These words, if they at all realized their import, must have come to
the disciples as a great blow. Hence the Lord, in His tender
consideration for them, proceeded to give them very ample assurance as
to the reality of the glory that is to come. They had expected God's
kingdom to come with power and glory in their lifetime, and that
illusion being dispelled, they might easily jump to the conclusion that
it was not coming at all. Hence the three disciples, who seemed to be
leaders among them, were taken aside to the high mountain that they
might be witnesses of His transfiguration. There they saw the kingdom
of God come with power-not in its fulness but in sample form. They were
granted a private view of it in advance.
In the first chapter of his second Epistle Peter shows us the effect
that this wonderful scene had upon him. He was an eye-witness of the
majesty of Christ, and thereby he knew that His power and the promise
of His coming was no cunningly devised fable, but a glorious fact, and
so the prophetic word was made "more sure," or "confirmed." He knew,
and we may know, that not one jot or little, of that which has been
foretold concerning the glory of Christ's coming kingdom, will fail.
The transfiguration scene itself was a prophecy. Christ is to be the
shining Centre of the kingdom glory, as He was on the mountain top.
Saints will be with Him in heavenly conditions, just as Moses and
Elijah were: some of them buried and called forth by God, like Moses;
some raptured to heaven without dying, like Elijah. In the kingdom too
there will be saints on earth below, enjoying earthly blessedness in
the light of the heavenly glory, just as the three disciples were
conscious of blessedness during the brief vision. It was "after six
days," and only six were present, so all was on a small and incomplete
scale; still the essentials were there.
Peter, ready to speak as ever, blurted out what he intended to be a
compliment, but which in reality was far otherwise. The scene of glory
could not then be prolonged upon earth, nor could the Christ-nor even
Moses and Elijah-be confined to earthly tabernacles. But more serious
than this mistake was the thought that Jesus was only the first amongst the greatest of men. He is not the first amongst the great, but "the beloved Son," of the Father, perfectly unique, immeasurably beyond all comparison. No
other may be mentioned in the same breath with Him. He stands alone.
This the Father's voice declared, adding that He is the One who is to
The Father's voice has been heard very rarely by men. He spoke at
Christ's baptism, and now again at His transfiguration, this time
adding, "Hear Him." Since then His voice has never been heard by men in
intelligible fashion. The Son is the Spokesman of the Godhead, and it
is to Him that we have to listen. God once spoke through the prophets,
Moses and Elijah: He now has spoken in His beloved Son. This shuts
Peter out, as well as Moses and Elijah, which is significant when we
remember what the Romish system makes of Peter and his supposed
authority. In this incident Peter again showed that as yet he was just
like the man whose eyes were out of focus, so that he saw men as trees
No sooner had the Father's voice thus exalted His beloved Son than
the whole vision was gone, and only Jesus was left with the three
disciples. Saints disappear, but Jesus remains. The words, "They saw no
man any more, save Jesus only," are very significant. If any of us
approximate to that in our spiritual experience, we shall no longer be
like a man who sees men as trees walking, but be like the man after the
second touch, seeing all things clearly. Jesus will fill the picture as
far as we are concerned, and man be eclipsed.
All this was made known to the disciples, as verse 9 shows, in view
of the time when His death and resurrection should be accomplished.
Only then would they really understand it all, illuminated by the Holy
Spirit, and be able to effectually use it in testimony. At that moment
they did not even understand what rising from among the dead really
signified, as the next verse shows. The rising of the dead would not have puzzled them in any special way: it was this rising "out of," or "from among," the
dead-which first took place in Christ-that raised such questions. The
first resurrection of the saints, the resurrection of life, is of the
same order. Are there not many, calling themselves Christians, who are
full of questions as to it today?
The disciples' question as to Elijah, and his predicted coming, was
naturally raised in their minds by the transfiguration scene. The Lord
used it to again turn their thoughts to His death. In regard to this
first advent of His, the part of Elijah had been played by John the
Baptist; and his murder was symptomatic of what was to happen to the
greater One, of whom he was the forerunner.
The scene on the high mountain soon came to an end but not so the
scenes of human sin and misery and suffering which filled the plains
below. From the heights to the depths they had to come, to find the
rest of the disciples defeated and anxious in the absence of their
Master. Immediately He appeared the crowds were amazed, and all eyes
turned from the distracted disciples to the calm and all-sufficient
Master. A moment before the scribes had been heckling the disciples,
now He questions the scribes, invites the confidence of the troubled
father, and displays His sufficiency.
Happy is the saint who is able to bring something of the grace and
power of Christ into this troubled world! But even so, we shall have to
wait for His coming and kingdom to see fully accomplished what this
scene foreshadows. Only then will He transform the whole world, and
turn the defeat and disquietude of His tried and distracted people into
the calm of His presence and into a complete and manifested victory.
There had been a singular manifestation of the glory of God in the
peaceful scene upon the mountain-top, whilst at the foot of the
mountain the dark power of Satan had been displayed, with all the
distraction that it brings. The boy demon-possessed, the father
disappointed and distracted, the disciples defeated and dejected, the
scribes not at all averse to making capital out of the incident. The
Lord walks into the midst and all is changed.
In the first place, He puts His finger upon the spot where the root
of the failure lay. They were a faithless generation. The root was unbelief This
applied to His disciples, as well as to the rest. If their faith had
fully laid hold of who He was, they would not have been baffled by this
test, any more than when confronted by the matter of feeding the
multitudes. They were still like the man of chapter 8, before he saw
all things clearly.
But now the Master Himself is in the midst, and the word is, "Bring
him unto ME." However, the first result of the boy being brought was
disappointing, for the demon flung him down in a terrible fit. Yet this
was made to serve the purpose of the Lord, for on the one hand it made
the more manifest the terrible plight of the boy the very moment before
he was delivered, and on the other it served to bring out the feelings
and thoughts of the anguished father. His cry, "If Thou canst do
anything, have compassion on us, and help us," revealed his lack of
faith as to His power, whilst he was not too sure of His kindness.
The reply of Jesus was, "The 'if thou couldst' is [if thou couldst]
believe" (N. Trans.). That is, He said in effect, "There is no 'if' on
My side, the only 'if' that enters into this matter is on your side. It
is not 'if I can do anything,' but 'if you can believe.'" This put the
whole thing in the true light, and in a flash the man saw it. Seeing
it, he believed, whilst confessing his former unbelief.
Having evoked faith in the man, the Lord acted. The object before
Him was not to create a sensation amongst the people; had it been, He
would have waited for the crowd to collect. His object evidently was to
confirm the faith of the father, and of any others who had eyes to see.
The demon had to obey, though he wrought his worst before relinquishing
his prey. This display of demonic power, after all, only gave an
opportunity for a more complete display of Divine power. Not only was
the boy completely delivered but also delivered for ever, since the
demon was commanded to enter him no more.
Having thus manifested the power and kindness of God, the perfect
Servant did not court popularity amongst the crowds but retired to a
certain house. There His disciples in quietness enquired as to the
reason of their failure, and got His answer. Again and again we ought
to be asking their question, as we find ourselves weak in the presence
of the foe; and as we do so we shall doubtless get just the answer they
got, as recorded in verse 29. The Lord had already declared how
unbelief lay at the root of their powerlessness: now He specifies two
further things. Not only is faith needed, but also prayer and fasting.
Faith indicates a spirit of confidence in God: prayer-dependence on
God: fasting-separation to God, in the form of abstinence from lawful
things. These are the things which lead to power in the service of God.
Their opposites-unbelief, self-confidence, self-indulgence, are the
things that lead to weakness and failure. These words of our Lord play
like a searchlight upon our many failures in serving Him. Let us
consider our ways in the light of them.
In verses 30 and 31 we again see the Lord withdrawing Himself from
publicity, and instructing His disciples as to His approaching death
and resurrection. We first saw this in verses 30 and 31 of the previous
It was the next great event in the Divine programme, and He now
began to keep it steadily before the minds of His disciples, though at
the moment they failed to take it in. Their minds were still filled
with expectations of the coming of a visible kingdom, so they were
unable to entertain any idea that controverted that.
The idea that Christ's kingdom would immediately appear appealed to
them because they expected to have a large place of honour in it. They
conceived of it in a carnal way, and it awakened carnal desires in
their hearts. Hence on the journey to Capernaum they fell to discussing
who of them was to be greatest. The Lord's question was sufficient to
convict them of their folly, as was evidenced by their abashed silence;
yet He knew it all, for He proceeded to answer them though they made no
His answer appears to be two-fold. First, the only way that leads to
real greatness is one that goes to the bottom as servant to all. This
being so, we can see how the Lord Jesus is pre-eminent even apart from
His Deity. In manhood He has taken the lowest place, and become Servant
to all in a way that is infinitely beyond the service of all others.
The one most like Him is likely to be first.
In the second place, He showed that the personality of the servant
is of small significance: what does count is the Name in which He
comes. We have that beautiful and touching scene in which He first set
a small child in their midst, and then took him up in His arms, in
order to enforce His point. That child was an insignificant scrap of
humanity, yet to receive one such in His Name was to receive the Lord
Himself, and also the Father who sent Him. The reception of a thousand
such in any other name or on any other ground would signify but little.
The fact is that the Master Himself is so supremely great that the
relative position of His little servants is not worth disputing about.
This teaching seems to have come as an illumination to John, and
caused his conscience to prick him as to their attitude towards a
zealous man who acted in His Name, though not following the twelve. Why
he did not follow, we are not told; but we must remember that it was
not open to anyone to attach themselves to the twelve just as they
chose: the Lord's own choice decided that matter. Whatever it was, the
Lord's reply again laid all the emphasis on the value of His Name.
Acting in His Name, the man was clearly for Christ and not against Him.
As a matter of fact this unofficial individual had been doing the
very thing which the disciples had just failed to do-he had cast out a
demon. Office is one thing: power is quite another. They should go
together, in so far as office is instituted in Christianity. But very
frequently they have not done so. And in these later days when offices
have been unscripturally instituted, we again and again see some simple
and unofficial person doing the thing which the official has no power
to do. The power lies in the Name not the office.
Verse 41 shows that the smallest gift in the Name, and for Christ's
sake, is of value in the sight of God and will meet with reward at His
hands. Verse 42 gives us the converse of this: to be a snare to the
feeblest of those who are Christ's is to merit and to get severe
judgment. The losing of life in this world is a small thing compared
with loss in the world to come.
This leads to the very solemn passage with which this chapter
closes. Some of His hearers might have thought the Lord's word about
the millstone a bit extreme He adds yet stronger words, which have
hell-fire itself in view. His thoughts at this point evidently
broadened out beyond His disciples to men generally, and He shows that
any loss in this world is very small compared with the loss of all that
is life in the next, and being cast into the fire of Gehenna. Hand and
foot and eye are very valuable members of our bodies, and not to be
lightly parted with; but life in the coming age is beyond all price,
and hell-fire an awful reality.
The Valley of Hinnom, the refuse dump outside Jerusalem, where fires
always burned and maggots continually did their work, was known as
Gehenna; and this word on the Lord's lips became a terribly apt figure
of the abode of the lost. Verily hell will be the great refuse heap of
eternity, where all that is incorrigibly evil will be segregated from
the good, and lie for ever under the judgment of God. This terrible
fact reaches us from the lips of Him who loved sinful men and wept over
The first statement of verse 49 sprang out of what the Lord had just
been saying. Fire searches and consumes and disinfects. Salt not only
seasons but preserves. Fire symbolizes the judgment of God, which all
must face in one way or another. The believer must face it in the way
indicated by 1 Corinthians 3: 13, and by it he will be "salted," since
it will mean the preserving of all that is good. The ungodly will be
subjected to it in their persons, and it will salt them; that is, they
will be preserved in it and not destroyed by it.
The latter part of the verse is an allusion to Leviticus 2: 13. Salt
has been described as symbolizing that "power of holy grace, which
binds the soul to God and inwardly preserves it from evil." We cannot
present our bodies a living sacrifice to God if that holy grace is
absent. It is indeed good, and nothing would compensate for its
absence. We are to have in ourselves this holy grace which would judge
and separate us from all that is evil. If each is concerned to have it in oneself, there will not be difficulty in having peace amongst ourselves.