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Chapter XVII

The Transfiguration

SummaryThe Transfigured Lord. Moses and Elias. The Voice from the Cloud. The Lunatic Healed. The Son of Man to Be Betrayed. Slain and Raised the Third Day. The Tribute Money.

1. And after six days. Compare Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36; John 1:14, and 2 Peter 1:18. Six days after the conversation recorded in the last chapter. Luke says, “about an eight days.” About, not exactly. Luke's eight days include the fractional days at the beginning and end of the day of the conversation and the day of transfiguration. Matthew's six days are the six complete days intervening between them. Jesus taketh Peter, James and John. The three apostles who were chosen to be nearest to the Lord. Into a high mountain. Not Mt. Tabor, as tradition holds, but probably Mt. Hermom. It could not have been Mt. Tabor, for, as we learn from Josephus, who lived in that time, the top of Mt. Tabor was then occupied by a town and fortress. On the other hand, the Lord was in the vicinity of Mt. Hermon (Matt. 16:13, note); Hermon was a “high mountain,” ten thousand feet high, visible over most of Palestine.

2. And was transfigured before them. That is, transformed, changed in form. The great object was to reveal to the disciples his Divine glory before they beheld his humiliation upon the cross, in order to sustain their faith in the hour of trial. His face did shine as the sun. Thus John describes the glorified Savior when he beheld him on Patmos: “His face as the sun when he shineth in his strength.” His raiment was white as the light. Mark says, “white as snow.” The comparison may have been suggested by the snow of Hermon. It was a vision of supernatural splendor.

3. There appeared unto them Moses and Elias. (1) Among all the prophets and saints of the Old Testament these were the two, of which one had not died (2 Kings 2:11), and the other had no sooner tasted of death than his body was withdrawn from under the dominion of death and of him that had the power of death (Deut. 34:6; Jude 9). Both, therefore, came from hades, but from hades conquered. (2) Again, these two were the acknowledged heads and representatives, the one of the law, the other of the prophets (compare Matt. 7:12). And they were talking with Jesus. The subject of their conversation is given in Luke 9:31. It was the decease (exodus, departure, referring to his death and ascension) which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. In this brief interview between the greatest worthies of the old dispensation and the Founder of the new dispensation their conversation would be confined to the most important theme of earth and heaven. That was the Savior's death.

4. Peter answered. The words were spoken as they departed (Luke 9:33). Lord, it is good for us to be here. It is too brief a converse, too transient a glimpse and foretaste of the heavenly glory. He would fain detain these august visitors. Let us make three tabernacles. Three booths of boughs, like those of the Feast of the Tabernacles. It seemed to him that the hour for the long-looked-for reign had come.

5. A bright cloud overshadowed them. Christ, Moses and Elijah are represented as in the cloud which separated them from the disciples' sight; and out of this cloud the voice spoke to the disciples. By 97the disciples such a luminous cloud would be instantly accepted as a symbol of Divine presence. A bright cloud, the Shekinah, is throughout the Old Testament dispensation employed as a symbol of God's presence, being very generally entitled “the glory,” or “the glory of the Lord.” This is my beloved Son. The same voice which had once before been heard at the baptism. Such a confirmation of the great confession of Peter was never to be forgotten. Almost a generation later, when he wrote his second epistle, the remembrance of this night was as vivid as ever: “For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory.” Hear ye him. The Divine voice that spoke at Sinai and the baptism is heard, declaring Christ's superiority to Moses and Elias, in that he is “the beloved Son,” and commanding all to Hear Him. Henceforth, not Moses, or Elias, are the lawgivers of the people of God, but Christ. The saints are bidden to turn from every human teacher, even those as revered as Moses and Elias, to listen to our Lord. To hear Him will lead from error and sin into truth, righteousness and fitness for heaven.

6. They were sore afraid. Like the children of Israel at Sinai, they were filled with awe at the Divine voice.

7. Arise, be not afraid. So the Lord ever speaks to his disciples in danger or fear.

8. They saw no man, save Jesus only. When they rose from their prostration the glorious vision was gone.

9. Jesus charged them, … Tell the vision to no man. Even they themselves did not yet understand what they had seen. Still less could they, in present circumstances, make others understand. All was plainer after Christ had died, risen, and had ascended to glory. The time had not come to proclaim the mystery of the Sonship to the world.

10. Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? They knew that the scribes, in their capacity as interpreters of prophecy, were wont to say that Elijah must come before the Messiah could appear. They said this on the strength of Mal. 3:1, and 4:5. If Peter, James and John were of those who asked this question, they were probably seeking to ascertain if the vision they had seen was the coming of Elias and why he did not remain.

11, 12. Elias (Elijah) is come already. John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Mark 1:2–8; Luke 1:17). Have done unto him whatsoever they listed. List and lust were originally one word, meaning to desire or wish. The account of his martyrdom is given in Matt. 14:6–12; Mark 6:21–29. See notes there. The Son of man suffer of them. Henceforth he keeps the lesson of his suffering constantly before their minds. After all, his disciples were not prepared for it when the hour came. 98

14. When they were come to the multitude. Come down out of the mountain. Compare Mark 9:14–29 and Luke 9:37–42. Luke says this miracle occurred the next day.

15. My son; for he is a lunatic. Epileptic, in the Revision. The symptoms are those of epilepsy, in this case caused by demoniac possession. The son was a child (Luke 9:38). He was dumb as well as epileptic (Mark).

16. Thy disciples. The nine apostles who had been left below when the Lord with three ascended the mountain.

17. O faithless and perverse generation. Intended especially for the disciples who had failed in the cure from weakness of faith. How long shall I suffer you? Bear with your shortcomings. Bring him hither to me. The emphasis is upon me. This act of mercy could have been done by his disciples had they been devout, prayerful and believing.

18. And the demon went out. Compare Mark and Luke.

19, 20. Why could not we cast him out? The answer is, Lack of faith. This mountain. Lofty Hermon, in plain sight. Nothing shall be impossible to you. Upon the condition of perfect faith. Compare Heb. chap. 11. Faith in Christ, faith exercised in fasting and prayer, are the conditions of power.

21. But this kind … but by prayer and fasting. Compare Mark 9:29. Only by devout waiting before the Lord for strength. Such strength is always needful to the victories of faith. Often, too, we have demons, envy, pride, covetousness, a revengeful spirit, that must be cast out by prayer.

22. While they abode in Galilee. Mark 9:30, says: Departing thence (from the vicinity of Mt. Hermon), they passed through Galilee. Compare also, Luke 9:43–45.

23. They were exceeding sorry. Because he said that he must be put to death. There is only grief now, but no remonstrance. 99

24. When they had come to Capernaum. They had now returned from the journey north. Doth not your master pay tribute? Not tribute, which would be a tax due an alien, but the half shekel, an annual tax demanded of every male Jew above twenty years for the support of the temple. It would be from twenty-five to thirty-five cents, as the shekel is variously estimated from fifty to seventy cents. The collectors were not publicans, but Jewish authorities.

25. He saith, Yea. Peter, as usual, answered before he reflected, and then came to Jesus with the matter. Jesus prevented. Peter came into the house to speak about it, but Christ knew his thoughts and spoke first. Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom? Not of their own children, but from subjects. Hence, Christ, the King's Son, for whom the temple was built, was not subject to tax for the benefit of the temple. The Son of the King would not pay tribute to the King. For the origin of this temple tax, see Exod. 30:12, and 2 Chron. 24:5.

27. Lest we offend them. While not compelled to pay it as a due, he would pay it as a matter of expediency. Sometimes things are expedient for which there is not the letter of the law. Go to the sea. Of Galilee, close at hand. Cast a hook. Peter was a fisherman. Take up the fish that first cometh. A miracle. The Lord by his power would draw the fish that had sought to swallow the coin to Peter's hook. A piece of money. Greek, a stater, corresponding to a shekel, enough for two. The Lord would pay the tax, but in a manner in accord with the Divine dignity. 99

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