Matthew 17

Thursday Evening Bible Study

February 1, 2007


In our last study we ended with this verse:

(Mat 16:28 NKJV)  "Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

It’s too bad there’s a chapter break here because the fulfillment of this verse happens right away in the next chapter.

Matthew 17

:1-13  The Transfiguration

:1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;

a high mountain – apparently there is a church on Mount Tabor (located southwest of Galilee) that claims to be the spot where Jesus was transifigured.  But the disciples had just been in Caesarea Philippi (Mat. 16:13), and now six days later they’re on this mountain.  Caesarea Philippi is in the foothills of Mount Hermon, the more likely spot of the transfiguration.

by themselves – Jesus didn’t take any of the other disciples, just these three.

Sometimes we can get so concerned about being “impartial” in loving one another that we feel that we can’t have any close friends.  We can get to thinking that if we invite one couple out to dinner, that we have to invite everyone in the church out to dinner.

But Jesus had his “favorites”.  Jesus had one level of relationship with the crowd.  He was closer with those that chose to follow Him.  He was even closer to the “Twelve”.  From the twelve, this group went with Him just about everywhere.

:2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.

transfiguredmetamorphoo (“metamorphosis”) – to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure

The disciples are getting a glimpse of Jesus’ “glory”.

The word for “glory” in Hebrew is:

glory – kabowd – glory, honor, glorious, abundance; splendor
Ex 24:17 The sight of the glory of the LORD [was] like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel.

The word in Greek is:

glorydoxa – one of the definitions of this Greek word is: splendor, brightness, like the sun, moon, or stars
2Co 4:6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Paul tells us a little about Jesus’ nature:

(Phil 2:5-8 NKJV)  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, {6} who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, {7} but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. {8} And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

From eternity past, Jesus had the same kind of glory as the Father.  When Jesus took on human flesh, He “emptied” Himself (“made Himself of no reputation”).  This doesn’t mean that He gave up being God, but that He “veiled” His glory, covering His glory while in His human body.
It’s here on the mountain that Jesus allows His glory to peek through.
There’s an old Ron Howard movie, Cocoon, where a group of elderly people meet “aliens”, though they don’t know at first that they are aliens.  At one point in the movie you see these aliens unzip their skin and you see the bright light of their true nature peek through.
That’s a little like what is happening here.

When John was an old man, he would once again get a glimpse of Jesus in His glory:

(Rev 1:14-16 NKJV)  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; {15} His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; {16} He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.

:3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

While this amazing phenomenon occurs with Jesus glowing in the dark, two more people show up.

How does Peter, James, and John know that these guys are Moses and Elijah?

Perhaps they have name tags? Maybe Jesus is calling them by name?


Heavenly identity

We do not lose our identity in heaven.
Sometimes we can give people the impression that when we get to heaven we all get a number, a white robe, and become part of the faceless multitude in heaven.
Yet Moses and Elijah are still Moses and Elijah.  And Peter, James, and John recognize them.


Complete Testimony

Why were Moses and Elijah the ones chosen to appear with Jesus?
Moses represents the “Law”.  Elijah represents the “Prophets”.
Together, they represent the whole of the Old Testament.  With them appearing together we have the symbolism of the entire Old Testament declaring who Jesus was.

:4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

tabernaclesskene – tent, tabernacle

Peter might be thinking of a religious type of “tabernacle”, but he might be simply talking about making tents for everyone to stay in.

Perhaps Peter is thinking about what Jesus had said earlier,

(Mat 16:28 NKJV)  "Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."

Maybe Peter is thinking that the kingdom has come, it’s time to settle down.

Mark, who we believe is writing based on things he’s been told by Peter, tells us why Peter came up with this idea:

(Mark 9:6 NKJV) because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.

Luke tells us that Peter simply didn’t know what he was talking about (Luke 9:33)

Notice that nobody pays attention to Peter’s comment. 

It might have been a nice idea, but there were other things that needed to happen first.

Luke tells us a little about the conversation Jesus was having with Moses and Elijah:
(Luke 9:31 NKJV)  who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Before anyone would be setting up camp in the Kingdom, Jesus needed to die first for our sins.

We too would like to set up camp when we get to a really good place.

If you’ve ever been on a retreat, you don’t want to leave the mountain.

Sometimes we’ve seen God working in wonderful ways, and we look back fondly to those times, wishing we could go back.

But God doesn’t want us camping on a mountain.  God isn’t finished yet.

:5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!"

Not only does the entire Old Testament give a witness to who Jesus was, but so does God Himself.

bright cloud – in the Old Testament, this “bright cloud” is known as the “Shekinah”, the glory of God’s presence.

(Exo 40:34 NKJV)  Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

Peter will recall this event later in life when he writes,

(2 Pet 1:16-18 NKJV)  For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. {17} For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." {18} And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.


Well pleasing

Jesus is the only one in history of whom God has spoken up and said these things.  Jesus was God’s Son.  Jesus was perfect.  Jesus was well pleasing to God.
When we come to trust in Jesus, something happens to us as well.  Paul talks about how God’s grace has affected us:

(Eph 1:6 NKJV)  to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved.

God now sees you as a part of Jesus Christ.  You are “in” the Beloved.  And you are now pleasing to God.

:6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.

They were freaked out just seeing Jesus in His glory and then seeing Moses and Elijah.  When God speaks, it’s too much and the guys fall on their faces.  Let me add a little “color” to this picture…


A black minister and a white minister were the best of friends.  Many years of similar pastoral experience in the same town had really bonded them together.  The only problem was that the black minister insisted that God was a black man and the white minister insisted that God was a white man.  They would get into furious arguments over this, trying to establish their points w/ the most arcane of Biblical texts.  One day, they were driving somewhere and the old argument came to life: Is God black or white?  They got so steamed up that they crashed the car and died and found themselves standing at the gates of heaven with Peter before them.  At first, they didn’t know that they had died, for they continued to argue the merits of their case with one another.  They finally realized where they were and who it was they were standing before and so they asked Peter if he could settle this argument once and for all.  Peter said, “Gentlemen, I think I can definitively demonstrate whether God is white or black.  Wait right here.”  In a few moments they heard a deep, booming voice, “Buenos dias, senors.”

:7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, and do not be afraid."

:8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

As glorious as it was to see Moses and Elijah, as glorious as it was to see the cloud and hear the Father’s voice, all that remains is all that is important.

They saw no one but Jesus only.

:9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead."

:10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"

There was a prophecy of this in Malachi 4:5

:11 Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.

Before the Second Coming, Elijah will make an appearance.

:12 "But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands."

:13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was an initial fulfillment of the Elijah prophecy. 

John’s father Zacharias said,

(Luke 1:17 NKJV)  "He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

There will be an appearance of Elijah himself before the Lord comes.  I think Elijah, along with Moses may be the two witnesses described in Revelation 11:3-6.  The two witnesses will be doing the same kinds of miracles that Moses and Elijah were famous for.

:14-21 Faith – Prayer and Fasting

:14 And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying,

:15 "Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and suffers severely; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water.

epilepticseleniazomai – to be moon-struck or lunatic; to be epileptic; in reality, this boy was not epileptic, but demon possessed.

fire … water – the demonic influence on the boy made him suicidal.

Mark records that the boy also would become rigid, clench his teeth, and foam at the mouth (Mark 9:18).

:16 "So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him."

As parents, we want nothing but the best for our kids.  But sometimes when we bring our kids to a doctor or a counselor, they don’t find the help they need.

This dad didn’t stop after the disciples failed.  He brought his son to Jesus.

Bring your kids to Jesus.

:17 Then Jesus answered and said, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me."

Who is Jesus referring to as faithless?  When I read all the accounts of this event, it seems that Jesus is talking about everyone.  He’s talking about the father.  He’s talking about the crowd.  He’s talking about the disciples.

:18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.

:19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, "Why could we not cast it out?"

:20 So Jesus said to them, "Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.


Lack of faith

It seems that just about everything surrounding the failure to help this boy had to do with a lack of faith.
It seems that the father of the boy lacked faith, and Mark tells us that Jesus was encouraging the man to trust, to have faith:

(Mark 9:21-24 NKJV)  So He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. {22} "And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." {23} Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." {24} Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

The man admitted he wanted to have more faith.

It is clear from our passage that Jesus is also concerned about the disciples and their own lack of faith.

I don’t believe that the teaching about a mustard seed faith and moving mountains is supposed to impress us with the awesome power of faith.

I think the point is that it doesn’t take much faith for God to do amazing things.  It doesn’t take much.

But often we are so focused on the problem, all we can see is the demonic boy foaming at the mouth.

Like Peter, we take our eyes off of Jesus and focus on the wind and the waves.

Faith is not about your ability to produce an effect.  Faith is about trusting God’s ability to work.

(Heb 11:1 NLT)  What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

Faith is trusting in someone you don’t see (like God).

Faith if counting on God even when the circumstances are so extremely difficult.

I wonder how many things we fail at, or even worse, things we don’t ever try because of our own smallness of faith.

:21 "However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting."

The insinuation is that there are some kinds of things that require stronger faith than others.

Stronger faith is linked with prayer and fasting.

So what is Jesus saying?  The next time a demon possessed person is brought to the disciples, are they supposed to tell the person to wait while they pray and fast?

The idea isn’t that prayer and fasting are the answer to the immediate situation.

The idea is that a lifestyle of prayer and fasting produces a life of faith that is able to handle the situation.


A Lifestyle of Prayer

If we’re not careful, we can relegate prayer simply to those “emergency” situations:
The doctor calls and the test results aren’t good.
A friend gets into a car accident.
Someone runs into a bad situation at work.
And someone asks us to pray for them.
It’s good to respond by praying for the person.
It’s better if I’ve cultivated a life of disciplined prayer.
If I’ve got some big, heavy furniture to move, I’ll get things done quicker if I ask for help from big, muscled bound guys.
We had some problems last week with our washing machine.  We called a repairman who knows how to fix our washing machine because that’s what he does all day – fix washing machines.  Then we developed plumbing problems – I learned a long time ago that I am not smart enough to do plumbing problems, so we called a plumber.
My point is not to be selective in who you ask to pray for you (though that might be something to think about).
My point is to encourage you and I to develop our “prayer muscles” by learning the discipline of regular, intentional, intercessory prayer.
Start by making a list of your family members.  Find out how you ought to be praying for them.  And pray for them each day.  Perhaps stretch your prayer stamina by adding a few other people.


A Lifestyle of Fasting

Right away I can tell you that this is not something that I practice very often.  I should.  But that doesn’t mean that I still shouldn’t encourage us to stretch ourselves in this discipline.
Praying attaches us to God.
Fasting detaches us from the flesh.
Fasting teaches us that we don’t need all the things that our flesh tells us we need.
When your stomach is growling and you don’t feed it, you will find that you won’t die missing one meal.
Fasting teaches us that we can learn to depend more upon God.
I can survive skipping a meal and God will sustain me.
Warning:  Fasting (and prayer) can develop a legalistic attitude.
(Mat 9:14 NKJV)  Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but Your disciples do not fast?"

I know that sometimes in my life when I feel a conviction over something, and I deny myself that certain thing, I can become resentful of other people who don’t deny themselves the same thing.

I wonder if this isn’t what was happening with the disciples of John.  I wonder if they were resentful that they were being required to fast, when Jesus and His disciples weren’t fasting as often.

We need to be careful that we don’t allow the disciplines like prayer and fasting become something that we become proud in or want people to recognize and pat us on the back over.

These are disciplines that we need to cultivate to grow closer to the Lord and become more useful to Him.

It’s all about being used by the Lord, not about getting attention.

Jesus taught us how to avoid the trap of allowing prayer and fasting to become a thing of pride:

(Mat 6:5-6 NKJV)  "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {6} "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

(Mat 6:16-18 NKJV)  "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {17} "But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, {18} "so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

May our faith be stretched as we grow in these disciplines.

:22-23 Son of Man to be betrayed

:22 Now while they were staying in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men,

:23 "and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up." And they were exceedingly sorrowful.

The last time Jesus told this to the disciples; Peter got up and rebuked Jesus for being so negative.  This time they hear what He says and are just sad.

What’s amazing is that they were still so surprised when Jesus was actually betrayed and put to death.

God prepares us for what’s ahead, even when we aren’t paying too close attention.

Jesus was prepared.  Remember that Moses and Elijah had been talking with Jesus on the mountain about His coming death

(Luke 9:31 NKJV)  who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus has been thinking about His coming death while on the mountain, but still stops at the bottom of the mountain to minister to the man and his son?

:24-27 Taxes

:24 When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?"

temple tax – this was not a Roman tax, but a tax by the Jews to help take care of the needs of the Temple.  It comes from:

(Exo 30:13 NKJV)  "This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the LORD.

half shekel – about $64.00 per person, whether rich or poor, all were to pay.  The “gerah” was a Babylonian weight.  Later this became the basis for the “temple tax” (Neh.10:32).  In Jesus’ time, it was given annually (Matt.17:24).

:25 He said, "Yes." And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?"

Does a king ask his son the prince to pay taxes?  No.  A king collects taxes from his subjects, not his family.

:26 Peter said to Him, "From strangers." Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free.

The implication could be made that since God was the King of the Temple and Jesus was God’s Son, that Jesus was exempt from this Temple Tax.

:27 "Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you."


Pay your taxes

There are some so-called “Christian” groups that tell people that they shouldn’t pay taxes.
Keep in mind this isn’t a “Roman” tax, but a Jewish tax.  For us, this would be more like asking people to contribute to help take care of the church building.
Christians are SUPPOSED to be paying their taxes.
(Rom 13:7 NKJV)  Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.


Fishing for taxes?

We might all want to think about taking up fishing before April 15 – is that what this is saying?
Keep in mind who Jesus is talking to.  He’s talking to His disciples.  Peter is mentioned specifically.  What was Peter’s profession?
Peter was a fisherman.
Jesus was telling Peter to work at his job to pay the tax.
The lesson isn’t about finding some magic fish with a coin in its mouth.  The lesson is about going to work, earning a living, and paying your taxes.