The transfiguration of Christ. (1-13) Jesus casts out a dumb and deaf spirit. (14-21) He again foretells his sufferings. (22,23) He works a miracle to pay the tribute money. (24-27)
Verses 1-13 Now the disciples beheld somewhat of Christ's glory, as of the only begotten of the Father. It was intended to support their faith, when they would have to witness his crucifixion; and would give them an idea of the glory prepared for them, when changed by his power and made like him. The apostles were overcome by the glorious sight. Peter thought that it was most desirable to continue there, and to go no more down to meet the sufferings of which he was so unwilling to hear. In this he knew not what he said. We are wrong, if we look for a heaven here upon earth. Whatever tabernacles we propose to make for ourselves in this world, we must always remember to ask Christ's leave. That sacrifice was not yet offered, without which the souls of sinful men could not have been saved; and important services were to be done by Peter and his brethren. While Peter spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, an emblem of the Divine presence and glory. Ever since man sinned, and heard God's voice in the garden, unusual appearances of God have been terrible to man. They fell prostrate to the earth, till Jesus encouraged them; when looking round, they beheld only their Lord as they commonly saw him. We must pass through varied experiences in our way to glory; and when we return to the world after an ordinance, it must be our care to take Christ with us, and then it may be our comfort that he is with us.
Verses 14-21 The case of afflicted children should be presented to God by faithful and fervent prayer. Christ cured the child. Though the people were perverse, and Christ was provoked, yet care was taken of the child. When all other helps and succours fail, we are welcome to Christ, may trust in him, and in his power and goodness. See here an emblem of Christ's undertaking as our Redeemer. It encourages parents to bring children to Christ, whose souls are under Satan's power; he is able to heal them, and as willing as he is able. Not only bring them to Christ by prayer, but bring them to the word of Christ; to means by which Satan's strong-holds in the soul are beaten down. It is good for us to distrust ourselves and our own strength; but it is displeasing to Christ when we distrust any power derived from him, or granted by him. There was also something in the malady which rendered the cure difficult. The extraordinary power of Satan must not discourage our faith, but quicken us to more earnestness in praying to God for the increase of it. Do we wonder to see Satan's bodily possession of this young man from a child, when we see his spiritual possession of every son of Adam from the fall!
Verses 22-23 Christ perfectly knew all things that should befall him, yet undertook the work of our redemption, which strongly shows his love. What outward debasement and Divine glory was the life of the Redeemer! And all his humiliation ended in his exaltation. Let us learn to endure the cross, to despise riches and worldly honours, and to be content with his will.
Verses 24-27 Peter felt sure that his Master was ready to do what was right. Christ spoke first to give him proof that no thought can be withholden from him. We must never decline our duty for fear of giving offence; but we must sometimes deny ourselves in our worldly interests, rather than give offence. However the money was lodged in the fish, He who knows all things alone could know it, and only almighty power could bring it to Peter's hook. The power and the poverty of Christ should be mentioned together. If called by providence to be poor, like our Lord, let us trust in his power, and our God shall supply all our need, according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. In the way of obedience, in the course, perhaps, of our usual calling, as he helped Peter, so he will help us. And if any sudden call should occur, which we are not prepared to meet, let us not apply to others, till we first seek Christ.
Matthew 17:1-13 . JESUS IS TRANSFIGURED--CONVERSATION ABOUT ELIAS. ( = 9:2-13 Luke 9:28-36 ).
For the exposition,
Matthew 17:14-23 . HEALING OF A DEMONIAC BOY--SECOND EXPLICIT ANNOUNCEMENT BY OUR LORD OF HIS APPROACHING DEATH AND RESURRECTION. ( = 9:14-32 , Luke 9:37-45 ).
The time of this section is sufficiently denoted by the events which all the narratives show to have immediately preceded it--the first explicit announcement of His death, and the transfiguration--both being between His third and His fourth and last Passover.
Healing of the Demoniac and Lunatic Boy ( Matthew 17:14-21 ).
For the exposition of this portion,
Second Announcement of His Death ( Matthew 17:22 Matthew 17:23 ).
22. And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them--Mark ( Mark 9:30 ), as usual, is very precise here: "And they departed thence"--that is, from the scene of the last miracle--"and passed through Galilee; and He would not that any man should know it." So this was not a preaching, but a private, journey through Galilee. Indeed, His public ministry in Galilee was now all but concluded. Though He sent out the Seventy after this to preach and heal, He Himself was little more in public there, and He was soon to bid it a final adieu. Till this hour arrived, He was chiefly occupied with the Twelve, preparing them for the coming events.
The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men . . . And they were exceeding sorry--Though the shock would not be so great as at the first announcement ( Matthew 16:21 Matthew 16:22 ), their "sorrow" would not be the less, but probably the greater, the deeper the intelligence went down into their hearts, and a new wave dashing upon them by this repetition of the heavy tidings. Accordingly, Luke ( Luke 9:43 Luke 9:44 ), connecting it with the scene of the miracle just recorded, and the teaching which arose out of it--or possibly with all His recent teaching--says our Lord forewarned the Twelve that they would soon stand in need of all that teaching: "But while they wondered every one at all things which Jesus did, He said unto His disciples, Let these sayings sink down into your ears; for the Son of man shall be delivered," &c.: "Be not carried off your feet by the grandeur you have lately seen in Me, but remember what I have told you, and now tell you again, that that Sun in whose beams ye now rejoice is soon to set in midnight gloom." Remarkable is the antithesis in those words of our Lord preserved in all the three narratives--"The son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men." Luke adds ( Luke 9:45 ) that "they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not"--for the plainest statements, when they encounter long-continued and obstinate prejudices, are seen through a distorting and dulling medium--"and were afraid to ask Him"; deterred partly by the air of lofty sadness with which doubtless these sayings were uttered, and on which they would be reluctant to break in, and partly by the fear of laying themselves open to rebuke for their shallowness and timidity. How artless is all this!
Matthew 17:24-27 . THE TRIBUTE MONEY.
The time of this section is evidently in immediate succession to that of the preceding one. The brief but most pregnant incident which it records is given by Matthew alone--for whom, no doubt, it would have a peculiar interest, from its relation to his own town and his own familiar lake.
24. And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money--the double drachma; a sum equal to two Attic drachmas, and corresponding to the Jewish "half-shekel," payable, towards the maintenance of the temple and its services, by every male Jew of twenty years old and upward. For the origin of this annual tax, see Exodus 30:13 Exodus 30:14 , 2 Chronicles 24:6 2 Chronicles 24:9 . Thus, it will be observed, it was not a civil, but an ecclesiastical tax. The tax mentioned in Matthew 17:25 was a civil one. The whole teaching of this very remarkable scene depends upon this distinction.
came to Peter--at whose house Jesus probably resided while at Capernaum. This explains several things in the narrative.
and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?--The question seems to imply that the payment of this tax was voluntary, but expected; or what, in modern phrase, would be called a "voluntary assessment."
25. He saith, yes--that is, "To be sure He does"; as if eager to remove even the suspicion of the contrary. If Peter knew--as surely he did--that there was at this time no money in the bag, this reply must be regarded as a great act of faith in his Master.
And when he was come into the house--Peter's.
Jesus prevented him--anticipated him; according to the old sense of the word "prevent."
saying, What thinkest thou, Simon?--using his family name for familiarity.
of whom do the kings of the earth take custom--meaning custom on goods exported or imported.
or tribute--meaning the poll-tax, payable to the Romans by everyone whose name was in the census. This, therefore, it will be observed, was strictly a civil tax.
of their own children, or of strangers--This cannot mean "foreigners," from whom sovereigns certainly do not raise taxes, but those who are not of their own family, that is, their subjects.
26. Peter saith unto him, Of strangers--"of those not their children."
Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free--By "the children" our Lord cannot here mean Himself and the Twelve together, in some loose sense of their near relationship to God as their common Father. For besides that our Lord never once mixes Himself up with His disciples in speaking of their relation to God, but ever studiously keeps His relation and theirs apart (see, for example, on the last words of this chapter)--this would be to teach the right of believers to exemption from the dues required for sacred services, in the teeth of all that Paul teaches and that He Himself indicates throughout. He can refer here, then, only to Himself; using the word "children" evidently in order to express the general principle observed by sovereigns, who do not draw taxes from their own children, and thus convey the truth respecting His own exemption the more strikingly:--namely, "If the sovereign's own family be exempt, you know the inference in My case"; or to express it more nakedly than Jesus thought needful and fitting: "This is a tax for upholding My Father's House. As His Son, then, that tax is not due by Me--I AM FREE."
27. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend--stumble.
them--all ignorant as they are of My relation to the Lord of the Temple, and should misconstrue a claim to exemption into indifference to His honor who dwells in it.
go thou to the sea--Capernaum, it will be remembered, lay on the Sea of Galilee.
and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shall find a piece of money--a stater. So it should have been rendered, and not indefinitely, as in our version, for the coin was an Attic silver coin equal to two of the afore-mentioned "didrachms" of half a shekel's value, and so, was the exact sum required for both. Accordingly, the Lord adds,
that take, and give unto them for me and thee--literally, "instead of Me and thee"; perhaps because the payment was a redemption of the person paid for ( Exodus 30:12 )--in which view Jesus certainly was "free." If the house was Peter's, this will account for payment being provided on this occasion, not for all the Twelve, but only for him and His Lord. Observe, our Lord does not say "for us," but "for Me and thee"; thus distinguishing the Exempted One and His non-exempted disciple.