By James Fire
In the previous article, we looked at MATTHEW 16, and in the study we particularly noted verse 28 where He said:
28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
Many have wrongly assumed that this meant that the LORD's Second Coming would be within the life time of some of those who heard Him make this declaration. But as we examine this passage in light of the parallel passages in the other Gospel accounts, we will, by the Spirit of God rightly discern what the LORD meant by this. We will also learn more about the ministry of John the Baptist; witness the deliverance of another demon possessed person and the rudiments of faith, the essence of salvation and the LORD's perspective on taxation. All that and more in this chapter of 27 verses. So let's get ready to partake!
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
Quite often we see the LORD bringing what's been called 'His inner circle' into certain situations like the healing of Jairus's daughter (MARK 5:36-38); also in the Olivet discourse, according to the Gospel of Mark He spoke with these three and also Peter's brother, Andrew. (MARK 13:2-4); as well as this, the LORD brought all of His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane where “he oft prayed” and on His last prayer vigil there, He brought them, but then took Peter, James and John a bit further with Him (MATT 26:36-37) and began His Passion Prayer.
In our present text we see Him take this trio into a high mountain; perhaps they presumed this would be just another prayer meeting – though could it be possible to have 'just another prayer meeting' with the LORD Jesus???
However they were greatly astonished by what happened on this occasion! As discussed before, mountains are often used in Scripture as symbols or 'biblical types' for kingdoms (See DAN 2:35 and ISAIAH 2:2-3 for examples). When the LORD taught the Beatitudes, He likewise ascended up a mountain to teach the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven (MATT 5:1-3). He also ascended a mountain and began to pray after He directed His disciples to board a boat and cross Galilee and were subsequently caught in a raging, terrifying storm (MATT 14:22-23).
And here again, they are on the mountain when suddenly the LORD is transfigured before their very eyes! He became dazzlingly, brilliantly and blindingly white, shining as powerfully as the sun! Then – as if that weren't enough – two others appear: none other than the Lawgiver and Friend of God, Moses himself, and one of the greatest prophets of all, Elijah!
Why these two and not say, Abraham, Elisha, Samuel, David or Daniel?
When referring to the Tanahk or the Old Testament canon, the LORD and every observant Jew would sometimes call it, “the Law and the Prophets” (See MATT 7:12; 11:13; 22:40; LUKE 16:16; 24:44). Obviously in regards to the Law, the representative would be the man by whom the Law came – Moses. And among the prophets, Elijah is seen as the greatest of all – that is, until the LORD came to this world and explained that among men, there has arisen no prophet great than John the Baptist.
Thus the representation of the entire canon of the Old Testament, with all of its prophecies, promises, canon and covenants is seen by the God-appointed appearance of these two saints. The covenant that the LORD made with Abraham and with David involved His promise of granting them a specific land as well as a kingdom; the fulfillment of these will be realized during the Millennial Reign of Christ to commence at His Second Coming.
So on this mountain top, we are now viewing a sort of 'preview in miniature' of the Millennial period, and Peter, James and John are witnessing this (as Peter later testifies in his epistle; see 2 PETER 1:16-18)! It would seem, from a certain perspective that one could legitimately view this as a second coming of sorts, but was this actually happening – was this the physical return of Jesus Christ the Second time, when He hadn't even left after His First Advent??
Let's get back to the scene and listen in on what's going on . . .
4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
It wasn't that unusual a thing for Peter to say, after all, it was roughly the time (five days after the Day of Atonement Sabbath) when the Jewish nation would be celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles; and what is the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths)?
From GOT QUESTIONS we have the answer:
“The Feast of Tabernacles, like all the feasts, was instituted by God as a way of reminding Israelites in every generation of their deliverance by God from Egypt. Of course, the feasts are also significant in that they foreshadow the work and actions of the coming Messiah. Much of Jesus’ public ministry took place in conjunction with the Holy Feasts set forth by God.
The three pilgrim feasts where all Jewish males were commanded to “appear before the Lord in the place he chooses” are each very important in regards to the life of Christ and His work of redemption. We know with certainty that the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are symbolic of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. Likewise, we know that Pentecost, which marked the beginning of the Feast of Weeks, was the time of Jesus’ bodily ascension. And most scholars would agree that the Feast of Tabernacles is symbolic of Christ’s Second Coming when He will establish His earthly kingdom.”
For the complete answer that GOT QUESTIONS provides, go here
Yet look at what Peter is saying here: he wants to make booths for Moses and Elijah, and for the LORD Jesus Christ. This would seem to indicate that Peter is placing Jesus on par with Moses and Eliah. It's most telling then, that the Father chimes in and sets the apostle straight:
“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” The endorsement of the Father for His Son should be duly noted by every God-fearing Christian. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that the Holy and Righteous Father is displeased with His Son about and that is as significant as it gets!
It is not the servants of the LORD – such as Moses and Elijah that have the preeminence in the Kingdom, but the Son:
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
2 Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.
3 For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.
4 For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God.
5 And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;
6 But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
What is the response of the apostles then?
6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.
Just as mysteriously as Moses and Elijah appeared, they suddenly vanish without a trace; did they really see the Lawgiver and the Prophet? And the LORD was no longer shining gloriously as He had only moments before – what was going on?
They then proceed off the mountain and as they go, the LORD reveals what this was all about: note what He says in verse 9 – that this was a VISION that He showed them. Thus nothing to be misconstrued as a Second Coming, but a vision of such. This should silence any argument from Preterist theology which insist that no more prophecies will be fulfilled in our day, because they were all (or at least most) fulfilled already by 70 A.D.
including the Second Coming (which many preterists point to this text as evidence).
On a last note for this passage, may we also only see Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, and not look to others, even Moses and Elijah – or any theology that would diminish our love and dependence upon the LAMB of GOD.
Let's move on . . .
10 And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
11 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
12 But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
For this reason as the LORD expressed in vs. 11, many Bible expositors believe that Elijah is one of the Two Witnesses of Revelation (REV 11:3; cf: ZECH 4:3,10-14). They also express the belief that Moses is the other; both Witnesses seem to display the same power as did the aforementioned saints. They call fire down from heaven and turn bodies of water into blood.
Whether these Witnesses are in fact Moses and Elijah we cannot know for certain; but if not, then the LORD simply grants these the same powers as He did for His other prophets and that is that.
Yet this talk about Elijah is a double reference, for in the same breath, the LORD says that he has come already and suffered martyrdom. It was then that the disciples understood that He was speaking of John the Baptist who came in the spirit of Elijah, with much the same mission.
Elijah was the prophet that turned an apostate Israel away from the worship of Baal at the sinister encouragement of Ahab and Jezebel and four hundred prophets of Baal. What seems remarkable to me is that John the Baptist fulfilled his ministry without so much as a single miracle (whereas Elijah is renowned for his prolific miraculous events); yet we have the LORD Himself testifying that John the Baptist was the greatest of all prophets.
From this we may conclude that the message of truth and salvation trumps even the greatest of miracles. Both prophets indeed turned the people towards God, and in the case of the Baptist, his ministry paved the way for the arrival of the Messiah (ISAIAH 40:3; LUKE 1:17) Himself!
We cannot leave this passage without observing the LORD's somber words: that just as they killed John the Baptist, likewise the LORD Himself would be slain, and by the same sort of irreverent and ungodly people; in the Baptist's case, Herod; in the LORD's case, the Sanhedrin and Roman authorities. Yet where the Baptist was martyred, the LORD Jesus was not, in the strictest sense of that word.
17 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.
18 No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
5 Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
6 In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
7 Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;
9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
This sacrifice is the greatest and sweetest above and beyond any others recorded in history; all others pale into utter insignificance compared to this one: for this sacrifice was not only freely offered by the LAMB of GOD, but made for the entirety of the human race, for all time!
I genuinely believe that we cannot fully appreciate the heights and depths, the breadth and width of this Sacrifice of sacrifices, nor even in the eternal realm of heaven, when we shall be equipped with glorified body and mind will we fully and immediately comprehend it; more importantly however, we shall offer up our sacrifices of praise and worship, adoration and thankfulness to the LORD for all that He has done for us, His beloved!
Onward . . .
14 And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
15 Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
16 And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
17 Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
From this glorious event in this proverbial 'mountain top experience' the LORD descends to the land below with His disciples, and they are immediately confronted with the demonic. How often after a spiritual blessing, victory, glorious experience we are confronted with the enemy. The LORD after His forty day fast was confronted by Satan himself. Often the LORD will lead us to draw apart – or He may do the drawing Himself, isolating us, getting us alone with Him – for the explicit purpose of preparing us for spiritual battle just ahead.
Let us be sensitive to the LORD at such times, and prepare; consider the next passage in vs. 19-21 below.
There are physical maladies that may be cured by medicines that pertain to our physiology; epilepsy is one such affliction; cerebral palsy however as yet has no cure. Both of these illnesses may have been mistaken in the LORD's day as being the result of demonic possession.
In this passage, we have a father beseeching the disciples initially, then the LORD Himself on behalf of his ailing son, whom he believes is suffering because of a demonic spirit – we learn this when we examine the parallel passages found in MARK 9:14-27 *; LUKE 9:37-39 – and this distinction must be made. There are instances when a medical, physical explanation for a condition is acceptable; however demons may also inflict diseases and maladies as well (MATT 12:22; 17:15-18; LUKE 13:16).
For a treatment on demonic spirits, their powers and purpose, see the following from Scofield's notes (found at the link provided under vs. 22).
*I often refer to this parallel passage when dealing with Word-Faith dogma that expresses the idea that faith must always be without flaw, weakness or unbelief – and we are certainly to grow in faith, and express a more complete trust in the LORD in prayer and situation (JAMES 1:6-7), however, the LORD in His tender mercies is willing to work with even a small measure of faith in the midst of unbelief in order to bolster and strengthen that faith. This passage is exactly such a situation:
21 And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.
22 And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.
23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
24 And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
The father of this poor child says in vs. 22 “ . . . if you can do anything . . .”
And the LORD replies in vs. 23 “ . . . if you can believe . . .”
And here is where the father's heart is revealed: with tears he implores the LORD, expressing an incomplete faith, for he confesses “ . . . help my unbelief . . .” Note that the LORD doesn't excuse Himself and go about His business, telling the father to come back when his faith is flawless, perfect, and without any doubts at all. He works with what faith the father has, and brings about the boy's deliverance! Let this be an encouragement to us, that even while we may have some honest doubt, the LORD in His compassion will work with our faith, even if it's only the size of a mustard seed (LUKE 17:6)!
Nevertheless, the LORD demonstrates a righteous exasperation with that generation which proved faithless and perverse – for this is the nation of Israel, whose Scriptures are replete with one example after countless others of the LORD and His Almighty power – if any people should have confidence in the LORD, it should have been His own people! May we also likewise read and ponder the mighty acts of God as found in Old Testament canon and realize that the same LORD is on the Throne today as the One that worked such miracles and powers back in the day:
8 Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.
19 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
Unbelief in the God of Truth is, when examined honestly, evil – to express such before the Eternal God Whose very nature is Truth, Holiness, Righteousness and Justice is wholly unworthy of Him. And yet the children of Israel, after witnessing miracles of epic and seemingly impossible proportions still had unbelief towards God while wandering 40 years in the wilderness (a journey that should have only taken them less than two weeks!):
7 Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice,
8 Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:
9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years.
10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways.
11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)
12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
Unbelief is the one thing that will staunch the LORD Jesus Christ's ministry of the miraculous:
5 And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk, and healed them.
6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching.
Faith is NOT a power that the LORD God used to create all things, like the Word-Faith teachers like to proclaim. Do a study on faith some time, and you will be astounded when you discover that the word appears in the Old Testament only two times (DEUT 32:20 and HAB 2:4)! It's when you realize that the Hebrew word for faith is translated as “trust” in the Old Testament that faith is equitable to trust; simple trust in the LORD God, because He is true to His Word.
This is why the LORD told us that those who would inherit the kingdom of God must approach Him as little children; one of the defining attribute of such as these is their ability to trust.
Such trust is what He expected of His disciples and yet their faith was, in His view, exasperatingly weak. The power is not in how much faith one has, but placing whatever faith one may have – even a mustard sized faith – in the Almighty, Living God! Such a faith could move any mountain-sized trial or challenge – even cleanse a boy of a demonic spirit . . .
Now note vs. 21 of MATTHEW 17: Here the LORD specifies that the particular demon that infested the lad was the sort that must be exorcised by prayer and fasting. The LORD had only just descended from off the mountain top; when did He find time for prayer and fasting? It must be rightly assumed that He had already been praying and fasting even before the vision on what's been called The Mount of Transfiguration.
And this speaks of spiritual preparation! Let's ponder this matter carefully if we ever seek to engage in spiritual warfare, especially when actively opposing demonic forces. Prayer and fasting as well as a command of Scripture, both in memory and obedience; a strong and unwavering faith in God's power, keen discernment, and sensitivity to the Spirit are all necessities if ever one is presented with a need for exorcism.
What is not needed is ritual, ceremony, candles, icons, and the usual trappings as is commonly found in religion. This is certainly not a spiritual battle that one should face alone if it can at all be helped. Many saints on the scene as well as off, must be rallied together in prayer for the individual in need.
22 And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men:
23 And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.
This was a world-changing statement; the disciples believed that the Messiah King was intent on establishing His kingdom, the kingdom of Israel – and that He was until He was officially rejected by the authorities of the nation.
The myriad miracles He performed, all signs of His authenticity as the Messiah were disparaged and allocated to the workings of Satan, when in fact, they were by the power of the Holy Spirit (thus, the “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit”, that being, the testimony by the Spirit of Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of all the world).
Yet in the pages of prophecy, we understand that this was in accord with God's plan all along. That the King Who is to Reign is also the sacrifice Lamb Who would serve by offering up His holy and spotless life as a suitable sacrifice for the sins of the world.
The disciples didn't see this though - - not yet at least. What would become the supreme hope for mankind was seen at this point as the greatest tragedy. Such was the shock of these men upon hearing of the soon death of their LORD, that they didn't even hear Him declare that He would rise again the third day. Had they done so, it would seem likely that they wouldn't have been so “exceedingly” sorry.
He began to tell them of His impending death in the previous chapter (16) and continued reminding them all the way through to MATTHEW 26. How very differently we see things as our LORD sees them. Even when Peter rebuked the LORD for saying such things (MATT 16:22) the LORD rebuked him, and the spirit that was manipulating his thinking, Satan himself (MATT 16:23).
They saw tragedy where the LORD saw victory; they saw complete and utter ruin of their lives where the LORD saw the salvation of their lives; they saw the end of all things where the LORD saw the commencement of the Kingdom of God!
May the LORD continually work on us and grant the mind of Christ to us His children, so that we may see things as He does, have the same heart ,and in union with Him, work together as His hands and feet!
24 And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
25 He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
26 Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
27 Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.
It's that time of year again for us here in the United States: tax time. There is, believe it or not, a lot of controversy about whether or not we Americans should pay an income tax. Many believe that by its very nature, it is unconstitutional and upon pretty solid ground. Clandestine cooperation back in 1913 between bankers, politicians and financial magnates on Jekyll Island conceived of a central bank (known as the Federal Reserve) as well as an income tax and had them implemented into law while Congress was in recess for the Christmas season.
Rome demanded high taxes from her citizens as well, much of them poured into the pockets of corrupt politicians, nevertheless, we are admonished to pay our taxes – and to obey the laws of the land (even the unjust ones) UNLESS they are in direct violation of God's Holy Word. In such a case, we as citizens of the Kingdom of God must stand resolute in our obedience and loyalty to Jesus Christ our King!
In this passage, inquirers ask Peter whether or not Jesus paid His taxes (tribute money) – which in all actuality was more of a tariff than an actual taxation. Without thinking apparently, Peter responded in the affirmative and then went into the house where the LORD was. Before he could say anything, it was the LORD's turn to ask Peter a question.
Peter admitted that it was not the citizens of any nation that was obligated to pay tariff charges, but of foreigners. And yet for all that, the LORD said, “Nevertheless lest we should offend them . . .”
We sometimes think that because of the way the LORD dealt with the religious establishment of Israel, which He seemed to just about go out of His way to offend them – but with just cause – He was not and is not an offensive Person. Somehow we can have the misguided notion that to be holy is to be necessarily offensive to the world.
Where ever and how ever we may behave in a conciliatory manner towards the citizens of this world, we ought to do so. We are to have a meek and gentle spirit, just like our LORD and like sheep (IS. 53:7) and doves (MATT 10:16) are known for this particular demeanor, we are to be inoffensive as well. IF there is to be any offense from the saints towards this fallen world, let it revolve around the heart of the Gospel where stands the Cross of Christ (GAL 5:11).
When we are taken advantage of, and have been unjustly deprived of what is ours (yet all we possess as Christians, we retain for the LORD as stewards only, keeping that which is truly His), Scripture tells us to accept the offense and to forebear (MATT 5:39-41). I am certainly not endorsing income tax as right and justifiable; however I am simply stating that any wrong perpetrated upon us as God's children, whether it is persecution, false witness . . . or unfair taxation, these are offenses that the LORD will deal with on the day of Judgment where He will mete out His Holy justice and perform vengeance on the unjust (ROM 12:19). If taxation becomes so burdensome that we have hardly anything left for ourselves but to provide for “food and raiment” (1 TIM 6:7-8) then Scripture says we ought to be “content” with this.
In so doing, the enemies of the Cross will have nothing whatsoever to blame us for, being beyond reproof (1 PET 3:15-17).
I admit that when I observe this wicked and corrupt world, and how the rich and powerful are prone to victimize the poor and the weak, I can get very worked up and justifiably angry – so I understand the mind of those who believe that we should cast down our over-bloated Federal system and start over.
We as saints must acknowledge however the seasons and the times (1 THESS 5:1-2) in which we live; how that the LORD has granted us signs to indicate His soon return.
A comfort to me is knowing that the LORD will set everything right once He returns; He will cast down the unrepentant and wicked who refuse to come to Him and receive salvation; He will restore His order to this world; peace shall reign because the Prince of Peace will be here! In the meantime, I find solace in the truth of PSALM 37 and knowing that in the tumultuous and trying times we live in, where sinful man rules, perpetrating his corrupt practices, He is our peace in the midst of such storms.
May the Peace of the LORD rule our hearts as we walk in the grace of God, in all pleasing to Jesus Christ, our Savior, and remaining inoffensive where ever possible, before this world. Next time, we shall partake of MATTHEW 18!