Elijah in full form. The disclaimer of John would rather point to Elijah in person. The appearance of the literal Elijah in the holy mount would also point this way. The Jews say, "When Elijah comes he will solve hard questions." His coming will solve this.

(2) The coming of the Baptist has not fully satisfied prophecy. He came not immediately "before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Malachi 4:5). For that day is yet future, he came more in pursuance of the prophecy of Isaiah than of that of Malachi. Yet is there a second fulfilment also for the words of Isaiah.

(3) In affirming that Elijah had come in the person of John the Baptist, our Lord did not say that there was no future coming of Elijah. When the disciples quoted the scribes, Jesus did not say that they were wrong in expecting Elijah to come, but in not discerning that the Baptist had come in the character of Elijah.

(4) Far from this, our Lord says plainly, "Elijah indeed cometh, and shall restore all things." This coming of Elijah in the future is all the more remarkable in that it was spoken after John had been beheaded.

(5) This Elijah of the future is to" restore all things." This did not John. He restored some things. He preached repentance, and his doctrine is still restoring. But the "time of the restoration of all things" is that of the second advent of Christ (see Acts 3:19-21). Why did Jesus command his disciples, saying, "Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead"?

1. One of the purposes of the vision was to intimate that the Old Testament must give place to the New. The time for the abolition of the Law of commandments contained in ordinances was not ripe until after the Resurrection.

2. The glory of the Resurrection would render more credible the testimony concerning the Transfiguration. Had the testimony been given earlier, the sufferings of Christ would probably be urged against its credibility.

3. The earlier testimony might imperil the witnesses. The heads of the nation appear to have been implicated in the martyrdom of John. "They knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they listed." If they did not imprison John, they made no effort to procure his release. They rejoiced in his death. Having tasted the blood of John, they thirsted for the blood of Jesus. "Even so shall the Son of man also suffer of them" (see Acts 12:1-3). Christ's times are best for us. - J.A.M.

Some of those with whom our Lord had to do wrought much mischief by failing in wise reticence. Told to keep their secrets, they blazed abroad their matter, and created a public excitement which our Lord felt bound to avoid. Reserve is said to be the "bane of friendship;" but reserve may be a sign of wise self-control and skilful estimate of circumstances and responsibilities. Reticence must be distinguished from untruthfulness. We should always tell the truth, but it is often our duty to say nothing. This, however, sometimes becomes distressing, because of our fear that saying nothing will leave, or will sustain, a false impression. Here our Lord commanded reticence. The three apostles were not to talk to the rest of the apostolic company of what they had seen and heard. They were to say nothing whatever about it outside their company. Let us see what may make reticence appropriate, right, and wise.

I. RETICENCE RELATIVE TO PRIVACY. It cannot be too forcibly impressed that the Transfiguration is not an event in the public life of Jesus. It belongs to his private heart history and experience, and only for very special reasons is any report of it given. If we do come to know some great passage in a brother Christian's private experience, we properly keep the secret, at least so long as he lives. It would be bad for him, and bad for all who know him, if it were talked about. Much mischief is done, much bloom is taken off Christian life, by too great readiness to talk about what belongs to a man's private feeling. Jesus shrank from common talk about his transfiguration.

II. RETICENCE RELATIVE TO TIMELINESS. This is brought out by our Lord's limiting silence "until the Son of man be risen again from the dead." There are times and seasons foreverything. The wise man watches, and fits his ways to times; the impulsive man is always upsetting things by simple untimeliness. This was St. Peter's mistake, and our Lord may have designed the caution specially for him. Happy they who can keep silence till the time to speak!

III. RETICENCE RELATIVE TO CAPACITY. The narrative of the Transfiguration might have been given to the other apostles if they had been on a sufficiently high spiritual plane to have entered into it. But it is only too evident that they could not receive any references to our Lord's decease. The report of the vision, if then made, would only have bewildered them. Keep it back. Wait until the complete circle of historical facts relating to Christ is complete; then, maybe, they will see the meaning of the Transfiguration. - R.T.

The disciples were perplexed at what they saw on the Mount of the Transfiguration. There Elijah appeared with Moses in conversation with Christ, and the vision recalled to mind the familiar expectation of the Jews that the prophet should precede the advent of Christ. Was this the coming of Elijah? Surely not, for it was but a momentary visit in a solitary place. Yet if Elijah had not come first, how could the Christ have come? Thus the disciples were troubled in mind till their Master explained the situation by pointing to the mission of John the Baptist.

I. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST NEEDED TO BE HERALDED BY AN ELIJAH MINISTRY. The word "must" points to more than the fulfilment of prophecy. There was a necessity in the very nature of the case. Except Elijah came first Christ could not come.

1. Inferior ministries prepare for higher ministries. Elijah was great, but not so great as Christ. The prophets were all of them less than the Saviour. The Law was not equal to the gospel. Yet the lower and earlier ministries, with which all of these were associated, made the way ready for the coming of Christ.

2. Awakening must precede regeneration. Christ came to bring new life to the world. No Elijah could confer such a gift on his fellow men. But, in order to receive it, men must be awake and attentive. The earlier ministry rouses; it breaks up the fallow ground; thus it prepares for the later seed sowing.

3. Repentance must come before forgiveness. The grace of the gospel is net for the impenitent. Some influence must melt the stubborn heart if the kindly blessings of Christ are to be received into it.

II. THE ELIJAH MINISTRY MAY COME AND YET BE REJECTED. It was so in the case of John the Baptist, at least on the part of a considerable portion of the Jews.

1. There is no compulsion in the Divine ministries. We may accept them, and then they will bring us blessings. But we may reject them, though to our cost. After all, man is more than the soil through which the plough is driven; for he may arrest the instrument that would prepare him for the seed sowing, or he may harden himself against it.

2. The most needed Divine ministry may not come in the form we are expecting. The people looked for Elijah, and Elijah came; yet they did not recognize him. We may read the Bible too literally. Prophecy is not fulfilled in pedantic, verbal exactitude. The spirit of the prediction is verified in the event, but not in the form in which the prediction was first recorded. We blunder in blindness if we fail to welcome the Baptist because we are looking for Elijah.


1. It is well to bring our difficulties to Christ. The disciples were not ashamed to own their perplexity, nor too proud to ask for light. Our Lord will accept confidence in regard to the doubts that trouble us.

2. Jesus Christ understands the Divine purposes. They were obscure to the disciples; but to him they were quite clear. Therefore when we cannot see all we may trust him. The captain knows the route over the seas that are all unknown to the passengers.

3. Our Lord reveals needful truths concerning the Divine purposes, He gave his disciples an explanation. His whole life and teaching are luminous with revelation. - W.F.A.

It is difficult for us to realize the general conviction of our Lord's time, that the Prophet Elijah was about to reappear. "Elijah was the prophet for whose return in later years his countrymen have looked with most eager hope It was a fixed belief of the Jews that he had appeared again and again, as an Arabian merchant, to wise and good rabbis at their prayers or on their journeys. A seat is still placed for him to superintend the circumcision of the Jewish children. Passover after Passover the Jews of our own day place the Paschal cup on the table, and set the door wide open, believing that that is the moment when Elijah will reappear. When goods are found and no owner comes, when difficulties arise and no solution appears, the answer is, 'Put them by till Elijah comes'" (Stanley). Edersheim tells us that Rabbi Eliezer closes a curious chapter on repentance with these words, "And Israel will not make great repentance till Elijah - his memory for blessing - comes." The question of the apostles was suggested by the fact that, on the mount, Elijah had come, but had not stayed, so as to accomplish anything. Our Lord intimates that the appearance they had seen was not the fulfilment of the prophecy of Elijah's coming; for that they must look elsewhere. John the Baptist reproduced Elijah, and may be thought of as Elijah come again.

I. ELIJAH AND JOHN WERE BOTH PREPARERS. There was nothing like completion in the work of either. Both were mere beginners. Both would have been failures it their work had not been followed up by others. Compare the work of civilizing a new country. The hunter with his rifle goes first; then comes the woodman with his axe; and then the farmer with his plough. So in the moral world. There are men who only prepare. Theirs is trying work, because its results cannot be counted or measured. Yet their praise is sure, if they prepared well. Estimate the work of Elijah as preparing for the return of the people to Jehovah; and of John as preparing the minds of men for receiving a spiritual Messiah.

II. ELIJAH AND JOHN WERE PREACHERS. Proclaimers of messages from God. Both had virtually the same message - Repent, return to God. Change your minds concerning God and the claims of God. But the true preacher is a witness as truly as a herald. Elijah witnesses for the "living God before whom I stand." John witnesses to the "Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world." - R.T.

It has often been pointed out - as Raphael has shown in his famous picture - that the distressing occurrence of the disciples' failure happened just when Christ was away from them, transfigured on the mountain. Then clearly it would not have been good to build three tabernacles, and so retain the heavenly vision. The world needs Christ; it was well that he returned to the world.

I. A PARENT IN TROUBLE. This parent is greatly distressed because his son is grievously afflicted, and he seeks relief for him. Parents not only feel for their children; they will do for them what they would never attempt for themselves. It is not enough to have compassion for a great affliction. Love will search for remedies.

1. The parent brings his child to Christ's disciples. He is not to blame for this, because

(1) Christ himself was out of reach; and

(2) the disciples had received a commission to work miracles (ch. 10:8). The people of Christ should be helpers of the distressed. The Church is the natural home of the helpless. It is sad to see the miserable so disappointed by the failure of the Church to help them that they turn aside to the new offers of "Secularists."

2. When disappointed, the parent appeals to Christ. He does not despair; he does not give up all efforts to have his child healed. Nothing in the world is so persevering as love. When the Church fails, Christ may yet be appealed to. It is a great mistake to allow our disappointment with Christians to blind us to the goodness and power of Christ. We have to learn to turn from Christ's imperfect followers to the Lord himself.

II. THE DISCIPLES HUMILIATED. They tried to cure the lunatic boy, but they failed.

1. Good men are not always successful men. We may be true Christians, and yet we may meet with bitter disappointments in our efforts. The servant of Christ is often humiliated at the failure of his attempts to serve his Master or benefit his fellow men.

2. Christians are weak in the absence of their Master. If Christ had been with them, the encouragement of his presence would have fortified his disciples. They who would do effective work for Christ must cleave close to Christ.

3. The failure of work is due to the failure of faith. St. James tells us that faith without works is dead. The absence of the fruit is the sign of its deadness. If there is no sap in the tree, the branches must wither. To do effective service in this world we must live much in the unseen.

4. Difficult Christian work is only possible wizen accompanied by prayer. The mistake of the disciples may have been that, while they lost faith in God, they were too confident of their own powers. We always fail when we are trusting to ourselves alone.

III. CHRIST TO THE RESCUE. He came when he was most needed.

1. Christ rebukes unbelief. He sees a defective condition of mind in the disciples and in the people generally. The atmosphere is not congenial to miracle working. But this is a sign of something wrong. A general state of unbelief is like the prevalence of a malaria. It must not be acquiesced in as a normal condition.

2. Christ makes up for the failure of his disciples. They may fail; he never fails. If he seems to fail in some cases (as at Nazareth, ch. 13:58), this is not because his power is insufficient, but because men are not receptive. He takes up our imperfect work, broken and marred as it is, and. he perfects it for us. - W.F.A.

This incident is memorable chiefly on account of three truths it impresses on the mind.

I. THE APPARENTLY UNLIMITED RANGE OUR LORD GIVES TO FAITH. Promise, rebuke, and surprise are mingled in his reply. "if thou canst, all things are possible," etc. As if he said, "You do not surely question my power; it is no question of power, it is a question of faith; have you faith to receive, to evoke the power?" As clearly as possible he says to this man, "The cure depends on yourself." We are continually tempted to ask - Why should it be so? Why could not God overcome our unbelief by producing within us such manifest results of his health-giving power that we should find it impossible to doubt? The reason seems to be that our assuming our permanent relation to God is of more importance than any single blessing which results from it. Our trust in God and acceptance of him, as higher than all worldly power, are more than any other help we can receive from him, and therefore he first of all demands faith. And though it seems as if faith would be easier after receiving what we need, yet there can be no doubt it is the anxiety and restless thoughtfulness produced by trouble and difficulty which chiefly compel men to strive to ascertain for themselves what is the truth about God in his helpfulness. The visible and tangible blessings he bestowed were so far from being all he had to give, that he allowed no one to go away with only these.

II. THE POWER OUR LORD ASCRIBES TO FAITH. Here, too, are difficulties. God will not, we feel sure, contradict himself by reversing in our favour any law of nature. But it is of the very essence of prayer to ask for such things as we cannot get but by prayer. Prayer is the acknowledgment that we have to do, not with nature only, but with one who can govern and use nature freely, and to whom all things are possible. There is a way of speaking of natural law as if it were a thing sacred and not to be tampered with, whereas a great part of our time is spent in averting the consequences of natural law, and nothing gives ampler scope to our free will and reason and active powers than the guiding of nature to happier issues. The man who says he cannot suppose God will depart from those great lines of action he has laid down ought on the same ground humbly to submit to sickness and use no remedy against it; for surely it is more presumptuous to fight against the natural law of disease than to pray God that if he sees fit he would fight against it for us. No doubt natural law is one expression, nay, the fundamental expression, of God's will; and when day by day a man sees that the sun rises and sets with a regularity undisturbed by national disasters or personal necessities, he becomes convinced that it is God's will that sunrise and sunset be invariable. But though everything in nature may be as rigidly bound to its own cause as sunrise and sunset, it does not follow that everything is as necessary, as important, as unalterable. By the arrest of the natural course of disease in this boy no shock was given to the needful belief of men in the constancy of nature. While holding fast, on the one hand, to the truth that all things are possible, we cannot but consider, on the other hand, that some things are so extremely improbable that it is vain to ask God to perform them. Scientific men assure us that there is a region into which we cannot see, but in which the most powerful of all causes resides. This is the region we claim for God, and out of which he can send forth influences in answer to those who appeal to him. There are other effects possible than those we contemplate, because there are other causes in operation than those we see. We may always be leaving out of view something that is known to the only wise God, our Saviour.

III. THERE ARE KINDS OF SIN WHICH CALL FOR TREATMENT OF A SPECIALLY SEVERE KIND. The harping of David may be enough to cast out some devils, but others laugh to scorn the exorcism of nine apostles. What of your equipment in this warfare? You have a faith that has proved itself equal to some duty and fit for service of a kind. But are there not sins in you which sometimes assume a very alarming shape; and how are you equipped against these? Look first at the sin, at its inveterate hold on you, at its rootedness in the deepest part of your nature, at the skill with which it assails you all day long and in so many different ways; look with what ease it has survived any assaults you have made on it; and then look at the means you are using for its destruction, and say if it is likely, nay, if it is possible, that such sin can yield to such means. Were we to tell each other our experience, would not some of us have to say, "Unless there be some better remedy than those I have tried, I fear to think what may become of me and my sin"? Learn from this incident that your safety lies, not with subsidiary means, but with the Master, the one living Spring of life. - D.

A blended good and evil characterizes the present state of man. Ever since our first parents ate of the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" their children have been eating of it. The hovel is found under the very shadow of the palace. What a scene of glory was that of the Transfiguration! What a scene of misery is this at the foot of the mountain! "And when they were come to the multitude," etc. Learn -


1. For Omnipotence is pledged to it.

(1) Witness the miracle of faith on the waters of the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:13, 14). The distance across the arm of the Red Sea at Pihahiroth is about twelve miles; while the average depth of the water there is about eighty-four feet. The weight of the vast ocean sets into it. Yet was that world of waters controlled by the faith of Moses.

(2) So, had the disciples of Jesus "faith as a grain of mustard seed," they might have routed the devil from this boy. And the case of the demoniac may be taken as a sample of the moral condition of man under the tyranny of Satan.

(3) No limit is set to the premise here given to faith (cf. Matthew 21:21; Luke 17:5). Things great or small are equally easy to the Promiser. Properly speaking, to God nothing is miraculous. A rustic, witnessing the experiments of an electrician, may conclude that he is a magician. To the scientist these experiments have no more of miracle in them than the rustic may see in the furrow he cuts with his plough. "Things impossible with men are possible with God."

2. But Omnipotence is not pledged to caprice.

(1) In the heathen mythology there is one Phaethon, the son of Apollo, who was ambitious to guide the chariot of the sun, and importuned his father to entrust him with the reins. He soon found his arm too treble to restrain the fiery steeds; and the sun was rushing down upon the earth. Jupiter, seeing the danger, launched a thunderbolt at Phaethon and dislodged him from his seat, upon which the chariot came back into abler hands, and the world was saved from conflagration. If, then, Omnipotence be pledged to faith, may not ambition and folly destroy the world?

(2) The answer is that faith is the gift of God (see Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8, 9; Philippians 1:29; Colossians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:1). God will not inspire faith in the interests of folly.

(3) Hence quality rather than quantity is the thing required. "Faith as a grain of mustard seed." The idea of a grain of mustard seed dislodging a mountain! Abstractedly, faith is impotent; it becomes omnipotent as it is associated with God. A small band slipped over a wheel sets a factory in motion, because it links the machinery with the steam engine. Faith may link the machinery of the universe to the great power of God.

(4) True faith is distinct from mere credence. Some are Christians from the accident of birth, as others are Mohammedans, Papists, or pagans. Some are Christians from conviction, having studied and approved the evidences. But saving faith is a thing of the heart - an inspiration from God; it works by love, and purifies the heart and life.


1. Divine seriousness is a condition of the faith of miracle working.

(1) This our Lord declared (see Mark 9:38, 39). And Paul says, "No man can say Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 12:3).

(2) Simon the magician was mistaken in thinking that the gift of God could be purchased with money (Acts 8:20). The sons of Sceva found to their cost that they must not trifle with the name of Jesus (see Acts 19:13-16).

(3) The miracle working faith was given to authenticate the gospel. That end is now answered. Yet may it be given again at any time when God sees sufficient reason.

2. Repentance is the condition of saving faith.

(1) Christ came to save his people from their sins. So the promise is, "In the day that ye seek me ye shall find me, when ye search for me with your whole heart."

(2) Then seize the candle of the Lord, and search your heart to see what has hindered your salvation. Have you made restitution in that you have robbed? Have you made reparation in that you have injured (see Matthew 5:23, 24)?

(3) The faith that saves is a higher gift than the faith of miracle working. "Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Rejoice not so much that you have the miracle working faith as that you have the faith that saves, "If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). Miracle working faith is as nothing compared with that which is saving.

3. Godliness is essential to the faith of usefulness.

(1) The goodness of Barnabas is significantly associated with his "faith" and usefulness (see Acts 11:24). This also may be noted in respect to persons eminently useful in the Church in following ages.

(2) But what are we to say to the usefulness of those who are far from goodness? Not that they are useful in consequence of their faith; for they have none. The truth God may bless, whoever uses it. No credit in this case is due to the ungodly; nor will they receive any reward.

(3) For the faith of usefulness we must pray. "This kind goeth not out but by prayer." Because without prayer we cannot have that goodness which renders us eligible for the gift of faith.

(4) Fasting also is helpful to faith. Our Lord gave us his example in this (see Matthew 4:2). He also gives us directions as to the spirit in which we should fast (see Matthew 6:16). Apostles associated fasting with their special prayer (see Acts 13:2, 3). - J.A.M.

I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Now, these very disciples had been able to heal and cure and restore, when on their trial mission. They had returned to their Lord greatly excited, and saying," Even the devils are subject to us in thy Name." It does not, however, appear that they had healing powers when their Master was present. True, he was not present on this particular occasion, but he was only temporarily absent, and he had left them with no particular commission. It is easy to find excuses for their failing and their feeling. Jesus does not so much reprove them as mourn over them. They did not come up to the standard he desired; they did not grow spiritually. Their failure showed failure to attain spiritual power. It is plain that the disciples were not fitted to receive news of the glorious but mysterious scene of the Transfiguration. Our Lord suggests two explanations of the failure of the disciples: they were "faithless and perverse."

I. ONE GREAT CAUSE IS SELF-CENTREDNESS. This is the mood which is indicated by their question, "Why could not we cast him out?" It really was not a question of their casting out. It was a question of their Lord's power to cast out, and of their Lord's gracious willingness to make them his agents in the casting out. They had come to be interested in what they could do; and, like the man who walks on a giddy height, they began to turn giddy as soon as they looked down to watch the goings of their own feet. The greatest secret of failure in spiritual power is still the growing up of self-centredness; the turning of our eyes in upon ourselves; the supreme interest in what we can be, or in what we can do. If these disciples had been able to cure, they would have been proud of their power; and that would have been ruinous to their Christian standing. Humbling lessons of failure are necessary to break us off from dangerous self-centralizing.

II. ANOTHER GREAT CAUSE IS UNBELIEF. But this is not to be taken in its active form. What is meant here is weakness, ineffectiveness of faith. It was not there, ready for an emergency. An unexpected demand was made on faith, and faith was caught at unawares. It was no question of denying truths. It was a question of daily reliance, mood of trust, the life of faith, the state of mind and heart that finds such noble expression in St. Paul's words, "I can do all things through him who strengtheneth me." These disciples should have had an established faith which linked them to the Divine power of their Master, and would have given them power to use his power to heal. - R.T.

This was the comment of our Lord on the failure of the disciples to cure the lunatic boy, and on his own subsequent success. The difference was accounted for by the fact that the disciples had not faith, while Christ possessed it. On another occasion, when there was no question of any attempt of his disciples, our Lord answered the amazement caused by one of his miracles by pointing in a similar way to the power of faith (Matthew 21:21).


1. Its existence. "If ye have faith." These words imply uncertainty. Many people have much religion, but no faith. They have a creed, but not faith. They do not really and actively trust God. Faith begins in us when we put our belief into action.

2. Its smallness. It may be but as a grain of mustard seed. It is sad to think of its being so minute; certainly there is no virtue in its meagreness. Yet even a small faith may do great things if it is indeed a real faith. The great question is not - How many things do we believe? but - How firm is our grasp upon the objects of faith? The area of belief may be vast as a windswept desert, and faith may be small as a shepherd's cot. Then it is that little hut of faith that saves us, while the storm passes overhead.

3. Its life. The mustard seed is better than a grain of sand. It is alive, and therefore it can grow. The living faith will not be always small. But even while it is small it is capable of wonderful. possibilities.


1. An active work. Christ here speaks of what faith does, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews recites achievements of faith (Hebrews 11.). Faith not only affords shelter in trouble, it is an inspiration for service. The man of faith is the man of action, for he has within him a fountain of energy. It is, therefore, an utter mistake to suppose that "believing" is to be instead of "doing." Faith is given to enable us to do great things which we could not accomplish without it.

2. A great work. This small faith is to accomplish grand results. The mustard seed is to remove a mountain. Only a foolish literalism can occasion any perplexity in the reading of Christ's words. His disciples were too familiar with Oriental metaphors to fall into the absurd mistake of supposing that Jesus really expected them to toss mountains of rock and earth from one place to another. It was customary for the Jews to refer to a great rabbi as a remover of mountains, and therefore Christ was employing proverbial language which would be well understood by his hearers. But this does not mean that his words contained no statement of importance. What it teaches is that faith can accomplish stupendous achievements, such as the strongest men' would fail in attempting without it.

3. A work of removing difficulties. The forerunner of Christ was to lower mountains in order to prepare the way for the King (Isaiah 40:4). There are many hindrances in the path of Christian work. Some of these seem to be insuperable. Sultans frown on the gospel; empires bar their gates against it. But faith, working by prayer, has removed many such a mountain of difficulty, and it will do so again. - W.F.A.

Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. There is some uncertainty about the word fasting." The Revised Version omits the verse altogether. It is found, however, in Mark's Gospel, and introduces a valuable topic, which finds other expression in our Lord's teaching. A man can only be ready for a time of strain by constant and careful training. A man, to be always ready, must be always disciplining himself. And if his work is to take specially serious forms, his trainings and preparations must be specially adapted. Carefully distinguish between the moral character of self-discipline, which aims at gaining acceptance, and of self-discipline, which aims at faithfulness, and power to serve.

I. SELF-DISCIPLINE, ITS CHARACTERISTIC FEATURES. Character is the product of self-discipline. Our natural dispositions are not our character; it needs to be more clearly seen that character is something that a man wins by effort, or fails to win by wilfully making no effort. The measure of a man's self-discipline is the measure of his nobility; it is the sign of his manhood. This is true in the lower sphere, but it is much more true in the higher sphere. Self-discipline provides an infallible test of the Christian man, whose moderation, whose self-restraint, should be known in all things. The terms, "prayer," "fasting," classify the characteristic features of Christian self-discipline.

1. Prayer heads and represents all the positive forms.

2. Fasting heads and represents all the negative forms. Self-discipline is often misconceived, because it is represented only by fasting. It is thought of as only self-restraints, personal deprivations, bodily austerities, stern dealings even with our pleasant things. Fasting represents bodily subduings and humiliations. The Christian self-discipline is more vigorous on the positive side. Prayer represents putting life into good shape; ordering our habits; making and using all pious opportunities; laying hold of the strength of God. There is so much to do as well as so much to undo.

II. SELF-DISCIPLINE, ITS CHARACTERISTIC EFFECTS. The weak man is the undisciplined man, who is mastered by himself. A man gains moral power as he gains control over himself. A man never finds a harder foe to conquer, when he has mastered his own habits and passions. And our Lord here shows that no man can possibly have power to influence others unto noble attainments until he has won power over himself. The parent does no good with his children while he keeps his own character undisciplined. - R.T.

The originality of Jesus meets us at every turn. The men of this world seek greatness in self-assertion and resistance - by force and cunning. Christ exhibits it in condescension and patience.


1. His submission there was voluntary.

(1) He foresaw it.

(a) It was predicted. He was perfectly conversant with the prophets.

(b) He enlarged upon their anticipations. How circumstantial are his words (see vers. 22, 23)!

(c) His clear foresight was an ante-Passion.

(2) He could, have avoided it.

(a) For he was "the Son of man." As the true Adam - the innocent and perfect Man - he might have claimed Eden. He was under no obligation to suffer.

(b) But he was also "the Son of God." In this quality he was acknowledged at his Transfiguration (see ver. 5). Under these titles alike equally glorious attributes of Divinity are ascribed to Jesus. He was the Arbiter of life. His own life could not be forfeited without his consent.

(3) Yet he died. The "betrayed" of the Old Version is "delivered up" in the New (ver. 22). His manhood was surrendered by his Godhead. The voluntariness of the sacrifice of Christ was superlative, infinite.

2. Behold now his greatness in the grandeur of his purposes.

(1) In the Passion of Christ we have the most wonderful revelation of God. Where else can we find an equal exhibition of the greatness of his love? It is also the most glorious vindication of his truth (cf. Matthew 26:24; Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18).

(2) Atonement is made for human sin. "They shall kill him." "Without shedding of blood there is no remission."

(3) The gospel has to be authenticated in the resurrection. "And the third day he shall be raised." Death was the necessary prelude to a resurrection. Note the occasion of the sorrow of the disciples. The prospect of the death of their Master swallowed up as it were that of the resurrection, of which also they had been pre-informed. So do the trials and sufferings of this life so fill our minds as to prevent our rejoicing in the blessedness of the glories that are to follow.

(4) To all these great purposes of the Passion of Christ add this, viz. that in it he is our Pattern. The believer is crucified with Christ. And that union with Christ which he finds at the cross carries him back into the life of his earlier history, and forward into the life of his resurrection. Men are at their greatest in this wonderful union with their Lord.


1. Look at the fact assuming the tax to have been a Roman impost.

(1) Beza and Jerome were of opinion that the tax here, as in ch. 22:7, was paid to Caesar. On that supposition the inquiry may have been, "Is your Master of the opinion of Judas of Galilee, that tribute should not be paid to Caesar?"

(2) Peter took it as matter of course that his Master would pay the tax; but Jesus put the matter to him in an unexpected light. We know Christ only as he reveals himself. The revelation was given, not to the tax gatherer, but to Peter. Truth is variously seen as it is viewed in relation to the world and in relation to Christ. The Word gives a distinct testimony to the worldly and co the spiritual.

(3) But where is the point of the reference to the "kings of the earth"? Might not Jesus, as the "Son of David" and rightful Heir to the throne of Israel, have contested the matter of the tribute to Caesar? As the "Son of man," was he not Heir to the royalty of the whole earth (cf. Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8:4-6; Hebrews 2:6-9)? In this he is "higher than the kings of the earth."

(4) Had Jesus urged these things upon the tax gatherer and contested the matter with Caesar, he would have sought greatness as the men of the world seek it. But to that he would not. stoop. God is in no haste. At the proper time "he will take to himself his great power."

(5) So can the sons of God afford to wait for the great day of their public honour when they shall claim the freedom of the universe.

2. Look at the fact understanding the tribute to belong to the temple.

(1) This is the sense in which it is generally taken. A half shekel was expected from every master of a Hebrew family to provide salt for the offerings and other things not otherwise provided for (see Exodus 30:11-16; Nehemiah 10:32).

(2) According to this view, then, our Lord refers to the "kings of the earth" as in contrast to the King of heaven. The temple for whose service the tribute was expected was the house of God; but Jesus was the Son of God - the Prince (cf. Daniel 9:25, 26). So was he Lord of the temple, and free (cf. Malachi 3:1; John 2:16; Hebrews 3:6). Jesus might have claimed exemption upon higher ground than that on which exemption was conceded to the priests who ministered in the temple.

(3) Those who are Christ's share in his rights as the sons of God. Hence the manner in which Jesus associates Peter with himself in this matter of the tribute. "For me and thee" (ver. 27). The disciples of Jesus, like the priests that ministered in the temple, should be free. And here is a hint that disciples of Jesus should be released from Levitical obligations in general.

(4) Instead of arguing this question with the collector, Jesus left it to be disposed of by the issue of events. How truly great is he in his calm self-possession!

3. Now look at the manner of his submission.

(1) He waives his claim in tenderness toward the prejudices of men. "Lest we should offend them." Note: Men occupied in worldly concerns are most ready to be offended with the saints in money matters. Lest these persons, being ignorant of his Divine character, should impute his refusal to impiety. Love will conciliate prejudice.

(2) Consider further the extent to which he carried that tenderness. A miracle is wrought to avoid giving offence. How original is the conduct of Christ in this! How great is he in that originality!

(3) Here, then, is our Example. The loving Spirit will do anything for peace but sacrifice justice and truth (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13; Romans 16:13). Note: The business of Christians is with the morals of the world rather than with the politics of nations. In improving the morals of the world they go to the very root of the evils in the politics of nations.

4. View the greatness of Jesus in his superiority to the world.

(1) He elected poverty. What poverty is this! He has not in possession fifteen pence to satisfy a collector of tribute. Note: The original disciples did not follow him for worldly gain. His high example may reconcile his disciples to privation.

(2) But what resources are associated with this poverty! The miracle of the fish showed omnipotence and omniscience in many ways. The fish must be taken; it must be taken immediately; it must bring up money; the first fish must bring it up; the coin must be a stater. Note: The disciples of Jesus in their poverty may trust his providence. He can as surely supply their needs without as by miracle.

(3) The poverty of Jesus was voluntary. The power which commanded that stater could have summoned boundless wealth. It is Christ-like to forego opportunities of wealth for the kingdom of heaven's sake.

(4) When will men discern it practically, that there are better things than money? - J.A.M.

The third day he shall be raised again. Our Lord tried to prepare his disciples for his resurrection by frequent allusions to it, and yet they never seemed to be able to take it into their souls. Perhaps they thought he was only speaking in his usual figurative and paradoxical way, though what he really meant they were unable to guess. The disciples would not allow themselves to contemplate their Lord's violent death; and they could not else to conceive, of his abiding spiritual presence as altogether more important than his temporary bodily presence. Our Lord made much of his coming resurrection. Can we understand what it was to him?

I. THE RESURRECTION INTIMATES THE CLOSE OF A HARD LIFE. Our Lord's human life was a hard life. That is the best word for it, because human life is hard that involves constant humiliation and self-restraint. We should avoid exaggeration in speaking of Jesus as "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." Life is hard for the man who is "cribb'd, cabined, and confined," and has always to be forcing his will into subjection to a superior will. Our Lord's trouble was the power of the body to affect the will; but that would be done away with in the Resurrection.

II. THE RESURRECTION LIFTS HIS THOUGHT OVER THE LAST STRUGGLE. Illustrate by the patient anticipating a serious operation. The best thing you can do to cheer him is to lift his thoughts over that time, away beyond that time, to the time of convalescence, and what is to be done then. So Jesus had Gethsemane, judgment halls, and Calvary to go through, and his best cheer was to slip over them, and think of the glorious resurrection life beyond.

III. THE RESURRECTION WAS THE SIGN OF THE ACCEPTANCE OF HIS WORK. His release from the grave was the intimation of Divine approval, and the occasion for giving him his trust of the work of saving humanity. To think of that acceptance assured Christ that the Father's smile was on him while he was working and suffering.

IV. THE RESURRECTION WAS THE TIME WHEN HE COULD BECOME THE SPIRITUAL POWER HE WANTED TO BE. This point will open out with some freshness. Jesus always wanted to be a spiritual power in the souls of men. While he was in the body, the body seemed both to help and to hinder both him and them. It was a necessary help for a time, but Jesus longed for the risen and ascended life, in which he could be unhindered spiritual power to redeem and save. - R.T.

I. THE QUESTIONING DEMAND. The collectors of tribute asked with uncertainty, but perhaps also with suspicion and a desire to entrap St. Peter, whether Christ paid the regular temple tribute. This was expected of our Lord because he was a Jew. St. Peter answered in the affirmative without a moment's hesitation. This confidence of the apostle then induced Jesus to discuss the question. It is not reasonable to submit to any demand of men until its claim has been justified. Many people are singularly believing and compliant among men, while they are full of doubts and objections in regard to the demands made on them by God.

II. THE ROYAL LIBERTY. If Christ was indeed the Son of God, it could not be right to require the tribute from him which went from other men as from servants and stewards.

1. Observe our Lord's calm claim, it is sometimes assumed that the first three Gospels do not record any great claims on the part of Christ; that his lofty demands are only to be found in the Fourth Gospel. Thus it is attempted both to discredit that Gospel and to reject the claims themselves. But here we have a most exalted assumption of dignity. Could a mere man speak thus? And Jesus, let us always remember, was lowly and unselfish.

2. Consider his great rights. He should not be liable even to a tax. He has a right to receive all. Yet he was treated as though he were a subject and an inferior. His submission to indignities should not blind us to the majesty of his rights.

III. THE GRACIOUS ACQUIESCENCE. Though he might have stood upon his rights, Jesus was satisfied with explaining the situation to his over hasty disciple. Then he yielded.

1. The lover of peace will not always insist upon his rights. A man may be perfectly justified in resisting a certain demand, and yet it may be wisest for him to submit. When it is a question of principle there must be no compromise for the sake of peace, and when others are involved we are not at liberty to permit their rights to be trampled on through our meek submission. A Hampden is justly honoured as an unselfish patriot. But when it is only a question of our own personal convenience, it is often wisest and most Christ-like not to stand up stiffly forevery rightful claim which we might make.

2. The unselfish man will sacrifice his rights for the good of others. Jesus had great rights; but he let them go, because he had not come to please himself, but to give himself up for others. This is the great example and pattern for Christians.

IV. THE STRANGE MIRACLE. We cannot understand this miracle. But, then, we cannot really understand any miracle. It is simplest to think of it as a miracle of knowledge, At all events, it has its lessons.

1. Christ was poor. He had not even the half shekel when this was demanded.

2. Christ devised a new way of satisfying the demands made upon him. He put himself about for the sake of peace. He did not wish to provoke opposition. His conduct was most conciliatory.

3. Christ displayed his kingly power. While submitting to the wrongful treatment of him as a subject, he revealed his true kingly supremacy even over nature, in the fish of the sea. - W.F.A.

This was not an entangling question, such as was afterwards put by the scribes, who asked if it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. There was no question of the lawfulness of this tax, and all that the collectors wished to know was whether Jesus wished to pay the tax at Capernaum or at Jerusalem, or whether perhaps he had not some special claim for exemption. Peter, as usual, does not stop to think, but promptly assures them that his Master certainly considered himself taxable. No sooner does Peter come in than Jesus, without further introduction, says, "What thinkest thou, Simon? the kings of the earth, from whom do they receive toll or tribute? from their sons, or from strangers?" Peter promptly answered, "From strangers." "Therefore," says our Lord, "the sons are free." The heavenly King could obviously require no tax from him whom Peter had only a day or two ago acknowledged to be, in a special sense, the Son of God. He had no intention, however, of standing on his right, and claiming exemption. His whole life was a foregoing of his rights as God's Son. He submitted to this tax, therefore, as he submitted to baptism. But that Peter at least might clearly understand that this payment and every act of his human life was a voluntary humiliation, he provides the money in a manner which is meant to exhibit him as the Lord of nature. When Peter went down to the lake, and found all as his Master had said, he cannot but have thought with himself, "Certainly our Master is as humble as he bids us be. He has all nature at command, and yet makes no sign to these tax gatherers. He bids us accommodate ourselves to the ignorance and prejudice of those about us, as he himself stoops to the smallest child." This miracle, then, was meant to instruct; especially to illustrate the humility of Jesus. It was intended to follow up the teaching of the Transfiguration and of Peter's confession; and, on the other hand, to put in a concrete and visible form the teaching regarding humility which our Lord at this time gave to his disciples. Peter was to be helped to see that the most Divine thing about our Lord was his becoming man, and submitting day by day to all that was involved in that. And in this miracle he had his first easy lesson; for in it he was himself the instrument at once of his Lord's Divinity and of his submission. Our Lord himself assigns a reason for the payment: "Lest," he says, "we should offend," or become a cause of stumbling. To all followers of Christ, then, this action of our Lord says, "Forego your rights rather than cause any ignorant person to stumble at your conduct." We are very apt to justify ourselves by maintaining that it was not we, but the person who stumbled, who was in fault; if he was so narrow minded, so weak, he would have stumbled at something else if not at that. "Yes," says our Lord, "it is quite true; it must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom they come!" All men die, but murder is not on that account a venial sin. Our Lord miraculously paid Peter's tax as well as his own. He supplied him out of his Father's treasury, giving him an inkling of the truth afterwards to be set in the clearest light, that in Christ we are all children of God, and that in him we get from God far more than ever we can give to him. - D.

The miracle of the stater in the fish's mouth is one of the most difficult miracles to deal wisely with; and that for this reason - it seems to be opposed to the principle our Lord adopted, and so readily carried through, that he would work no miracle for the supply of his own needs. All Christ's miracles are acts of service; sometimes evidently the service of teaching moral and spiritual truth to his disciples. But if this incident be carefully observed, it will be seen that, though the supernatural element is clearly present, the precisely miraculous element is absent. Christ, by supernatural power, knew which fish would first seize St. Peter's hook, and what would be found in that fish; but not a word is said which intimates that Christ put forth miraculous power in order to place that stater in the fish's mouth. There is, indeed, no miracle to explain to those who believe in the Divine-human nature of Christ. The point we take is the reason given by Jesus for allowing this tax money to be paid - "Lest we should offend them." Those who note the finer shades of language can scarcely fail to trace in these words the tone of what we should describe in a human teacher as a half playful, half serious irony.

I. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN WE DO WELL TO STAND TO OUR RIGHTS. There were such times in the life of Jesus. Standing on our dignity is a very doubtful thing. A man's dignity is but a poor thing if it cannot take care of itself. But every man has rights. He ought to be prepared to assert them on all fitting occasions. A man's rights represent his trust, his mission for God, and he must be jealous of them.

II. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN WE DO WELL NOT TO PRESS OUR RIGHTS. It may be that men do not recognize them, or do not admit them, as in the case of Christ. Then we do better to live them rather than assert them. It may be that those around us are unsympathetic and prepared to object, as in the case of Christ. Then Christian prudence advises a careful reticence, lest we offend them.

III. THE SKILL OF CHRISTIAN LIVING IS SEEN IN DISCERNING THE TIME TO ACT, AND THE TIME TO REFRAIN FROM ACTING. Many things are not abstractly right, but are relatively right. We have to act in view of existing circumstances, in ways we should not adopt if all the circumstances were according to our mind. A Christian should not hesitate to give offence, but he should avoid giving needless offence. - R.T.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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