Matthew 17:1 MEANING

Matthew 17:1

(1) After six days.--St. Luke's "about eight days" (Luke 9:28) may be noted as an example of the mode of reckoning which spoke of the interval between our Lord's death and resurrection, about six-and-thirty hours, as three days.

Peter, James, and John.--The three retain their position, as in the raising of Jairus's daughter, as the elect among the elect. (Comp. also Matthew 26:37; Mark 13:3.) Looking to the grouping of the Apostles it might have seemed natural that Andrew also should have been there, but his character seems to have been always retiring, and, it may be, was wanting in the intensity of faith which belonged to his brother, the Rock-Apostle, and to the two Sons of Thunder.

Into an high mountain.--A tradition of uncertain date fixes on Tabor as the scene of the Transfiguration, but this was probably due to the conspicuous position of that mountain, as it rises abruptly from the plain of Esdraelon. The Gospel narratives leave the locality altogether uncertain, but as Caesarea Philippi was the last place mentioned, and a journey through Galilee follows (Mark 9:30), it is more probable that the scene is to be found on one of the heights of Hermon. Tabor, it may be added, was crowned with a fortress, which at this time was likely to be occupied, and this is obviously inconsistent with the solitude which the narrative implies.

Verses 1-13. - The Transfiguration of Jesus. (Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36.) This mysterious event was intended primarily to confirm the faith of the three apostles who were to have the chief hand in founding the Church. The Lord had just announced his future sufferings and death. This prediction had been a grievous blow to Peter, and doubtless to the others also. He had stumbled at the cross, and had brought on himself a stern rebuke for his slowness and worldliness. So to comfort the chosen three under the thought of what awaited their Master, they were shown a glimpse of the glory which he has in heaven; they saw the Law and the prophets yielding subjection to him; they heard the voice of the Father announcing his Sonship. Henceforward they might take courage under all circumstances; the cross would be no infamy or disgrace - would open the way to victory and glory. Here was a foretaste of the blessedness of heaven - to be with Christ and his saints in his kingdom. Such was the Transfiguration to the three witnesses. To the world, when in due time it was made known, it taught lessons of the Incarnation, the resurrection of the body, the glory that shall be the portion of the righteous. For Christ himself it was the culminating point of his earthly life, "the solemn installation of our Lord to his sufferings and their result" (Alford). Verse 1. - After six days. St. Luke says, "about an eight days after these sayings," either speaking indefinitely, or using the inclusive method of reckoning which we find in the recounts of our Lord's resurrection. The days are counted from the time of Peter's confession and Christ's subsequent announcement. The little company were still in the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi, though we know not exactly in what place, and nothing is told of the events of this week. The memorable day may be specially noticed as being the same day of the week as that on which the great confession was made in the previous se'nnight; or, if we regard the typical bearing of numbers in Scripture, the six days signify the world and daily labour, the seventh, "after six days," typifies heaven and rest. Peter, James, and John. These three, the chosen of the chosen, had already witnessed Christ's power over death in the chamber of Jairus's daughter; later they were present at the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. They who had seen his glory were strengthened to behold his sweat of blood. These men formed the inner circle of his friends; to them he gave the privilege of knowing more of his inner life and nature. They were selected for various reasons - Peter, for his energy, zeal, and love, and the part he was to play in the founding of the Church; John, because he was beloved by Christ, and was to be the recipient of Divine revelation; James, because he was to be the head of the Church of Jerusalem, and soon to drink of Christ's cup and war a good warfare. The James here named is the son of Zebedee, and brother of John, and was put to death by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12.). An high mountain. The only tradition concerning the locality of the Transfiguration (which none of the inspired narratives further identifies) affixes it to Mount Tabor, the beautiful isolated mountain, which rises some eighteen hundred feet on the northeast of the Plain of Esdraelon. This tradition, as far as we know, was first published in the fourth century A.D, by St. Cyril of Jerusalem ('Catech.,' 12:16) and St. Jerome (Ep. 44. 'Ad Marcell.;' Ep. 108. 'Ad Eustoch.'), and thence was generally adopted and upheld till the sixteenth century, both by commentators and travellers. Since then more accurate examination and historical criticism have thrown grave doubts on this identification. The summit of Tabor has from a very early age been occupied by habitations. It is spoken of in 1 Chronicles 6:77 as including in its limits a city and its suburbs. Later it was strongly fortified, and the whole area was surrounded with a wall, of which the ruins can still be traced. In our Lord's time the town and the fortress covered the level portion of the hill, and there would have been no place of retirement where he could have withdrawn apart for the purpose of the vision. There is another reason that makes Tabor unlikely to have been the scene of the Transfiguration. The last geographical notice left our Lord and his disciples outside Galilee in the neighbourhood of Paneas. It was about a three days' journey thence to Esdraelon; but no mention is made of any such movement during this week, and it is after the Transfiguration that the synoptists intimate that the return to Galilee took place (see ver. 22; Mark 9:30). We must therefore surrender the old tradition, and look in the vicinity of Caesarea for the high mountain of our narrative. There was no lack of such in that region, and it was doubtless on one of the offshoots of Hermon that the glorious vision was vouchsafed, though more precise identification is impossible. Hermon itself is called by the Arabs Jebel-esh-Sheikh, "The Chief Mountain," and the way in which the locality is introduced in the narrative, without further specification, seems to point to some eminence of the most obvious and best known hill of the district. St. Peter, when in after years he alluded to it, called it merely "the holy mount" (2 Peter 1:18); and we may conclude that we are not intended to know more about it, lest we should be tempted to make more of the material circumstances than of the great reality. St. Luke notifies that the Lord retired to this place in order to pray. It may have been that he prayed for the enlightemnent of the apostles - that they might receive the teaching of the Transfiguration and the subsequent sayings.

17:1-13 Now the disciples beheld somewhat of Christ's glory, as of the only begotten of the Father. It was intended to support their faith, when they would have to witness his crucifixion; and would give them an idea of the glory prepared for them, when changed by his power and made like him. The apostles were overcome by the glorious sight. Peter thought that it was most desirable to continue there, and to go no more down to meet the sufferings of which he was so unwilling to hear. In this he knew not what he said. We are wrong, if we look for a heaven here upon earth. Whatever tabernacles we propose to make for ourselves in this world, we must always remember to ask Christ's leave. That sacrifice was not yet offered, without which the souls of sinful men could not have been saved; and important services were to be done by Peter and his brethren. While Peter spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, an emblem of the Divine presence and glory. Ever since man sinned, and heard God's voice in the garden, unusual appearances of God have been terrible to man. They fell prostrate to the earth, till Jesus encouraged them; when looking round, they beheld only their Lord as they commonly saw him. We must pass through varied experiences in our way to glory; and when we return to the world after an ordinance, it must be our care to take Christ with us, and then it may be our comfort that he is with us.That is, so long after Christ's conversation with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi, Peter's confession of him, and the reproof he gave him, upon his intimating that he should suffer and die, and Christ's resentment of it; after he had discoursed about his disciples taking up their cross, and following him; and of men's losing and finding their lives; and after the promise, or prophecy, that he had given out, that some then present should not die, until he came into his kingdom. Mark says the same as here, Mark 9:2 but Luke 9:28 says, it was about an eight days after, which may be reconciled in this manner; Matthew and Mark leave out the day in which Christ delivered the above sayings, and that in which he was transfigured, and so reckon but six days; and Luke takes them both into the account, and makes it eight days, so that they all agree; and it appears, in short, to be that day seven night.

Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother: Peter is taken, though he had so lately offended his master; Christ did not bear the offence in mind, but freely forgave him, and still loved him: James was not the brother of our Lord, who was of that name, but the Son of Zebedee; as appears from John being his brother, who was the beloved disciple; these three were all favourite disciples, and were at other times admitted to be with him, when others were not, Matthew 26:37. Such a number was taken, as being proper and sufficient to bear witness of the truth of the following account of Christ's transfiguration;

and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart. Luke says, to pray; as he was wont to do, in such places. This mountain is generally said to be Tabor; but for what reason does not appear. Christ was going to Caesarea Philippi, when he had that discourse with his disciples, which this account is connected with; and though it was a week after, yet we have no intimation of his removing from these parts, with his disciples; only of his leading them up into a mountain: and quickly after this, we hear of him at Capernaum, which was ten miles from Mount Tabor. Dr. Lightfoot (z) thinks, that this was the mountain, which Caesarea was at the foot of; where formerly, the first idolatry was set up, one of Jeroboam's calves; and now the eternal Son of God is shown, in the confession of Peter, and in the illustrious demonstration of the Messiah. Since the goodly mountain Lebanon, and which was a very high one, was in those parts which Moses had a sight of before he died; why may it not be that, which he now descended upon, to be one of the witnesses from heaven, of Christ's transfiguration?

(z) Hor. Heb. in Mar. ix. 2.

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