In this chapter we have, I. Christ in his pomp and glory
transfigured (v. 1-13). II. Christ in his power and grace, casting the devil
out of a child (v. 14-21). And, III. Christ in his poverty and great
humiliation, 1. Foretelling his own sufferings (v. 22, 23). 2. Paying tribute
(v. 24-27). So that here is Christ, the Brightness of his Father's glory, by
himself purging our sins, paying our debts, and destroying for us him that had
the power of death, that is, the devil. Thus were the several indications of
Christ's gracious intentions admirable interwoven.
We have here thee story o Christ's transfiguration; he ha said
that the Son of man should shortly come in his kingdom, with which
promise all the three evangelists industriously connect this story; as if Christ's
transfiguration were intended for a specimen and an earnest of the kingdom of
Christ, and of that light and love of his, which therein appears to his select
and sanctified ones. Peter speaks of this as the power and coming of our Lord
Jesus (2 Pt. 1:16); because it was an emanation of his power, and a previous
notice of his coming, which was fitly introduced by such prefaces.
When Christ was here in his humiliation, though his state, in
the main, was a state of abasement and afflictions, there were some glimpses of
his glory intermixed, that he himself might be the more encouraged in his
sufferings, and others the less offended. His birth, his baptism, his
temptation, and his death, were the most remarkable instances of his
humiliation; and these were each of them attended with some signal points of
glory, and the smiles of heaven. But the series of his public ministry being a
continued humiliation, here, just in the midst of that, comes in this discovery
of his glory. As, now that he is in heaven, he has his condescensions, so, when
he was on earth, he had his advancements.
Now concerning Christ's transfiguration, observe,
I. The circumstances of it, which are here noted, v. 1.
1. The time; six days after he had the solemn conference
with his disciples, ch. 16:21. St Luke saith, It was about eight days after,
six whole days intervening, and this the eighth day, that day seven-night.
Nothing is recorded to be said or done by our Lord Jesus for six days before his
transfiguration; thus, before some great appearances, there was silence in
heaven for the space of half an hour, Rev. 8:1. Then when Christ
seems to be doing nothing for his church, expect, ere long, something more than
2. The place; it was on top of a high mountain apart.
Christ chose a mountain, (1.) As a secret place. He went apart; for though a
city upon a hill can hardly be hid, two or three persons upon a hill can hardly
be found; therefore their private oratories were commonly on mountains. Christ
chose a retired place to be transfigured in, because his appearing publicly in
his glory was not agreeable to his present state; and thus he would show his
humility, and teach us that privacy much befriends our communion with God. Those
that would maintain intercourse with Heaven, must frequently withdraw from the
converse and business of this world; and they will find themselves never less
alone than when alone, for the Father is with them. (2.) Though a sublime place,
elevated above things below. Note, Those that would have a transforming
fellowship with God, must not only retire, but ascend; lift up their hearts, and
seek things above. The call is, Come up hither, Rev. 4:1.
3. The witnesses of it. He took with him Peter and James and
John. (1.) He took three, a competent number to testify what they should see;
for out of the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be
established. Christ makes his appearances certain enough, but not too
common; not to all the people, but to witnesses (Acts 10:41), that they
might be blessed, who have not seen, and yet have believed. (2.) He took these
three because they were the chief of his disciples, the first three of the
worthies of the Son of David; probably they excelled in gifts and graces; they
were Christ's favourites, singled out to be the witnesses of his retirements.
They were present when he raised the damsel to life, Mk. 5:37. They were
afterward to be the witnesses of his agony, and this was to prepare them for
that. Note, A sight of Christ's glory, while we are here in this world, is a
good preparative for our sufferings with him, as these are preparatives for the
sight of his glory in the other world. Paul, who had abundance of trouble, had
abundance of revelations.
II. The manner of it (v. 2); He was transfigured before them.
The substance of his body remained the same, but the accidents and appearances
of it were greatly altered; he was not turned into a spirit, but his body, which
had appeared in weakness and dishonour, now appeared in power and glory. He
was transfigured, metamorphoµtheµhe
was metamorphosed. The profane poets amused and abused the world with idle
extravagant stories of metamorphoses, especially the metamorphoses of their
gods, such as were disparaging and diminishing to them, equally false and
ridiculous; to these some think Peter has an eye, when, being about to mention
this transfiguration of Christ, he saith, We have not followed cunningly
devised fables when we made it known unto you, 2 Pt. 1:16. Christ was both
God and man; but, in the days of his flesh, he took on him the form of a
servantmorpheµn doulou, Phil.
2:7. He drew a veil over the glory of his godhead; but now, in his
transfiguration, he put by that veil, appeared en
morpheµ theouin the form of God (Phil. 2:6), and gave his
disciples a glimpse of his glory, which could not but change his form.
The great truth which we declare, is, that God is light
(1 Jn. 1:5), dwells in the light (1 Tim. 6:16), covers himself with
light, Ps. 104:2. And therefore when Christ would appear in the form of
God, he appeared in light, the most glorious of all visible beings,
the first-born of the creation, and most nearly resembling the eternal Parent.
Christ is the Light; while he was in the world, he shined in darkness,
and therefore the world knew him not (Jn. 1:5, 10); but, at this time,
that Light shined out of the darkness.
Now his transfiguration appeared in two things:
1. His face did shine as the sun. The face is the
principal part of the body, by which we are known; therefore such a brightness
was put on Christ's face, that face which afterward he hid not from shame
and spitting. It shone as the sun when he goes forth in his strength, so
clear, so bright; for he is the Sun of righteousness, the Light of the world.
The face of Moses shone but as the moon, with a borrowed reflected light, but
Christ's shone as the sun, with an innate inherent light, which was the more
sensibly glorious, because it suddenly broke out, as it were, from behind a
2. His raiment was white as the light. All his body was
altered, as his face was; so that beams of light, darting from every part
through his clothes, made them white and glittering. The shining of the face of
Moses was so weak, that it could easily be concealed by a thin veil; but such
was the glory of Christ's body, that his clothes were enlightened by it.
III. The companions of it. He will come, at last, with ten
thousands of his saints; and, as a specimen of that, there now appeared
unto them Moses and Elias talking with him, v. 3. Observe, 1. There were
glorified saints attending him, that, when there were three to bear record on
earth, Peter, James, and John, there might be some to bear record from
heaven too. Thus here was a lively resemblance of Christ's kingdom, which is
made up of saints in heaven and saints on earth, and to which belong the
spirits of just men made perfect. We see here, that they who are fallen
asleep in Christ are not perished, but exist in a separate state, and shall be
forthcoming when there is occasion. 2. These two were Moses and Elias, men very
eminent in their day. They had both fasted forty days and forty nights, as
Christ did, and wrought other miracles, and were both remarkable at their going
out of the world as well as in their living in the world. Elias was carried to
heaven in a fiery chariot, and died not. The body of Moses was never found,
possibly it was preserved from corruption, and reserved for this appearance. The
Jews had great respect for the memory of Moses and Elias, and therefore they
came to witness of him, they came to carry tidings concerning him to the upper
world. In them the law and the prophets honoured Christ, and bore testimony to
him. Moses and Elias appeared to the disciples; they saw them, and heard them
talk, and, either by their discourse or by information from Christ, they knew
them to be Moses and Elias; glorified saints shall know one another in heaven.
They talked with Christ. Note, Christ has communion with the blessed, and will
be no stranger to any of the members of that glorified corporation. Christ was
now to be sealed in his prophetic office, and therefore these two great prophets
were fittest to attend him, as transferring all their honour and interest to
him; for in these last days God speaks to us by his Son, Heb. 1:1.
IV. The great pleasure and satisfaction that the disciples took
in the sight of Christ's glory. Peter, as usual, spoke or the rest; Lord,
it is good for us to be here. Peter here expresses,
1. The delight they had in this converse; Lord, it is good to
be here. Though upon a high mountain, which we may suppose rough and
unpleasant, bleak and cold, yet it is good to be here. He speaks the
sense of his fellow-disciples; It is good not only for me, but for us.
He did not covet to monopolize this favour, but gladly takes them in. He saith
this to Christ. Pious and devout affections love to pour out themselves before
the Lord Jesus. The soul that loves Christ, and loves to be with him, loves to
go and tell him so; Lord, it is good for us to be here. This intimates a
thankful acknowledgment of his kindness in admitting them to this favour. Note,
Communion with Christ is the delight of Christians. All the disciples of the
Lord Jesus reckon it is good for them to be with him in the holy mount. It is
good to be here where Christ is, and whither he brings us along with him by his
appointment; it is good to be here, retired and alone with Christ; to be here,
where we may behold the beauty of the Lord Jesus, Ps. 27:4. It is pleasant to
hear Christ compare notes with Moses and the prophets, to see how all the
institutions of the law, and all the predictions of the prophets, pointed at
Christ, and were fulfilled in him.
2. The desire they had of the continuance of it; Let us make
here three tabernacles. There was in this, as in many other of Peter's
sayings, a mixture of weakness and of goodwill, more zeal than discretion.
(1.) Here was a zeal for this converse with heavenly things, a
laudable complacency in the sight they had of Christ's glory. Note, Those that
by faith behold the beauty of the Lord in his house, cannot but desire to
dwell there all the days of their life. It is good having a nail in God's
holy place (Ezra 9:8), a constant abode; to be in holy ordinances as a man at
home, not as a wayfaring man. Peter thought this mountain was a fine spot of
ground to build upon, and he was for making tabernacles there; as Moses in the
wilderness made a tabernacle for the Shechinah, or divine glory.
It argued great respect for his Master and the heavenly guests,
with some commendable forgetfulness of himself and his fellow-disciples, that he
would have tabernacles for Christ, and Moses, and Elias, but none for himself.
He would be content to lie in the open air, on the cold ground, in such good
company; if his Master have but where to lay his head, no matter whether he
himself has or no.
(2.) Yet in this zeal he betrayed a great deal of weakness and
ignorance. What need had Moses and Elias of tabernacles? They belonged to that
blessed world, where they hunger no more, nor doth the sun light upon them.
Christ had lately foretold his sufferings, and bidden his disciples expect the
like; Peter forgets this, or, to prevent it, will needs be building tabernacles
in the mount of glory, out of the way of trouble. Still he harps upon, Master,
spare thyself, though he had been so lately checked for it. Note, There is a
proneness in good men to expect the crown without the cross. Peter was for
laying hold of this as the prize, though he had not yet fought his fight, nor
finished his course, as those other disciples, ch. 20:21. We are out in our aim,
if we look for a heaven here upon earth. It is not for strangers and pilgrims
(such as we are in our best circumstances in this world), to talk of building,
or to expect a continuing city.
Yet it is some excuse for the incongruity of Peter's proposal,
not only that he knew not what he said (Lu. 9:33), but also that he
submitted the proposal to the wisdom of Christ; If thou wilt, let us make
tabernacles. Note, Whatever tabernacles we propose to make to ourselves in
this world, we must always remember to ask Christ's leave.
Now to this which Peter said, there was no reply made; the
disappearing of the glory would soon answer it. They that promise themselves
great things on earth will soon be undeceived by their own experience.
V. The glorious testimony which God the Father gave to our Lord
Jesus, in which he received from him honour and glory (2 Pt. 1:17), when there
came this voice from the excellent glory. This was like proclaiming the
titles of honour or the royal style of a prince, when, at his coronation, he
appears in his robes of state; and be it known, to the comfort of mankind, the
royal style of Christ is taken from his mediation. Thus, in vision, he appeared
with a rainbow, the seal of the covenant, about his throne (Rev. 4:3); for it is
his glory to be our Redeemer.
Now concerning this testimony from heaven to Christ, observe.
1. How it came, and in what manner it was introduced.
(1.) There was a cloud. We find often in the Old Testament, that
a cloud was the visible token of God's presence; he came down upon mount Sinai
in a cloud (Ex. 19:9), and so to Moses, Ex. 34:5; Num. 11:25. He took possession
of the tabernacle in a cloud, and afterwards of the temple; where Christ was in
his glory, the temple was, and there God showed himself present. We know not the
balancing of the clouds, but we know that much of the intercourse and
communication between heaven and earth is maintained by them. By the clouds
vapours ascend, and rains descend; therefore God is said to make the
clouds his chariots; so he did here when he descended upon this mount.
(2.) It was a bright cloud. Under the law it was commonly a
thick and dark cloud that God made the token of his presence; he came down upon
mount Sinai in a thick cloud (Ex. 19:16), and said he would dwell in thick
darkness; see 1 Ki. 8:12. But we are now come, not to the mount that was
covered with thick blackness and darkness (Heb. 12:18), but to the mount
that is crowned with a bright cloud. Both the Old-Testament and the
New-Testament dispensation had tokens of God's presence; but that was a
dispensation of darkness, and terror, and bondage, this of light, love, and
(3.) It overshadowed them. This cloud was intended to break the
force of that great light which otherwise would have overcome the disciples, and
have been intolerable; it was like the veil which Moses put upon his face when
it shone. God, in manifesting himself to his people, considers their frame. This
cloud was to their eyes as parables to their understandings, to convey spiritual
things by things sensible, as they were able to bear them.
(4.) There came a voice out of the cloud, and it was the
voice of God, who now, as of old, spake in the cloudy pillar, Ps. 99:7.
Here was no thunder, or lightning, or voice of a trumpet, as there was when the
law was given by Moses, but only a voice, a still small voice, and that not
ushered in with a strong wind, or an earthquake, or fire, as when God spake to
Elias, 1 Ki. 19:11, 12. Moses then and Elias were witnesses, that in these
last days God hath spoken to us by his Son, in another way than he spoke
formerly to them. This voice came from the excellent glory (2 Pt. 1:17), the
glory which excelleth, in comparison of which the former had no glory; though
the excellent glory was clouded, yet thence came a voice, for faith comes by
2. What this testimony from heaven was; This is my beloved
Son, hear ye him. Here we have,
(1.) The great gospel mystery revealed; This is my beloved
Son, in whom I am well pleased. This was the very same that was spoken from
heaven at his baptism (ch. 3:17); and it was the best news that ever came from
heaven to earth since man sinned. It is to the same purport with that great
doctrine (2 Co. 5:19), That God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto
himself. Moses and Elias were great men, and favourites of Heaven, yet they
were but servants, and servants that God was not always well pleased in; for
Moses spoke unadvisedly, and Elias was a man subject to passions; but Christ is a
Son, and in him God was always well pleased. Moses and Elias were sometimes
instruments of reconciliation between God and Israel; Moses was a great
intercessor, and Elias a great reformer; but in Christ God is reconciling the
world; his intercession is more prevalent than that of Moses, and his
reformation more effectual than that of Elias.
This repetition of the same voice that came from heaven at his
baptism was no vain repetition; but, like the doubling of Pharoah's dream, was
to show the thing was established. What God hath thus spoken once, yea twice, no
doubt he will stand to, and he expects we should take notice of it. It was
spoken at his baptism, because then he was entering upon his temptation, and his
public ministry; and now it was repeated, because he was entering upon his
sufferings, which are to be dated from hence; for now, and not before, he began
to foretel them, and immediately after his transfiguration it is said (Lu.
9:51), that the time was come that he should be received up; this
therefore was then repeated, to arm him against the terror, and his disciples
against the offence, of the cross. When sufferings begin to abound, consolations
are given in more abundantly, 2 Co. 1:5.
(2.) The great gospel duty required, and it is the condition of
our benefit by Christ; Hear ye him. God is well pleased with none in
Christ but those that hear him. It is not enough to give him the hearing (what
will that avail us?) but we must hear him and believe him, as the great Prophet
and Teacher; hear him, and be ruled by him, as the great Prince and Lawgiver;
hear him, and heed him. Whoever would know the mind of God, must hearken to
Jesus Christ; for by him God has in these last days spoken to us. This voice
from heaven has made all the sayings of Christ as authentic as if they had been
thus spoken out of a cloud. God does here, as it were, turn us over to Christ
for all the revelations of his mind; and it refers to that prediction concerning
the Prophet God would raise up like unto Moses (Deu. 18:18); him shall
Christ now appeared in glory; and the more we see of Christ's
glory, the more cause we shall see to hearken to him: but the disciples were
gazing on that glory of his which they saw; they are therefore bid not to look
at him, but to hear him. Their sight of his glory was soon intercepted by the
cloud, but their business was to hear him. We walk by faith, which comes
by hearing, not by sight, 2 Co. 5:7.
Moses and Elias were now with him; the law and the prophets;
hitherto it was said, Hear them, Lu. 16:29. The disciples were ready to
equal them with Christ, when they must have tabernacles for them as well as for
him. They had been talking with Christ, and probably the disciples were very
desirous to know what they said, and to hear something more from them; No, saith
God, hear him, and that is enough; him, and not Moses and Elias, who were
present, and whose silence gave consent to this voice; they had nothing to say
to the contrary; whatever interest they had in the world as prophets, they were
willing to see it all transferred to Christ, that in all things he might have
the pre-eminence. Be not troubled that Moses and Elias make so short a stay
with you; hear Christ, and you will not want them.
IV. The fright which the disciples were put into by this voice,
and the encouragement Christ gave them.
1. The disciples fell on their faces, and were sore afraid.
The greatness of the light, and the surprise of it, might have a natural
influence upon them, to dispirit them. But that was not all, ever since man
sinned, and heard God's voice in the garden, extraordinary appearances of God
have ever been terrible to man, who, knowing he has no reason to expect any
good, has been afraid to hear any thing immediately from God. Note, even then
when fair weather comes out of the secret place, yet with God
is terrible majesty, Job 37:22. See what dreadful work the voice of
the Lord makes, Ps. 29:4. It is well for us that God speaks to us by men
like ourselves, whose terror shall not make us afraid.
2. Christ graciously raised them up with abundance of
tenderness. Note, The glories and advancements of our Lord Jesus do not at all
lessen his regard to, and concern for, his people that are compassed about with
infirmity. It is comfortable to think, that now, in his exalted state, he has a
compassion for, and condescends to, the meanest true believer. Observe here,
(1.). What he did; he came, and touched them. His approaches banished
their fears; and when they apprehended that they were apprehended of Christ,
there needed no more to make them easy. Christ laid his right hand upon John is
a like case, and upon Daniel, Rev. 1:17; Dan. 8:18; 10:18. Christ's touches
were often healing, and here they were strengthening and comforting. (2.) What
he said; Arise, and be not afraid. Note, Though a fear of reverence in
our converse with Heaven is pleasing to Christ, yet a fear of amazement is not
so, but must be striven against. Christ said, Arise. Note, It is Christ
by his word, and the power of his grace going along with it, that raises up good
men from their dejections, and silences their fears; and none but Christ can do
it; Arise, be not afraid. Note, causeless fears would soon vanish, if we
would not yield to them, and lie down under them, but get up, and do what we can
against them. considering what they had seen and heard, they had more reason to
rejoice than to fear, and yet, it seems, they needed this caution. Note, Through
the infirmity of the flesh, we often frighten ourselves with that wherewith we
should encourage ourselves. Observe, After they had an express command from
heaven to hear Christ, the first word they had from him was, Be not afraid,
hear that. Note, Christ's errand into the world was to give comfort to good
people, that, being delivered out of the hands of their enemies, they might serve
God without fear, Lu. 1:74, 75.
VII. The disappearing of the vision (v. 8); They lift up
themselves, and then lift up their eyes, and saw no man, save Jesus
only. Moses and Elias were gone, the rays of Christ's glory were laid
aside, or veiled again. They hoped this had been the day of Christ's entrance
into his kingdom, and his public appearance in that external splendour which
they dreamed of; but see how they are disappointed. Note, It is not wisdom to
raise our expectations high in this world, for the most valuable of our glories
and joys here are vanishing, even those of near communion with God are so, not a
continual feast, but a running banquet. If sometimes we are favoured with
special manifestations of divine grace, glimpses and pledges of future glory,
yet they are withdrawn presently; two heavens are too much for those to expect
that never deserve one. Now they saw no man, save Jesus only. Note,
Christ will tarry with us when Moses and Elias are gone. The prophets do not
live for ever (Zec. 1:5), and we see the period of our ministers'
conversation; but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,
Heb. 13:7, 8.
VIII. The discourse between Christ and his disciples as they
came down from the mountain, v. 9-13.
Observe, 1. They came down from the mountain. Note, We
must come down from the holy mountains, where we have communion with God, and
complacency in that communion, and of which we are saying. It is good to be
here; even there we have no continuing city. Blessed be God, there is a
mountain of glory and joy before us, whence we shall never come down. But
observe, When the disciples came down, Jesus came with them. Note, When we
return to the world again after an ordinance, it must be our care to take Christ
with us, and then it may be our comfort that he is with us.
2. As they came down, they talked of Christ. Note, When we are
returning from holy ordinance, it is good to entertain ourselves and one another
with discourse suitable to the work we have been about. That communication which
is good to the use of edifying is then in a special manner seasonable; as, on
the contrary, that which is corrupt, is worse then than at another time.
Here is, (1.) The charge that Christ gave the disciples to keep
the vision very private for the present (v. 9); Tell it to no man till the
Son of man is risen. If they had proclaimed it, the credibility of it would
have been shocked by his sufferings, which were now hastening on. But let the
publication of it be adjourned till after his resurrection, and then that and
his subsequent glory will be a great confirmation of it. Note, Christ observed a
method in the manifestation of himself; he would have his works put together,
mutually to explain and illustrate each other, that they might appear in their
full strength and convincing evidence. Every thing is beautiful in its season.
Christ's resurrection was properly the beginning of the gospel state and
kingdom, to which all before was but preparatory and by way of preface; and
therefore, though this was transacted before, it must not be produced as
evidence till then (and then it appears to have been much insisted on by 2 Pt.
1:16-18), when the religion it was designed for the confirmation of was brought
to its full consistence and maturity. Christ's time is the best and fittest
for the manifesting of himself and must be attended to by us.
(2.) An objection which the disciples made against something
Christ had said (v. 10); "Why then say the scribes that Elias must first
come? If Elias make so short a stay, and is gone so suddenly, and we must
say nothing of him; why have we been taught out of the law to expect his public
appearance in the world immediately before the setting up of the Messiah's
kingdom? Must the coming of Elias be a secret, which every body looks for?"
or thus; "If the resurrection of the Messiah, and with it the beginning of
his kingdom, be at hand, what becomes of that glorious preface and introduction
to it, which we expect in the coming of Elias?" The scribes, who were the
public expositors of the law, said this according to the scripture (Mal. 4:5); Behold
I send you Elijah the prophet. The disciples spoke the common language of
the Jews, who made that the saying of the scribes which was the saying of the
scripture, whereas of that which ministers speak to us according to the word of
God, we should say, "God speaks to us, not the ministers;"
for we must not receive it as the word of men, 1 Th. 2:13. Observe, When
the disciples could not reconcile what Christ said with what they had heard out
of the Old Testament, they desired him to explain it to them. Note, When we are
puzzled with scripture difficulties, we must apply ourselves to Christ by prayer
for his Spirit to open our understandings and to lead us into all truth.
(3.) The solving of this objection. Ask, and it shall be
given, ask instruction, and it shall be given.
[1.] Christ allows the prediction (v. 11); "Elias truly
shall first come, and restore all things; so far you are in the right."
Christ did not come to alter or invalidate any thing foretold in the Old
Testament. Note, Corrupt and mistaken glosses may be sufficiently rejected and
exploded, without diminishing or derogating from the authority or dignity of the
sacred text. New-Testament prophecies are true and good, and are to be received
and improved, though some hot foolish men may have misinterpreted them and drawn
wrong inferences from them. He shall come, and restore all things; not restore
them to their former state (John Baptist went not about to do that), but he
shall accomplish all things (so it may be read), all things that were written of
him, all the predictions of the coming of Elias. John Baptist came to restore
things spiritually, to revive the decays of religion, to turn the hearts of
the fathers to the children; which means the same with this, he shall
restore all things. John preached repentance, and that restores all things.
[2.] He asserts the accomplishment. The scribes say true, that Elias
is come, v. 12. Note, God's promises are often fulfilled, and men perceive
it not, but enquire, Where is the promise? when it is already performed. Elias
is come, and they knew him not; they knew him not to be the Elias promised,
the forerunner of the Messiah. The scribes busied themselves in criticizing upon
the scripture, but understood not by the signs of the times the fulfilling of
the scripture. Note, It is easier to explain the word of God than to apply it
and make a right use of it. But it is no wonder that the morning star was not
observed, when he who is the Sun itself, was in the world, and the world knew
Because they knew him not, they have done to him whatsoever
they listed; if they had known, they would not have crucified Christ, or
beheaded John, 1 Co. 2:8. They ridiculed John, persecuted him, and at last put
him to death; which was Herod's doing, but is here charged upon the whole
generation of unbelieving Jews, and particularly the scribes, who, though they
could not prosecute John themselves, were pleased with what Herod did. He adds, Likewise
also shall the Son of man suffer of them. Marvel not that Elias should be
abused and killed by those who pretended, with a great deal of reverence, to
expect him, when the Messiah himself will be in like manner treated. Note, The
sufferings of Christ took off the strangeness of all other sufferings (Jn.
15:18); when they had imbrued their hands in the blood of John Baptist, they
were ready to do the like to Christ. Note, As men deal with Christ's servants,
so they would deal with him himself; and they that are drunk with the blood of
the martyrs still cry, Give, give, Acts 12:1-3.
(4.) The disciples' satisfaction in Christ's reply to their
objection (v. 13); They understood that he spake unto them of John the
Baptist. He did not name John, but gives them such a description of him as
would put them in mind of what he had said to them formerly concerning him; This
is Elias. This is a profitable way of teaching; it engages the learners'
own thoughts, and makes them, if not their own teachers, yet their own
remembrancers; and thus knowledge becomes easy to him that understands. When we
diligently use the means of knowledge, how strangely are mists scattered and
We have here the miraculous cure of a child that was lunatic and
vexed with a devil. Observe,
I. A melancholy representation of the case of this child, made
to Christ by the afflicted father. This was immediately upon his coming down
from the mountain where he was transfigured. Note, Christ's glories do not
make him unmindful of us and of our wants and miseries. Christ, when he came
down from the mount, where had conversation with Moses and Elias, did not take
state upon him, but was as easy of access, as ready to poor beggars, and as
familiar with the multitude, as ever he used to be. This poor man's address
was very importunate; he came kneeling to Christ. Note, Sense of misery will
bring people to their knees. Those who see their need of Christ will be earnest,
will be in good earnest, in their applications to him; and he delights to be
thus wrestled with.
Two things the father of the child complains of.
1. The distress of his child (v. 15); Lord have mercy on my
son. The affliction of the children cannot but affect the tender parents,
for they are pieces of themselves. And the case of afflicted children should be
presented to God by faithful and fervent prayer. This child's distemper,
probably, disabled him to pray for himself. Note, Parents are doubly concerned
to pray for their children, not only that are weak and cannot, but much more
that are wicked and will not, pray for themselves. Now, (1.). The nature of this
child's disease was very sad; He was lunatic and sore vexed. A lunatic
is properly one whose distemper lies in the brain, and returns with the change
of the moon. The devil, by the divine permission, either caused this distemper,
or at least concurred with it, to heighten and aggravate it. The child had the
falling-sickness, and the hand of Satan was in it; by it he tormented then, and
made it much more grievous than ordinarily it is. Those whom Satan got
possession of, he afflicted by those diseases of the body which do most affect
the mind; for it is the soul that he aims to do mischief to. The father, in his
complain, saith, He is lunatic, taking notice of the effect; but Christ,
in the cure, rebuked the devil, and so struck at the cause. Thus he doth in
spiritual cures. (2.) The effects of the disease were very deplorable; He oft
falls into the fire, and into the water. If the force of the disease made
him to fall, the malice of the devil made him to fall into the fire or water; so
mischievous is he where he gains possession and power in any soul. He seeks
to devour, 1 Pt. 5:8.
2. The disappointment of his expectation from the disciples (v.
16); I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cured him. Christ
gave his disciples power to cast out devils (ch. 10:1, 8), and therein they were
successful (Lu. 10:17); yet at this time they failed in the operation, though
there were nine of them together, and before a great multitude. Christ permitted
this, (1.) To keep them humble, and to show their dependence upon him, that
without him they could do nothing. (2.) To glorify himself and his own power. It
is for the honour of Christ to come in with help at a dead-lift, when other
helpers cannot help. Elisha's staff in Gehazi's hand will not raise the
child: he must come himself. Note, There are some special favours which Christ
reserves the bestowment of to himself; and sometimes he keeps the cistern empty;
that he may bring us to himself, the Fountain. But the failures of instruments
shall not hinder the operations of his grace, which will work, if not by
them, yet without them.
II. The rebukes that Christ gave to the people first, and then
to the devil.
1. He chid those about him (v. 17); O faithless and perverse
generation! This is not spoken to the disciples, but to the people, and
perhaps especially to the scribes, who are mentioned in Mk. 9:14, and who, as it
should seem, insulted over the disciples, because they had now met with a case
that was too hard for them. Christ himself could not do many mighty works among
a people in whom unbelief reigned. It was here owing to the faithlessness of
this generation, that they could not obtain those blessings from God, which
otherwise they might have had; as it was owing to the weakness of the disciples'
faith, that they could not do those works for God, which otherwise they might
have done. They were faithless and perverse. Note, Those that are faithless will
be perverse; and perverseness is sin in its worst colours. Faith is compliance
with God, unbelief is opposition and contradiction to God. Israel of old was
perverse, because faithless (Ps. 95:9), forward, for in them is no faith, Deu.
Two things he upbraids them with. (1.) His presence with them so
long; "How long shall I be with you? Will you always need my bodily
presence, and never come to such maturity as to be fit to be left, the people to
the conduct of the disciples, and the disciples to the conduct of the Spirit and
of their commission? Must the child be always carried, and will it never learn
to go alone?" (2.) His patience with them so long; How long shall I
suffer you? Note, [1.] The faithlessness and perverseness of those who enjoy
the means of grace are a great grief to the Lord Jesus. Thus did he suffer the
manners of Israel of old, Acts 13:18. [2.] The longer Christ has borne with a
perverse and faithless people, the more he is displeased with their perverseness
and unbelief; and he is God, and not man, else he would not suffer so long, nor
bear so much, as he doth.
2. He cured the child, and set him to-rights again. He called, Bring
him hither to me. Though the people were perverse, and Christ was provoked,
yet care was taken of the child. Note, Though Christ may be angry, he is never
unkind, nor doth he, in the greatest of his displeasure, shut up the bowels of
his compassion from the miserable; Bring him to me. Note, When all other
helps and succours fail, we are welcome to Christ, and may be confident in him
and in his power and goodness.
See here an emblem of Christ's undertaking as our Redeemer.
(1.) He breaks the power of Satan (v. 18); Jesus rebuked the
devil, as one having authority, who could back with force his word of
command. Note, Christ's victories over Satan are obtained by the power of his
word, the sword that comes out of his mouth, Rev. 19:21. Satan cannot stand
before the rebukes of Christ, though his possession has been ever so long. It is
comfortable to those who are wrestling with principalities and powers, that
Christ hath spoiled them, Colos. 2:15. The lion of the tribe of Judah will be
too hard for the roaring lion that seeks to devour.
(2.) He redresses the grievances of the children of men; The
child was cured from that very hour. It was an immediate cure, and a perfect
one. This is an encouragement to parents to bring their children to Christ,
whose souls are under Satan's power; he is able to heal them, and as willing
as he is able. Not only bring them to Christ by prayer, but bring them to the
word of Christ, the ordinary means by which Satan's strongholds are demolished
in the soul. Christ's rebukes, brought home to the heart, will ruin Satan's
III. Christ's discourse with his disciples hereupon.
1. They ask the reason why they could not cast out the devil at
this time (v. 19); They came to Jesus apart. Note, Ministers, who are to
deal for Christ in public, have need to keep up a private communion with him,
that they may in secret, where no eye sees, bewail their weakness and straitness,
their follies and infirmities, in their public performances, and enquire into
the cause of them. We should make use of the liberty of access we have to Jesus
apart, where we may be free and particular with him. Such questions as the
disciples put to Christ, we should put to ourselves, in communing with our own
hearts upon our beds; Why were we so dull and careless at such a time? Why came
we so much short in such a duty? That which is amiss may, when found out, be
2. Christ gives them two reasons why they failed.
(1.) It was because of their unbelief, v. 20. When he
spake to the father of the child and to the people, he charged it upon their
unbelief; when he spake to his disciples, he charged it upon theirs; for the
truth was, there were faults on both sides; but we are more concerned to hear of
our own faults than of other people's, and to impute what is amiss to
ourselves than to others. When the preaching of the word seems not to be so
successful as sometimes it has been, the people are apt to lay all the fault
upon the ministers, and the ministers upon the people; whereas, it is more
becoming for each to own his own faultiness, and to say, "It is owing to
me." Ministers, in reproving, must learn thus to give to each his portion
of the word; and to take people off from judging others, by teaching all to
judge themselves; It is because of your unbelief. Though they had faith,
yet that faith was weak and ineffectual. Note, [1.] As far as faith falls short
of its due strength, vigour, and activity, it may truly be said, "There is
unbelief." Many are chargeable with unbelief, who yet are not to be called unbelievers.
[2.] It is because of our unbelief, that we bring so little to pass in religion,
and so often miscarry, and come short, in that which is good.
Our Lord Jesus takes this occasion to show them the power of
faith, that they might not be defective in that, another time, as they were now;
If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall do wonders, v. 20.
Some make the comparison to refer to the quality of the mustard-seed, which is,
when bruised, sharp and penetrating; "If you have an active growing faith,
not dead, flat, or insipid, you will not be baffled thus." But it rather
refers to the quantity; "If you had but a grain of true faith, though so
little that it were like that which is the least of all seeds, you would do
wonders." Faith in general is a firm assent to, a compliance with, and a
confidence in, all divine revelation. The faith here required, is that which had
for its object that particular revelation by which Christ gave his disciples
power to work miracles in his name, for the confirmation of the doctrine they
preached. It was a faith in this revelation that they were defective in; either
doubting the validity of their commission, or fearing that it expired with their
first mission, and was not to continue when they were returning to their Master;
or that it was some way or other forfeited or withdrawn. Perhaps their Master's
absence with the three chief of his disciples, with a charge to the rest not to
follow them, might occasion some doubts concerning their power, or rather the
power of the Lord with them, to do this; however, there were not, at present,
such a strong actual dependence upon, and confidence in, the promise of Christ's
presence with them, as there should have been. It is good for us to be diffident
of ourselves and of our own strength; but it is displeasing to Christ, when we
distrust any power derived from him or granted by him.
If ye have ever so little of this faith in sincerity, if ye
truly rely upon the powers committed to you, ye shall say to this mountain,
Remove. This is a proverbial expression, denoting that which follows, and no
more, Nothing shall be impossible to you. They had a full commission,
among other things, to cast out devils without exception; but, this devil being
more than ordinarily malicious and inveterate, they distrusted the power they
had received, and so failed. To convince them of this, Christ shows them what
they might have done. Note, An active faith can remove mountains, not of itself,
but in the virtue of a divine power engaged by a divine promise, both which
faith fastens upon.
(2.) Because there was something in the kind of the malady,
which rendered the cure more than ordinarily difficult (v. 21); "This
kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting. This possession, which works by
a falling-sickness, or this kind of devils that are thus furious, is not cast
out ordinarily but by great acts of devotion, and wherein ye were defective."
Note, [1.] Though the adversaries we wrestle, be all principalities and powers,
yet some are stronger than others, and their power more hardly broken. [2.] The
extraordinary power of Satan must not discourage our faith, but quicken us to a
greater intenseness in the acting of it, and more earnestness in praying to God
for the increase of it; so some understand it here; "This kind of faith
(which removeth mountains) doth not proceed, is not obtained, from God, nor is
it carried up to its full growth, nor drawn out into act and exercise, but by
earnest prayer." [3.] Fasting and prayer are proper means for the bringing
down of Satan's power against us, and the fetching in of divine power to our
assistance. Fasting is of use to put an edge upon prayer; it is an evidence and
instance of humiliation which is necessary in prayer, and is a means of
mortifying some corrupt habits, and of disposing the body to serve the soul in
prayer. When the devil's interest in the soul is confirmed by the temper and
constitution of the body, fasting must be joined with prayer, to keep under the
Christ here foretels his own sufferings; he began to do it
before (ch. 16:21); and, finding that it was to his disciples a hard saying, he
saw it necessary to repeat it. There are some things which God speaketh once,
yea twice, and yet man perceiveth it not. Observe here,
1. What he foretold concerning himselfthat he should be
betrayed and killed. He perfectly knew, before, all things that should come to
him, and yet undertook the work of our redemption, which greatly commends his
love; nay, his clear foresight of them was a kind of ante-passion, had not his
love to man made all easy to him.
(1.) He tells them that he should be betrayed into the hands
of men. He shall be delivered up (so it might be read and understood
of his Father's delivering him up by his determined counsel and
fore-knowledge, Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:32); but as we render it, it refers to
Judas's betraying him into the hands of the priests, and their betraying him
into the hands of the Romans. He was betrayed into the hands of men; men
to whom he was allied by nature, and from whom therefore he might expect pity
and tenderness; men whom he had undertaken to save, and from whom therefore he
might expect honour and gratitude; yet these are his persecutors and murderers.
(2.) That they should kill him; nothing less than that
would satisfy their rage; it was his blood, his precious blood, that they
thirsted after. This is the heir, come, let us kill him. Nothing less
would satisfy God's justice, and answer his undertaking; if he be a Sacrifice
of atonement, he must be killed; without blood no remission.
(3.) That he shall be raised again the third day. Still,
when he spoke of his death, he gave a hint of his resurrection, the joy set
before him, in the prospect of which he endured the cross, and despised
the shame. This was an encouragement, not only to him, but to his disciples;
for if he rise the third day, his absence from them will not be long, and his
return to them will be glorious.
2. How the disciples received this; They were exceedingly
sorry. Herein appeared their love to their Master's person, but with all
their ignorance and mistake concerning his undertaking. Peter indeed durst not
say any thing against it, as he had done before (ch. 16:22), having then been
severely chidden for it; but he, and the rest of them, greatly lamented it, as
it would be their own loss, their Master's grief, and the sin and ruin of them
that did it.
We have here an account of Christ's paying tribute.
I. Observe how it was demanded, v. 24. Christ was now at
Capernaum, his headquarters, where he mostly resided; he did not keep from
thence, to decline being called upon for his dues, but rather came thither, to
be ready to pay them.
1. The tribute demanded was not any civil payment to the Roman
powers, that was strictly exacted by the publicans, but the church-duties, the
half shekel, about fifteen pence, which were required from every person or the
service of the temple, and the defraying of the expenses of the worship there;
it is called a ransom for the soul, Ex. 30:12, etc. This was not so
strictly exacted now as sometimes it had been, especially not in Galilee.
2. The demand was very modest; the collectors stood in such awe
of Christ, because of his mighty works, that they durst not speak to him about
it, but applied themselves to Peter, whose house was in Capernaum, and probably
in his house Christ lodged; he therefore was fittest to be spoken to as the
housekeeper, and they presumed he knew his Master's mind. Their question is, Doth
not your master pay tribute? Some think that they sought an occasion against
him, designing, if he refused, to represent him as disaffected to the
temple-service, and his followers as lawless people, that would pay neither
toll, tribute, nor custom, Ezra 4:13. It should rather seem, they asked this
with respect, intimating, that if he had any privilege to exempt him from this
payment, they would not insist upon it.
Peter presently his word for his Master; "Yes,
certainly; my Master pays tribute; it is his principle and practice; you
need not fear moving it to him." (1.) He was made under the law
(Gal. 4:4); therefore under this law he was paid for at forty days old (Lu.
2:22), and now he paid for himself, as one who, in his state of humiliation, had
taken upon him the form of a servant, Phil. 2:7, 8. (2.) He was made sin
for us, and was sent forth in the likeness of sinful flesh, Rom. 8:3.
Now this tax paid to the temple is called an atonement for the soul, Ex.
30:15. Christ, that in every thing he might appear in the likeness of
sinners, paid it though he had no sin to atone for. (3.) Thus it became
him to fulfil all righteousness, ch. 3:15. He did this to set an example,
[1.] Of rendering to all their due, tribute to whom tribute is due, Rom.
13:7. The kingdom of Christ not being of this world, the favourites and officers
of it are so far from having a power granted them, as such, to tax other people's
purses, that theirs are made liable to the powers that are. [2.] Of contributing
to the support of the public worship of God in the places where we are. If we
reap spiritual things, it is fit that we should return carnal things. The temple
was now made a den of thieves, and the temple-worship a pretence for the
opposition which the chief priests gave to Christ and his doctrine; and yet
Christ paid this tribute. Note, Church-duties, legally imposed, are to be paid,
notwithstanding church-corruptions. We must take care not to use our liberty
as a cloak of covetousness or maliciousness, 1 Pt. 2:16. If Christ pay
tribute, who can pretend an exemption?
II. How it was disputed (v. 25), not with the collectors
themselves, lest they should be irritated, but with Peter, that he might be
satisfied in the reason why Christ paid tribute, and might not mistake about it.
He brought the collectors into the house; but Christ anticipated him, to give
him a proof of his omniscience, and that no thought can be withholden from him.
The disciples of Christ are never attacked without his knowledge.
Now, 1. He appeals to the way of the kings of the earth, which
is, to take tribute of strangers, of the subjects of their kingdom, or
foreigners that deal with them, but not of their own children that are of their
families; there is such a community of goods between parents and children, and a
joint-interest in what they have, that it would be absurd for the parents to
levy taxes upon the children, or demand any thing from them; it is like one hand
taxing the other.
2. He applies this to himself; Then are the children free.
Christ is the Son of God, and Heir of all things; the temple is his temple (Mal.
3:1), his Father's house (Jn. 2:16), in it he is faithful as a Son in his
own house (Heb. 3:6), and therefore not obliged to pay this tax for the
service of the temple. Thus Christ asserts his right, lest his paying this
tribute should be misimproved to the weakening of his title as the Son of God,
and the King of Israel, and should have looked like a disowning of it himself.
These immunities of the children are to be extended no further than our Lord
Jesus himself. God's children are freed by grace and adoption from the slavery
of sin and Satan, but not from their subjection to civil magistrates in civil
things; here the law of Christ is express; Let every soul (sanctified
souls not excepted) be subject to the higher powers. Render to Caesar the
things that are Caesar's.
III. How it was paid, notwithstanding, v. 27.
1. For what reason Christ waived his privilege, and paid this
tribute, though he was entitled to an exemptionLest we should offend them.
Few knew, as Peter did, that he was the Son of God; and it would have
been a diminution to the honour of that great truth, which was yet a secret, to
advance it now, to serve such a purpose as this. Therefore Christ drops that
argument, and considers, that if he should refuse this payment, it would
increase people's prejudice against him and his doctrine, and alienate their
affections from him, and therefore he resolves to pay it. Note, Christian
prudence and humility teach us, in many cases, to recede from our right, rather
than give offence by insisting upon it. We must never decline our duty for fear
of giving offence (Christ's preaching and miracles offended them, yet he went
on with him, ch. 15:12, 13, better offend men than God); but we must sometimes
deny ourselves in that which is our secular interest, rather than give offence;
as Paul, 1 Co. 8:13; Rom. 14:13.
2. What course he took for the payment of this tax; he furnished
himself with money for it out of the mouth of a fish (v. 27), wherein appears,
(1.) The poverty of Christ; he had not fifteen pence at command
to pay his tax with, though he cured so many that were diseased; it seems, he
did all gratis; for our sakes he became poor, 2 Co. 8:9. In his ordinary
expenses, he lived upon alms (Lu. 8:3), and in extraordinary ones, he lived upon
miracles. He did not order Judas to pay this out of the bag which he carried;
that was for subsistence, and he would not order that for his particular use,
which was intended for the benefit of the community.
(2.) The power of Christ, in fetching money out of a fish's
mouth for this purpose. Whether his omnipotence put it there, or his omniscience
knew that it was there, it comes all to one; it was an evidence of his divinity,
and that he is Lord of hosts. Those creatures that are most remote from man are
at the command of Christ, even the fishes of the sea are under his feet (Ps.
8:5); and to evidence his dominion in this lower world, and to accommodate
himself to his present state of humiliation, he chose to take it out of a fish's
mouth, when he could have taken it out of an angel's hand. Now observe,
[1.] Peter must catch the fish by angling. Even in miracles he
would use means to encourage industry and endeavour. Peter has something to do,
and it is in the way of his own calling too; to teach us diligence in the
employment we are called to, and called in. Do we expect that
Christ should give to us? Let us be ready to work for him.
[2.] The fish came up, with money in the mouth of it, which
represents to us the reward of obedience in obedience. What work we do at Christ's
command brings its own pay along with it: In keeping God's commands, as
well as after keeping them, there is great reward, Ps. 19:11.
Peter was made a fisher of men, and those that he caught thus, came up; where
the heart is opened to entertain Christ's word, the hand is open to encourage
[3.] The piece of money was just enough to pay the tax for
Christ and Peter. Thou shalt find a stater, the value of a Jewish shekel,
which would pay the poll-tax for two, for it was half a shekel, Ex. 30:13.
Christ could as easily have commanded a bag of money as a piece of money; but he
would teach us not to covet superfluities, but, having enough for our present
occasions, therewith to be content, and not to distrust God, though we live but
from hand to mouth. Christ made the fish his cash-keeper; and why may not we
make God's providence our storehouse and treasury? If we have a competency for
today, let to-morrow take thought for the things of itself. Christ paid
for himself and Peter, because it is probable that here he only was
assessed, and of him it was at this time demanded; perhaps the rest had paid
already, or were to pay elsewhere. The papists make a great mystery of Christ's
paying for Peter, as if this made him the head and representative of the whole
church; whereas the payment of tribute for him was rather a sign of subjection
than of superiority. His pretended successors pay no tribute, but exact it.
Peter fished for this money, and therefore part of it went for his use. Those
that are workers together with Christ in winning souls shall shine with
him. Give it for thee and me. What Christ paid for himself was looked
upon as a debt; what he paid for Peter was a courtesy to him. Note, it is a
desirable thing, if God so please, to have wherewithal of this world's goods,
not only to be just, but to be kind; not only to be charitable to the poor, but
obliging to our friends. What is a great estate good for, but that it enables a
man to do so much the more good?
Lastly, Observe, The evangelist records here the orders
Christ gave to Peter, the warrant; the effect is not particularly mentioned, but
taken for granted, and justly; for, with Christ, saying and doing are the same