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Matthew 17:1-27

Last Updated 9/9/00


And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man
be risen again from the dead. And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist. And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,  Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer
you? bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry. And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of
whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.

Chapter 17 builds upon the events and teachings of the previous chapters, going back to the parables of the Kingdom in chapter 13. As with the previous chapter, there continue to be deeply mystical teachings in this section.

1  bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,

There is a "sod" (hidden) level understanding to this verse. The "going up" to a high mountain can also be understood as a heightened level of spiritual awareness (i.e., insight into the Kingdom), especially in light of what occurs over the next few verses.

2  And was transfigured before them:

It is possible that this had also occurred when they saw Yeshua walking on the water, as mentioned in an earlier chapter. (Compare His comment to Peter after the latter began to sink in the water, to what He says the disciples could do if they had faith, in verse 20 below.)

3  there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him

The key to understanding what is occurring here lies in the next verse.

4  let us make here three tabernacles;

Peter clearly views this as a vision of the Kingdom of God. His desire to build "tabernacles" (succot) is tied to the Feast of Succot. This is the last of the Feasts of the Lord, and the one directly associated with the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Interestingly, the time of this vision is not Succot. The same allusion will be seen later in Matthew's gospel, when people lay out palm branches (another Succot symbol) before Yeshua on His entry into Jerusalem, just before Pesakh (Passover), in the spring.

5  a bright cloud ... and behold a voice out of the cloud,

The cloud is associated with the Shekinah - God's visible presence on earth. (Much of Jewish mystical literature surrounding the Kingdom is concerned with the Shekinah.) The voice from heaven is called the Bat-kol. (Literally, "daughter of the voice.") The Shekinah, and the Bat-kol are feminine in the Hebrew - as is the Ruach haKodesh, the "Holy Spirit."

The "feminine aspect" of God is one ignored, if not frowned upon, in Christianity. Again, this is partly due to pagan doctrine of "the mother of God" (as found in Catholicism) and a lack of understanding of the deeper meaning of the Hebrew scriptures (as is lacking in both Catholicism and Protestantism).

God is described as being both masculine and feminine at the time of the creation:

Genesis 1:27 - So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Interestingly, even Paul offers a feminine aspect to the coming Kingdom:

Galatians 4:26 - But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

The subject of the feminine aspect(s) of God is discussed in our Revelation study.

11  Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.

Yeshua says Elijah has yet to come, but in the next verse says differently.

12  That Elias is come already, and they knew him not

Yeshua of course is referring to John the Baptist, whom he says "was Elijah." Critics often point to this as a "contradiction." Some go as far to say that this shows that Scripture teaches reincarnation.

However the concept of multiple appearance of Elijah is not foreign to Judaism, nor is the idea of someone being "in the spirit" of a great prophet, nor is the concept of Elijah coming more than once:

Seder 'Olam Rabba, ch. 17 - In the second year of (King) Ahazia, Elijah was hidden, and he will not be seen again until King Messiah comes. And then he will be seen but will be hidden a second time, and seen again only when Gog and Magog come.1

16  I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.

As the subsequent verses show, the "fault" was with the disciples. Yeshua's words imply that they should have been able to deal with this.

18  And Jesus rebuked the devil

As mentioned earlier, this was a time of great "demonic activity," as it was at the time of Abraham and Moses and will be again upon the return of Yeshua at the end of the age.

20  If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed,

The potential for "walking in the Kingdom" is outlined here in an amazing fashion. The question this begs is, "Why aren't we seeing these type of miracles today?" Obviously, the twelve apostles had a unique relationship, but a good reason for the lack of the truly miraculous today, is the rejection of the Torah by those who claim to be following God for the past 1900 years. This applies to both gentiles, who follow a theology of an anti-Torah messiah figure, as well as Jews, who don't recognize the Torah in the flesh - Yeshua.

21  Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.

The subject of fasting is another that is often misunderstood. Many consider fasting simply to be a means of "getting something." God is not some "puppet" however, whose strings you can pull when desired. Fasting is a means of clearing the mind of earthly thoughts and desires, in order to connect to God at a higher spiritual level.

24  Doth not your master pay tribute?

This is in reference to the Temple tax that all Jews were to pay to support the work of the Temple. This tax is also an atonement, according to the Torah.

Exodus 30:11-16 - And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them. This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD. Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering unto the LORD. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls. And thou shalt take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; that it may be a memorial unto the children of Israel before the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.

26  Then are the children free.

Does Yeshua teach breaking of the Torah here by saying this?

No, for the same reason found in Matthew 12, when Yeshua was challenged as to the behavior of his disciples on the Sabbath. If the religious authorities recognized who Yeshua was, they would have realized that they had a greater "Tabernacle/Temple" before them, in the form the Messiah.

Yeshua's presence among them took priority over the physical Temple, which was (in this sense only), a "lesser" representation of the image of God and His Kingdom, (a "shadow," i.e., Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5, 10:1). Yeshua is above the physical Temple as He is the actual image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Note however, that after His death, his disciples continued to attend the Temple for services and sacrifices, but no longer for the Yom Kippur sacrifice (as we will explain in our other studies).

Nonetheless, Yeshua commanded His disciples to pay the tax, for reason explained below.

27  Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them

Note that although Yeshua was "correct," in that His presence initiated a higher level of Torah commandment, He deferred to the principle of setting aside His "right" for the benefit of others. This is an important principle we will discuss in our Romans study.

1. The Messiah Texts, Raphael Patai, 1979, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, p.134