Matthew 17
Pulpit Commentary
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
Verses 1-13. - The Transfiguration of Jesus. (Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36.) This mysterious event was intended primarily to confirm the faith of the three apostles who were to have the chief hand in founding the Church. The Lord had just announced his future sufferings and death. This prediction had been a grievous blow to Peter, and doubtless to the others also. He had stumbled at the cross, and had brought on himself a stern rebuke for his slowness and worldliness. So to comfort the chosen three under the thought of what awaited their Master, they were shown a glimpse of the glory which he has in heaven; they saw the Law and the prophets yielding subjection to him; they heard the voice of the Father announcing his Sonship. Henceforward they might take courage under all circumstances; the cross would be no infamy or disgrace - would open the way to victory and glory. Here was a foretaste of the blessedness of heaven - to be with Christ and his saints in his kingdom. Such was the Transfiguration to the three witnesses. To the world, when in due time it was made known, it taught lessons of the Incarnation, the resurrection of the body, the glory that shall be the portion of the righteous. For Christ himself it was the culminating point of his earthly life, "the solemn installation of our Lord to his sufferings and their result" (Alford). Verse 1. - After six days. St. Luke says, "about an eight days after these sayings," either speaking indefinitely, or using the inclusive method of reckoning which we find in the recounts of our Lord's resurrection. The days are counted from the time of Peter's confession and Christ's subsequent announcement. The little company were still in the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi, though we know not exactly in what place, and nothing is told of the events of this week. The memorable day may be specially noticed as being the same day of the week as that on which the great confession was made in the previous se'nnight; or, if we regard the typical bearing of numbers in Scripture, the six days signify the world and daily labour, the seventh, "after six days," typifies heaven and rest. Peter, James, and John. These three, the chosen of the chosen, had already witnessed Christ's power over death in the chamber of Jairus's daughter; later they were present at the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. They who had seen his glory were strengthened to behold his sweat of blood. These men formed the inner circle of his friends; to them he gave the privilege of knowing more of his inner life and nature. They were selected for various reasons - Peter, for his energy, zeal, and love, and the part he was to play in the founding of the Church; John, because he was beloved by Christ, and was to be the recipient of Divine revelation; James, because he was to be the head of the Church of Jerusalem, and soon to drink of Christ's cup and war a good warfare. The James here named is the son of Zebedee, and brother of John, and was put to death by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12.). An high mountain. The only tradition concerning the locality of the Transfiguration (which none of the inspired narratives further identifies) affixes it to Mount Tabor, the beautiful isolated mountain, which rises some eighteen hundred feet on the northeast of the Plain of Esdraelon. This tradition, as far as we know, was first published in the fourth century A.D, by St. Cyril of Jerusalem ('Catech.,' 12:16) and St. Jerome (Ep. 44. 'Ad Marcell.;' Ep. 108. 'Ad Eustoch.'), and thence was generally adopted and upheld till the sixteenth century, both by commentators and travellers. Since then more accurate examination and historical criticism have thrown grave doubts on this identification. The summit of Tabor has from a very early age been occupied by habitations. It is spoken of in 1 Chronicles 6:77 as including in its limits a city and its suburbs. Later it was strongly fortified, and the whole area was surrounded with a wall, of which the ruins can still be traced. In our Lord's time the town and the fortress covered the level portion of the hill, and there would have been no place of retirement where he could have withdrawn apart for the purpose of the vision. There is another reason that makes Tabor unlikely to have been the scene of the Transfiguration. The last geographical notice left our Lord and his disciples outside Galilee in the neighbourhood of Paneas. It was about a three days' journey thence to Esdraelon; but no mention is made of any such movement during this week, and it is after the Transfiguration that the synoptists intimate that the return to Galilee took place (see ver. 22; Mark 9:30). We must therefore surrender the old tradition, and look in the vicinity of Caesarea for the high mountain of our narrative. There was no lack of such in that region, and it was doubtless on one of the offshoots of Hermon that the glorious vision was vouchsafed, though more precise identification is impossible. Hermon itself is called by the Arabs Jebel-esh-Sheikh, "The Chief Mountain," and the way in which the locality is introduced in the narrative, without further specification, seems to point to some eminence of the most obvious and best known hill of the district. St. Peter, when in after years he alluded to it, called it merely "the holy mount" (2 Peter 1:18); and we may conclude that we are not intended to know more about it, lest we should be tempted to make more of the material circumstances than of the great reality. St. Luke notifies that the Lord retired to this place in order to pray. It may have been that he prayed for the enlightemnent of the apostles - that they might receive the teaching of the Transfiguration and the subsequent sayings.
And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
Verse 2. - Was transfigured (μετεμορφώθη); Vulgate, transfiguratus est. The verb is used in classical Greek of transformation, as of a man into an animal. Here it refers to a change of countenance, which is the chief index of any change exterior or interior. St. Luke explains the matter with the words, "The fashion of his countenance was altered." The Word of God allows for a brief space his essential glory to irradiate and shine through the form of a servant which he wore. Not that he showed his Divine nature, or laid aside his human body; his bodily nature remained in its entirety, but permeating it was an effulgence which indicated the Godhead. Perhaps it might be said, as an old writer puts it, that the Transfiguration was less a new miracle than the temporary cessation of an habitual miracle; for the veiling of his glory was the real marvel, the Divine restraint which prohibited the illumination of his sacred humanity. Before them. In their presence. Jesus probably had withdrawn in order to pray in secret, but returned to the waiting three, that they might behold his glory - be "eyewitnesses of his majesty," as St. Peter says (2 Peter 1:16). These, indeed, had been heavy with sleep (Luke), but had awoke at his appearance, and beheld the vision in full possession of their senses. St. Matthew mentions specially two points in this transfiguration. His face did shine as the sun. This recalls the appearance of the Son of man in Revelation 1:16, "His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." And his raiment was white as the light. The light which emanated from his body shone through and glorified his very garments. The Vulgate has sicut nix, and χιὼν is read in some few manuscripts in place of φῶς: but the word is doubtless introduced here from St. Mark (where, however, it is of doubtful genuineness). If this second evangelist received his account from St. Peter, we recognize the simile in the apostle's remembrance of the snow clad peak of Hermon, in whose vicinity the event transpired. No candid reader can fail to acknowledge that it is no subjective vision that is here narrated, no merely inward impression on brain or nerve with nothing external to correspond, but a real, objective occurrence, which was beheld by mortal eyes endued with no supernatural or abnormal powers, except in so far as they were enabled to look on this partial emanation of the Divine effulgence.
And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
Verse 3. - And, behold. The exclamation, thrice repeated (ver. 5), marks the suddenness and unexpectedness of the occurrence. They who now appeared were no delusive, imaginary figures, but real personages, objectively presented to the spectators, in such bodies as appertained to their condition. Moses and Elias. St. Luke adds, "who appeared in glory," radiant with the light which always accompanies heavenly visitors. Why these two saints were chosen to be present on this momentous occasion may be explained by various considerations. Both these worthies experienced something unparalleled in their departure from this life. Elijah was taken up to heaven without dying; Moses died, indeed, but he was buried by God in an unknown grave, and his body was under the especial care of Michael the archangel (see Jude 1:9), and we know not that it saw corruption. From the unseen world these were brought to do homage to the Messiah - Moses, a type of those blessed spirits who in Paradise await the final consummation, Elijah, a type of the saints who, after the resurrection, perfect in soul and body, shall enter into glory. Here were the representatives of the Law and the prophets, the principal supporters of the old covenant, honouring him who was introducing the new covenant, which was to fulfil and supersede the previous one. Spurious, degraded Judaism rejected Christ's claims; real, orthodox Judaism acknowledged him and reverenced him as the Christ foretold and fort, shadowed, "of whom Moses and the prophets did write" (John 1:45). Now, too, it was made manifest that Jesus was not Elias or one of the prophets, as some erroneously had supposed, but different from and superior to all; that he had power over life and death, and could bring whom he would from the unseen World; that the cross and Passion were not degrading, or proofs of weakness, but glorious and triumphant accomplishments of the will or God. The question is asked - How did Peter and the rest recognize the two heavenly visitants? There may have been something conventional in their garb or appearance, which at once identified them; or the apostles may have known them by spiritual intuition or special revelation; or they may have gathered their knowledge from the conversation which they overheard. Anyhow, it was necessary that the two should be recognized, otherwise their appearance would have lost its significance, and the confirmation which they were intended to afford would fail to be given. Is there here an intimation that in heaven the blessed will know each other, though they never met in the flesh - shall know even as they have been known? Talking with him. St. Luke tells us the subject of this mysterious dialogue - they "spoke of his decease (ἔξοδον, exodus, departure) which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." They conversed, not of the glory which was his before the world began, nor of the kingdom which he came to establish, but of his coming suffering and death, with their tremendous issues. At the very moment of this revelation of Divinity, the discourse is of humiliation and the cross. The apostles had been slow to understand the future that awaited their Master; here the great saints of the covenant bore their testimony to Christ's fulfilment of what had been prophesied and shadowed aforehand, how by the sufferings of his sacred humanity eternal glory should be won. So might the apostles be strengthened to look forward without apprehension or weak shrinking; for through the grave and gate of death lay the road to a joyful resurrection and celestial happiness.
Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
Verse 4. - Then answered Peter. According to St. Luke, it was when the two Divine prophets were disappearing, or were being withdrawn from sight, that Peter spoke. Bewildered, overcome with joy and astonishment, not knowing what to say (Mark), yet in his excitement and ardour unable to keep silence, he cries to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here; perhaps equivalent to to remain here. He includes Moses and Elias in his eager exclamation. Some commentators confine the reference to the three apostles, as if Peter meant that it was "good" that they were present in order to prepare the necessary habitations. This seems meagre and insufficient. Here were peace, seclusion, safety: might they not last? Was there any need to quit this hallowed spot at once, and lose the heavenly company with which it was blessed? If thou wilt. Even at this supreme moment, he will not set his will in opposition to his Master's. Let us make (I will make, Revised Version) here three tabernacles (σκηνάς). Booths, of branches and grass, such as were used by travellers camping out, or such as the people erected when celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. He speaks of but three shelters, regarding only Jesus and the two prophets, and considering himself and his fellow disciples as mere servitors and attendants, for whom no such provision was needed. In his confusion he thinks that if these three remain, they must have some kind of habitation. Like a child, he would fain prolong indefinitely the joy of this great vision; and with a Jew's hankering for a conquering Messiah and the permanence of the old covenant, he desired that from that secure mountain top the laws of the kingdom might be issued, and all men might acknowledge the Christ attended and supported by the great lawgiver and prophet. Was there not also a latent hope that thus might be deferred or laid aside that departure to Jerusalem, with its calamitous consequences? But this was not to be. No answer was vouchsafed to Peter's thoughtless request.
While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
Verse 5. - A bright cloud overshadowed them. The cloud spread over and around, not Jesus only and the other two, but in some degree over the apostles also, as St. Luke adds, "They feared as they entered into the cloud." It was the Shechinah, the token of the presence of the Most High, who dwelleth in the unapproachable light. It enshrouded Jesus and his two companions, so that mortal eye could not pierce it or even look upon it; but the apostles, who were outside its immediate contact, were in some sort included in its influence, so that it could be said to overshadow them. St. Peter calls it "the excellent glory (τῆς μεγαλοπρεποῦς δόξης)" (2 Peter 1:17). The cloud from which on Sinai the old Law was given, was dark and threatening (Exodus 19:18; Exodus 20:21); this was bright, coming not to terrify, but to teach and to bless. Here is seen the contrast between the two dispensations, the Law and the gospel (comp. Hebrews 12:18-24). A voice out of the cloud. It was the voice of God the Father, for he called Jesus, My beloved Son. The same voice, saying the same words, had been heard over the waters of Jordan when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:17); it spake once again just before his Passion (John 12:28); at all times witnessing the Father's love and the perfect Divinity of Christ. Now, as before, the Holy Trinity was revealed, the Father speaking with audible voice, the Son standing in radiant light, the Holy Spirit present with the intense brightness of the enveloping cloud. The words heard are fontal in the earlier Scriptures. Thus in Isaiah 42:1 we read, "Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen in whom my soul delighteth;" and in Psalm 2:7, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." Hear ye him. Not Moses and Elias, but Jesus, the Mediator of a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6). "This voice," St. Peter testifies, "we ourselves heard come out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount" (2 Peter 1:18). As Edersheim remarks, even if this Epistle is not St. Peter's, it still would represent the most ancient tradition. "God, having of old spoken unto the fathers in the prophets, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son" (Hebrews 1:1). The command to hear him recalls the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), that in good time God would raise up from Israel a Prophet like unto himself, and that unto him they shall hearken.
And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
Verse 6. - Were sore afraid. The vision and the voice overcame them with awe and terror. They fell on their face. They tried to shut out the awful radiance that blinded them. Man's weakness could endure no more; prostrate, paralyzed with fear, they lay on the ground. Who could see God, and live? Had they not seen his glory, and heard his voice? What could they do but crouch in abject terror? Thus they knew not that the scene was over, that the tremendous glimpse of unseen realities vouchsafed to them had passed away.
And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
Verse 7. - Came and touched them. Jesus gently and lovingly aroused them from their stupor, showing that he was near, and that they had nothing to dread (comp. Isaiah 6:5-7; Daniel 10:8-10; Revelation 1:17). He adds the assurance of his own beloved and well known voice, Arise, and be not afraid. Such comfort he gave to the affrighted disciples when he came to them treading on the waters of the storm-tossed sea (Matthew 14:27).
And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
Verse 8. - No man, save Jesus only. Moses and Elias had vanished, Jesus was left alone, and the voice Divine said, "Hear him." When at Christ's touch and word the awestruck apostles dared once more to look around and to bethink themselves of what had passed, those were the facts of which they were conscious. The Law and the prophets, types and predictions, are fulfilled in Christ, and are so far superseded. The former were temporary, introductory to the gospel, which is to last forever. Many have seen in the Transfiguration an image and earnest of the future glory of the dead in Christ, when the vile body shall be changed into the likeness of Christ's glorious body, and they shall shine as the sun, and bear the image of the heavenly. So St. Gregory, "He is clothed with light as with a garment, because in that eternal glory he will be clothed with all the saints, to whom it is said, 'Ye are the light of the world.' Whence also it is said by the evangelist, that when the Lord was transfigured in the mountain, his raiment became as snow. In which Transfiguration what else is announced but the glory of the final resurrection? For in the mountain his raiment became as snow, because in the height of heavenly brightness all saints will be joined to him, refulgent with the light of righteousness" ('Moral.,' 32:6). Unbelief has endeavoured to throw discredit on the historical accuracy of the accounts of this great event. It was a dream, an atmospheric disturbance, an unusual play of light and shade, a myth, an allegory; the two heavenly visitants were two unknown disciples with whom Jesus conversed; the three apostles were rapt in a trance, and the vision was purely subjective; these and such like theories have been started by rationalists and enemies of the supernatural, and even by the partially orthodox, as Tertullian ('Adv. Marc., 4:22). There can be no doubt that the evangelists and the Apostle Peter regarded the event as an objective reality, upon which hung momentous truths; and we are content to let it stand or fall with the rest of the facts of the gospel narrative. There is no reason to separate it from the other items of the story. When once the stupendous miracle of the Incarnation is allowed, other wonders follow in natural sequence.
And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.
Verse 9. - As they came down from the mountain. The Transfiguration is supposed to have taken place at night, and the following conversation to have passed in the early morning of the next day. Tell the vision (τὸ ὅραμα, what bad been seen) to no man. This was a strict and formal command. The chosen three were at present not to mention the occurrence to anyone, not even to their fellow disciples. Possibly these would hardly have believed the marvellous tale, and their unbelief would have hardened their heart; or, if they fully credited it, they might have been jealous of the preference shown to some of their company. At any rate, neither they nor others were prepared to receive the great lesson of the scene - that the old covenant had done its work, that the Law and the prophets were superseded and must make way for the new dispensation. Had the story been divulged to the people generally, they would have stumbled at the cross and Passion, which would seem no fitting sequel to this glory (see on Matthew 16:20). Until the Son of man be risen again (ἀναστῇ) from the dead. When this great event happened and was known to be the fact, there could be no doubt that Christ was God, and the tale of the Transfiguration would no longer be incredible. Thomas's confession, "My Lord and my God," would be echoed in the heart and conscience of all disciples. St. Luke, though he does not mention Christ's injunction, notifies that it was carefully observed, "They kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen." (These last words, οὐδὲν ω΅ν ἑώρακαν, explain what St. Matthew above calls "the vision," τὸ ὅραμα, the objective spectacle.) The compliance with the injunction shows that they understood something of the spiritual nature of the transaction. We may also note that the prohibition itself is presumptive evidence against the supposed mythical character of the vision.
And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
Verse 10. - Why then (ou+n) say the scribes that Elias must first come? The illative particle "then" shows that the apostles' question arose from something immediately preceding. The connection seems to be this: Elias had just appeared and then had vanished again; how could this visitation be reconciled with the scribes' interpretation of Malachi's prophecy? If Elias was to come before the advent of Messiah, and Jesus is the Messiah, how is it that he has only now shown himself? If he has a work to do on earth, how could he do that when his sojourn was limited to a few minutes' duration, and to the view of so few witnesses? Malachi had spoken of the Messenger who was to precede and prepare the way for Messiah; he had said, "Before the great day of the Lord, I will send you Elijah the prophet" (Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5); and the learned among the Jews interpreted these two passages of his appearance in person to herald the approach of Messiah. Hence the perplexity of the apostles, they, like the scribes, not distinguishing the two advents of Christ, and the double allusion in the prophet's announcement - the "Messenger" in Matthew 3:1 being a different personage from "Elias" in Matthew 4:5, though of the same power and spirit. Christ explains the difficulty in the two next verses.
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
Verse 11. - Elias truly shall first come (ἔρχεται, cometh). Many of the best manuscripts and editions omit "first." The Vulgate has merely, Elias quidem venturus est. It is probably inserted in our text from the parallel passage in Mark, where it is certainly genuine. Christ is here alluding to his own second coming, which shall be preceded by the appearance of Elijah in person. This seems to be the plain meaning of the prophecy in Malachi, and of Christ's announcement, and is confirmed by St. John's statement concerning the two witnesses (Revelation 11:3, 6). That the paragraph cannot refer to John the Baptist is plain from the tenses used in this verse contrasted with those in the following. To regard ver. 12 as simply a correction of ver. 10 is to do violence to language, and to leave one half of Malachi's prediction unexplained. Restore (ἀποκατασήσει) all things. The event is still future, and was not fulfilled in the Baptist's preaching, however deep and extensive may have been its influence. Of course, John in a partial degree reproduced the character and acts of Elijah, directing the people to the eternal principles of justice and righteousness, to a reformation of religion and morals; but he could not be said to have reconstituted, re-established all things; though it is possible that, had his message been received and acted upon, some such effects would have been produced. How and in what degree Elijah, again appearing and living on earth, will effect this great achievement, we know not. We can only fall back on the ancient prophecy, which affirms that "he shall turn the heart of the fathers to [or, 'with'] the children, and the heart of the children to [or, 'and'] their fathers" (Malachi 4:6), and expect that in some way, known unto God, he shall convert one and all, young and old, unto the Lord; or unite the Jews who are the fathers in the faith to Christians who are their children, and thus embrace Jew and Gentile in one fold under one Shepherd.
But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
Verse 12. - Elias is come already. The mystical, not the real, Elias, even John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elias (Luke 1:17). Christ is here speaking of the past, as in the preceding verse he spake of the future. The common Jewish interpretation confused the two events and the two personages, reducing them to one. And this mistake has been committed by many modern expositors. They knew him not. They did not recognize his true character and the import of his mission. Though they gathered round him and listened to his preaching and denunciations, very few saw in him the precursor of the Messiah, and many, misunderstanding his austere, self-denying life, deemed him to be possessed by a devil (Matthew 11:18). They have done unto him. John suffered a long imprisonment, and was eventually murdered; and though Herod was primarily answerable for these doings, the people were virtually guilty, in that they consented to the injurious treatment and made no effort in his favour. Likewise...also. Taking occasion from the mention of the Baptist's fate, Jesus foretells his own sufferings and death, endeavouring to make the apostles familiar with the idea of a dying as well as a conquering Messiah.
Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
Verse 13. - Then the disciples understood. Though Jesus had said publicly concerning John, "This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face," and, "This is Elias which was for to come" (Matthew 11:10, 14); and though the angel Gabriel, in announcing his birth, had avowed that he should "go before the Christ in the spirit and power of Elias" (Luke 1:17), the apostles hitherto had not taken to heart the truth thus conveyed. Indeed, it was something quite new that they should thus at once apprehend Christ's meaning, so slow were they of faith, so unintelligent in appreciating the full signification of their Master's instructions.
And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
Verses 14-21. - Healing of the demoniac boy. (Mark 9:16-29; Luke 9:37-42.) The account of the miracle is much curtailed in our Gospel; the fullest narrative is given by St. Mark, to whom we must refer for the complete details. Verse 14. - When they were come to the multitude. St. Luke says this arrival was on "the next day" after the Transfiguration. If this event took place at night, the following morning will be meant. The contrast between the scene on the mountain and that presented by the demoniac below has been seized by Raphael, in his picture of the Transfiguration, at Rome - the last great work that he painted. The upper part of this picture represents Jesus radiant in glory with the heavenly visitants, while the lower panel shows the agonized father, surrounded by the unbelieving crowd, bringing his tortured son to the apostles, who stand helpless and discredited. The painter has, indeed, sacrificed fact to dramatic effect (as the two events were not synchronous); but the lesson enforced thereby is most impressive, and lays holds of the imagination, showing different phases of the life of Christ, and the realms of light and darkness. There came to him a certain man. Things had not gone well while Jesus and the three chief apostles were away on the mount. As during the absence of Moses at Sinai the people had fallen into idolatry (Exodus 32.), so now, when their Master and their leaders were withdrawn, the nine apostles bad faltered in faith and failed in exercising the miraculous powers bestowed upon them. Kneeling down to him. Directly the father saw Christ coming, he disengaged himself from the crowd and ran to meet him.
Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
Verse 15. - This verse in the Vulgate is contained in ver. 14. Have mercy on my son. According to St. Luke, the father makes his plea more touching by adding that he was his only son - an appeal to which the Saviour's tender heart was always open, as when he stopped the bier at Nain, and said to the childless widow, "Weep not." He is lunatic (σεληνιάξεται). The Revised Version most unnecessarily renders the verb, he is epileptic. Doubtless the case in many respects simulated epilepsy, and might have been so described; but it seems inexpedient to conceal the actual word used, which gave the popular and probably correct view of one phase of the complaint. Surely a real fact well known to medical science underlies the term lunacy, in the catalogue of the diseased persons who were brought to Christ to be healed (Matthew 4:24), we find a class called lunatics, distinct from the paralytic and possessed. It is by no means an exploded fallacy that the moon has some mysterious influence on certain constitutions, and produces an aggravation of symptoms in accordance with some of its changes. It was from observation of this phenomenon that this form of insanity was termed seleniasmus or lunacy. In the present instance the disease was complicated and of no ordinary nature. The other synoptists state that the child was possessed by a demon. This was the fact which differentiated the malady from any merely organic sickness. It was in truth epilepsy accompanied by or occasioned by demoniacal possession. St. Matthew does not mention the possession in his introductory account, but he afterwards (ver. 18) speaks of the demon departing. Sore vexed (κακῶς πάσχει); is in evil case; suffers grievously. He was affected with terrible paroxysms, which are detailed more at length by Mark and Luke. Matthew narrates some of the effects of the mania upon the victim. Ofttimes he falleth into the fire. The fits, coming on suddenly and without warning, brought the sufferer into imminent dangers, perhaps produced suicidal tendencies, which urged him to destroy himself.
And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
Verse 16. - I brought him to thy disciples. He had come with the multitude, hoping to find Jesus, and, being disappointed, he had applied to the nine to relieve his misery. When the apostles were sent forth with commission to heal the sick, they returned with joy to report the success of their tour: they cast forth many devils; they noted with glad surprise that the very demons were subject to them in the Name of Jesus (Matthew 10:1; Luke 10:17). It was different now. They could not cure him. What means they used we know not; at any rate, they were ineffectual. The writers who record the failure must be allowed to be truthful and honest. There had been much to depress these disciples. Their Master was absent, gone they knew not whither; how long he would be away they could not tell; the boldest and most trusted of their company were no longer present to cheer them with sympathy, to repel attacks, to stand forth as champions. The scribes' uncompromising disbelief (Mark 9:16) had for the moment obscured their own perfect trust; the atmosphere of infidelity had affected their own breathing; the memory of Christ's words concerning his Passion and death recurred again with dispiriting effect, infusing doubt and disquiet; they bad for the time lost the ardour and confidence which had animated them in their first mission; retaining belief in Christ's claims, they felt a hesitation concerning their own ability; and the conscious weakness in their exorcism nullified its power, and they could do no mighty work.
Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
Verse 17. - Jesus answered. Jesus did not directly respond to the father's appeal, nor repel the Pharisees' scoffs. In sorrow and indignation he goes at once to the root of the evil. O faithless and perverse generation! He seems to include in this denunciation all who were present - the father, scribes, people, apostles, especially the nine. Want of faith appertained to all. He often refers to the general body of his bearers by the term generation (comp. Matthew 11:16; Matthew 12:29, etc.). Perverse. The word is used by Moses in his great song (Deuteronomy 32:5, Septuagint) in reference to those who dealt corruptly; here it applies to persons who took a distorted view of Christ's work and teaching, and against light and knowledge obstinately persisted in their infidelity. How long shall I be with you?... suffer you? The sad question is not that of one who wants his work finished and his time of departure hastened; rather, it shows his sorrow and regret at the slowness of faith, the hardness of heart, which yet, notwithstanding all his teaching and his miracles, had not been overcome. How much longer was this to continue? Was this forgetfulness of the past, this dulness of comprehension, to last forever? Did they wish to wear out his long suffering, to exhaust his condescension? With Divine impatience at man's obduracy, he makes this mournful inquiry. Bring (φέρετε, bring ye) him hither to me. He speaks to the attendants or the crowd, and bids them bring the boy to him, not to the disciples. The prophet's staff in Gehazi's hand could not awake the dead; Elisha himself must undertake the work (2 Kings 4:31); so if the desired miracle had to he performed, Christ himself must do it. In spite of his grief and disappointment, he does not withhold relief, in the midst of wrath he remembers mercy.
And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
Verse 18. - Jesus rebuked the devil (αὐτῷ, him). Some take the pronoun as masculine, and refer it to the diseased boy; but it is more natural that the rebuke should be addressed to the possessing demon. This is the first place where St. Matthew mentions the spiritual aspect of the malady. As the child was being brought to Jesus, a terrible scene ensued, which is described with its horrific details by St. Mark, who also gives Christ's conversation with the father, whereby he desired to arouse faith in his heart, and to draw that assurance from him which could not be obtained from the irresponsible sufferer. He departed out of him. In contrast to the faltering exorcism of the apostles, which the devil had disregarded, Jesus orders with the calmness of assured authority, and is at once obeyed. After a final act of defeated malice, the demon quitted his hold of the child. Was cured from that very hour. Never more to fall under the devil's influence, restored wholly in body and mind. There is something very mysterious in the sufferings of this poor boy, as there is in those of infants. It is plain that the description, "epileptic mania," will not connote all the features of this case. The evangelists' narrative and Christ's words and actions conclusively prove that it had a demoniacal element, and that this was miraculously eliminated. For epilepsy, I believe, no cure is known. The suddenness and the permanence (Mark 9:25) of the relief further demonstrate the reality of the miracle. We learn also from this incident that all possessed persons were not morally evil, that often the possession appertained to the physical and psychical nature, and had no ethical relation.
Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
Verse 19. - Apart (κατ ἰδίαν). Jesus had retired to a house (Mark) when the disciples came to him. The question which they desired to ask was one that could not he investigated in the presence of the sneering, unbelieving crowd. Why could not we (ἡμεῖς, emphatic) cast him (αὐρὸ, it) out? They had keenly felt their impotence and failure, so publicly and distressingly displayed, especially as they had received power to eject demons, and had successfully exercised this authority (Luke 10:17). The Lord's rebuke (ver. 17) had passed over their heads, and not been understood as applicable to themselves. So it was with some bitterness that they asked the question. The nine had not been permitted to witness the Transfiguration; they were not even to be made acquainted with this wondrous transaction at present. More preparation, greater receptivity, was required, before they were fit to be admitted to the full mysteries of the kingdom. They had still much to learn, were still only pupils, and their late failure was permitted in order to help them to attain to self-knowledge and more entire self-surrender.
And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Verse 20. - Because of your unbelief. The Revised Version adopts the reading, little faith, in accordance with the best authorities; but it looks like a softening of the original term "unbelief," which corresponds better with Christ's own censure, "faithless generation." Jesus gives two reasons for the apostles' failure, one connected with their own moral condition, and one (ver. 21) derived from the nature of the demons exorcised. They had, indeed, shown some faith by making even the attempt at the expulsion of the devil, and were not to be classed with the unbelieving scribes; but they had acted in a half-hearted manner, and had not displayed that perfect confidence and trust which alone can win success and make all things possible. Verily I say unto you. The Lord proceeds to give that lesson concerning perfect faith and its results, which he afterwards repeated in connection with the withered fig tree (Matthew 21:21, where see note) and elsewhere (Luke 17:6). If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, which, as he says (Matthew 13:32), "is less than all seeds." He means a faith real and trustful, though it be small and weak. The phrase is proverbial, expressive of littleness and insignificance. The mustard seed is quite little, but, grown in favourable soil and under sunny skies, it becomes, as it were, a tree among herbs, so that birds may nestle in its branches. To it faith is compared, because, small at first, it contains within itself power of large development and increase; from minute grains copious results are produced. Ye shall say unto this mountain. He points to the hill of Hermon, where the Transfiguration had taken place. Remove hence. It is usual to consider the expression here as an Eastern hyperbole, not to be taken literally, but meaning merely that the greatest difficulties may be overcome by faith. This may be true, but it seems hardly adequate to the explanation of our Lord's emphatic words. St. Paul writes in a similar strain (1 Corinthians 13:2), "If I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains;" where there is nothing necessarily hyperbolical in the supposition. It seems rather that Jesus meant his words to be received literally, implying that if such a removal as he mentioned was ever expedient and in accordance with God's will, it would be effected by the power of faith; not that he hereby sanctioned an arbitrary and wanton display of miraculous power, but he gives an assurance that, were such a measure rendered necessary for the cause of religion, it would be performable at the call of one whose whole trust was centred on God, and whose will was one with God's will. Mediaeval writers, followed by later Roman Catholic commentators, give instances of such stupendous effects of faith. The evidence of such miracles is, of course, defective, and would not satisfy modern criticism, but the existence of such legends proves that a literal view was taken of our Lord's saying. Nothing shall be impossible unto you. The man of faith is practically omnipotent; moral and material difficulties vanish before him.
Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
Verse 21. - This verse is omitted in many good manuscripts and by the Revised Version, it being considered to have been introduced from the parallel passage of St. Mark. It gives the second reason for the failure of the nine. This kind... fasting. Though all things are possible to faith, some works are more difficult of accomplishment than others. This kind can mean only this kind of evil spirit, or demons generally. But the latter interpretation is excluded by the fact that the apostles had already exercised successfully their power over devils without special prayer or fasting. The words point to a truth in the spiritual world, that there are different degrees in the Satanic hierarchy (comp. Matthew 12:45); some demons are more malignant than others, and have greater power over the souls of men. In the present case the possession was of long standing; it revolved a terrible bodily malady; it was of an intense and unusual character. The mere word of exorcism, or the name of Jesus, spoken with little spiritual faith, could net overcome the mighty enemy. The exorcist needed special preparation; he must inspire and augment his faith by prayer and self-discipline. Prayer invokes the aid of God, and puts one's self unreservedly in his hands; fasting subdues the flesh, arouses the soul's energies, brings into exercise the higher parts of man's nature. Thus equipped, a man is open to receive power from on high, and can quell the assaults of the evil one.
And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men:
Verses 22, 23. - Second official announcement of the Passion and Resurrection. (Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43-45.) Verse 22. - While they abode (ἀναστρεφομένων, went to and fro; conversantibus, Vulgate) in Galilee. After some weeks spent in the extreme north, Jesus and his disciples had returned secretly to Galilee (Mark 9:30), and were approaching the neighborhood of Capernaum. The privacy was connected with the special instruction which he was now giving to his disciples. The Son of man shall be betrayed... men. There is a reference to the preparation thus mercifully afforded to the twelve in the angel's address to the women at the sepulchre, "Remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee" (Luke 24:6). Jesus reiterates the prediction continually in order to familiarize his followers with the unwelcome, the incredible, reality. But the Messiah's Passion, death, and resurrection were ideas that they could not at once receive; so impossible they seemed in the very nature of things, so contrary to all their hopes and expectations. Shall be betrayed (μέλλει παραδιδοσθαι). Is ordained, in the counsels of God, to be betrayed. Tradendus est (Vulgate). Men. He had before named the chief priests (Matthew 16:21), afterwards he mentions the Gentiles (Matthew 20:19), as the agents in his death. So St. Peter, in his great sermon (Acts 2), says to the Jews, "Ye have taken him, and by wicked hands ['by the hand of lawless men,' Revised Version] have crucified and slain."
And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.
Verse 23. - Shall be raised again (ἐγερθήσεται); be wakened. This was always a subject of perplexity; and indeed, according to the other synoptists, "they understood not the saying; it was hid from them, and they perceived it not, and were afraid to ask him." Were exceeding sorry. They no longer rebuke him, as Peter had done (Matthew 16:22), or try to divert him from his purpose; they begin to realize the position, and to anticipate with poignant sorrow the overthrow of their hopes.
And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
Verses 24-27. - The coin in the fish's mouth. This is one of the three miracles of our Lord which are peculiar to this Gospel St. Matthew seems to concern himself particularly with matters which present Jesus as King-Messiah; and this occurrence was in his view specially notable, as herein Christ claimed for himself a royal position - Son in his Father's house. Verse 24. - Capernaum. Once more before the final scene he visited the spot so dear to his human heart - "his own city." They that received tribute money (οἱ τὰ δίδραχμα λαμβάνοντες). This is an unfortunate rendering, as it may be taken to countenance an erroneous view of the demanded impost, found in many ancient and some modern commentaries, which vitiates their whole interpretation. According to this opinion, the tribute was a civil payment, like the denarius of Matthew 22:19, levied by the Roman government, or a capitation tax imposed by Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee (of which tax, however, we have no historical proof). That this is a misunderstanding is plain from many considerations. In the first place, the collectors are not τελῶναι, publicans, but quite another set of people, called they that received the didrachmas. Again, the officers of government would not have made their demand mildly in an interrogative form, "Doth not your Master," etc.? but would have exhibited that violent and offensive behaviour which made them so hated among the Jews. The political tax is never termed didrachma, but always census, as in Matthew 22:17, 19; nor could Jesus have given the answer which is reported below, if the tax had been one levied in the interest of any earthly monarch, be it Caesar or Herod. The didrachma is a term denoting a well known rate, concerning which we have full information from many sources - biblical, Talmudic, and traditional. The didrachma was a silver coin equal to two Attic drachms, or, in Jewish money, to one half shekel of the sanctuary - something under our florin in weight. It was the amount of an ecclesiastical rate levied for religious purposes. Originally (Exodus 30:13, etc.) exacted as an acknowledgment and a thank offering, a ransom, as it were, for the lives rescued from Egypt, it had been used in the wilderness in providing the framework of the tabernacle and the ornamentation of its pillars. Based on this practice arose a custom that every male Israelite of twenty years old and upwards should annually contribute to the temple treasury the sum of a half shekel. Dr. Edersheim reckons the tribute in our Lord's time to have been equivalent to £75,000 per annum. The money was stored in the temple treasury, and was expended partly in the purchase of the daily sacrifices, victims, incense, etc., in the payment of rabbis and other officials connected with the temple, in maintaining the efficiency of the water supply, and in keeping in repair the vast and magnificent buildings in the temple area. After all this outlay, there was always a large sum in hand, which proved a strong temptation to the greed of conquerors, and the sacred coffers were often plundered; and even after many previous spoliations, we read that Crassus ( B.C. 54) carried off no less than two and a half millions sterling. The tax was due by the twenty-fifth of the month Adar (equivalent to February March), and the collectors who were appointed to or took upon themselves the office, opened stalls in; every country town for the reception of the money. For many centuries the rate was of a voluntary nature, considered, indeed, a religious duty, and to be evaded by no one, Pharisee or Sadducee, who wished to be regarded as an orthodox believer, but its payment had not been secured by any legal process. Lately, indeed, the penalty of distraint had been enacted in order to obtain the tax from defaulters; but it is doubtful whether this was generally enforced. Possibly the appointed day had now arrived, and the collectors thought right to stir in the matter. Came to Peter. They applied to Peter instead of directly to Christ, perhaps out of respect for the latter, and from a certain awe with which he inspired them. Besides, Peter was their fellow townsman, and they doubtless knew him well His natural impulsiveness might have induced him to answer the call. It may also have been his own house, the other eleven being apparently staying with other friends, and Jesus with him ("me and thee," ver. 27). We may suppose that Jesus had complied with the demand on former occasions, when sojourning in his Galilaean home, so that the present application was only natural. Doth not your Master (o( Dida/skalo u(mw = n, your Teacher) pay tribute (the didrachma)? Perhaps the form of the question might be better rendered, "Your Teacher pays the two drachms, does he not?" The pronoun "your" is plural, because they recognized that Jesus was at the head of a band of disciples, who would be influenced by his example. We may in this inquiry see other motives besides the obvious one. If Jesus paid the rate now without question, he would prove that he was nothing more than an ordinary Jew, with no claim to a higher origin or a Divine mission. Though not a priest or Levite, Jesus might have claimed exemption as a recognized rabbi, and the collectors may have desired to ascertain whether he would do this. There was, too, at this time a sect which, in its furious patriotism, refused to contribute aught to the temple so long as the holy city was profaned by the presence of the heathen. Did Christ belong to this body? And would he carry out their programme? If from any cause he declined the contribution, this abstention would give a handle to those who were not prepared to endorse his claims: the breach of such a generally recognized obligation would raise a prejudice against him, and weaken the effect of his acts and teaching. Some such motives may have contributed to inspire the question now asked.
He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Verse 25. - He saith, Yes. Without consulting his Master, or even letting him know of the demand, Peter answered affirmatively, he knew that Christ never withdrew from conscientious obligations; Jesus may have paid the rate in former years, and might be confidently supposed to be ready to do so again. But was there not another feeling that dictated the quick reply, and made him pledge Jesus to the payment? He had a fear at his heart, caused by Christ's late warning and prophecy, that made him morbidly anxious to live at peace with all men at this conjuncture. As far as in him lay he would shield his beloved Master from the dread result which he anticipated; at any rate, he would endeavour to postpone the fatal day; no offence that he could obviate should be given. So, thinking only of present safety, forgetting or wilfully ignoring Christ's true position, he answered hastily, "Yes." When he (Peter) was come into the house. The collectors had addressed Peter in the street or at the door, and the apostle, having given his reply, hastened into the house where Jesus was, either to obtain the necessary coins or to make the demand known. Prevented him. The Revised Version paraphrases, spake first to him, which gives the meaning (though the Greek does not warrant such translation) - Jesus anticipated what Peter was going to say by showing that he knew the apostle's thoughts and all that had passed outside the house, he takes the opportunity of enforcing a needful lesson, making the listener, in the Socratic method, teach himself. What thinkest thou, Simon? By such familiar address he claims his attention. The kings of the earth. He contrasts these with the King of heaven, to whom a reference is implied in the Lord's subsequent words. Custom (τέλη) or tribute (κῆνσον). The former of these words (which would be better rendered tolls) signifies the customs laid on goods and merchandise and other such payments - vectigalia, as the Romans called them; the tribute (not the same word as that so translated in ver. 24) is the census, the capitation tax (ἐπικεφάλαιον) imposed upon every citizen of the empire. Strangers (ἀλλοτρίων). The contrast is between the family of the monarch and those who are not connected with him by any relationship.
Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
Verse 26. - Of strangers. Peter is brought to the desired point. He answers, as any one would, that in earthly kingdoms the children of the ruling monarch are exempt from taxes, which are exacted from all other subjects. Then are the children free. The comparison required the use of the plural, though the reference is properly confined to himself. The deduction leads naturally to the lesson of Christ's immunity, he virtually implies (though the inference is not developed in words), "I am the Son of God, as you, Peter, have acknowledged; this tax is levied for the house and service of God, whose Son I am; therefore I am free from the obligation of paying it; it cannot be required that I should pay tribute to my Father." Looked at in its original nature, the impost could not with propriety be demanded from him. It was an offering of atonement, a ransom of souls. How could he give money in expiation of himself - he who had come to give his life a ransom for others? Why should he ransom himself from sin and death, who had come to take away sin and destroy death and open everlasting life to all men? There was need to make the point clear now that Christ had openly asserted his Messiahship and his Divine nature. To pay the demamt without explanation, after the statement of his Divinity, might occasion serious misapprehension in the minds of his followers. So he gently but convincingly shows that his claim of Sonship exempted him from all liability of the impost.
Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.
Verse 27. - Lest we should offend them; cause them to stumble. In his large charity he would not take the advantage of his position to avoid the tax. Though above the Law, he would place himself under the Law. Offence would be given by the nonpayment. His motive would be unknown and misunderstood (see on ver. 24). The people would attribute it to caprice, sectarianism, contempt of religion; they would see in it dishonour to the temple. Suspicion and animosity would be aroused; ill feeling, injurious both to themselves who encouraged it and to the cause of Christ, would weaken the effects of his acts and doctrine. Further offence would supervene if he did not confirm Peter's engagement and execute the promise which the foremost disciple had virtually made in his name; since it might thus appear that he and his followers were not of one mind in this important matter. For such considerations he was content to waive his prerogative, and to provide for the payment by a miracle, which should at once vindicate his royal character and demonstrate that, while he was obedient to the Law, he was superior to it, was the Lord of heaven and earth and sea. Go thou to the sea. The Sea of Galilee, on whose shore Capernaum stood, and with which Peter had been all his life familiar. Cast an hook. The fisherman was to ply his trade, yet not to use his customary net; he was to fish with line and hook, that the miracle might be more striking. Take up the fish that first cometh up. From the deep waters to the bait. Thou shalt find a piece of money; a stater. This Greek coin, circulating throughout the East, was about equal in value to the shekel, or two didrachms, and therefore sufficient to pay the half shekel for two persons. That fish should seize a bright object which might drop into the sea is nothing uncommon. A cod has been found with a watch in its stomach, still going. The miracle is shown in the omniscience which knew what the fish carried in its maw, and in the omnipotence which drew it to the hook. As far as we know, and regarding the present age as the sabbath of creation (see John 5:17), Christ in his miracles created nothing absolutely, always using a natural and existing basis as the support of the wonder. So here he does not create the fish or the skater, but by marvellous coincidences makes them subserve his purpose. Tradition has stereotyped the miracle by assigning to a certain tribe of fish a permanent mark of the occurrence. The johndory. whose name is corrupted either from jaune dore, "gold colour," or adore, "worshipped," is called in some countries Peter's fish, and is supposed to retain the impression of the apostle's fingers on its sides. Others assert that it is the haddock which presents this memorial of the miracle. But neither of these fish is found in the Lake of Gennesareth. Give... for me and thee (a)nti\ e)mou = kai\ sou = ). The form of expression recalls the original design of the institution, as a ransom of souls (comp. Matthew 20:28 in the Greek). He does not say, "for us;" for, though he submitted to the tax, it was not on the same ground as his servant. He himself paid, though exempt; Peter paid because he was liable. In the one ease it was from humility, in the other from legal obligation. The account ends somewhat abruptly, nothing being said of the result of the Lord's command, what action Peter took, and what ensued thereon. But we need no assurance that all came to pass as Christ directed. The very silence is significant; it is the sublimest language. Neologian criticism has endeavoured to explain away or to throw discredit on the miraculous nature of this "transaction." We are asked to believe that Christ by his command meant only that Peter was to go and catch a fish and sell it for a skater. If this was the case, why did not the evangelist say so? Why did he introduce a story which he must have known to be untrue? Is there any ground for supposing that St. Matthew was a writer of myths and legends, or one who intentionally falsified the records on which he framed his history? Surely no unprejudiced person could judge thus of the writer of the First Gospel; to those who believe in inspiration the notion is sacrilegious. The incident is no embellishment of a natural fact, no mere sailor's anecdote, but the true account of a real occurrence, which the narrator credited and probably witnessed. Another allegation equally unfounded is that Christ was rebuking Peter for precipitancy in promising payment when they had no funds in their possession, as though Jesus was saying ironically, "You had better go and catch a fish, and look for the money in its mouth!" Such attempted evasions of the miraculous are puerile and saddening. And if it be objected, as indeed it is, that the miracle was unnecessary and unworthy of Jesus, who never exerted his supernatural power for his own benefit, it is easy to show that the wonder was required in order to give and enforce a lesson to Peter and his companions. In what better way could Jesus have conveyed to them the truth that, although for the nonce he consented to the Law, he was superior to it and exempt from the obligation, and that if he paid the tax he did so by an exercise of power which proved him to be the Son of God?

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