VIII. Spreading Ministry and Growing Opposition (Matthew 14:1–17:27)
VIII. Spreading Ministry and Growing Opposition (14:1–17:27)
14:1-2 Matthew previously mentioned the ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-16), his arrest by Herod Antipas (4:12), and his question about Jesus’s identity (11:1-6). Here we learn the details of his arrest and martyrdom. Herod the tetrarch (14:1)—also known as Herod Antipas—was the son of Herod the Great, who’d sought to kill the infant Jesus (2:1-23). As we’ll see, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. When Herod learned about Jesus’s ministry, he panicked: This is John the Baptist. . . . He has been raised from the dead (14:2).
14:3-12 John had condemned Herod for having an illicit relationship with his own sister-in-law, Herodias (14:3-4). Herod wanted to execute him, but he was afraid of the crowd who considered John a prophet (14:5), so he simply locked John up. But Herodias wanted revenge. On Herod’s birthday, he recklessly promised Herodias’s daughter that he would give her anything (14:6-7). Prompted by her mother, she callously asked for John’s head (14:8)! Herod reluctantly agreed and ordered John’s death (14:9-12).
Herodias couldn’t stand to hear John the Baptist call attention to her sin, so she wanted him dead. Herod’s guilty conscience plagued him so much that he killed John and thought he’d come back to haunt him. The rejection of God by unbelievers will often lead them to hate his followers and their righteous lives (see 1 John 3:12-13).
14:13-17 When Jesus heard about John’s death, he withdrew . . . to a remote place. Yet the crowds followed, and he continued to minister to them (14:13-14). Since they were in a deserted area, the disciples pressured Jesus to send the people to the villages to buy food for themselves (14:15). But Jesus would have none of that: You give them something to eat (14:16). So the disciples threw up their arms and said, But we only have five loaves and two fish (14:17).
14:18-21 With the problem identified and his followers at a loss for how to fix it, Jesus went into action. He said in effect, “Bring your ‘not-enough’ to me,” and he blessed what they had (14:18-19). Miraculously, the disciples were able to give enough food to feed five thousand men, besides women and children—perhaps 15,000–20,000 people (14:19-21). Not only that, but the disciples also picked up twelve baskets full of leftover pieces (14:20). In other words, each of the Twelve got a doggy bag to remind them of what Jesus could do.
“Not-enough” can become “more-than-enough” when two things happen. First, rather than dismissing it, bring what little you have to Jesus. Second, believe that Jesus can intercede in your situation, bringing abundance out of deficiency. Put him first and see what he can do. He can demonstrate the supernatural in the midst of your natural problem.
14:22 Immediately, the disciples moved from a scene of miraculous provision from God (14:15-21) to a terrifying encounter (14:24-26). Yet notice that the circumstances that brought them fear fell under the Lord’s sovereign control: Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him. They were in God’s perfect will and about to enter a perfect storm, indicating that obeying God can sometimes lead to rough sailing. Nevertheless, it can only reach you by divine design and permission.
14:23-24 When the boat was far from shore, they were battered by the waves, because the wind was against them (14:24). And where was Jesus? He’d gone up the mountain by himself to pray (14:23). Though Jesus was absent from them, he wasn’t unmindful of their needs. Paul told the Romans that Jesus intercedes for believers (Rom 8:34). His fulltime job is serving as the intercessor between you and God. And he’s the perfect one to do it because he’s fully God and fully human. He understands God, and he understands you.
14:25-27 In the midst of the disciples’ distress, Jesus came toward them walking on the sea (11:25). The battering waves were their problem, and that’s exactly what Jesus walked on. He came to them in an unexpected way so they could understand and experience him as never before. As he’d done previously (8:23-27), Jesus demonstrated his divine authority over the world that he himself created (see John 1:3; Col 1:16; Heb 1:2). When the disciples panicked, thinking him a ghost, he comforted them with his word before he addressed their circumstances (14:26-27).
14:28-32 That’s when Peter did what no one else would. He asked Jesus to permit him to join him (11:28). Peter didn’t want to merely be protected from trouble; he wanted to experience something with Jesus that he’d never dreamed possible. So Jesus invited Peter forward, and this bold disciple started walking on the water (11:29). When he lost focus on Jesus and gave attention to the strength of the wind, however, he became afraid, started to sink, and cried to Jesus to save him (14:30).
Matthew wants readers to know that this miracle was made possible by Jesus’s power, not Peter’s. Before you look down your nose at Peter, though, keep in mind that he was the only one who got out of the boat to attempt the impossible. The other disciples just stared as Peter stepped out in faith. Remember, Jesus rebuked him for having little faith—not for having no faith (14:31). Moreover, when Peter began to sink, he knew where to turn. In response to Peter’s cry, Jesus caught hold of him, took him into the boat, and the wind ceased (14:31-32).
14:33 Why would Jesus intentionally let his followers go through such a fearful situation? Look what happened when he saved them. The disciples worshiped him and declared, Truly you are the Son of God! You may be wondering, Didn’t they know this already? Yes, they did. But with each new encounter, Jesus increased their understanding and deepened their experience of him. By God’s grace, they had been given an opportunity, through fearful circumstances, to come to know Jesus at a deeper level and worship him. He is the sovereign Son of God who exercises power over all things, wants you to discover that he’s bigger than your fears, and invites you to praise him.
14:34-36 When they landed the boat at Gennesaret, the whole vicinity flooded Jesus with sick people who begged him to make them well (14:34-35). Those who just touched the end of his robe . . . were healed (14:36)! The power of the kingdom emanated from Jesus Christ. One day that power will rid the universe of pain and death forever (see Rev 21:4).
15:1-2 Jesus’s sparring with the Pharisees and scribes continued (15:1; see 12:1-45). After observing his disciples, these religious leaders had an objection. Jesus’s disciples were breaking the tradition of the elders because they didn’t wash their hands when they ate (15:2). This wasn’t a matter of proper hygiene. Washing hands before meals was a purely ritualistic exercise that had no basis in the Old Testament Scriptures. Nevertheless, they considered it a religious duty signaling spiritual purity.
15:3-9 Jesus didn’t let this one slip by. Jesus had some objections of his own for them: Why do you break God’s commandment because of your tradition? (15:3). Furthermore, he accused them of teaching as doctrines human commands (15:9).
Traditions aren’t necessarily bad. They typically involve passing on some custom, practice, or belief to subsequent generations. Families can enjoy traditions. God provided Israel with many traditions to follow as part of his law and sacrificial system. But the problem with traditions comes in when they invalidate, cover up, camouflage, or negate the Word of God. And that’s what had happened. The Pharisees taught and practiced traditions that they elevated to the level of Scripture, and that actually allowed them to ignore Scripture.
Jesus called them out for their traditionalism. Then he gave an example. The Old Testament commanded Israel to honor your father and your mother and mandated the death penalty for Israelites who spoke evil of their parents (15:4; see Exod 20:12; 21:17). But the Pharisees had a tradition that allowed them to bypass caring for their elderly parents by instead giving a gift committed to the temple (15:5). The practice allowed them to say, “Sorry, Mom and Dad, I can’t offer you financial assistance. I’m giving to God instead.” By means of their tradition, they had invalidated God’s word (15:6).
Hypocrites! Jesus called it like it was. They were pretenders, preaching one thing but doing another. Jesus said Isaiah prophesied correctly about them: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain (15:7-8). When you replace Scripture with something of your own invention, you’re wasting your time in worship on Sunday.
15:10-11 In light of his confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus gathered the crowd to explain where true defilement comes from (15:10). The Pharisees ritualistically washed their hands before meals as a means of keeping themselves pure and undefiled. To be “defiled” religiously is to become dirty or polluted by sin. But Jesus turned wrong thinking about the topic on its head: It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth (15:11).
Moral pollution, then, comes from the inside, not the outside. Your unwashed hands are not your problem. Your dirty heart is. We tend to justify our sinful words and actions by pointing to what others did that caused our responses, but our circumstances don’t cause our sin. They just provide the context and the opportunity for the sinful desires ruling our hearts to express themselves. Defilement is an internal matter, and external activity can’t change a heart.
15:12-14 The disciples asked Jesus if he realized that the Pharisees were offended by what he said (15:12). We can be confident that Jesus wasn’t concerned with offending the Pharisees, given his response: They are blind guides. Unless you want to fall into a pit, don’t follow them (15:14).
15:15-20 Jesus was more concerned with clearing up his disciples’ lack of understanding (15:16) than with offending the Pharisees. When Peter asked him to explain his comments about being defiled (15:15), Jesus answered. When you eat food, it goes into the mouth, through the stomach, and is eliminated (15:17). No harm done. Eating with unwashed hands might make you sick, but it can’t defile you (15:20).
What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and this defiles a person (15:18). Jesus spoke of the heart to refer to our inner spiritual selves. The heart is where sin and defilement arise. It’s responsible for evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, sexual immoralities, thefts, false testimonies, slander (15:19).
You can engage in endless religious habits, but these don’t have the power to make you a better man or woman because following external traditions can’t change a wicked heart. But Jesus can, because he’s a heart specialist. Through a relationship with him, your heart can be transformed so that you love God and love people.
15:21-24 Jesus left there and went to the area of Tyre and Sidon (15:21). The Old Testament prophets denounced these Gentile cities on the Mediterranean Coast for their wickedness (see Isa 23; Ezek 28; Joel 3:4-8). While he was there, a Canaanite woman pleaded with him to heal her daughter who was severely tormented by a demon (15:22). She was a pagan whose child was suffering severely, yet that was only her first problem.
The second problem was that in spite of the fact that she acknowledged him as the Jewish Messiah, the Son of David (15:22), Jesus did not say a word to her (15:23). Has that ever happened to you? Have you prayed repeatedly only to feel like heaven’s answer was a busy signal?
Her third problem was the response of his disciples. As she continued to make a spectacle of herself, they urged Jesus to send her away because of the racket (15:23). So not only did Jesus not respond to her pleas, but his followers were trying to shut her up.
Jesus’s spoken response was her fourth problem: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (15:24). In other words, he’d been sent on a mission to the Jews—not the Gentiles. Now, we know from the rest of Matthew (e.g., 8:5-13), and the rest of the Bible (e.g., Rom 1:16), that Jesus brought God’s grace to all people, Jew and Gentile alike. But the focus of his earthly ministry was on the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After his death and resurrection, he would command his disciples to take his message to “all nations” (Matt 28:19) and to “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
15:25 Would you have given up after hearing Jesus’s response in verse 24? Most readers wouldn’t be surprised if Matthew said the woman turned and walked away. But she didn’t. Instead, she knelt before him and cried, Lord, help me! (15:25). Like Jacob wrestling with God, this Canaanite woman wouldn’t “let go” unless Jesus blessed her (see Gen 32:24-26). Remember: when God doesn’t answer your prayers about a specific need, it’s likely he’s trying to deepen your faith. So be persistent in prayer.
15:26-27 To the woman’s persistence Jesus replied, It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs (15:26). The Greek word for “dogs” typically referred to little house-dogs or lap dogs. So Jesus wasn’t insulting the woman but saying he had to feed the Jews first, just as a parent is obliged to feed the children before the house pets. Nevertheless, she wasn’t giving up. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table (15:27)—that is, “Even though the puppies don’t eat first, they still get to eat! I’m willing to settle for your leftovers, Jesus.” That’s desperate humility.
15:28 This woman needed the Lord’s grace and wouldn’t let anything stand in the way—not her race, not Jesus’s silence, not her pride. And that’s exactly where Jesus wanted her to be. Woman, your faith is great, he told her, and then he healed her daughter. This Canaanite started with faith. Then, by persevering through a series of difficulties intended by God to take her deeper, she ended up with great faith.
15:29-31 Near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus went up on a mountain, and the crowds brought him the lame, the blind, the crippled, those unable to speak, and many others (15:29-30). He healed them, and they marveled at his kingdom power, giving glory to the God of Israel (15:30-31).
15:32-39 Then Jesus had compassion on the crowd. They had been with him for days, and he didn’t want to send them away hungry (15:32). He was concerned for their physical and social well-being. But the disciples pointed out that they only had seven loaves of bread and a few small fish (15:34). So Jesus commanded the crowds to sit down, took the loaves and fish, and did an amazing thing: He gave thanks for insufficiency (15:35-36). When you have a need, give thanks for what you have, and let God multiply it to what you need. Jesus miraculously gave enough food to feed the crowds—four thousand men . . . besides women and children (15:37-38).
Notice, though, that the food didn’t supernaturally appear in the hands of the crowd. Rather, he used his disciples to distribute it (15:36). Jesus is at the center of his kingdom rule, and he calls his disciples to be distributors—on his behalf—of the blessings, provisions, power, and message of the kingdom.
16:1 The Pharisees had confronted Jesus previously. Now the Sadducees joined them. Though both were Jewish religious groups, they had little in common. They disagreed on significant theological matters, but their mutual disdain for Jesus brought them together to test him and ask him to show them a sign from heaven. Often in the Gospels, miracles are referred to as signs. So these religious leaders wanted Jesus to prove himself with a supernatural sign.
16:2-3 Jesus responded with a meteorological lesson. You don’t have to be a genius to make an educated guess about the weather. You don’t have to see rain falling to know that it’s about to rain (16:2-3). The men confronting him knew how to read the appearance of the sky, but they missed the open and obvious signs that the kingdom of God had appeared in Jesus Christ. They couldn’t read the signs of the times (16:3), though Jesus had presented clear evidence. If they were real-ly interested in who he was, the signs of the times would’ve convinced them of the truth.
16:4 Their pursuit of a sign was evil because they stubbornly rejected what God had already done through Jesus and demanded a custom-tailored command performance. No sign, therefore, would be given to them except the sign of Jonah. As Jonah spent three days “in the belly of the fish” (Jonah 1:17), Jesus Christ would spend three days in the belly of the earth (see 12:39-40). In effect, Jesus said, “You want a sign? I’m going to give you a whopper.”
Jesus was going to rise from the dead. His resurrection would be the sign of signs, the supreme miracle demonstrating his identity. To reject what happened on the first Easter is to reject the greatest sign God could provide. As Paul would later tell the Corinthians, Christianity stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (see 1 Cor 15:12-19). Unfortunately, most of the Jewish religious leaders prodding Jesus for a sign would refuse to believe even this (28:11-15).
16:5-7 Jesus and his disciples departed in a boat. When they reached the other shore, the disciples realized they had forgotten to take bread (16:5). So when Jesus warned them to beware of the leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:6), their absent-mindedness and hunger left them confused (16:7). Clearly, they weren’t on the same page as Jesus.
16:8-10 Jesus chastens his muddled disciples for their little faith. Had they forgotten so quickly how he’d miraculously fed thousands on two occasions (16:9-10; see 14:13-21; 15:32-39)? A lack of food isn’t a problem when you’re with the Son of God.
16:11-12 The disciples were thinking of literal bread, but Jesus wasn’t talking about food at all when he spoke of yeast (16:11). Leaven is an essential ingredient in bread that must permeate the dough. Jesus was metaphorically comparing the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees to it (16:12). It permeated and influenced the Jewish people, resulting in unbelief. Watch out, then, for those who pursue self-righteous religion and teach others to do the same. A relationship with God through Christ is what’s needed.
16:13 Jesus then took his disciples to Caesa-rea Philippi, a city about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee where there was a temple honoring the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. Perhaps the reverence for a mortal man is what prompted Jesus to ask his followers, Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
16:14-15 Apparently, there was a lot of speculation among the crowds about Jesus. Like Herod Antipas (14:1-2), some thought he was John the Baptist back from the dead—or one of the Old Testament prophets (16:14). But after his disciples relayed all the gossip concerning Jesus, he got to his real question: Who do you say that I am? (16:15). The “you” here is plural, so the question was addressed to the entire group.
16:16-18 Simon Peter quickly and correctly answered: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (16:16). Jesus affirmed this great confession of faith by praising God the Father for revealing this truth to Peter and blessing him (16:17). That opened the door for an announcement from Jesus. Something so awesome that hell itself can’t overpower it was coming: the church (16:18).
No matter how much Satan attacks, the church will win, and hell will lose. The offensive advance of the church exercising kingdom authority overrides hell’s attempts to stop it.
But how would Jesus accomplish his building program? Since Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, Jesus used his name in a word play. In Greek, Peter’s name is petros, which means “stone.” But when Jesus said, On this rock I will build my church (16:18), he used the Greek word petra, which was a collection of rocks knitted together to form a larger slab. Jesus’s church, then, would be comprised of his unified followers who confess him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, as Peter did.
The Greek word for “church” is ekklesia, a term used to refer to an assembly or gathering of people, especially for legal purposes (see Acts 19:39-41). The church is like an embassy. The U.S. has embassies throughout the world, and the people working at an embassy are to live out the values and laws of the U.S. as they represent their homeland in a foreign country. Each embassy, then, is a little bit of America a long way from home. Similarly, the church of the Lord Jesus is to adopt the agenda of its heavenly King and enact it on earth. Christ’s church is a little bit of heaven a long way from home, designed to withstand the authority of hell (its gates) (16:18). Hell’s attempt to stop the church’s progress in history is thwarted as the church executes heaven’s authority on earth.
16:19-20 Jesus then promised his disciples that he would give them the keys of the kingdom (6:19). God doesn’t leave his church powerless. The problem is that we frequently don’t understand who we are and don’t access the resources available. Even though an American embassy is a small outpost surrounded by a foreign nation, it can be confident that America stands behind it because it’s connected to something that exerts a powerful influence. And though the church often seems small and weak, it’s connected to the ultimate power in the universe.
What are these “keys of the kingdom of heaven”? They’re divinely authorized resources that grant us authority and access (see Isa 22:22). Christians, through the church, have access to heaven’s kingdom rule. Your world isn’t supposed to be ruling you; you are supposed to be ruling your world. You’re supposed to be regularly utilizing heaven to help you live on earth—not merely visiting church on Sunday mornings. Believers are to study the Bible and gather with the church for a reason: to learn how to access the divine viewpoint and live out God’s kingdom rule in the world. You will never rule your world of relationships, emotions, employment, or finances if you continue to employ the keys the world offers you, or if you’re not connected to a local church that possesses and operates with the keys of the kingdom.
Note that the word keys is plural in this passage; that’s because the word gates is plural (16:18). For every hellish gate (the exercise of Satanic authority), there is a corresponding kingdom key designed to give the church access to heaven’s kingdom authority.
Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven (16:19). To “bind” and “loose” is to restrain and to set free. The church is to use heaven’s keys (heaven’s viewpoint and spiritual resources on a matter), operate according to that perspective, and then call on heaven’s authority to bind and loose. It’s critical to understand that heaven is waiting on the church to act in the matter of permitting and releasing before heaven’s authority gets activated in history.
Binding and loosing doesn’t imply you can make God do whatever you want. First, it must be in accordance with God’s will. You can only bind and loose what “will have been” already bound and loosed in heaven. Second, know that answers to prayer are not for your sole benefit. They’re to benefit others. God calls his people to be a blessing.
16:21 Having clearly affirmed his identity to his disciples (16:16-17), Jesus explained his mission. He told them it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and be raised the third day. In other words, Jesus gave them the foundation for the gospel in summary form (see 1 Cor 15:3-4).
16:22-23 Peter took him aside and rebuked him: This will never happen to you! (16:22). Peter had just confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God (16:16). Unfortunately, though, when he opened his mouth this time, things went downhill. Not days later, but only a few minutes later, Peter had gone from being blessed (16:17) to being reprimanded as Jesus said, Get behind me, Satan! (16:23).
Jesus knew something wicked was operating behind Peter’s statement. His confession of Jesus as the Messiah was the work of God (16:17). His attempt to protect Jesus was the work of the devil. Any attempt to make Jesus King without the cross (remember Satan’s temptations in 4:2-10?) is an attempt to thwart God’s plan of salvation. Instead of being a stone (see 16:18), Peter had become a hindrance, which can also be translated “stumbling block.”
You’re not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns means Peter’s viewpoint was warped (16:23). He was seeing things from a merely human perspective, not a divine perspective. His words were flawed because his thinking was flawed. He had aligned himself with Satan’s program without realizing it.
16:24 After explaining his mission (his death and resurrection), Jesus explained the mission of his followers, discipleship: If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. That’s a zinger to get your attention because denying yourself isn’t fun. People don’t typically wake in the morning and say, “I can’t wait to deny myself today!” But, in order to experience the lordship and provision of Christ on earth, you must be willing to say “no” to yourself.
16:25-26 Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it (16:25). Many people misread, thinking Jesus is speaking of salvation. But remember, Peter is already a believer here. Thus, Jesus spoke about the daily commitment of being a disciple. If you want to run your own life, you’ll find that you lose the life you were looking for. But if you totally identify with Jesus and live according to his agenda, you’ll find the abundant life you never knew was possible (see John 10:10). What good is it to gain worldly stuff while losing spiritual blessings and the peace that make life worthwhile (16:26)?
16:27 One day the Son of Man will come in his glory and reward everyone according to what they’ve done. If you make the shift from self-interest to kingdom-interest, it doesn’t mean you will have no trouble in the world. In fact, you can count on experiencing suffering. But, as sure as Jesus “conquered the world” (John 16:33), he will reward those who choose his way.
16:28 There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. This was fulfilled when Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus’s transfiguration (see 17:1-9). They saw his humanity peeled back and got a glimpse of his glorious deity.
17:1-2 After this significant encounter with his disciples, discussing his identity, his mission, and the cost of discipleship (16:13-28), Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John up on a high mountain (17:1). At that moment, he was supernaturally transfigured. These three Jewish fishermen were given a glimpse of the glory of the coming King and his kingdom (17:2).
17:3 As if this wasn’t enough, two eminent Old Testament figures—Moses and Elijah—appeared and talked with Jesus. This scene informs us that those who experience death (e.g., Moses) have cognitive understanding and an ability to communicate. Together, they symbolize all those who make up God’s kingdom—those who will be raptured and not see death (like Elijah) and those who will die and go to be with the Lord (like Moses).
Moreover, Moses represented the Law, and Elijah represented the Prophets. Together they represented the complete Old Testament. Along with the disciples, they represent both the Old and New Testaments centered on Jesus.
17:4-6 Always quick with a word when no one else knew what to say, Peter said, Lord, it’s good for us to be here. He offered to build three shelters, one for each of them. While he still was speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covered them and a voice spoke: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him! (17:4-5). God the Father interrupted Peter to give a verbal and visual validation of his one and only Son, the King of kings. How did the disciples respond? They fell facedown and were terrified (17:6). They had enough sense to take the holy and omnipotent God of heaven and earth seriously.
17:7-8 When Jesus touched them and told them not to be afraid, the three disciples looked and saw no one but him. Why? Because Jesus isn’t merely one among many faithful servants of God. He is superior to them all. The ministries of Moses and Elijah ultimately pointed toward Christ. All of Scripture has him as its focus (see Luke 24:27).
17:9 As they descended the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone about the vision until he was raised from the dead. If the crowds heard about it, the story would likely create confusion and cause them to forcibly make him king. Instead, it was to be part of the kingdom message that they would proclaim, calling sinners to place their faith in the risen King.
17:10-13 The vision of Moses and Elijah prompted the disciples to ask Jesus why the scribes say that Elijah must come first (17:10). Jesus pointed out the reality that Elijah had already come (17:12). As he’d told them previously, John the Baptist “is the Elijah who is to come” (11:14). In the Gospel of Luke, the angel told John’s father Zechariah that his son would go before the Lord “in the Spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). The problem was that the leaders didn’t recognize John in this way. Instead, they persecuted him and would do the same to the Son of Man (17:12).
17:14-16 When they’d descended the mountain and reached the crowd, a man knelt down before Jesus and begged him to heal his son. The boy had seizures and often fell into fire and water (17:14-15). We know from the parallel account in Mark’s Gospel that the father also said his son had a demon (Mark 9:14-18). His physical impairments had a spiritual cause, and the disciples couldn’t heal him (17:16). Though Jesus had deputized and empowered them to do supernatural kingdom work on his behalf (see 10:5-8), they were powerless this time.
17:17-18 Importantly, this wasn’t merely a failure of power; it was a failure of faith, a failure to trust in the power of God. So Jesus rebuked them for it (17:17), and then he rebuked the demon, so that the boy was healed (17:18).
17:19-20 This was an embarrassing moment for the disciples, so they went to Jesus privately and asked in effect, “What happened?” Why couldn’t we drive it out? (17:19). Jesus answered, Because of your little faith (17:20). Though Jesus had authorized them to drive out demons (10:8), their trust in God’s power was insufficient in this instance. Regardless of your past success, then, you need a present faith.
What does such faith need to look like? In order to move a mountain, it must be the size of a mustard seed (17:20). But have you ever seen mustard seeds? They’re tiny! So apparently, the disciples’ faith was microscopic. But with even a small trust in an omnipotent God, the impossible becomes possible (17:20).
17:22-23 For a second time (see 16:21), Matthew describes how Jesus informed his disciples that the Son of Man would be betrayed into the hands of men, killed, and raised up three days later. Jesus understood the direction his life would take; he knew his fate. It was no surprise but under his sovereign control. However, his disciples were deeply distressed over it (17:23).
17:24-26 When they returned to Capernaum, tax collectors approached Peter and asked if his teacher paid the temple tax (17:24). This tax was used for the upkeep of the temple. Though this confrontation was probably another attempt to catch Jesus at being a lawbreaker, Peter answered, Yes (17:25).
In private, Jesus posed a question to Peter: From whom do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes? From their sons or from strangers? The answer to Jesus’s question is obvious. Kings collect taxes from strangers—their subjects—not from their own sons. The sons are free, Jesus said (11:26). In other words, if those running things at the temple understood who Jesus was, they wouldn’t be asking him to pay a temple tax. After all, he’s the King, and it’s his temple. Likewise, to be sons and daughters of the kingdom is to be a privileged people who benefit from their relationship to the King.
17:27 Jesus didn’t want to enter into unnecessary conflict—and you shouldn’t either. Though the government and unbelievers don’t recognize Christ or his kingdom, that’s no reason to cause needless offense. So Jesus temporarily sent Peter back to his old fishing job for a supernatural moment. Soon, in the mouth of a fish, Peter found a coin to pay their tax.