From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Matthew 15 to 28                           Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019

 

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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding Matthew

 

(Volume 2:  Chapters 15 to 28)

 

 

by

Roland H. Worth, Jr.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2018 by author

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction to the

“Busy Person’s Guide” Series

 

            When the great scholar Jerome was producing what came to be known as the “Vulgate”--the authoritative Latin text for the Roman Catholic Church--the equally renowned Augustine was upset and annoyed:  Why do we need another Bible translation? he insisted to his fellow scholar.  Quietly Jerome hit at Augustine’s own weak point:  Why do we need another commentary?  (The production of which was a hallmark of Augustine’s labor.)  Augustine reconsidered and backed off from the criticism as being, perhaps, a bit hasty.

            Augustine’s question remains relevant to our age, however.  You could invest all of your surplus income--assuming you are part of the prosperous but overworked middle class--and still not afford to buy all those that are available.  Much less find the time to read them.  So why another commentary and why this one in particular?

            Historically commentaries have been written more often than not for either the well educated or the self-designated religious “elite” who are so absorbed in the text that they want to learn as much as they can about it and prefer exhaustive analysis.  There is a definite place for such commentaries and I am not above writing such myself.

            Yet in the past and even more so today, there is also the need for a very different type of exposition:  concise and to the point.  Even the most devout has only 24 hours a day.  The hasty pace of keeping one’s family’s financial head above water takes up an inordinate amount of that time.  Family obligations and one’s religious interests eat yet further into what is available.  In this pressure cooker environment, the time to merely set down and think has become extraordinarily precious.

            Hence these Quickly Understanding commentaries have been produced to allow the Biblically interested but time limited reader to get the most out of their restricted study time.  First, read a section of the text itself.  For your convenience we divide the commentary into such sections; the headings are not intended to be merely descriptive of what is in that section, but, often, interpretive as well—to make plain one or more points that are underlying the discussion.

            These are presented in the able New English Translation.  They officially permit—rather than unofficially permit or “overlook” the usage--so long as it is done absolutely without any financial charge.  (Or read it in your own preferred translation:  the commentary will work with just about any except the most paraphrasistic ones.)  All individual verse translations we provide, however, are from the New King James Version--an able update of the KJV and utilizing the same underlying Greek text.

            Individual verses then follows.  In a limited number of cases multiple verses are studied together.  A typical cause of this happening is the way certain verses end at awkward places and in the middle of a thought.

            Instead of having to wade through highly technical long paragraphs and even multi-pages you find simple and direct language.  A matter of a few paragraphs instead of a few pages.  Not everything you could find of value of course but, hopefully, a “nugget” or two of something useful in every verse analyzed.

            Sometimes it will be the core thought or message of the verse.  Sometimes it will be a key moral principle the text intends to convey.  In all cases it will be summed up in significantly different words than the text or with supplemental interpretive phrases to “flesh out” the meaning or intention. 

            Every verse is unique.  Some make us wonder why people acted the way they did and we briefly probe the possibilities.   In other cases we wonder why they so misunderstood what was going on and we suggest reasons that could have motivated them.  Other passages present an implicit challenge to the then listener and here we make it explicit so we can face the same challenge as the original audience.  To understand yet other readings, a piece of historical background is needed and we have tried to provide that as well.

            We have avoided fanciful and far-fetched interpretation.  We have assumed that Jesus intended to give guidelines for life in the here and now.  Realistic.  Reachable.  Reasonable.  And we have interpreted the text with those assumptions as our foundation.  I have no problem introducing inferences but we have tried to limit this to the more probable ones unless we include cautionary language as well.  After all, inferences can range from necessary to probable to possible to conjectural to fanciful to outright delusional.  It is a tool to be used with caution, common sense, and prudence.

            For those who wish to grasp the essence of the still living message, this book should prove invaluable assistance.

            We have avoided those areas that require elaborate and sustained discussion.  Issues of authorship, date, and canonicity are all useful and of value.  But here we are interested in the contents of the book.  We begin with the assumption that virtually every one shares:  this purports to be a first century book by someone claiming to know a great deal about the life of Jesus.  Based upon what he has preserved for us, what can we learn about Jesus’ life?  What can we learn about His teaching?  Most importantly, what can we learn that will help us better understand the text or morally improve our own lives?  Hence the sometimes obscure scholarly arguments relating to the book’s background are best left for a different context.   

 

The original version of Matthew, Luke, and John  appear to have been done in 2006 and was revised in 2017-2018, during which the translations were added as well as extra commentary added to enhance what was already present.  In this time frame Mark was added to complete the four gospels.

            Frankly, I had forgotten that these volumes were anywhere near completed in first draft form.  They were among a number of various projects I had set aside over the decades that were either partially or nearly fully researched and “ready to go”—except I had nowhere for them to “go to.”  Now that I have my own web site there is a place. 

And it is my hope and prayer that these and my other works will live on in the electronic realm for many years to come.  After all the purpose of any serious Biblical study should be to deepen one’s own understanding of the sacred text—and, where possible, to assist others in their efforts to do so as well.

                                                Roland H. Worth, Jr.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

 

 

Reliance on Humanly Invented Religious Standards Antagonizes God (Matthew 15:1-9):  1 Then Pharisees and experts in the law came from Jerusalem to Jesus and said, “Why do your disciples disobey the tradition of the elders?  For they don’t wash their hands when they eat.”

He answered them, “And why do you disobey the commandment of God because of your tradition?  For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’

“But you say, ‘If someone tells his father or mother, “Whatever help you would have received from me is given to God,” he does not need to honor his father.’  You have nullified the word of God on account of your tradition.  Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said,  8 This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me, 9 and they worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”    --New English Translation (for comparison)

           

 

             15:1     Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying.  An important geographic note is mentioned here:  both “the scribes and Pharisees” whom Jesus is about to have a major run-in with came from Jerusalem.  This was the area where they had the greatest strength and impact.  This was also the area where they would have the maximum interaction with the priestly establishment of the temple.  However much the Pharisees would differ with the Sadducee dominated Sanhedrin that oversaw that establishment, many of both would ultimately find in Jesus an intolerable obstacle. 

            In this particular case, Jesus had not stumbled into controversy because of His presence and teaching in Jerusalem, but because His critics had gone out of their way to seek Him out for confrontation.  This may well be a more or less “official” investigative group sent out to learn more about Jesus just as a similar delegation had been sent out to do the same about John the Baptist (John 1:19, 24).  In both cases they probe matters that the two reformers could be challenged on (John 1:25-28)--whether it be out of malice or curiosity or, most likely, a combination of both.

 

            15:2     “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?  For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”  Their chosen topic for disagreement was the non-observance of the traditions generally accepted by those who counted themselves pious:  the ceremonial washing of hands before eating in particular.  It should be stressed that this had little or nothing to do with cleanliness; it was a religious not a sanitary act and it was followed because it had become the established and required custom.  Not because required by scripture--or they would have cited it--but because their consensus was that it was needed in addition to what scripture demanded.

            Sidebar:  What “wash(ing) their hands” actually meant--“Washing before meals was alone regarded as a commandment; washing after meals only as a duty.  By and by the more rigorous actually washed between the courses, although this was declared to be purely voluntary.  The distinctive designation for washing after meals was the lifting of the hands; while for washing before meat a term was used which meant, literally, to rub.  If ‘holy,’ i.e., sacrificial food was to be partaken of, a complete immersion of the hands, and not a mere ‘uplifting’ was prescribed.

           “As the purifications were so frequent, and care had to be taken that the water had not been used for other purposes, or something fallen into it that might discolor or defile it, large vessels or jars were generally kept for the purpose (see John 2:6).  It was the practice to draw water out of these with a kind of ladle or bucket - very often of glass - which must hold at least one and a half egg-shells (compare draw out now, John 2:8).

            “The water was poured on both hands, which must be free of anything covering them, such as gravel, mortar, etc.  The hands were lifted up so as to make the water run to the wrist, in order to insure that the whole hand was washed, and that the water polluted by the hand did not again run down the fingers.  Similarly, each hand was rubbed with the other (the fist), provided the hand that rubbed had been affused [immersed]; otherwise, the rubbing might be done against the head, or even against a wall.  But there was one point on which special stress was laid.  In the ‘first affusion,’ which was all that originally was required when the hands were not levitically ‘defiled,’ the water had to run down to the wrist.  If the water remained short of the wrist, the hands were not clean.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)

                  

            15:3     He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?  Jesus does not deny the charge of violating the “tradition of the elders” (verse 2), but reminds them that they also have a question that needs to be answered:  they, too, are guilty of a violation of law--but their transgression is of “the commandment of God” and they transgress it exactly because of their beloved humanly invented human religious “traditions.”

            Sidebar:  In theory Moses gave an oral law that was not preserved in the scriptures and this is the supposed “tradition of the elders.”  I readily admit I am no Talmud expert, but I recall no case of where these traditions from Moses are quoted as from him.  Instead we have multitudes of cases where a plethora of various rabbis are quoted interpreting specific written texts of the Mosaical Law.  Shall we even mention doing so in differing and contradictory conclusions? 

            Hence the “oral law of Moses” effectively becomes transformed into the oral interpretations of Moses.  These rabbinic interpretations remained oral until years after the destruction of the Temple when they were finally committed to writing.  And because of all the intellectual heavy lifting they had to do to come up with their results, they came to believe that this new body of literature enjoyed an effective superiority over the written law which covered so little in comparison.  Out of this mind frame came the rabbinical arrogance that asserted, “The words of the law are weighty and light, but all the words of the scribes are weighty.” 

 

            15:4     For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother'; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’  As typical of their problem Jesus cites two commandments about attitudes and behavior toward parents.  First, one is to “honor” (respect and obey) them and, secondly, they are not to be “cursed” (verbally abused and mistreated).

            Sidebar:  Did Jesus Himself violate this teaching?--“At first it might seem as if our Lord Himself, no less than the Pharisees, had taught men to think lightly of the commandment on which He now lays stress.  He had called on men to forsake father and mother for the sake of the gospel (Matthew 4:18, 22), and had excluded from discipleship those who loved father and mother more than they loved Him (Matthew 10:37). 

            “We need not close our eyes to the difficulty which thus presents itself.  But the answer is not far to seek.  In our Lord’s teaching, a lower, natural duty was to give way exceptionally to a higher and supernatural one; otherwise it remained in full force.  In that of the Pharisees the natural duty, enforced by a direct divine commandment, was made to give way to one which was purely human, arbitrary, and conventional.  The two cases were not only not analogous, but stood on an entirely different footing.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  

 

            15:5     But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—.  Every law has a way around it and can be “nibbled to death” by adding self-serving exceptions.  In this case, instead of honoring their parents they effectively cursed them (in action not words) by arguing that whatever income they have that would meet their parents’ survival needs was dedicated to the service of God instead.  Whether they had actually already given the money away or whether it was to be given at their own death, in either case it was no longer available to help their family.  It had been set apart for a separate purpose.  An honorable purpose, but not one that justified an over-riding of the commitment to one's family.  Indeed, to be so callous as to do such was nothing short of abandoning of one’s flesh and kin.    

 

            15:6     then he need not honor his father or mother.’  Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.  As the result of not providing the financial (or other) support the parents needed, they were not providing father and mother the “honor” that was properly due them and which the Torah directly commanded.  Their traditions of allowing money to be set apart in this manner had effectively gutted God’s commandment and made it impossible to obey it.  It provided the giver the image of great religiosity but at the cost of ignoring fundamental obligations.

 

            15:7     Hypocrites!  Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying.  This violating of the Divine purpose, insists Jesus, made them nothing short of “hypocrites:” they had made such a big “to do” about obeying God but their actual behavior was known to contradict and repudiate their claim.  The ancient prophet Isaiah had described them--or, at least, people like them, thereby making the text an effective description of them as well.  As the Benson Commentary rightly argues, “Threatenings directed against others belong to us, if we be guilty of the same sins.”  “If the blind leads the blind, both will fall into the ditch” (verse 14 of this chapter).

 

            15:8     These people draw near to Me with their mouth, / And honor Me with their lips, / But their heart is far from Me.  Isaiah had spoken of those who loudly and emphatically gave “honor” to God with their lips.  Ironically, their inner “heart” did not feel the need to go beyond empty and unfulfilled words.  They were quite willing to say the right thing, but doing it was another matter.  Like the Christian who enthusiastically attends church services on Sunday, but is unwilling to live the life of a Christian the rest of the week. 

 

            15:9     And in vain they worship Me, / Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’   They had invalidated their very worship, making it “vain” (empty, worthless) due to their relying upon the doctrines they heard from others rather than relying upon God’s actual commandments.

            Sidebar:  Jesus has been quoting Isaiah 29:13 and applying it to His own time.  One can easily imagine a second century gospel preacher taking the next verse as well and applying it to Jesus’ triumph through teaching and resurrection over those who claimed the status of religious intellectuals:  “Therefore, behold I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men (= rabbis and Pharisees and religious “lawyers”) shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”  Jesus triumphed and His words permanently eclipsed that of all others. 

 

 

Moral Defilement Comes from Evil Behavior and Not From the Violation of Humanly Invented Religious Standards (Matthew 15:10-20):  10 Then he called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand.  11 What defiles a person is not what goes into the mouth; it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a person.”

12 Then the disciples came to him and said, “Do you know that when the Pharisees heard this saying they were offended?”  13 And he replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father did not plant will be uprooted.  14 Leave them! They are blind guides.  If someone who is blind leads another who is blind, both will fall into a pit.”

15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.”  16 Jesus said, “Even after all this, are you still so foolish?  17 Don’t you understand that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and then passes out into the sewer?  18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person.  19 For out of the heart come evil ideas, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  20 These are the things that defile a person; it is not eating with unwashed hands that defiles a person.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            15:10     When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand.  Having documented the hypocrisy of His critics, now Jesus turns directly to the issue of eating with unwashed hands.  He challenges them to “hear” and comprehend His point.  Sometimes people don't listen to what others say.  The old description of “going in one ear and out the other” fits the situation well.  If you don't take time to try to “understand” what the other person is saying, how in the world are you going to be able to reliably refute it?  Not to mention accepting it if it turns out to be true?

            Furthermore, these were the people who weren’t supposed to be able to understand; that was for the religious experts.  The message of Jesus and the gospel is that fundamental truths can be grasped by  all of us.  As Paul said of his Ephesian epistle, “When you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” (3:4).  “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (5:17).  

 

            15:11     Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”  The bottom line is that what you eat will not defile you--make you unclean, unacceptable, unholy--in the sight of God; instead it is what you say and do.  Jesus does not have in mind here the question of the ancient distinction between “clean” and “unclean” meats though that would be a not unnatural extension of the principle.  Instead He has specifically in mind that no food you eat with unwashed hands (the point at issue) will defile you.  Even the most kosher diet possible--even eaten with properly ceremonially clean hands--did not protect one’s spirituality if what sprouted out of the mouth was evil, wrong, or excessive.

 

            15:12     Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”  After this conversation, Jesus’ own disciples came to Him because they were disturbed.  He had upset and annoyed the Pharisees by His critique of the difference between their claims and their behavior:  Attacking the various “traditions” that were evolving was certain to gain them no friends and had the potential of making influential enemies.  Not to mention the fact that the Pharisees were looked upon as exemplars of piety.  Many would, therefore, be inclined to think less of Jesus.  Not necessarily in Galilee but down in Jerusalem and Judea where the core strength of the Pharisees lay. 

            In addition to this, it is quite possible that they themselves had reservations about the teaching as well;  they certainly don’t grasp the underlying argument for Jesus has to explain it in more detail a little later--verses 16-20.

 

            15:13     But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.  Jesus refused to back down.  Any “plant” not set out by God would ultimately be “uprooted.”  Perhaps Jesus is building on the imagery of the parable of the tares or even of the parable of the sower. 

            When a person teaches something, one is “planting” the idea or thought or principle in the mind of the listener and from that it can “sprout” into full growth as one works out its full implications.  Of course if the conceptual “seed” that has been planted is erroneous, then--when it has reached its “full growth” of development--it will have taken the listener even further away from what God intends.  And it will be scorned by the heavenly Father, who is appalled at such arrogant human nonsense.  It will be rejected along with those whose lives have become embodiments of human invention broken free of God’s will.      

 

            15:14     Let them alone.  They are blind leaders of the blind.  And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”  They were not to worry about the Pharisees.  They claimed enlightenment but they were actually “blind” to far too many things.  If one insisted upon following them, they would fall into a ditch just like the spiritually blind Pharisees.  Not a literal ditch, of course, but into errors that resulted in one doing less--or different from--what God wanted done. 

            Sidebar:  Palestine abounded in dangers of this kind, from unguarded wells, quarries, and pitfalls; it abounded also in persons afflicted with blindness.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

 

            15:15      Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”  The apostles are clearly uneasy about what Jesus intends by His teaching so Peter asks Him to explain the “parable” to them.  Here “parable” has the connotation of a teaching that seems clear on its surface but whose intended implications are difficult to grasp and pinpoint.  And Jesus’ attitude toward ceremonial washing of hands before eating was exactly of this nature.  The teaching was clear on the surface, but what did it imply as to Pharisee ceremonialism in general and even of the ancient distinction between clean and unclean food?  (Note how verse 17 logically strikes at that distinction.  Note that in the account of the teaching in Mark, that writer explicitly adds “thus purifying all foods--Mark 7:19.)

 

            15:16     So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding?  Jesus is a tad exasperated:  Why do they still lack “understanding” (= comprehension) of what He is driving at?  Have they been with Him this long and are still unable to grasp the thrust of His teaching?

 

            15:17     Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?  In a physical sense food merely passes through the body.  You eat it, digest it, and eliminate it.  All food is, essentially and at its heart, neutral.  Within the limitation of strictly kosher food (and there is every reason to believe that this is the only kind Jesus has specifically and immediately in mind) food possesses this moral neutrality.  Even non-clean foods, when push comes to shove, only produces ceremonial uncleanness.  There is no way it can directly affect your character or spiritual essence--and that is the true defilement (verse 18).

 

            15:18     But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.  In marked contrast to the foods we eat, what you say expresses the nature of your inner character.  And that has the potential of defilement:  Think lies.  Deceit.  Slander.  The list is endless and yet the willingness to utilize such weapons of rhetorical warfare reveals what our character actually is.  And the use of them is automatically “defil[ing]” even if we defend it because it is in the interest of a “good cause.”

 

            15:19     For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.  The heart stands for soul, mind, spirit, will, the whole inner man, that which makes him what he is, a conscious, intelligent, responsible being. Hence are attributed to it not only words, but acts, conceptions which issue in external actions, and the consequences which these involve.”  (Pulpit Commentary)  

            Therefore Jesus stresses how it is from the heart that not only degrading false accusations, but evil behavior as well pour out.  Fornication (pre-marital sex) and adultery (extra-marital sex) are merely the acting out of the preferences of what the heart desires.  Even “murders” find their ultimate root in a hardened and bent heart--both rhetorical assassination as well as literal killings.

 

            15:20     These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”  Behaviors like these are what harms and ethically pollutes a person's character.  In contrast, eating without washing hands does no moral harm at all.  It may violate traditional practice, but it does not strike at the soul at all.

 

 

Although Sent on an Earthly Mission to Minister to His Fellow Jews, He Agrees to Heal a Gentile Woman Because of Her Superb Faith (Matthew 15:21-28):  21 After going out from there, Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  22 A Canaanite woman from that area came and cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is horribly demon-possessed!” 23 But he did not answer her a word.  Then his disciples came and begged him, “Send her away, because she keeps on crying out after us.”

24 So he answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  25 But she came and bowed down before him and said, “Lord, help me!”  26 “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” he said.  27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great!  Let what you want be done for you.”  And her daughter was healed from that hour.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            15:21     Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  Jesus’ traveling itinerary next took him into or just outside this Gentile dominated region--commentators vigorously disagree as to which.  That He never entered into those two cities themselves (or, at least, did no miracles there) is argued from the fact that He rebuked Jewish Bethsaida  by stressing that if His miracles had been done in these cities, they would have repented (Matthew 11:21).  In addition when He had sent the apostles out on a preaching tour He specifically instructed them against entering Gentile communities (Matthew 10:5). 

            Furthermore, our next verse notes that the woman whose offspring is healed “came from that region”--which is easily open to the interpretation that at this point Jesus is very near rather than in the region itself; alternatively it can simply be the means of stressing that this is one of those limited cases when He healed a Gentile.  Either way Jesus emphasized that His standard pattern was to minister to fellow Jews, with the clear cut implication that He avoided the Gentiles (verse 24). 

            Sidebar:  If one prefers the widely used “critical text” to that of the KJV/NKJV, then there is unquestionably evidence that Jesus entered Sidon though still indicating that this was not likely the case for Tyre:  Then Jesus went out again from the region of Tyre and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis” (NIV).  Going “through” does not, however, have to carry the connotation of either preaching or healing.

 

            15:22     And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!  My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”  Gentiles were a scorned class among Jews.  Furthermore it was a female Gentile which could bring into play other prejudices.  In her desperation she crosses these barriers and begs for mercy for her demon-possessed daughter.  She has no way to know that Jesus does not embrace these prejudices but chooses to take the risk anyway:  If He had healed so many, it was at the very least logical that He might consider helping her as well. 

 

            15:23     But He answered her not a word.  And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.”  Her persistence (and desperation) causes her to follow and plead repeatedly for insistence.  The disciples finally get tired of the whole thing and want Jesus to publicly--and promptly!--dismiss her out of hand.  He had quite conspicuously not done so, leaving the situation to develop as it might. 

 

            15:24     But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  If Jesus is directly speaking to the woman:  Whether He answers her request or not, she deserves more courtesy that just a cavalier dismissal.  She deserves an explanation.  Just as the apostles on their initial preaching tour were sent only to the lost of Israel, so also Jesus’ mission--He tells her--is to that same group.  Gentiles were not part of it though He conspicuously does not explicitly exclude them, leaving her room to argue the matter.  At the very least there would need to be a very good reason to minister to those for whom the ministry was not intended.

            If Jesus is only speaking to the apostles but the woman is listening (for she seems clearly to be within hearing distance):  These words can be read as strong concurrence with the apostles’ assumption that folk like her are not part of His intended ministry.  “Answered” does seem to be a response to the apostles rather than to her.  Either way she is not ready to give up yet.  Nor does He order her away--allowing the situation to develop further if she wishes.

            Sidebar:  Why was the centurion’s servant treated differently?  The two cases stood, however, on a very different footing.  The centurion who had built a synagogue was practically, if not formally, a proselyte of the gate.  As the elders of the synagogue pleaded for him as worthy, the work of healing wrought for him would not alienate them or their followers.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers).

 

            15:25     Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”  She simply approached closer and begged him once again for assistance.  A good number of translations think “worshipped” overstates what is going on and that the connotation is simply that she bent down and fell on her knees to further beseech Him.  In either case, she is unquestionably honoring Him and has confidence that He can perform the healing if He wishes.  “Passionate certainty” at the very minimum.

            She does not seek assistance saying “Son of David, help me” because that carries the implication that both are Jewish.  She can plead for help on the ground that he is “Lord,” since His repeated healings of the diseased had proved that He was Lord over disease and death.  This was an honor she could give in full honesty. 

 

            15:26     But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”  In life one simply does not take the children’s food and throw it to the pets.  There is nothing in the context requiring Jesus to be using “dogs” as a derogatory epithet for Gentiles, though both she and He would have been well aware of the usage.  It was, rather, a description of family behavior that all ethnic communities recognized and practiced.  Hence nothing derogatory has to be intended. 

            (Although if she were haughty and full of pride, there was enough there to become indignant about if she wished.  Perhaps this is even the reason He used the expression--to see how she would react and find out whether she would be diverted from the search for healing.)

 

            15:27     And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”  Even in a household context, this desperate woman reminds Him, the animals are permitted to eat what falls to the floor.  Implied:  since it accidentally comes their way, they are permitted to partake.  In a similar manner, Jesus has happened to “accidentally” pass through where she was.  Wouldn’t it be equally appropriate for her to be granted His healing ability since it in no way violated or challenged the fact that His main ministry was targeted elsewhere?      

           

            15:28     Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith!  Let it be to you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed from that very hour.  This has sometimes been called “the argument Jesus lost.”  Yet if He had been convinced that Gentiles should never be healed, why did He not simply chase her away in the manner the apostles wanted?  But He had occasionally healed Gentiles--the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8 immediately comes to mind--so He refuses her in such a manner as to see whether she will provide Him a good reason for violating His normal course.  And His tolerance turns out to be well deserved for He is impressed by how deep and profound--how “great”-- is her faith. 

            And the daughter was blessed with healing that same hour as the result.  Even though she was not present with them--as is made explicit in the wording of the healing in Mark 7:30.

 

 

While Away from Populated Areas, Many Come to Be Healed and He Does So (Matthew 15:29-31):  29 When he left there, Jesus went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up a mountain, where he sat down.  30 Then large crowds came to him bringing with them the lame, blind, crippled, mute, and many others. They laid them at his feet, and he healed them.  31 As a result, the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing, and they praised the God of Israel.     --New English Translation (for comparison) 

 

 

            15:29     Jesus departed from there, skirted the Sea of Galilee, and went up on the mountain and sat down there.  Jesus’ travels next took Him back to the Sea of Galilee.  This time He did not cross it but went around the edge (where there were many villages and sizable towns near each other) and then into an unidentified mountain.  Any work He may have done in any of those communities goes unremarked upon as the narrator centers on the large number healed and the feeding of the thousands who had gone there to seek healing and to hear Him teach.   

 

            15:30     Then great multitudes came to Him, having with them the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others; and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them.  The ascending side provided him with a “pulpit”--so to speak--that was a bit above them and where the large crowd could easily hear Him speak and perform His healings.  We assume He spoke, though our text does not come out and say it, because it is hard to imagine His being around a large crowd who are interested in Him and His not saying anything! 

            What sticks out in the mind of writer, however, is not the teaching that was done that day but how the crowds brought with them varied types of injured and sick and how Jesus healed them all . . . and when the food was low fed them as well (15:32-39).  He did not perform a miracle but a large number of them . . . in the sight of those who came . . . and they could clearly see that those who came afflicted or injured walking away fully healed.

 

            15:31     So the multitude marveled when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.  The crowd obviously came hoping and expecting healing yet they still “marveled” at what they saw.  The pure variety was awesome.  Those unable to talk could now speak.  The injured were made whole.  Those who were lame could now walk normally.  Even the blind could now see with their eyes.  Not illnesses of the mind that one can be talked out of, but clear cut, tangible, visible afflictions where the existence of the problem was manifest to all--and its cure immediately obvious.  Especially among those who led them there ailing and took them away full bodied once again.

 

 

After Three Days with Him, the Crowd of Four Thousand Ran Out of Food and Jesus Miraculously Fed Them from the Tiny Amount that Was Available (Matthew 15:32-39):  32 Then Jesus called the disciples and said, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days and they have nothing to eat.  I don’t want to send them away hungry since they may faint on the way.”  33 The disciples said to him, “Where can we get enough bread in this desolate place to satisfy so great a crowd?”

34 Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They replied, “Seven—and a few small fish.”  35 After instructing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and after giving thanks, he broke them and began giving them to the disciples, who then gave them to the crowds.

37 They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full.  38 Not counting children and women, there were four thousand men who ate.  39 After sending away the crowd, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            15:32     Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat.  And I do not want to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”  Unlike the earlier feeding narrated in Matthew, this crowd came prepared.  They were with Him three days and only on that third day do we read of the food finally running out.  Yet even though the food must have been running low since the previous day, the crowd had so much interest in remaining with Jesus that it had not departed.  Seeing such faith, Jesus did not want to send them away on an empty stomach lest a combination of hunger and the tiredness of the journey cause them to “faint” on the way home (= collapse or be exhausted due to hunger).      

 

            15:33     Then His disciples said to Him, “Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?”  The disciples considered this a hopeless wish.  Where could they hope to find enough food for such a large crowd in such a (relatively) unpopulated area?  Even if they found a little, how could they possibly find enough? 

            Furthermore, Jesus did not make a habit of feeding those who came to hear Him; indeed, we read of only two cases and this is the second.  Hence they had no reason to suggest or anticipate another miraculous act.  They simply wanted to please Jesus but they saw no way they could do so.  That He would take care of the matter personally does not enter their minds.

            Sidebar:  Why doesn’t it enter their minds?--“The answers to that question may, perhaps, be grouped as follows:—(1.)  It is not easy for us to put ourselves in the position of men who witnessed, as they did, these workings of a supernatural might.  We think of the Power as inherent, and therefore permanent.  To them it might seem intermittent, a gift that came and went.  Their daily necessities had been supplied, before and after the great event, in the common way of gift or purchase.  The gathering of the fragments (Matthew 14:20; John 6:12) seemed to imply that they were not to rely on the repetition of the wonder.

            “(2.) The fact that three days had passed, and that hunger had been allowed to pass on to the borders of exhaustion, might well have led to think that the power was not to be exerted now.

            “(3.) Our Lord’s implied question—though, as before, He Himself ‘knew what He would do’ (John 6:6)—must have appeared to them to exclude the thought that He was about to make use again of that reserve of power which He had displayed before.  They would seem to themselves to be simply following in His footsteps when they answered His question as on the level which He Himself thus appeared to choose.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            15:34     Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?”  And they said, “Seven, and a few little fish.”  When Jesus probed as to how much food they had available, the answer was discouraging.  Not really enough for themselves, much less a very large crowd.

 

            15:35     So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.  Being seated was the logical thing to do if one were going to eat.  Furthermore it allowed them to observe what was going on and how Jesus visibly started with little but ended up with much.  In light of the large number of people, they were probably divided into groups of 50 and a 100, as in the case of the other mass feeding--assuming the geography of the site permitted it, of course.

 

            15:36     And He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude.  Giving “thanks” showed appreciation and honor to God for the food they were about to partake of.  Probably for this reason the Talmud speaks of how “he that enjoys anything without an act of thanksgiving is as one that robs the Almighty.” 

            Jesus breaking the loaves and fishes into pieces and the disciples passing them around showed them what was going on--and how nothing extra was added from other people.  It was not a “sermon of the word” but a “sermon of the act.”

 

            15:37     So they all ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets full of the fragments that were left.  Somehow the little that was begun with was turned into enough sustenance to provide food for all.  Not only did they get as much as they wanted to eat (they “were filled”), there were also seven baskets of food left over as remnants.

 

            15:38     Now those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children.  More males than any synagogue of the day could hold; only the great Temple in Jerusalem could have done it.  An unknown number of women and children were present as well—presumably women who wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see Jesus as well or having husbands who simply thought it “was the right thing to do” and offered them the opportunity.

 

            15:39     And He sent away the multitude, got into the boat, and came to the region of Magdala.  Having fed them so that they would be physically ready for their journey home, Jesus finally sent the crowd away.  Then he and the disciples boarded a boat and sailed to a different location on the Sea of Galilee.
            Sidebar on the weakness of efforts to make the feedings of the four and five thousand variant versions of only one occasion:  The notes of distinctness are however, too numerous to admit of that explanation.  The number of the people fed, their three days’ waiting till their food was exhausted, the number of the loaves at hand, and of the baskets in which the fragments were collected after the meal, are all different. 

            “More than this, the words rendered in both narratives by ‘basket’ in the Authorized version are not the same in the Greek.  Here the word is σπνρις (spuris),  the hamper in which provisions were packed as for a party traveling together, large enough, as in Paul’s escape from Damascus (Acts 9:25), to hold a man; while in the other it was the κόφινος (cophinus),or smaller basket, which a man carried in his hand. 

            “Lastly, our Lord’s words in Matthew 16:9-10, distinctly recognize the two miracles, and connect the close of each with the word which was thus specially appropriate to it. . . .

            “It is significant that here, as so often before, the display of miraculous power in its highest form originates not in answer to a challenge, or as being offered as a proof of a divine mission, but simply from compassion.  Three days had passed, and still the crowds hung on His words and waited for His loving acts, and now they began to show signs of exhaustion that moved His sympathy.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  

           

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

 

 

The One Miracle Jesus Was Willing to Perform for His Enemies Was One They Didn’t Want—His Own Resurrection (Matthew 16:1-4):  1 Now when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.  He said, “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be fair weather, because the sky is red,’and in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, because the sky is red and darkening.’  You know how to judge correctly the appearance of the sky, but you cannot evaluate the signs of the times.  A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”  Then he left them and went away.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            16:1     Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven.  These two groups differed on a number of points.  The Sadducees only recognized the Torah as religious authority, while the Pharisees accepted the entire Old Testament--the Law, the histories, the Psalms, the prophets.  The Sadducees were materialists who believed that when one died that was the end of existence; the Pharisees were convinced that there was an inner nature that survived death. 

            Despise such differences they both recognized in Jesus someone who, because of His popularity, was potentially deadly to their own influence.  So they decided to jointly challenge Jesus on a point they could agree on:  Let Him decisively prove His credentials by “a sign from heaven.”  Why that should be more conclusive than the various healings and exorcisms He had performed is not explained.  He had already done the “impossible;” why would doing something different that was also “impossible” improve the evidence at all? 

            Wouldn’t they just find something else to complain about?  They had previously claimed that Jesus cast out demons by the power of the Devil (Matthew 9:34; 12:24) and this made a certain degree of sense since demons would obviously be subject to the power of Beelzebub.  Would they not simply “discover”--at the very moment Jesus performed the demanded miracle--that demonic power was also capable of empowering things they had not previously considered?  Would they not be far more be ready to admit that their concept of Satanic power had been “far too narrow” than to ever admit they were flat out wrong in their evaluation of Jesus?

            Sidebar:  What phenomena might have temporarily met their criteria before they started making excuses that it didn’t “really” do so?  What they asked was a sign like Samuel’s thunder from the clear blue sky (1 Samuel 12:18), or Elijah’s fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:38); or, possibly, following the train of thought suggested by the discourse at Capernaum, now definitely asking, what they hinted then, for bread (John 6:30-31)--not multiplied on earth, but coming straight from heaven.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers) 

           

            16:2     He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’  Jesus begins with an implied compliment as to their astuteness:  You certainly aren’t dumb people!  And He demonstrates it with the non-controversial assertion that they could easily observe the condition of the sky and accurately predict that the next morning’s weather would be good.  (The appropriateness and power of the argument would be even greater if this teaching happened to be delivered in the early evening and they could currently observe these very conditions.)

 

            16:3     and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’  Hypocrites!  You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.  If the same physical phenomena occurred in the early hours of the day as had been seen the previous evening, their conclusion would be far different:  they could make a realistic prediction that there would be bad weather before the day was out.  Yet their reasoning ability--which was so manifest in regard to temporal things--was lost when it came to spiritual matters.  They could not look around them and see “the signs of the times.”  They wanted a sign, well there had already been signs:  Jesus’ abundant miracles.

            The label of “hypocrites” indicates that it was not a failure of intelligence on their part.  We would say, “they knew better”--they saw all the evidence that was needed but refused to let it have any impact upon them.  They refused to constructively use their intelligence.  It would be casting pearls before swine to give further external proofs to people without sympathy and not open to conviction.”  (Pulpit Commentary)

 

            16:4     A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”  And He left them and departed.  The problem lay not just within these two religious factions.  Jesus brands not only them but the culture at large as “a wicked and adulterous generation.”  In the Old Testament, such expressions typically refer to unfaithfulness to God in general rather than just to sexual unfaithfulness in particular and it may well have that connotation here.  (The two types of unfaithfulness commonly go together in any age, however!) 

            In light of their basic failure to be faithful to God, Jesus saw no need to provide them any special sign except one--one that would remind them of the experience of the prophet Jonah.  Read after the resurrection, the parallel between “entombment” in the sea beast and physical entombment after death would be obvious.  At the time spoken, it would only be heard as the promise of some spectacular but vague event that should be decisive evidence to them.  Note my use of “should be” rather than “would be.” 

 

 

The Dangerous “Leaven” the Pharisees and Sadducees Used Was Not for Their Bread But Buried in Their Erroneous Doctrine (Matthew 16:5-12):  When the disciples went to the other side, they forgot to take bread.  “Watch out,” Jesus said to them, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  So they began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “It is because we brought no bread.”

When Jesus learned of this, he said, “You who have such little faith!  Why are you arguing among yourselves about having no bread?  Do you still not understand?  Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up?  10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand and how many baskets you took up?  11 How could you not understand that I was not speaking to you about bread?  But beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!”  12 Then they understood that he had not told them to be on guard against the yeast in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.    --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            16:5     Now when His disciples had come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread.  Jesus and the apostles are still at the Sea of Galilee and are now going to another location on the opposite side of the giant lake.  Being human and subject to the normal failures of memory, the apostles had overlooked taking food.  In our own busy lives, which of us has not done something similar?

            Sidebar:  In Mark’s account, they only had “one loaf” (8:13), which translates into “no bread” when you have a traveling party of twelve apostles plus Jesus.  Even in Mark, the apostles translate this into “we have no bread” (8:16)--the same point made here in Matthew.

 

            16:6     Then Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.”  Their forgetfulness is mentioned because it serves as a jumping off point for a spiritual lesson:  Jesus throws at them the odd instruction that they should note and avoid the “leaven” belonging to the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Ultimately they recognize that Jesus has in mind their “doctrine” (verse 12). 

            Like leaven, their erroneous premises and conclusions had a corroding influence on other teaching.  It encouraged them to “fine polish” the supposed implications of texts in such a manner that the literal letter of a law was not rejected but its clear intent was.  (Consider how they accepted the principle of honoring parents, but found “creative” ways of avoiding it when they wished--Matthew 15:3-9.)

 

            16:7     And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have taken no bread.”  Bouncing among themselves Jesus’ strange remark, they at first think it has something to do with their having not remembered bread.  Since “leaven” was used to make bread, it is a natural connection, but they don't stop to think what possible connection might it have to do with the Pharisees and Sadducees in particular?  Especially since it is said that they had “forgotten” to take care of the matter (verse 5) rather than having made a conscious decision not to buy bread approved/rejected by the Pharisees.    
            Sidebar:  “It is no small proof of the good faith and consequent truth of the gospel, that the apostles should have recorded things so against themselves as this account.  If they had written for any purpose except the simple exhibition of the truth, they could easily have suppressed facts such as this, so very discreditable to their spiritual, indeed to their mental, perception.”  (Sadler as quoted by the Pulpit Commentary)

 

            16:8     But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves because you have brought no bread?  Recognizing what they were discussing among themselves, He challenged them as to why their minds were thinking in such physical terms.  It actually manifested how “little faith” they had that they had so widely missed the point.  After all, whether Jesus somehow provided the food, directed them to where it could be found, or they simply missed a meal or two . . . they would still survive.  They needed to have the faith that things would ultimately work out; they had too little of it.  Not to mention inadequate faith to perceptively analyze the meaning of whatever the Lord said.

 

            16:9     Do you not yet understand, or remember the five loaves of the five thousand and how many baskets you took up?  The apostles are manifesting a two-fold failure:  First, don’t they remember the feeding of the five thousand and how much bread was left over?  In other words, if worse came to worse Jesus was fully capable of remedying the current situation Himself.  This event wasn’t many years back, but was relatively recently.

            Secondly, they did “not yet understand”--grasp, comprehend--the implications of what Jesus did and said.  There were principles being laid down that they needed to look for and embrace and not just remember the mere exterior form of the words and actions.

 

            16:10     Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand and how many large baskets you took up?  If they had not learned the needed lessons from one incident of feeding a multitude, hadn’t something similar happened on two different occasions? And yet the significance of what this demonstrated of Jesus’ power had still not fully penetrated their minds.

 

            16:11     How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”  Since Jesus had been able to assure that they had plenty of physical bread to eat if circumstances truly demanded it, why were they making the mistake of thinking that He had to be speaking of literal leaven at all?  He had rebuked the Pharisees repeatedly for their twisted doctrine and their demanding standards the scriptures never imposed.  Wasn’t “leaven” a highly appropriate metaphor/euphemism for this mind frame?  Literal leaven expanded out until the entire loaf was altered; with these men, their principles similarly “spread out” demanding ever more than what Divine law actually required--until virtually all of Judaism seemed to be altered . . . if you allowed them to have their way.

 

            16:12     Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  It was at this point that they finally recognized that it was the doctrine and teaching of the two groups that Jesus had in mind.  In bread leaven causes an expansion of the dough; in religious doctrine it causes the original Biblical doctrine to be expanded far beyond anything God ever intended.  (Paradoxically in some cases, to be restricted far beyond anything God ever intended as well.)

            Here the leaven is identified as “doctrine;” in Luke 12:1 it is called self-serving “hypocrisy.”  The latter branded them as sinners; the former encouraged others to embrace their twisted concepts--making them sinners on that score as well . . . by causing both themselves and others to stumble away from the true teaching of God. 

 

 

The Apostle Peter Avows to Jesus That He Is the Promised Messiah and Jesus Affirms That Is the Truth, But Warns That This Must Not be Shared with Others—Because the Concept Was So Easily Bent into Something Not Intended (Matthew 16:13-20):  13 When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  14 They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!  18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.  19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”  20 Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            16:13      When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”  The remark in Ellicott's Commentary on the setting of this part of the ministry seems particularly worth including:

 

                        The order of the journeyings of our Lord and His disciples would seem to          have been as follows:—From the coasts of Tyre and Sidon they came, passing through Sidon, to the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 7:31); thence by            ship to Magdala and Dalmanutha, on the western shore (Matthew 15:29; Mark             8:10); thence, again crossing the lake (Mark 8:13), to the eastern Bethsaida (Mark      8:22); thence to Cæsarea Philippi.  There is in all these movements an obvious         withdrawal from the populous cities which had been the scene of His earlier             labors, and which had practically rejected Him and cast in their lot with His        enemies.  This last journey took them to a district which He had apparently never           before visited, and to which He now came, it would seem, not as a Preacher of the             kingdom, but simply for retirement and perhaps for safety.        

 

            We are given no hint of where in the region surrounding the city of Caesarea Philippi--which was located at the bottom of Mount Lebanon--that Jesus challenged His apostles as to what popular opinion was thinking about Him:  “Who” was the “Son of Man” in their eyes?   This was, of course, a logical question and how they responded would shape what He would say next.  

 

            16:14     So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  Opinion was very divided.  Some thought John the Baptist, indicating that Herod the tetrarch was not the only person who equated the two (14:1-2).  Others thought Jesus was some Old Testament prophet brought back with a message for the new age.  Some suspected Elijah or Jeremiah in particular.  Each, in their own way, was quite complimentary for each of them acknowledged that He either was the subject of prophecy (John the Baptist) or a prophet himself (the rest of the list). 

            Furthermore, as to Jeremiah, in the Hebrew canon Jeremiah was the first of the prophetic writings and was, in that arrangement, “first” of the prophets just as Jesus was pre-eminent over all religious teachers of His time.  The apocryphal 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 speaks of how in Messianic times the “the tent and the ark and the alter of incense” that Jeremiah had hidden away would be brought forth for use.  The much later 2 Esdras (written after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) speaks of both Elijah and Jeremiah returning as precursors of the Messianic age (2:18), presumably reflecting ideas from earlier.              

            As to Elijah, he escaped physical death because he “went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11).  Hence if Jesus were him, He would be returned directly to heaven at the appropriate time.  Furthermore Malachi 4:5 speaks of how God would “send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5).  Jesus had insisted that this was fulfilled in John the Baptist (Matthew 11:13-14 and 17:10-13).  Many might easily see Jesus in that highly important role of precursor since it was obvious that He “couldn’t” be the Messiah since He was not the conquering warrior they assumed the Messiah would be.

 

            16:15     He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Other people’s opinion was interesting and significant as far as it went.  But the more important question was how did they themselves identify Jesus?  They had seen so much of Him for so long.  Heard His teaching both public and private.  Did they understand the truth on this core question?    

 

            16:16     Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Peter answered that Jesus was both the Anointed One (the meaning of “Christ;” i.e. the specially appointed One) and also “the Son of the living God.”  Hence he accepts that the Messiah is one having a unique “sonship” relationship with the father that no one else has. 

            Instead of defining the Messiah in political terms (as a mere temporal leader), the Messiah is defined in terms of His one-of-a-kind relationship to Jehovah.  Peter may have wanted a warrior Messiah but he knew that he had a Messiah with a unique tie with the heavenly Father.  Whether this conformed to personal preferences or not, for this he would still be grateful.

 

            16:17     Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  Peter's conviction was not a mere deduction on the part of the apostle.  Nor was it something others had taught him--“flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.”  It had, instead, been “revealed” to him by the Father.  This is most likely a reference to a direct revelation, but many take it is an indirect revelation made through the manifold miraculous actions of Jesus during the ministry.

            The passage also tells us something about the nature of the Father:  “Flesh and blood” had not told Peter this but the Father instead:  note that the idea of a fleshly heavenly Father is ruled out by the contrast, contrary to the theories of some.

 

            16:18     And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.  On the solid rock of the fact that Jesus was Messiah and Son of God (verse 16) the church community of faith would be built.  This was such a powerful proposition that the church Jesus would build upon it would never be conquered by the power of even death (“the gates of Hades”).  Some make the text refer to the confession as the rock:  but it was not the confession that provided rock solid strength but the fact that what was being confessed was absolutely true. 

            Likewise others prefer to think of Peter as the foundation rock but unless the church were ultimately built upon someone beyond the mortal, even Peter’s strengths and virtues would have been far from adequate for the church to conquer death.  Furthermore wouldn’t there be something inherent ludicrous in deity incarnated in flesh and blood building the church on a mere human when the Builder is far, far more?

 

            16:19     And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  Peter (like the other apostles, Matthew 18:18) was given the power to bind and loose within this earthly kingdom that was described as the “church” in the preceding verse.  Whatever he required would be required of the disciples; whatever he permitted would be permitted.  As the beneficiary of Divine revelation (as we saw in verse 17), such a power would be safe with Peter--unlike uninspired mortals who could only rely upon their own unaided insight.

            The holder of the “keys” of a major or royal household was the highest authority within it except the owner or the king and was responsible for the effective functioning of it on a day to day basis--whether the owner/regent was personally present or not.  His decision was both authoritative as well as binding and final.  This can be seen in the use of the imagery in other passages:  The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open.”  (Isaiah 22:22).  “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens” ’ ” (Revelation 3:7). 

 

            16:20     Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ.  That He was the “Christ” (= Messiah),  is an identification Jesus has clearly embraced.  But He cautioned--indeed, insisted--that His apostles not share this yet with anyone else.  The political concept of Messiahship dominated contemporary popular thinking.  Using the description indiscriminately could only lead to misunderstandings that would alienate both the masses and the political rulers--the masses because He was not going to lead a political revolution and the political leaders out of fear that He was lying or would reverse course under pressure.

            Furthermore, they were men of their own era just as we are people of our own time:  certain words and idioms carry certain connotations.  And they simply weren’t ready to effectively present and argue for the idea of a spiritual kingdom.  They were caught between acknowledgment of Jesus as supremely authoritative and the traditional assumption that the coming king would be politically and militarily authoritative as well. 

 

 

So Far Was Jesus From the Popular Image of the Messiah As a Conquering Temporal King, That What He Would Conquer Would Be Death Itself (16:21-23):  21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!”  23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

   

 

            16:21     From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.  Surely to counterbalance their misunderstanding of what it meant to be the Messiah, Jesus now began to stress in His private teaching the certainty of His coming death.  Yes, He is the long predicted Messiah, but His fate is going to be tremendously different that what is popularly taught:  Instead of a hero's march into Jerusalem and a military conquest of the land, He would be rejected in Jerusalem and “suffer” because of the religious leadership of the day.  As the result He would be killed, but He would conquer even death itself on the third day.  Chains might bind Him; death might embrace Him--but neither more than briefly.

            The prominence given to the prediction shows that it came upon the minds of the disciples as something altogether new.  They had failed to understand the mysterious hints of the future which we find in, ‘Destroy this temple’ (John 2:19), in the Son of Man being ‘lifted up’ (John 3:14), in the sign of the prophet ‘Jonah’ (Matthew 12:39; Matthew 16:4).  Now the veil is uplifted, and the order of events is plainly foretold—the entry into Jerusalem, the rejection, the condemnation, the death, the resurrection.  It is obvious that if we accept the record as true the prediction is one which implies a foreknowledge that is at least supernatural, and is so far evidence of a divine mission, if not also of a divine nature in the speaker.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers).

 

            16:22     Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!”  Impetuous Peter would have none of this.  He demanded that it not happen . . . which implies that it was either within his own personal power (and that of the apostles) to prevent . . . or within the capacity of the Lord Himself.  Actually it was within the power of the Lord to do exactly that, but it was not part of the Divine scheme that it be done.  The Divine plan of things demanded His own sacrifice however painful and publicly humiliating it might be.

            The one good thing that can be said is that “Peter took Him aside,” it wasn’t done in front of the entire group.  Perhaps the apostle did not want to “publicly” embarrass Jesus.  Perhaps he was convinced that if he could just get the Lord aside for a few minutes, he could talk Him out of this insane view of the future.  After all, if He had cast out demons, He surely had the clout to stop priestly efforts to murder Him!     

 

            16:23     But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan!  You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  The advice Peter gave was that which Satan would give (Matthew 4:1-11):  don’t do it the hard way God planned; find a easier way to replace it with.  Hence Jesus vividly rebuked Peter with the words (perhaps we would not err if we refer to it as an insult--but a fully deserved one), “Get behind Me, Satan!”  The root problem was that he was set on the preferences of humankind and did not have his mind on what God had determined was best.

 

 

Jesus Warns That Just As He Suffered, His Disciples Would Have Serious Hardships As Well (Matthew 16:24-28):  24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  26 For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life?  Or what can a person give in exchange for his life?  27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.  28 I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            16:24     Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  Although the manner of Jesus’ death had not been specified by Him, a legal execution would require the participation of the Romans and their method of punishment was crucifixion.  Hence it was natural to take up that image of crucifixion to describe the self-sacrifice that all disciples must make.  If one wishes to follow Jesus, one must, in a similar manner, carry whatever his or her personal “cross” might be:  opposition by loved ones?  physical retribution?  rejection?  the varieties are endless.

            Sidebar:  Jesus had earlier used this same imagery in Matthew 10:38.  Here it is used of being willing to die if necessary (verse 25).  In Matthew 10:34-39 it is used of enduring hatred from one’s own close kin.

 

            16:25     For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  This path of suffering is not self-destructive, though it may sound such at first.  The person who is so preoccupied with avoiding death will surely perish (in eternity) while anyone who perishes (in this world) out of loyalty to Christ will actually gain a future existence that this world can not offer. 

            A paradox of which priority will actually most benefit the individual!  The immediate response of short term gain (escaping an early death) is not the right answer.  Careful thought would produce acceptance of the possibility of unjustified death.  The first benefits in the short term only; the latter the long term.  

 

            16:26     For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  One might fantasize gaining control over the entire world, but even if one could actually do that, of what real value is it when one must still eventually die and face the loss of one’s inner soul?  What is worth trading one’s soul for?

            Sidebar:  The Greek word translated ‘life’ in the preceding verse is here translated ‘soul,’ which is life in its highest phase.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

 

            16:27     For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.  Jesus has spoken of how He would die and be resurrected (verse 21).  Here He speaks of returning with His angels, implying that there will be a time when He will still be alive but not on earth.  The time of His heavenly reign. 

            When the time comes for His second coming, rewards will be given out.  The standard, however, will be one’s “works” (= behavior, conduct, actions).  Here we find the conceptual root of James’ teaching (James 2) that faith is of no redemptive value unless it is accompanied by “works” produced by faith.

 

            16:28     “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.”  Fitting verses 27 and 28 together has been a real challenge for commentators.  It has been read by a goodly number as asserting that Jesus would establish His kingdom at His second (and still future) return.  However the Lord specifies that “some standing here” would see the kingdom come and unless there are a number of millenniumarians alive, that language rules out the interpretation. 

            If the first preaching of the resurrected Christ on Pentecost is under consideration, one would expect “many” and not “some” as being the number alive since that preaching was in the near future. 

            The triumph of Christ’s kingdom over the temporal religious kingdom of Judaism (dominated by the Pharisees and Sadducees) could be the point if the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 is under consideration.  But if that is the case, then one must decide what the “rewards” of verse 27 actually are.  Outlasting temporal Judaism and proving that its insistence upon a physical temple in Jerusalem was no longer needed?  And how would that be a reward for one’s individual “works?”   

            Some make the text refer to the Transfiguration that happened only six days later (17:1), but was it realistic to speak of anyone among His apostles or disciples dying in that narrow a time frame?  Furthermore it was a vision of the King not the kingdom--and its not a vision but the reality of the kingdom that is promised here.

            Finally, some disassociate the two verses entirely, seeing both verses expressing profound truths but not profound truths about the same event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

 

 

Jesus’ Appearance Brightly Transformed As He Talks at Night with Moses and Elijah (Matthew 17:1-13):  1 Six days later Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them privately up a high mountain.  And he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.  Then Moses and Elijah also appeared before them, talking with him.

So Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.  If you want, I will make three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight.  Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they were overwhelmed with fear and threw themselves down with their faces to the ground.  But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said.  “Do not be afraid.”  When they looked up, all they saw was Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Do not tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”  10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the experts in the law say that Elijah must come first?”  11 He answered, “Elijah does indeed come first and will restore all things.  12 And I tell you that Elijah has already come.  Yet they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wanted.  In the same way, the Son of Man will suffer at their hands.”  13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            17:1     Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves.  A week after the conversation at the end of the previous chapter, Jesus took his inner group of apostles apart from all the others--should, we perhaps, call them the core cadre or simply, as in all relationships within a group, those He simply felt more comfortable around . . .  or the most loyal of the loyal?  Were the three the most spiritually advanced of the larger group? 

            Perhaps the number was, in part, prudential.  What was going to happen was unprecedented in splendor and the fewer individuals involved, the easier to keep a “handle” on any excess enthusiasm.  As several other times in this gospel, what happens occurs on a mountain. 

            Sidebar:  As early as the fourth century, Mount Tabor was identified as the site but even centuries earlier there was a town on its side (1 Chronicles 6:77) and the site continued to be utilized through the time of Jesus.  Hence it seems unlikely that there was a place sufficiently private to keep this event sufficiently unobserved.

            Peter later remembered with continued awe what he had beheld that night:

 

                        16 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.  (2 Peter 1)    

 

            17:2     and He was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.  Alone with the three, Jesus’ appearance and clothes were transformed into a brightness that glowed as white as the light of the sun.  Just as facing a large crowd of the sick and everyone is promptly healed as each comes to Him, likewise we read here of a phenomena that neither chance nor the non-miraculous can hope to explain.  Some have ventured to suggest that this describes not so much a miracle done to the Lord as an unmasking of what He really was like in His essence and nature.  For a time they are permitted to see that and not just His mere human form. 

            Sidebar:  The closest parallel we have to this phenomena is the temporary appearance of Moses’ face alone when he came down from Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:29-30).

 

            17:3     And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.  We aren't told how they knew who these were; most likely from the conversation that went on.  These were a very appropriate twosome to represent faithfulness to God’s law prior to Jesus:  Moses as lawgiver and Elijah whose prophetic office was to call everyone back to observance of that law.  Jesus, as the new Moses, was in the process of sharing His own Law--one that would not be for merely one ethnicity but for all humanity scattered throughout the world.

            Matthew doesn’t tell us what they were talking about and the visual sight must have been so overwhelming that the subject matter was ignored in the immediate awe of the moment.  Although Luke (9:31) tells us that the subject was His coming death in Jerusalem, that is an irrelevance when compared with their understandable desire to continue the phenomena they are observing. 

 

            17:4     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.”  This kind of manifestation was not what one would expect and doubtless the apostles could barely believe what they were seeing.  In an effort to prolong the experience, Peter suggests that they build three huts (“tabernacles”) so that all three could remain and prolong their stay together.  If they had learned much from Jesus, how much more might they learn when the situation is enhanced by the presence of these two other heroic figures!  He doesn’t even hint of constructing anything for the three apostles themselves; they are mere servants for whom the only physical “comfort” they need is the honor of being in such exemplary company.   

 

            17:5     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!”  While Peter was presenting his recommendation, a bright cloud hid the three from the apostles--alarming in its own right of course.  Here they were seeing this unprecedented sight and it was going to be taken from them before they had a chance to investigate the entire situation!  Before they even think to protest, out of the cloud came a voice proclaiming three important messages:

            (1) “this is My beloved Son,” indicating Jesus’ specialness and difference from all others;

            (2) “in whom I am well pleased,” indicating that Jesus’ message and behavior was fully endorsed by God;

            (3) “hear Him,” indicating that Jesus was to be accepted as authoritative in preference to all others, including the Moses and Elijah to whom He had been speaking.  

             

            17:6     And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.  Until the cloud overshadowed the three, the experience had been awesome.  But with this kind of heavenly verbal manifestation it now became frightening and the apostles did the only natural thing--fell to the ground in fearful foreboding.  They did not--could not--fully grasp what was happening, but they could tell that raw power on a vast scale had been unleashed in front of their faces.

 

            17:7     But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”  To get their attention, Jesus touched each of them and told them to get up.  After all, there was no need to fear.  The touch also assured them that the situation was objectively quite real; it had not been some mere passing psychiatric delusion.  Jesus knew what they had seen and did not want them to remember it in terror but as an event whose memory should be honored:  Visually overwhelming as it was, there was still no reason to be terrorized by it.  As in the case of the prophetic vision later given to John, the touch of Jesus was intended to reaffirm the message to “fear not” (Revelation 1:17). 

 

            17:8     When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.  When they dared look up at all they saw only Jesus, thereby showing that the words of praise they had heard had been directed toward Him and not either of the others.  They had known that Jesus was great, but now they have learned that His greatness far surpasses even their greatest imagination.  

 

            17:9     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.”  Was this objectively real--could they have actually touched and hugged the two great figures from the Old Testament if they had dared?  The text can easily be read as representing rather than being objective reality.  They had received the tangible manifestation of what no one in the flesh could normally expect to behold—a “vision” of realities beyond the flesh. This was a “visionary experience” that they were to share with no one until after the resurrection, insisted Jesus.

If the text be taken this way, it still provides an invaluable lesson about the reliability of the apostolic testimony.  The labeling of this as such would show that the apostles were fully aware of the difference between literal reality and the subjective reality of a “vision.”  Nor was Matthew unwilling to use the term when it best described what had happened.  When he, therefore, narrates various events as if they were literal, external events of “real history” we must assume that is exactly the way he intended for us to take them. 

Even so, a direct literalness seems more likely for that is the impression one would get from the two parallel accounts where the word “vision” is conspicuously not used (Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36).  We would be faced with explaining why the other two--Mark recording what Peter had seen and Luke recording what he had learned from multiple sources--did not use similar language. 

Hence the use of the term “vision” doesn't refer to non-literalness of the phenomena but simply reflects the fact that literal heavenly realities are being manifested on earth.  They are being permitted to behold a sight that would normally never be available to them--being provided visual and personal sight of what they would normally never encounter on this earth.  God has shown the “heavenly” to them where they could see it for themselves within not much more than literal arm’s reach.

Sidebar:  But why tell no one, which would include the other apostles?  The Pulpit Commentary reasonably suggests, “Possibly these would hardly have believed the marvelous tale, and their unbelief would have hardened their heart; or, if they fully credited it, they might have been jealous of the preference shown to some of their company.  At any rate, neither they nor others were prepared to receive the great lesson of the scene--that the old covenant had done its work, that the Law and the prophets were superseded and must make way for the new dispensation.  Had the story been divulged to the people generally, they would have stumbled at the cross and Passion, which would seem no fitting sequel to this glory.”  In other words, there was nothing yet to be gained for their cause by sharing the report.

 

            17:10     And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”  The appearance of Elijah opened the door to the logical question of why the “scribes” taught what they did about the his return (as spoken of in Malachi 4:5).  Was what they had seen the fulfillment of this anticipation?  If so, why had he disappeared?  Did he not have yet more work to do?

            Or was something even more dramatic intended:  If the “Son of Man” was to rise from the dead, was Elijah to come back from the dead as well at that time and minister among the people for a period of--years?  more? 

           

            17:11     Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.  The scribal assumption that a “literal,” temporal manifestation was to occur was quite valid--though as we quickly learn it didn't take the form they were expecting.  The purpose of the coming was to “restore all things” and get the people back to their dedication to the Torah and Divine service.  He would encourage the masses to renewed faithfulness to God and His will.  John the Baptizer’s call for “repentance” called for them to do this--not just wear a veneer of religion, but to be of the highest character in behavior and conduct.

 

            17:12     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.”   Although the predicted one was going to perform an Elijah like function and would be an actual human being as well, it would not be Elijah himself.  Hence the predicted Elijah had already come and had been abused.  In a similar manner Jesus Himself would “suffer” at their hands as well.  In both cases the leaders of religious opinion refused to change in spite of his teaching.  In both cases, a Roman appointed / approved official carried out the death penalty.  So there was both psychological and physical suffering that the two both underwent.

 

            17:13     Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.   They quickly realized that there was a contemporary who would match Jesus' description--that Elijah was a euphemism for John the Baptist.  Hence the scribes turned out to be right in their theory (that Elijah would come) but wrong in their interpretation (that made it Elijah himself rather than an Elijah-like individual).  And even if it had been the literal Elijah, does anyone really believe that they would have been anymore willing to embrace his doctrine? 

 

 

Jesus Casts Out a Demon that Was Causing Epilepsy When His Disciples Could Not (Matthew 17:14-21):  14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, 15 and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, because he has seizures and suffers terribly, for he often falls into the fire and into the water.  16 I brought him to your disciples, but they were not able to heal him.”  17 Jesus answered, “You unbelieving and perverse generation!  How much longer must I be with you?  How much longer must I endure you?  Bring him here to me.”  18 Then Jesus rebuked the demon and it came out of him, and the boy was healed from that moment.  19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?”  20 He told them, “It was because of your little faith.  I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.”  [On grounds of lack of adequate manuscript evidence (which is available in the Markian parallel) it leaves out:]   21 But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”      --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            17:14     And when they had come to the multitude, a man came to Him, kneeling down to Him and saying.  In several texts we read of a multitude seeking out Jesus, either to hear Him or to be healed or both.  This is one of the rare cases when we read of Jesus approaching the multitude rather than vice versa.  The reason for this is that Jesus had left the rest of the apostles behind when He and Peter, James, and John, ascended the mountain for the night.  Presumably word had spread that Jesus was there or nearby.  The presence of the other apostles gave them every reason to stay since, quicker rather than later, He would surely rejoin the main group.  One man in particular is singled out since he will be involved in what happens next.

 

            17:15     “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.  Described as demon-possessed in verse 18, we find here that the demon inflicted a dangerous physical affliction upon the son as well:  frequent and unexpected collapses and losses of bodily control.  The affliction is literally “lunatic,” but that term nowadays carries the overtone of insanity and that was clearly not the problem.  Hence the son is often described as “having seizures” or having “epilepsy” in various translations.

            This was bad enough in itself.  But the demon also exercised its destructive course by causing uncontrollable physical manifestations at times when it could do the most danger to physical survival:  it made him often collapse into whatever was nearby--into the fire (which would cause burns) and into water (which would risk drowning).

 

            17:16     So I brought him to Your disciples, but they could not cure him.”  This had to have disappointed both father and son.  Not to mention the apostles themselves since they had been blessed by Christ with the ability to perform miracles  on their own when they were sent out under the limited preaching commission in Matthew 10:1.  On the other hand, under what limitations and restrictions this power was granted or maintained afterwards we are not informed.  It may have been a temporary blessing just for that earlier period and to give them confidence for later when the power would be their’s on a permanent basis. 

            In light of their question on why their healing efforts had “failed” (verses 19-20), the implication seems that they thought they still had that power and were puzzled why it had not functioned.  Even if nothing formal had been promised them, it is easy to imagine them making the effort because of those earlier successes or out of normal human sympathy.  In the parallel account in Mark 9:14 we read of the “scribes disputing with them” and this could refer to either the reason they attempted the healing in the first place, mockery afterwards, or to both.

            We have no idea how the apostles would have explained the situation to their Lord, but we can tell, since the father was still seeking assistance, that he was clearly working with the understandable assumption, “If the disciples can't do it, surely their master can!” 

 

            17:17     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.”  Jesus was thoroughly exasperated, not with the man but with things in general.  He spoke of the current “faithless and perverse generation”--it was not just one person or this incident alone, but the ongoing characteristics of people at large among whom He preached and taught.  They were “faithless” in that they did not obey God as they should and did not believe that God could intervene on their behalf.  They were “perverse”--bent, twisted--in finding ways to justify whatever evil they preferred and in finding excuses to reject Jesus. 

            But since the failure of His own apostles has brought forth this criticism, they too are surely included as well.  He had every reason to be exasperated and to wonder how long He would have to put up with such blindness.

 

            17:18     And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour.  As soon as Jesus spoke, the child was immediately sound in body because the cause of his problem had, literally, been cast out.  In certain earlier cases we have physical disease distinguished from demon possession.  In this case, though, the physical condition was demonically produced.  By removing the demon, the side-effect of physical affliction was eliminated as well.  Note also the immediacy of the cure:  “from that very hour.”  No delay at all.

 

            17:19     Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?”  Jesus’ apostles were embarrassed.  They had failed and Jesus had quickly succeeded.  Why had they been such failures?  Since this was not exactly the kind of problem they would want to mention in public, they waited until they could raise the matter with Jesus when He was alone.

 

            17:20     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.  In contrast to supposed healers of today, Jesus laid the fault exclusively upon the shoulders of those attempting the healing.  It was their “unbelief” that had caused their failure.  In hyperbolic exaggeration to rebuke the inadequacy of their faith, He stressed that if they had a faith as small as a “mustard seed” they would be able to order mountains to move from one place to another.      

            When we recognize that Jesus was attempting to convey the meagerness of their faith, we understand that Jesus was not intending for the moving of mountains to be taken literally.  Just as the dismissal of their faith as smaller than that of a mustard seed had been an exaggeration in the opposite direction.  Both images are used to convey the point of how much further they had to grow in their trust and confidence and how much they could produce when they reached the ideal level.

            The core point is the vastly disproportionate difference between meager roots and vast reward.  Jesus also invokes this kind of contrast when he speaks of how “the least (smallest, ESV) of all the seeds” is the mustard seed but out of it can grow a virtual “tree” so large that even birds can find a place in it to rest (Matthew 13:31-32). 

 

            17:21     However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.”  Modern “critical” texts typically leave out the addition about the only means by which this type of demon could be removed.  On its own merits the omission makes a great deal of sense:  Although Jesus is rarely mentioned as praying when healing, the brevity of such prayers could easily have led to an omission of explicit reference to them.  On the other hand, “fasting” implies a period of many hours or even a day or days beforehand and none of the miracles narrated in the gospels suggest anything but a process that took seconds or minutes to complete. 

            If this verse is talking exclusively about the apostle’s exorcism techniques, it is strange that the requirement is not mentioned in connection with their preaching tour under the limited commission.  Especially since the apostles were well known for their lack of fasting (Matthew 9:14).  

            “This kind” implies that demons came in various degrees of power and strength and some were comparatively “easier” to exorcise than others.  Only the Lord could speak to all demons and know they would immediately obey.

 

 

His Disciples Discouraged by Jesus’ Repeated Warning That He Will Be Killed (Matthew 17:22-23):  22 When they gathered together in Galilee, Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.  23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.”  And they became greatly distressed.     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            17:22     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.  Here in Galilee, Jesus was beyond the reach of His most dangerous foes--the religious establishment of Jerusalem and the Pharisaic movement in that surrounding region.  Perhaps it is for this reason, while they are in relative safety, that Jesus raises once again the certainty that He will be “betrayed” and arrested.  The reality of current safety, however, did not alter His ultimate destiny.  He knew what He “was walking into;” He would not be taken unawares.  And He needed to prepare them for it as well .  

 

            17:23     and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.”  And they were exceedingly sorrowful.  Being arrested would have been bad enough--the ancient world never specialized in “gentle” arrests and confinement--and it would not be followed by release, but His death.  They needed to recognize that this would never be the end of things however.  So He speaks the words of reassurance that He would inevitably be raised again--not at the “final day” (as the rest of the human race) but in only three days. 

            One wonders whether they even heard the part about “the third day.”  Oh they heard the words, surely--but they did not pay attention or comprehend the significance of the words.  If they had, their sorrow would surely have been extremely modulated with a clear cut joy that the triumph of death would quickly be overcome.

 

 

Though the Messiah, Even Jesus Pays Taxes (Matthew 17:24-27):  24 After they arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Your teacher pays the double drachma tax, doesn’t he?”  25 He said, “Yes.”  When Peter came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, “What do you think, Simon?  From whom do earthly kings collect tolls or taxes—from their sons or from foreigners?”  26 After he said, “From foreigners,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.  27 But so that we don’t offend them, go to the lake and throw out a hook.  Take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth, you will find a four drachma coin.  Take that and give it to them for me and you.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)

 

 

            17:24     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?”  This was the annual payment to support the Temple that was even considered due from Jews in other parts of the Roman Empire as well.  If the tax got to Jerusalem from even Rome without a personal delivery, it certainly could from Galilee--and the means for this was a local collector whose responsibility was clearly to make sure everyone paid.

            Hence if you wished to find something to criticize Him on, it was worth the effort:  He hasn’t done it yet!  After all, arguing from Biblical interpretation against Him hadn't done any good.  Furthermore, as the man responsible for receiving the temple tax, the temple officer had a legitimate personal reason to make the enquiry regardless of any anti-Jesus bias on his own part.

            Sidebar:  The broader context of the challenge--“The three great festivals of the Jewish year were recognized as proper times for payment; and the relation of this narrative to John 7 makes it probable that the collectors were now calling in for the Feast of Tabernacles the payments that had not been made at the Passover or Pentecost previous.  Their question implies that they half-thought that the Prophet of Nazareth had evaded or would disclaim payment.  They were looking out for another transgression of the law, and as soon as He entered Capernaum (though He still held aloof from any public ministry), they tracked Him, probably to Peter’s house, and put the question to His disciple.  The narrative is remarkable both in itself and as found only in St. Matthew.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)

 

            17:25     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?”  Peter’s response in the affirmative to the question of the preceding verse shows that the apostle takes it for granted that Jesus will have no objection.  Indeed the only logical explanation for that assumption would seem to be that He was well known among the apostles for having done so in the past.

            Approaching Jesus inside the residence where He was staying, Peter does not even have time to raise the matter before Jesus responds with the query of who pays taxes:  the sons of the king or those who are not kin?  This unexpected question--on a seemingly irrelevant subject--must have puzzled him considerably, but not enough to keep him from giving the obvious response.  

 

            17:26     Peter said to Him, “From strangers.”  Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free.  In the real world of ancient monarchy, of course, the non-relatives paid the taxes.  Jesus concurred and noted that “the sons are free” from this burden.  The language chosen implies His own kingship and that the apostles are the equivalent of His sons--remember the earlier admonition in Matthew 12:46-50 that those who obey God are all His brothers and sisters?  Properly speaking, if money was going to be given in either direction, it should be coming to Jesus rather than being given by Jesus to someone else.               

 

            17:27     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.”  There is a profound difference between having abstract rights and whether it is worth entering into a confrontation over them.  Sometimes it is better to go along with popular expectation than to stir up needless strife in enforcing our rights.  Jesus chooses the latter, ordering Peter to go fishing.  He will catch a fish with the money in its mouth to pay the tax for both of them.  This way the tax itself gets paid but the money does not come from those who had no obligation to pay it in the first place.  A beautiful paradox.

            Sidebar on the temple tax:  The scriptural root of taking up a collection was argued from Exodus 30:13-16 and 2 Chronicles 24:4-11.  Since the needs of the temple were ongoing, it was not unnatural to make it annual--something not explicitly provided for or enjoined in the originating Exodus text.  It is made so in 2 Chronicles 24:5;  Go out to the cities of Judah, and gather from all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year, and see that you do it quickly.” 

            Was this contribution voluntary or involuntary?  By the time of Jesus the Pharisees had pushed through the Sanhedrin agreement that it was explicitly required of one and all, with the right of the collectors to legally seize your property if you did not pay the fee.  However much that may or may not have been done in Judea itself, in northern Galilee it is hard to imagine it being attempted anywhere near as often.  With the possible exception if you had someone you needed an excuse to act against.  Like Jesus, for example.