In this chapter, the Transfiguration happens; Jesus heals a boy having a demon; he foretells his death and resurrection; he pays the temple tax.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-13)
1 Then after six days, Jesus took along Peter, James, and his brother John and brought them up to a high mountain privately. 2 He was changed before them, and his face shone as the sun, and his clothes became white like light. 3 Then look! Moses and Elijah appeared before them and were talking with him. 4 But in response, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here! If you want, I’ll make here three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” 5 While he was talking, look! A bright cloud covered them. And then listen! A voice from heaven from the cloud speaking: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have been well pleased. Listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell before them and were really afraid. 7 Jesus approached and touched them and said, “Get up and don’t be afraid!” 8 Lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus alone. 9 Then, as they were going down from the mountain, Jesus ordered them, saying, “Tell no one of the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
10 And the disciples asked him, saying, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” 11 In reply, he said, “Elijah must come and restore all things. I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they wanted. In this way the Son of Man also is about to suffer because of them.” 13 At that moment the disciples understood that he spoke to them about John the Baptist.
Recall Matt. 16:28: “I tell you the truth that some are standing here who will not experience death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” It introduces this pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section of Scripture, next.
This table, taken from a commentary on the Gospel of Mark, is also relevant to Matthew’s version. It contrasts Jesus and Moses:
|Jesus takes three disciples up mountain (17:1)||Moses goes with three unnamed persons, plus seventy elders up the mountain (Exod. 24:1, 9)|
|Jesus is transfigured and his clothes become bright white. (17:2)||Moses’ skin shines when he descends from the mountain with God (Exod. 34:29)|
|God appears in veiled form in an overshadowing cloud (17:5)||God appears in veiled form in an overshadowing cloud (Exod. 24:15-16, 18)|
|A voice speaks from the cloud (17:5)||A voice speaks from cloud (Exod. 24:16)|
|Adapted from David E. Garland, Mark: NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan 1996), p. 342|
Turner provides a list of similarities between the transfiguration of Jesus and Moses on Sinai (comment on 17:6-8):
1.. The six-day interval (17:1; Exod. 24:16)
2.. The presence of three witnesses (17:1; Exod. 24:1
3.. The high mountain (17:1; Exod. 24:1)
4.. The glorious appearing of the central figure (17:2; Exod. 34:29-30)
5.. The overshadowing cloud (17:5; Exod. 24:16)
6.. The fear of those who witnesses the glory (17:6; Exod. 34:29-30)
Six days could be a literary reference to the six days of work, right before the Sabbath (Keener). Luke says about eight days, which is based on a Greek way of speaking for “about a week” (Carson). So there is no conflict of chronology.
Jesus is up on a high mountain, and both Moses and Elijah went up a high mountain, Mt. Horeb, an alternative name for Mt. Sinai: Exod. 19 for Moses and 1 Kings 19:8 for Elijah, who spent forty days and forty nights, as Moses did.
Matthew (and Mark in 9:2) says that Jesus “metamorphized,” a Greek word that means to transform. His clothes were so bright that Peter, as recorded by Mark, who probably heard and wrote down what Peter preached, added the detail that the clothes were so bright that no laundryman could bleach them as white (9:3). Matthew says they became “white as light.” Moses’s face shone with the glory of God (Exod. 34:29-35).
I am reminded of this Scripture in 2 Cor. 3:7-11:
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Cor. 3:7-11, ESV)
Yes, Jesus lost his “shine” at the end of the transfiguration because he was still unresurrected and unascended, but now we have a glimpse of the glory he gave up at his incarnation and the glory that was restored to him at his ascension. The New Covenant, however, is much more glorious than the Sinai covenant which Moses ratified.
A little theology: people debate or are confused about what Jesus gave up when he became incarnated. Did he give up his divine attributes? No. He retained them, but he surrendered their use to his Father in heaven. They were hidden behind his humanity; indeed, his humanity was added to his divinity. Then what did he give up? He gave up the glorious environment of heaven. And now the three disciples have a taste of it, and so do we by reading about it. We will share in it when we die.
Here are some posts in the systematic theology section of this website:
“And look!”: this has often been translated as the older “behold!” I like “behold!” but I updated it. Something unexpectant or surprising is happening.
Moses for sure represents the lawgiver, and someone greater than he is here—Jesus. What about Elijah? He also represents restoration in John the Baptist. He also did not experience death, but a chariot took him up (2 Kings 2). Jesus is greater than Solomon and the temple (12:6, 42), but here in this pericope he is greater than Moses also. Mal. 4:4-5 says a prophet like Elijah would arise and Deut. 18:15-19 says that a prophet like Moses would arise or return.
And by the way, the sign that the Pharisees were looking for (Matt. 16:1-4), could be answered right here on this mountain. The problem? They were not privileged enough to see it!
All three versions say that Peter knew who the men were without their being introduced to him. Either this is a deliberate omission, and Jesus told them who they were, but this detail was unrecorded, or there was something about Moses and Elijah that Peter instantly recognized. Jesus surpasses both of these visitors, particularly when the Father proclaims that Jesus is his beloved Son and to hear him.
“tents”: it is the Greek noun skēnē (pronounced skay-nay), and it means “tent” or “booth.” In Heb. 11:9 it means The Tent of Testimony or Tabernacle. It can also mean “dwelling” generally. Peter does not necessarily refer to the feast of tabernacles or booths (Exod. 23:16; 34:22; Lev. 23:39), but he wants to make temporary shelters with them. But if you want to make “tents” refer to the feast of booths or tabernacles, you may certainly do so. Turner, however, points out that however kindly Peter’s offer was (he was being hospitable), it is a defective offering because it places the three persons in three tents, thus lowering Jesus to the same level as Moses and Elijah (comment on v. 5). The whole point of this transcendent experience is the Father’s declaration that Jesus is God’s beloved Son; Moses and Elijah were servants.
God’s glory covering or overshadowing them reflects the doctrine of Shekinah, particularly in the desert tabernacle (Exod. 40:34-38). See 2 Chron. 6:1, which says the Lord dwells in thick darkness, but here it is a bright cloud.
“Son”: Let’s explore an aspect of systematic theology. Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters. On our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
More teaching in systematic theology, the Trinity. The Father in his role as the Father is over the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son in his incarnation and the redemptive plan
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equal.
And on the Trinity:
The Father proclaims his total pleasure in his Son. In Matt. 3:17, the Father also delights or is pleased with his Son—the same wording. It is in the aorist tense, but it may have an atemporal sense, so you could translate it “in whom I delight” or “in whom I have been pleased,” as I do in 3:17.
The point for us is that when we are in Christ, the Father delights in us as well. We begin our journey from the position of the Father’s love.
The Father tells Moses and Elijah to listen to him. The verb has the connotation of “obeying” or “heeding” Jesus. the verb is the standard verb for “hear”: akouō (pronounced ah-koo-oh, and we get our word acoustics from it). It also means, depending on the context, “give careful attention to, listen to, heed” (BDAG). Recall that Jesus said that the one who hears and acts on his words is like the man who builds his house on a firm foundation, while the one who hears them and does not act on them is like a man who build his house on a weak foundation (Matt. 7:24-27). When the stormy flood waters rise, the first house will stand, while the second one will collapse. So hearing is more than just the physical act of hearing with your ears. It requires understanding and then obedience and action.
Many people fell on their faces when they encounter a powerful, divine revelation: Gen. 15:12; 28:17; Dan. 8:17-18; 10:9, 15; Ezek. 1:28; cf. Exod. 34:30.
Fear on Mt. Sinai: Exod. 20:18-21; Deut. 4:33; Heb. 12:18-21
Falling on one’s face in awe and entreaty: Matt. 26:39; Luke 5:12; 17:16; 1 Cor. 14:25; Rev. 1:17; 7:11; 11:16
Then Jesus touched them and told them to arise and not to be afraid.
“fear”: This is the standard Greek verb for fear (phobeomai, pronounced foh-beh-oh-my), and you can see phob– in it. It means a wide range of things, like “filled with awe,” but “afraid” is also correct.
Let’s become a little more definite. BDAG defines the verb as follows: (1) “to be in an apprehensive state, be afraid”; people can become “frightened.” “Fear something or someone.” (2) “to have a profound measure of respect for, (have) reverence, respect”; a person like God or a leader can command respect.
The Shorter Lexicon says adds nuances (1) “be afraid … become frightened … “fear something or someone” (2) “fear in the sense of reverence, respect.”
There is everything right with having a reverential fear of God. Don’t let the Happy Highlight teachers on TV or elsewhere tell you otherwise. Mark also says they were afraid, when they saw the two prophets (9:6).
Jesus reassured them.
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss). and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
The vision was over. He commands the three not to tell anyone, presumably also the other nine. Again, Jesus does not want disinformation to leak out. The disciples were not quite grasping who he was, but now that they got a clearer vision, he did not want them to reveal it prematurely.
Just because it says “vision” does not mean it was fake or Moses and Elijah really didn’t appear. They did. But from the three disciples’ point of view, the panorama before them was a vision or spectacle. It was also a visitation.
Blomberg: “Here is the most important interpretive key to the messianic secret motif: Christ’s mission can be fully understood only after he has completed his ministry of suffering and has subsequently been vindicated. The glimpse of his glory revealed by his transfiguration, like the glimpses given by his other miracles, which generated commands to silence, may not be allowed to hinder his journey to death.” (comment on 17:9).
“Son of Man”: it both means the powerful, divine Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel (numerous references). Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.
John was the transitional figure and he was destined and called to restore all things, before Jesus entered his ministry and during his more powerful ministry. Estimates are that he baptized hundreds of thousands and up to one million, depending on the population of Israel at that time. Whatever the exact number, it was a revival. Yet John baptized them with water, while Jesus was about to baptize repentant people with the Spirit and fire.
Sadly, the national, religious politicians did what they wanted to John (execute them), and they were about to do the same with Jesus.
John’s ministry can be summed up in his own words: He proclaimed that Jesus was to become greater and he lesser (John 3:25-30). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
One last note:
“teachers of the law”: They were also called “scribes.” You can learn more about them at this link:
This group, among others, was the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7, ESV). Overdoing righteousness damages one’s relationship with God and others.
“I tell you”: this clause denotes an authoritative and solemn pronouncement that may surprise his listeners and make them uncomfortable.
Commentator Craig Keener, commenting on this verse, collects many references in the rabbinic writings expecting Elijah to come—too many to begin listing them. All of these views must come from Mal. 4:5-6.
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents … (Mal. 4:5-6, NIV)
Finally, here is Peter’s eyewitness account in his epistle:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (2 Pet. 1:16-18, NIV)
These verses separate the coming (parousia) in v. 16 from the transfiguration. Peter and others were eyewitnesses to his majesty and the voice of God on the sacred mountain (vv. 17-18), which was a foretaste of Jesus coming in power. Amazing. Peter really was there and saw and heard the transfiguration.
GrowApp for Matt. 17:1-13
A.. Verses 2-5 are partly about a glimpse of heaven. Did you lose a loved one in death? What kind of life is he or she living right now, in heaven?
Jesus Heals a Boy with a Demon (Matt. 17:14-20)
14 Now when they came to the crowd, a man approached him, kneeling before him 15 and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son because he has seizures and suffers badly, for often he falls into the fire and often into the water! 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 In reply, Jesus said, “Oh unbelieving and distorted generation! How long will I be with you? How long will I put up with you? Bring him here to me!” 18 Then Jesus rebuked it, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was healed from that moment. 19 Then the disciples came up to Jesus privately and said, “Why were we unable to expel it?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your small faith, for I tell you the truth: if you have the faith of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Go over from here to there, and it will go.’ And nothing will be impossible for you.”
Jesus and Peter, James, and John were coming down from the high mountain, where the disciples received the vision and Jesus was temporarily transformed or metamorphized.
Always remember that after you have your mountaintop experience of a taste of glory, you will have to confront a demon or the trials of life. That is Satan’s or the world’s counterattack, designed to discourage and wear you down.
Here the demon is fighting against the boy and against health. Demons are awful beasts that hate humanity. Mark 9:18 and Luke 9:39 says the boy foamed and ground his teeth. Matthew here says the boy is an epileptic, but this was caused by a demon, not a strictly natural cause. In other words, all diseases hit the body naturally and have natural causes, but a few of the diseases also have a demonic cause—both natural and demonic. A demon causes it, but it manifests in the body. It takes discernment to figure out how to pray. Let the Holy Spirit guide you.
“disciples”: see v. 6 for more comments.
“heal”: the verb is therapeuō (pronounced thair-ah-pew-oh, our word therapy is related to it), and it means to “make whole, restore, heal, cure, care for.” The man uses this verb, and at first I thought it did not fit, but then Matthew reuses it in v. 18. So we have deliverance and a healing. As I just noted, it takes discernment when it is demonic or an organic disease only or both demonic and a disease. Here it is both demonic that worked its way to seizures.
The nine disciples were unable to expel it. Just earlier Jesus commissioned them to “do the stuff,” or they had authority to expel demons (Matt. 10:8), but this one was stubborn. Mark says that even Jesus had to ask the question of the father about how long he had the demon (9:21), and the father answered “since childhood. If you can do anything, help us!” Jesus replied, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.” Then the father cried out with very comforting words, which must have stuck in Peter’s mind when he was preaching his stories about Jesus, and Mark was recording them (or so says church history). “I believe! Help my unbelief!” the father said. (Once again, Matthew the Trimmer omits these small details.) This cry is a perfect description of the dilemma that people—you and I—face when we see a great need and want to have faith in God, but our desperation and unbelief get in the way. Yes, God responds to desperation, as Jesus is doing here, but sooner or later the mind has to settle down and trust and believe. That’s the point Jesus was making. “All things are possible to them who believe!”
Desperation ≠ Faith
One good way to leave behind your desperation is to read up on Scriptures that talk about who God is, how much he loves you. Also study Scriptures that promise healing.
“unbelieving”: this could be translated as “faithless.” One has to have faith and trust in God. A good acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
See my word study on faith and faithfulness:
See v. 20 for more comments in faith.
“distorted”: it comes from the verb diastrephō (pronounced dee-ah-streh-foh), and it means “thoroughly turned,” so that it is crooked. One translation has “twisted.” One lexicon suggests “depraved.” The idea is of an entire generation being distorted in their perspective and minds.
I thought I should point out that Jesus does not put up with the nonsense in his generation, and he does not put with the nonsense in ours. Rev. 2:20 says that the resurrected Jesus rebuked the church at Thyatira for tolerating the woman Jezebel. Jesus told the church he was about to come on the scene and take care of business.
Jesus is speaking of the entire generation, not to the man himself or the disciples. “This generation” comes in for criticism many times: Matt. 11:16; 12:39, 41-42, 45; 16:4. In 23:34-36, this generation has gone past the point of no return.
“rebuked”: it is the verb epitimaō (pronounced eh-pea-tee-mah-oh), and it means “rebuke, censure, warn,” and even “punish” (see Jude 9). In exorcisms it may have developed a specialized meaning, so one should use it, as Jesus did. Be authoritative. In any case, he has given us authority to tread on the devil (Matt. 10:8; Luke 9:1 and 10:19).
There are two main ways in the Greek NT to express demonic attacks to varying degrees, from full possession to just attacks: “have a demon” and “demonized.” The latter term is used often in Matthew: 4:24; 8:16, 28, 35; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22, but only once in Luke (8:36), and Mark four times (132; 5:15, 16, 18). John uses the term once (10:21). In Luke 8:26-39, Luke uses both “have a demon” and “demonized,” so he sees the terms synonymously. “Demonized” comes from the verb daimonizomai (pronounced dy-mo-nee-zo-my), which just adds the suffix –iz- to the noun daimōn (pronounced dy-moan). It is a very convenient quality about Greek (English has this ability too: modern to modernize). Just add this suffix to a noun, and it turns into a verb. So it looks like “have a demon” and “be demonized” are synonyms. The context determines how severe the possession was. As it turns out, however, Matthew does mention those two verbs “demonized” or “have a demon.” I bring them up, just to remind the readers of what the other pericopes say in the four Gospels about demonization.
“disciples”: see v. 16 for more comments.
They ask the question I would. Why couldn’t we cast it out or expel it? Of course they asked him privately, in case he was going to rebuke them, as he had just done in v. 16. But he also sets before them a task or mission of faith, which is both intimidating and encouraging at one time (for me, at least).
First let me say that some manuscripts add: “This kind do not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Mark’s version says that this kind comes out only by prayer, and some manuscripts add fasting. We can combine prayer and fasting to build our faith. Pray for even small faith to expel demons. Fast, if necessary. Remember that one of the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 is faith. Pray that God would distribute it by his Spirit, right when you need it.
Now let’s return to this verse in Matthew.
“small faith”: it is a compound word and a noun, which removes it from the adjective “little faith.” There are other Greek cognates (related), and Matthew counts for four of five of them: 6:30; 8:26; 14:1; 16:8. His favorite word in a context like this one.
In contrast, faith is needed. Now let’s look at the noun faith. It is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or piss-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Let’s discuss the verb believe and the noun faith more deeply. It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
“I tell you the truth”: Matthew uses this expression thirty times in his Gospel. “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement, but Jesus’ “introductory uses of amēn to confirm his own words is unique” (France at his comment on 5:18). The authoritative formula emphasizes pronouncements which are noteworthy and will be surprising or uncomfortable to the listener.
“mountain”: it is a symbol of insurmountable obstacles in our lives. We speak to the mountain, and God removes it. We need to be careful about taking it literally, as if we can move Mt. Everest by our speaking.
Once we have faith the size of a mustard seed, nothing shall be impossible for us. This too is a general statement. We need to be careful of over-applying it, so we believe we can jump from the temple in Jerusalem or spend money carelessly, put ourselves in massive debts, and demand God to bail us out. If he did bail you out without your learning how to mange your household budget, you may plunge yourself in debt again. The miracle would happen when you improve your godly skill in handling money. With that said, I have heard many stories, for example, about genuine miracles of provision and angelic protection when lives were about to be lost. God can work miracles for those who genuinely need them!
So how does Jesus answer their request and instruct them to build their faith? In effect he tells them they don’t need to increase their faith by working it up and following a formula. All they need is a very small degree of faith, and then miracles will happen. This answer implies that the apostles sometimes had faith because they saw healings and demon expulsion (Matt. 10:8; Luke 9:1; 10:17). So just have even a little bit of faith. Don’t worry about putting it on steroids. God and the Word and constant prayer will cause it to grow.
Next, Jesus says to speak out the order or command. So Jesus tells them, “speak!” or “say!” It is not merely “you say” or “you speak.” No. Just do it. Just speak it out. No, don’t boss God around. “Lord, I command thee to do what I want and when I want it!” Instead, just say, “Lord, I pray over my life what the Scriptures teach!” And then be specific, by the Word, which may support your godly desire or oppose your selfish desire. Be open to have your desires transformed. James 4:7 says to surrender or submit to God, and then resist the devil, and he will flee. Gal. 2:20 and 5:24 speak of crucifying our flesh. Your selfish desire will flee, too.
Commanding the mountain—and no doubt the mountain they had just climbed was visible in the background—is a visual image of a spiritual truth. It’s a metaphor. Any deeply and stubbornly rooted thing in your life that is an obstacle to your growth and God accomplishing his promise in your life can be removed with prayer. Speak to it to go over there, from here to there.
Renewalists love verses like this one because they love to confess out loud and speak out and pray out loud. This is solid teaching. Nothing shall be impossible to us. Personally, my prayer life is done with an open voice, when I take my prayer walks.
Lord, give me even a small amount of faith.
Let’s never forget that faith rests on the will of God. We Renewalists must be very careful about commanding God or things in nature to happen because we want them to. Even Jesus said he does what he sees the Father doing: Jesus “can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also” (John 5:19). Extra-super-confident Word-of-Faith teachers say they read the Word and understand what the will of God is, so they can command things. Part of that is true because of what Jesus just said in v. 20, but partly certain excessive Word-of-Faith teachers often misinterpret Scriptures which seem to indicate they can boss God around, like humans calling things into existence. (They base this on Rom. 4:17, but the verse clearly says God is the one who calls things into existence.) Faith-filled and Spirit-filled Christians must get a personal word from God. They must abide in Christ and his words abide in him so that they can hear from God about each individual and unique case. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7). They must not launch out on their own and believe that God shall and must heal everyone, and if he didn’t, then the sick persons must not have had enough faith or spoken the right confession out loud. Somehow it’s their fault. No.
In my own life, I have heard from God that a sickness in a relative was “not a sickness unto death.” She has been cancer free for a long time (over a decade and a half, if I recall). I also received a personal word that another relative was going to be taken home, so I should not pray for his healing (he died a few days later). No amount of commanding and pleading and rebuking and decreeing and declaring would have altered the outcome. And to be honest, I have seemingly heard from God about yet a third relative and believed God would heal him, but he died. I was going through a time of deception in my life, but even in this case I relented and realized in his last hours that he would not be healed. I had been deceived, but I don’t give up on healing because of this disappointment (even after another relative lectured me about how wrong I was). It’s in the Word. I never give up on the clear teaching of Scripture. People need to do what Jesus said in this passage and actively do faith, not pull back or go inside their shells like a turtle and give up. Disappointments happen down here on earth. It’s the human condition.
Yes, healing is in the atonement, but not everyone will be healed in their current bodies when God says that the ultimate healing is for them to be taken from the broken-down earth-suits and brought into his presence, where there is no more disease or brokenness—the ultimate healing, also won for us in the atonement.
Pray for healing fearlessly and with active faith! Then leave the results in God’s hands.
See my posts about Satan in the area of systematic theology:
GrowApp for Matt. 17:14-20
A.. Has God set you free of a demonic influence in your life that came through drugs or witchcraft or some other deception?
Jesus Again Foretells His Death and Resurrection (Matt. 17:22-23)
22 As they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised. Then they were deeply grieved.”
“Son of Man”: see v. 9 for more comments.
“hands”: they stand in for or symbolize power, because hands do things like make an object, throw a spear or hit someone else. Power and force reside in the hands.
“men”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss, and we get our word anthropology from it). It is in the plural. In many verses it is generic, so it can be translated as “person” or “persons” or “people.” Here it should be men, because the context requires it. The authorities in Jerusalem were all men.
“third day”: Some people take this to mean literally seventy-two hours, because Jonah spent three days and three nights in the big fish (Jnh. 1:17; Matt. 12:40), so Jesus must also spend seventy-two hours in the grave. But we over-read the intent here. The sign of Jonah was his coming out of the depths of the belly and the sea, which was a type of the resurrection. Let’s not over-analyze it. Jesus was crucified and died on Friday; he spent part of Friday and Saturday and Sunday in the grave—or his body did—and his body was raised from the dead early on Sunday morning: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—three days. They don’t have to be seventy-two hours. It was a Jewish custom to count a partial day as one day. Go to biblegateway.com and look up “third day.” It is amazing how many times the two words appear and how significant they are in many contexts.
Rising on the third day is the key to early apostolic preaching. All throughout the first five chapters of Acts, Peter and the others refer to it time and again. Paul referenced the resurrection when he spoke to the Athenians in Mars Hill (Acts 17:30-32).
1 Cor. 15:3-8 is all about the resurrection:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (! Cor. 15:3-8, NIV)
Paul omitted the fact that he appeared to women first. (No, he did not do it out of malice.) He appeared then to Cephas (Peter) and then the twelve. Next, he appeared to more than 500 at a time. Where did that happen? In Galilee? In or around Jerusalem? Probably the holy city, since so many people gathered there in Christian community. (Or it could have been Galilee, his home base.) In any case, Paul recounted what he knew. And the resurrection is the key reality and doctrine. Never give it up as nonessential, people of God. It is the core of our faith.
“grieved”: it could be translated as “grieve, pain”; in the passive voice: “become sad, sorrowful, distressed.” It is in the passive here, but there is nothing wrong with translating it as “grieved.”
It looks like the disciples are learning their lesson. No more Peter wrongly rebuking Jesus, and the Lord correctly returning the rebuke (Matt. 16:22-23).
However, they should have focused on the promise of resurrection.
GrowApp for Matt. 17:22-23
A.. Do you believe in the resurrection and hope, or do you hold grief in your heart longer than you do hope?
Jesus Pays the Temple Tax (Matt. 17:24-27)
24 As they were entering Capernaum, the ones who collect the two-drachma tax said to Peter, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And as he went into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect the poll tax or the census tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 He said, “From others.” Jesus said to him, “Then indeed the sons are free.” 27 But so that we don’t cause an offense for them, go to the lake and toss in your hook, and take out the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth, and you will find four drachmas. Take it and give it to them for me and you.”
The two-drachma tax was probably for the temple, and not in support of Rome. It was levied on every Jewish male between twenty and fifty years old to support the functioning of the temple. The two drachmas were worth a half of a stater or shekel (see v. 27). A half shekel was levied to support the tabernacle on each Jew at the census, collected annually (Exod. 30:11-16).
A drachma was worth about a denarius, and a denarius was the pay a farm laborer got for a day’s work. But often farm work was seasonal, so let’s not see him getting 365 denarii (minus the Sabbaths).
Peter may have spoken out of embarrassment or defensiveness or insecurity. Did he want to be responsible for the arrest of Jesus or at least the authorities coming down hard on him? Jesus takes the initiative. Did he overhear the conversation or did he know it by supernatural means? My sense is the latter option.
Jesus is saying that the temple belongs to the Father, and there is an obligation for the “others” to pay it, but he is not one of the “others.” He is the Son of the Father. So relationally and theologically he should be exempt from the temple tax. Jesus keeps the questions in the plural: “whom” is in the plural in Greek; “kings,” “sons” (twice) and “others” (twice). This plural number hides the direct point that he is not obligated to pay the tax since he is of the Father. In fact, these two verses are a quick illustration or parable.
Turner: “Accordingly, Jesus, as the unique Son of God, is greater than the temple and is exempt from paying this tax to his Father’s house (cf. 12:6; 21:12-13). The plural [sons] includes the disciples (5:9, 45; 6:9, 26) and probably all Israelites … If so, Jesus teaches that God’s temple should not be maintained by compulsory taxes, but by voluntary offers” (comment on 17:25b-26).
“cause offense”: Turner: “Jesus generally treated sinner gently (yet cf. 15:21-28) and religious hypocrites more harshly, but his followers today tend to get this backward, treating religious hypocrites with much deference and protesting loudly against known sinners” (comment on 17:27). Perfectly said.
Yet Jesus is willing to pay the tax, and Paul argues this kind of compliance as well (1 Cor. 8:13; 9:12, 22). If Jesus is the Son of the Father, which was loudly proclaimed on the Mount of Transfiguration (v. 5), and he was exempt from paying it, then how is Peter exempt? He is exempt because he belongs to the kingdom community, and they don’t pay the temple tax. In fact, the church will become the temple (1 Cor. 3:17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Pet. 2:5).
Jesus performed a miracle from a distance. He knew a fish had already swallowed it, or he produced the coin in the fish. He has control over nature. It is a sure thing that American TV evangelists would love to produce coins like that in their bank accounts! But that would appear fishy!
Jesus is also using irony. He proves he is the unique Son of the Father by producing a miracle or knowing supernaturally about the fish; therefore, he does not really need to pay it. Only he could do that. But he willingly goes along with the demand of the tax collectors standing outside the door.
“lake”: it is most often translated as “sea,” because of the Greek word, but the Shorter Lexicon offers the option of “lake.” And since the body of water in Galilee is a lake, I chose this term. The old traditional title, “The Sea of Galilee,” to modern readers, makes no sense when they see it on an online map; the term is inaccurate.
Once again, let’s discuss a little theology on the topic of Jesus working miracles by his divine nature or the Spirit.
(1). Did Jesus work this remarkable miracle in accord with the Father’s will, by his full deity which he imported with him? (2) Or did he work it by the power of the Spirit in accord with the Father’s will? (3) Or maybe it was both his divine nature and the Spirit, in accord with the Father’s will. If it is the first option, he worked the miracle by his divine nature, in accord with the Father’s will, and so the door to our working a similar miracle is slammed shut. We may participate in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), but we are not true God, as he was (and is). If it is the second option, then that opens the door to our working miracles by the power of the Spirit, in accord with the Father’s will. In my view, the dominant image in the four Gospels is that he worked his miracles by the Spirit and by the Father’s will. I would not venture to apply the third option to us humans. Too complicated and presumptuous.
GrowApp for Matt. 17:24-27
A.. Can you recall a time when God provided miraculously for you? Tell your story. Or did you hear of someone who got a miracle of provision? What did you learn?
Summary and Conclusion
Jesus was transfigured right before their very eyes. He got a taste of heaven which he had enjoyed before his incarnation. Peter, Peter, Peter! You spoke up without realizing this was a holy moment between Jesus, Moses and Elijah. You should have reverently kept quiet. But we all love your boldness, Peter. Moses represented the law and Elijah represented the prophets. The Father said: “Listen to him!” The message: Jesus was superior to them and fulfilled all of their roles and words. Jesus reinforced an earlier idea that John the Baptist came back from the dead, so to speak, and embodied the ministry of Elijah, who was called to restore household (Mal. 4:5-6).
Jesus healed a boy who was demonized, and this possession manifested in the poor child throwing himself in the fire and in the water. He must have been watched 24/7, 365, to protect him. No sleep for many family members. The disciples could not expel it, and they asked Jesus why they could not. He told them straightforwardly that their faith was too little. All his disciples need is an amount of faith the size of a mustard seed, which was the smallest of seeds in that environment. This explanation is both intimidating and challenging. Would I have had this kind of faith? I would simply trust God to give it to me at the right time.
Jesus once again foretells his death and resurrection. This time, Peter did not rebuke Jesus and tell him God would never allow that to happen. They were deeply grieved. It is a mystery as to why they did not latch on to his words that he would be raised from the dead. But they were getting closer to understanding.
Finally, Jesus was asked whether he would pay the temple tax. He asked an oblique question to Peter. Do kings of the earth require their sons to pay taxes, or do they required others (non-family) to pay taxes. Peter answered the question correctly. Nonfamily members pay taxes. Then Jesus said the sons are free indeed. He goes on to say that he would not want to cause offense, so he orders Peter to drop a hook on a string and lift out the first fish that comes up. In its mouth would be a coin worth four drachmas, two for Peter and two for Jesus. This amount will satisfy the tax. Why did Jesus say the sons were free? The Father owned the temple, and Jesus was the Son of the Father. He did not need to pay the tax based on his Father-Son relationship.
Blomberg, Craig L. Matthew: The New American Commentary. Vol. 22 (Broadman, 1992).
Carson, D. A. Matthew: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. Ed. by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Vol. 9. (Zondervan, 2010).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
Olmstead, Wesley G. Matthew 15-28: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2019).
Osborne, Grant R. Matthew: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2010).
Turner, David L. Matthew: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2008).