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The Transfiguration

17

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 10And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; 12but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” 13Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

Jesus Cures a Boy with a Demon

14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. 16And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” 17Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” 18And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. 19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus Again Foretells His Death and Resurrection

22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, 23and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.

Jesus and the Temple Tax

24 When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” 25He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” 26When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. 27However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”

 


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Matthew 17:1. And after six days. We must first inquire for what purpose Christ clothed himself with heavenly glory for a short time, and why he did not admit more than three of his disciples to be spectators. Some think that he did so, in order to fortify them against the trial which they were soon to meet with, arising from his death. That does not appear to me to be a probable reason; for why should he have deprived the rest of the same remedy, or rather, why does he expressly forbid them to make known what they had seen till after his resurrection, but because the result of the vision would be later than his death? I have no doubt whatever that Christ intended to show that he was not dragged unwillingly to death, but that he came forward of his own accord, to offer to the Father the sacrifice of obedience. The disciples were not made aware of this till Christ rose; nor was it even necessary that, at the very moment of his death, they should perceive the divine power of Christ, so as to acknowledge it to be victorious on the cross; but the instruction which they now received was intended to be useful at a future period both to themselves and to us, that no man might take offense at the weakness of Christ, as if it were by force and necessity that he had suffered. 477477     “Comme si par force et contreinte il fust renu endurer la mort;” — “as if by force and constraint he had come to suffer death.” It would manifestly have been quite as easy for Christ to protect his body from death as to clothe it with heavenly glory.

We are thus taught that he was subjected to death, because he wished it to be so; that he was crucified, because he offered himself. That same flesh, which was sacrificed on the cross and lay in the grave, might have been exempted from death and the grave; for it had already partaken of the heavenly glory. We are also taught that, so long as Christ remained in the world, bearing the form of a servant, and so long as his majesty was concealed under the weakness of the flesh, nothing had been taken from him, for it was of his own accord that he emptied himself, (Philippians 2:7;) but now his resurrection has drawn aside that veil by which his power had been concealed for a time.

Our Lord reckoned it enough to select three witnesses, because that is the number which the Law has laid down for proving any thing;

at the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses,
(Deuteronomy 17:6.)

The difference as to time ought not to give us uneasiness. Matthew and Mark reckon six entire days, which had elapsed between the events. Luke says that it happened about eight days afterwards, including both the day on which Christ spake these words, and the day on which he was transfigured. We see then that, under a diversity of expression, there is a perfect agreement as to the meaning.

2. And was transfigured before them. Luke says that this happened while he was praying; and from the circumstances of time and place, we may infer that he had prayed for what he now obtained, that in the brightness of an unusual form his Godhead might become visible; not that he needed to ask by prayer from another what he did not possess, or that he doubted his Father’s willingness, but because, during the whole course of his humiliation, he always ascribed to the Father whatever he did as a divine Person, and because he intended to excite us to prayer by his example.

His transfiguration did not altogether enable his disciples to see Christ, as he now is in heaven, but gave them a taste of his boundless glory, such as they were able to comprehend. Then his face shone as the sun; but now he is far beyond the sun in brightness. In his raiment an unusual and dazzling whiteness appeared; but now without raiment a divine majesty shines in his whole body. Thus in ancient times God appeared to the holy fathers, not as He was in Himself, but so far as they could endure the rays of His infinite brightness; for John declares that not until

they are like him will they see him as he is, (1 John 3:2.)

There is no necessity for entering here into ingenious inquiries as to the whiteness of his garments, or the brightness of his countenance; for this was not a complete exhibition of the heavenly glory of Christ, but, under symbols which were adapted to the capacity of the flesh, he enabled them to taste in part what could not be fully comprehended.

3. And, lo, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah. It is asked, Were Moses and Elijah actually present? or was it only an apparition that was exhibited to the disciples, as the prophets frequently beheld visions of things that were absent? Though the subject admits, as we say, of arguments on both sides, yet I think it more probable that they were actually brought to that place. There is no absurdity in this supposition; for God has bodies and souls in his hand, and can restore the dead to life at his pleasure, whenever he sees it to be necessary. Moses and Elijah did not then rise on their own account, 478478     “Moise et Elie ne sont pas lors ressuscitez pour eux, et pour le regard de la resurrection derniere;” — “Moses and Elijah did not then rise for themselves, and with respect to the last resurrection.” but in order to wait upon Christ. It will next be asked, How came the apostles to know Moses and Elijah, whom they had never seen? The answer is easy. God, who brought them forward, gave also signs and tokens by which they were enabled to know them. It was thus by an extraordinary revelation that they obtained the certain knowledge that they were Moses and Elijah

But why did these two appear rather than others who equally belonged to the company of the holy fathers? It was intended to demonstrate that Christ alone is the end of the Law and of the Prophets; and that single reason ought to satisfy us: for it was of the utmost importance to our faith that Christ did not come into our world without a testimony, but with commendations which God had formerly bestowed. I have no objection, however, to the reason which is commonly adduced, that Elijah was selected, in preference to others, as the representative of all the Prophets; because, though he left nothing in writing, yet next to Moses he was the most distinguished of their number, restored the worship of God which had been corrupted, and stood unrivaled in his exertions for vindicating the Law and true godliness, which was at that time almost extinct.

And they conversed with Jesus. When they appeared along with Christ, and held conversation with him, this was a declaration of their being agreed. The subject on which they conversed is stated by Luke only: they talked of the decease which awaited Christ at Jerusalem This must not be understood to refer to them as private individuals, but rather to the commission which they had formerly received. Though it was now a long time since they had died and finished the course of their calling, yet our Lord intended once more to ratify by their voice what they had taught during their life, in order to inform us that the same salvation, through the sacrifice of Christ, is held out to us in common with the holy fathers. At the time when the ancient prophets uttered their predictions concerning the death of Christ, he himself, who was the eternal wisdom of God, was sitting on the invisible throne of his glory. Hence it follows that, when he was clothed in flesh, he was not liable to death any farther than as he submitted to it of his own free will.

4. Lord, it is good for us to be here. Luke tells us that Peter uttered these words while Moses and Elijah were departing; and hence we infer that he was afraid lest, at their departure, that pleasant and delightful exhibition should vanish away. We need not wonder that Peter was so captivated by the loveliness of what he beheld, as to lose sight of every other person, and rest satisfied with the mere enjoyment of it; as it is said in the psalm,

In thy presence is fulnessess of joy, (Psalm 16:11.)

But his desire was foolish; first, because he did not comprehend the design of the vision; secondly, because he absurdly put the servants on a level with their Lord; and, thirdly, he was mistaken in proposing to build fading tabernacles 479479     “Des tabernacles terriens;” — “earthly tabernacles.” for men who had been already admitted to the glory of heaven and of the angels.

I have said that he did not understand the design of the vision; for, while he was hearing, from the mouth of Moses and Elijah, that the time of Christ’s death was at hand, he foolishly dreamed that his present aspect, which was temporary, would endure for ever. And what if the kingdom of Christ had been confined in this way to the narrow limits of twenty or thirty feet? Where would have been the redemption of the whole world? Where would have been the communication of eternal salvation? It was also highly absurd to conceive of Moses and Elijah as companions of the Son of God, as if it had not been proper that all should be reduced to a lower rank, that he alone may have the pre-eminence. And if Peter is satisfied with his present condition, why does he suppose that earthly supports were needed by those persons, the very sight of whom, he imagined, was enough to make him happy?

Justly, therefore, is it stated by two of the Evangelists, that he knew not what he said; and Mark assigns the reason, that they were afraid; for God did not intend that the apostles should, at that time, derive any advantage from it beyond that of beholding for a moment, as in a bright mirror, the divinity of his Son. At a later period, he pointed out to them the fruit of the vision, and corrected the error of their judgment. What is stated by Mark must therefore mean, that Peter was carried away by frenzy, and spoke like a man who had lost his senses.

5. Lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them. Their eyes were covered by a cloud, in order to inform them, that they were not yet prepared for beholding the brightness of the heavenly glory. For, when the Lord gave tokens of his presence, he employed, at the same time, some coverings to restrain the arrogance of the human mind. So now, with the view of teaching his disciples a lesson of humility, he withdraws from their eyes the sight of the heavenly glory. This admonition is likewise addressed to us, that we may not seek to pry into the secrets which lie beyond our senses, but, on the contrary, that every man may keep within the limits of sobriety, according to the measure of his faith. In a word, this cloud ought to serve us as a bridle, that our curiosity may not indulge in undue wantonness. The disciples, too, were warned that they must return to their former warfare, and therefore must not expect a triumph before the time.

And, lo, a voice from the cloud. It deserves our attention, that the voice of God was heard from the cloud, but that neither a body nor a face was seen. Let us therefore remember the warning which Moses gives us, that God has no visible shape, lest we should deceive ourselves by imagining that He resembled a man, (Deuteronomy 4:15.) There were, no doubt, various appearances under which God made himself known to the holy fathers in ancient times; but in all cases he refrained from using signs which might induce them to make for themselves idols. And certainly, as the minds of men are too strongly inclined to foolish imaginations, there was no necessity for throwing oil upon the flame. 480480     “Il n’estoit ia besoin de ietter de l’huile au feu pour enflamber davantage le mal;” — “there was no necessity for throwing oil on the fire to inflame the evil still more.” This manifestation of the glory of God was remarkable above all others. When he makes a cloud to pass between Him and us, and invites us to himself by His voice, what madness is it to attempt to place Him before our eyes by a block of wood or of stone? Let us therefore endeavor to enter by faith alone, and not by the eyes of flesh, into that inaccessible light in which God dwells. The voice came from the cloud, that the disciples, knowing it to have proceeded from God, might receive it with due reverence.

This is my beloved Son. I willingly concur with those who think that there is an implied contrast of Moses and Elijah with Christ, and that the disciples of God’s own Son are here charged to seek no other teacher. The word Son is emphatic, and raises him above servants. There are two titles here bestowed upon Christ, which are not more fitted to do honor to him than to aid our faith: a beloved Son, and a Master. The Father calls him my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, and thus declares him to be the Mediator, by whom he reconciles the world to himself. When he enjoins us to hear him, he appoints him to be the supreme and only teacher of his Church. It was his design to distinguish Christ from all the rest, as we truly and strictly infer from those words, that by nature he was God’s only Son In like manner, we learn that he alone is beloved by the Father, and that he alone is appointed to be our Teacher, that in him all authority may dwell.

But it will perhaps be objected, Does not God love angels and men? It is easy to reply, that the fatherly love of God, which is spread over angels and men, proceeds from him as its source. The Son is beloved by the Father, not so as to make other creatures the objects of his hatred, but so that he communicates to them what belongs to himself. There is a difference, no doubt, between our condition and that of the angels; for they never were alienated from God, and therefore needed not that he should reconcile them; while we are enemies on account of sin, till Christ procure for us his favor. Still, it is a fixed principle that God is gracious to both, only so far as he embraces us in Christ; for even the angels would not be firmly united to God if Christ were not their Head. It may also be observed that, since the Father here speaks of himself as different from the Son, there is a distinction of persons; for they are one in essence and alike in glory.

Hear him. I mentioned a little ago, that these words were intended to draw the attention of the Church to Christ as the only Teacher, that on his mouth alone it may depend. For, though Christ came to maintain the authority of the Law and the Prophets, (Matthew 5:17,) yet he holds the highest rank, so that, by the brightness of his gospel, he causes those sparks which shone in the Old Testament to disappear. He is the Sun of righteousness, whose arrival brought the full light of day. And this is the reason why the Apostle says (Hebrews 1:1) that

God, who at sundry times and in various ways spoke formerly by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by his beloved Son.

In short, Christ is as truly heard at the present day in the Law and in the Prophets as in his Gospel; so that in him dwells the authority of a Master, which he claims for himself alone, saying, One is your Master, even Christ, (Matthew 23:8.) But his authority is not fully acknowledged, unless all the tongues of men are silent. If we would submit to his doctrine, all that has been invented by men must be thrown down and destroyed. He is every day, no doubt, sending out teachers, but it is to state purely and honestly what they have learned from him, and not to corrupt the gospel by their own additions. In a word, no man can be regarded a faithful teacher of the Church, unless he be himself a disciple of Christ, and bring others to be taught by him.

6. And having heard this God intended that the disciples should be struck with this terror, in order to impress more fully on their hearts the remembrance of the vision. Yet we see how great is the weakness of our nature, which trembles in this manner at hearing the voice of God. If ungodly men mock at God, or despise him without concern, it is because God does not address them so as to cause his presence to be felt; but the majesty of God, as soon as we perceive him, must unavoidably cast us down.

7. Then Jesus approaching touched them. Christ raises them up when they had fallen, and by so doing performs his office; for he came down to us for this very purpose, that by his guidance believers might boldly enter into the presence of God, and that his majesty, which otherwise would swallow up all flesh, might no longer fill them with terror. Nor is it only by his words that he comforts, but by touching also that he encourages them.

8. They saw no man but Jesus only. When it is said that in the end they saw Christ alone, this means that the Law and the Prophets had a temporary glory, that Christ alone might remain fully in view. If we would properly avail ourselves of the aid of Moses, we must not stop with him, but must endeavor to be conducted by his hand to Christ, of whom both he and all the rest are ministers. This passage may also be applied to condemn the superstitions of those who confound Christ not only with prophets and apostles, but with saints of the lowest rank, in such a manner as to make him nothing more than one of their number. But when the saints of God are eminent in graces, it is for a totally different purpose than that they should defraud Christ of a part of his honor, and appropriate it to themselves. In the disciples themselves we may see the origin of the mistake; for so long as they were terrified by the majesty of God, their minds wandered in search of men, but when Christ gently raised them up, they saw him alone If we are made to experience that consolation by which Christ relieves us of our fears, all those foolish affections, which distract us on every hand, will vanish away.

Matthew 17:9. And as they were going down from the mountain. We have said that the time for making known the vision was not yet fully come; and, indeed, the disciples would not have believed it, if Christ had not given a more striking proof of his glory in his resurrection. But after that his divine power had been openly displayed, that temporary exhibition of his glory began to be admitted, so as to make it fully evident that, even during the time that he emptied himself, (Philippians 2:7,) he continued to retain his divinity entire, though it was concealed under the veil of the flesh. There are good reasons, therefore, why he enjoins his disciples to keep silence, till he be risen from the dead.

10. And his disciples asked him, saying. No sooner is the resurrection mentioned than the disciples imagine that the reign of Christ is commenced; 482482     “Ils imaginent que c’est l’entree du regne de Christ, et leur semble qu’ils y sont desia;” — “they imagine that it is the commencement of the kingdom of Christ, and think that they are already in it.” for they explain this word to mean that the world would acknowledge him to be the Messiah. That they imagined the resurrection to be something totally different from what Christ meant, is evident from what is stated by Mark, that they disputed with each other what was the meaning of that expression which he had used, To rise from the dead Perhaps, too, they were already under the influence of that dream which is now held as an undoubted oracle among the Rabbins, that there would be a first and a second coming of the Messiah; that in the first he would be mean and despised, but that this would be shortly afterwards followed by his royal dignity. And, indeed, there is some plausibility in that error, for it springs from a true principle. The Scripture, too, speaks of a first and a second coming of the Messiah; for it promises that he will be a Redeemer, to expiate by his sacrifice the sins of the world 483483     “Faisant par son sacrifice satisfaction pour les pechez du monde;” — “making satisfaction by his sacrifice for the sins of the world.” And such is the import of the following prophecies:

Rejoice, daughter of Zion, behold, thy King cometh, poor, sitting on an ass,
(Zechariah 9:9.)

We beheld him, and he had no form or beauty, and he resembled a leper, so that we had no esteem for him,
(Isaiah 53:3,4.)

Again, Scripture represents him as victorious over death, and as subjecting all things to his dominion. But we see how the Rabbins corrupt the pure word of God by their inventions; and as every thing was greatly corrupted in the time of our Lord, it is probable that the people had also embraced this foolish notion.

Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? The gross mistakes which they committed as to the person of Elijah have been pointed out on two or three occasions. 484484     Among other passages in which our Author has treated of the erroneous notions entertained by the Jews respecting Elijah, the reader may consult his Commentary on John 1:21, 25. — Ed. Perhaps, too, they cunningly and wickedly endeavored to lessen the authority of Christ by bringing forward Elijah; for as it had been promised that Elijah would come as the forerunner of Messiah, to prepare the way before him, (Malachi 3:1; 4:5,) it was easy to excite a prejudice against Christ, by saying that he came unaccompanied by Elijah By a trick closely resembling this, the devil enchants the Papists of the present day not to expect the day of judgment till Elijah and Enoch have appeared. 485485     “Iusques a ce qu’on voye Elie et Henoch retourner en ce monde;” — “till Elijah and Enoch are seen returning to this world.” It may not usually be conjectured that this expedient was purposely resorted to by the scribes, in order to represent Christ as unworthy of confidence, because he wanted the legitimate badge of the Messiah.

11. Elijah indeed will come first. We have stated elsewhere the origin of that error which prevailed among the Jews. As John the Baptist was to resemble Elijah by restoring the fallen condition of the Church, the prophet Malachi (4:5,6) had even given to him the name of Elijah; and this had been rashly interpreted by the scribes, as if Elijah the Tishbite (1 Kings 17:1) were to return a second time to the world. Christ now declares that every thing which Malachi uttered was true, but that his prediction had been misunderstood and distorted from its true meaning. “The promise,” says he, “that Eliah would come was true, and has been already fulfilled; but the scribes have already rejected Elijah, whose name they idly and falsely plead in opposing me.”

And will restore all things. This does not mean that John the Baptist restored them perfectly, but that he conveyed and handed them over to Christ, who would complete the work which he had begun. Now as the scribes had shamefully rejected John, Christ reminds his disciples that the impostures of such men ought not to give them uneasiness, and that it ought not to be reckoned strange, if, after having rejected the servant, they should, with equal disdain, reject his Master. And that no one might be distressed by a proceeding so strange, our Lord mentions that the Scripture contained predictions of both events, that the Redeemer of the world, and Elijah his forerunner, would be rejected by false and wicked teachers.

Matthew 17:17. O unbelieving and rebellious nation. Though Christ appears to direct his discourse to the father of the lunatic, yet there can be no doubt that he refers to the scribes, as I have lately explained; for it is certain that the reproof is directed, not against ignorant and weak persons, but against those who, through inveterate malice, obstinately resist God. This is the reason why Christ declares that they are no longer worthy to be endured, and threatens that ere long he will separate from them. But nothing worse could happen to them than that Christ should leave them, and it was no light reproach that they rejected so disdainfully the grace of their visitation. We must also observe here, that we ought to treat men in various ways, each according to his natural disposition. For, while our Lord attracts to him the teachable by the utmost mildness, supports the weak, and gently arouses even the sluggish, he does not spare those crooked serpents, on whom he perceives that no remedies can effect a cure.

Matthew 17:19. Then the disciples coming. The disciples wonder that the power which they once possessed has been taken from them; but they had lost it by their own fault. Christ therefore attributes this want of ability to their unbelief, and repeats and illustrates more largely the statement which he had previously made, that nothing is impossible to faith It is a hyperbolical mode of expression, no doubt, when he declares that faith removes trees and mountains; but the meaning amounts to this, that God will never forsake us, if we keep the door open for receiving his grace. He does not mean that God will give us every thing that we may mention, or that may strike our minds at random. On the contrary, as nothing is more at variance with faith than the foolish and irregular desires of our flesh, it follows that those in whom faith reigns do not desire every thing without discrimination, but only that which the Lord promises to give. Let us therefore maintain such moderation as to desire nothing beyond what he has promised to us, and to confine our prayers within that rule which he has laid down.

But it may be objected, that the disciples did not know whether or not the Lord was pleased to cure the lunatic It is easy to reply, that it was their own fault if they did not know; for Christ is now speaking expressly about special faith, which had its secret instincts, as the circumstances of the case required. And this is the faith of which Paul speaks, (1 Corinthians 12:9.) How then came it that the apostles were deprived of the power of the Spirit, which they had formerly exercised in working miracles, but because they had quenched it by their indolence? But what Christ said about special faith, in reference to this particular event, may be extended to the common faith of the whole Church.

21. This kind goeth not out, 492492     “Cest espece [de diablos] ne sort point;” — “this kind [of devils] goeth not out.” By this expression Christ reproved the negligence of certain persons, in order to inform them that it was not an ordinary faith which was required; for otherwise they might have replied that they were not altogether destitute of faith The meaning therefore is, that it is not every kind of faith that will suffice, when we have to enter into a serious conflict with Satan, but that vigorous efforts are indispensably necessary. For the weakness of faith he prescribes prayer as a remedy, to which he adds fasting by way of an auxiliary. “You are effeminate exorcist,” said he, “and seem as if you were engaged in a mock-battle got up for amusement; 493493     “Vous y venez ainsi qu’a un combat de petits enfans, et comme s’il n’estoit question que de s’escarmoucher pour passe-temps.” — “You come to it as if it were to a fight of little children, and as if you had nothing to do but to skirmish for amusement.” but you have to deal with a powerful adversary, who will not yield till the battle has been fought out. Your faith must therefore be excited by prayer, and as you are slow and languid in prayer, you must resort to fasting as an assistance.” 494494     “Comme une aide pour vous exciter et enflamber;” — “as an assistance to excite and inflame you.” Hence it is very evident how absurdly the Papists represent fasting to be the specific method of driving away devils, since our Lord refers to it for no other reason than to stimulate the earnestness of prayer. When he says that this kind of devils cannot be cast out in any other way than by prayer and fasting, he means that, when Satan has taken deep root in any one, and has been confirmed by long possession, or when he rages with unbridled fury, the victory is difficult and painful, and therefore the contest must be maintained with all our might.

Matthew 17:22. And while they remained in Galilee. The nearer that the time of his death approached, the more frequently did Christ warn his disciples, lest that melancholy spectacle might give a violent shock to their faith. It was shortly after the miracle had been performed that this discourse was delivered; for Mark says that he went from that place to Galilee, in order to spend there the intervening time in privacy; for he had resolved to come to Jerusalem on the day of the annual sacrifice, because he was to be sacrificed at the approaching Passover.

The disciples had previously received several intimations on this subject, and yet they are as much alarmed as if nothing relating to it had ever reached their ears. So great is the influence of preconceived opinion, that it brings darkness over the mind in the midst of the clearest light. The apostles had imagined that the state of Christ’s kingdom would be prosperous and delightful, and that, as soon as he made himself known, he would be universally received with the highest approbation. They never thought it possible that the priests, and scribes, and other rulers of the Church, would oppose him. Under the influence of this prejudice, they admit nothing that is said on the other side; for Mark says that they understood not what our Lord meant. Whence came it that a discourse so clear and distinct was not understood, but because their minds were covered by the thick veil of a foolish imagination?

They did not venture to make any farther inquiry. This must have been owing, in part, to their reverence for their Master; but I have no doubt that their grief and astonishment at what they had heard kept them silent. Such bashfulness was not altogether commendable; for it kept them in doubt, and hesitation, and sinful grief. In the meantime, a confused principle of piety, rather than a clear knowledge of the truth, kept them attached to Christ, and prevented them from leaving his school. A certain commencement of faith and right understanding had been implanted in their hearts, which made their zeal in following Christ not very different from the implicit faith of the Papists; but as they had not yet made such progress as to become acquainted with the nature of the kingdom of God and of the renewal which had been promised in Christ, I say that they were guided by zeal for piety rather than by distinct knowledge.

In this way we come to see what there was in them that deserved praise or blame. But though their stupidity could not entirely be excused, we have no reason to wonder that a plain and distinct announcement of the cross of their Master, and of the ignominy to which he would be subjected, appeared to them a riddle; not only because they reckoned it to be inconsistent with the glory of the Son of God that he should be rejected and condemned, but because it appeared to them to be highly improbable that the grace which was promised in a peculiar manner to the Jews should be set at naught by the rulers of the nation. But as the immoderate dread of the cross, which had suddenly seized upon them, shut the door against the consolation which was immediately added, arising out of the hope of the resurrection, let us learn that, when the death of Christ is mentioned, we ought always to take into view at once the whole of the three days, that his death and burial may lead us to a blessed triumph and to a new life.

Matthew 17:24. And when they came to Capernaum. We must attend, first of all, to the design of this narrative; which is, that Christ, by paying tribute of his own accord, declared his subjection, as he had taken upon him the form of a servant, (Philippians 2:7,) but at the same time showed, both by words and by the miracle, that it was not by obligation or necessity, but by a free and voluntary submission, that he had reduced himself so low that the world looked upon him as nothing more than one of the common people. This was not a tax which was wont to be demanded on crossing the sea, 577577     “Les didrachmes, dont est yci parle, n’estoit pas un peage qu’on payast a passer d’un coste en autre de la mer;” — “The didrachma, which are here spoken of, were not a custom paid on crossing from one side of the sea to the other.” but an annual tribute laid individually on every man among the Jews, so that they paid to tyrants what they were formerly in the habit of paying to God alone. For we know that this tax was imposed on them by the Law, that, by paying every year half a stater, (Exodus 30:13,) they might acknowledge that God, by whom they had been redeemed, was their supreme King. When the kings of Asia appropriated this to themselves, the Romans followed their example. Thus the Jews, as if they had disowned the government of God, paid to profane tyrants the sacred tax required by the Law. But it might appear unreasonable that Christ, when he appeared as the Redeemer of his people, should not himself be exempted from paying tribute To remove that offense, he taught by words, that it was only by his will that he was bound; and he proved the same thing by a miracle, for he who had dominion over the sea and the fishes might have released himself from earthly government. 578578     “Pouvoit bien, s’il eust voulu, s’exempter de la suiection des princes terriens;” — “might easily, if he had chosen, have exempted himself from subjection to earthly princes.”

Doth not your Master pay? Some think that the collectors of the tribute intended to throw blame on Christ, as if he were claiming exemption from the common law. For my own part, as men of that class are insolent and abusive, I interpret these words as having been spoken by way of reproach. It was customary for every man to be enrolled in his own city; but we know that Christ had no fixed habitation in one place. Those people therefore inquire if he be exempted from the law on the ground of his frequent removals from place to place. 579579     “Si par ce moyen qu’il est maintenant ci, maintenant la, il faudra qu’il eschappe sans rien payer;” — “if, because he is sometimes here, and sometimes there, he must escape without paying anything.”

25. He saith, Yes. Peter’s reply contains a modest excuse 580580     “Une excuse bien modeste et honneste;” — “a very modest and civil excuse.” to satisfy them: “he will pay,” 581581     “Oui, (dit-il,) il payera;” — “Yes, (says he,) he will pay.” says he; from which we infer that Christ had formerly been accustomed to pay, for Peter promises it as a thing about which there was no doubt. That they address him rather than the other disciples was, as I conjecture, because Christ lived with him; for if all had occupied the same habitation, the demand would have been made on all alike. It is therefore very ridiculous in the Papists, on so frivolous a pretense, to make Peter a partner in the dignity of Christ. “He chose him (they say) to be his vicar, and bestowed on him equal honors, by making him equal to himself in the payment of tribute.” But in this way they will make all swine-herds vicars of Christ, for they paid as much as he did. And if the primacy of Peter was manifested in the paying of tribute, whence comes that exemption which they claim for themselves? But this is the necessary result of the shameful trifling of those who corrupt Scripture according to their own fancy.

What thinkest thou, Simon? In this Christ gave a proof of his Divinity, by showing that nothing was unknown to him. But what is the object of his discourse? Is it to exempt himself and his followers from subjection to the laws? Some explain it thus, that Christians have a right to be exempted, but that they voluntarily subject themselves to the ordinary government, because otherwise human society cannot be maintained. To me, however, the meaning appears to be more simple; for there was danger lest the disciples might think that Christ had come in vain, because, by paying tribute cut off the hope of deliverance; and therefore he simply affirms that he pays tribute, solely because he voluntarily refrains from exercising his right and power. Hence it is inferred that this takes nothing from his reign. But why does he not openly claim his right? It is because his kingly power was unknown to the collectors of the tribute. For, though his kingdom be spiritual, still we must maintain, that as he is the only Son of God, he is also the heir of the whole world, so that all things ought to be subject to him, and to acknowledge his authority. The meaning, therefore, is, that God has not appointed kings, and established governments over mankind, in such a manner as to place him who is the Son in the same rank indiscriminately with others, but yet that, of his own accord, he will be a servant along with others, till the glory of his kingdom be displayed.

The Pope has not less foolishly than successfully abused this passage to exempt his clergy from the laws; as if the shaving of the head made them sons of God, and exempted them from tributes and taxes. But nothing else was intended by Christ than to claim for himself the honor of a King’s Son, so as to have at least a home privileged and exempted from the common law. And therefore it is also highly foolish in the Anabaptists to torture these words for overturning political order, since it is more than certain, that Christ does not say any thing about a privilege common to believers, but only draws a comparison from the sons of kings, who, together with their domestics, are exempted. 582582     “Lesquels sont exempts de tous imposts, eux et leurs domestiques;” — “who are exempted from all taxes, they and their domestics.”

27. Throw a hook. Though I acknowledge that Christ had not always full coffers, yet I think that he was not compelled by poverty to give this order to Peter, but that he did so in order to prove by a miracle, that he had a more extensive dominion than all earthly kings, since he had even fishes for his tributaries. And we do not read that this was done more than once, because one proof was enough for his whole life. Thou wilt find a stater. A stater was of the same value as a shekel, namely, four drachms or two didrachma. 583583     The didrachmon weighed two drachms, and the stater, which weighed two didrachma, or four drachms, was worth about two shillings and sixpence of our money. — Ed.




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