The disciples had now had full opportunity of learning their
Master's spirit and methods and power; so they were sent forth, and
verses 1-6 tell us how they were commissioned. "Then He called . . .
and gave . . . He sent . . . He said . . ." The order of the four verbs
is very instructive. His is the choice and not ours. But then He not
only calls but also gives the authority and power adequate for the
service to which He calls. Not until that power is given does He send.
And then in sending He gives the specific instructions that are to
control and guide them in their service. The instructions He gave them
were exactly suited to men who were sent to support the testimony
rendered by the Messiah, the Son of Man, present personally on the
The testimony we are called upon to render today is not that, but
rather to the Christ who is risen and glorified on high; still any
service we can render is subject to just the same conditions. He must
call and send. If He calls any of us He will give the power and grace
that is needed for the work; and when sent we too must be careful to
observe the instructions that He has left us.
The disciples went forth with the power of their Lord behind them,
and the testimony thus being multiplied the attention of even an
ungodly monarch like Herod was drawn to the Lord. The great question
was, "Who is this?" The people asked it and indulged in speculations.
Herod asked it with an uneasy mind, for he had already beheaded John.
His wish to see Jesus was fulfilled, but hardly in the way he had
anticipated-see Luke 23: 8-11.
All details of the disciples' mission are passed over in silence. In
verse 10 it is recorded that they returned and told their Master all
that they had done, and He took them aside in private. Thus it will be
for all of us when we reach Him at His coming. That will mean being
manifested before His judgment seat; and it will be in the privacy and
rest of His presence.
On this occasion there was very little rest for Him. Desert place
though it was, the people flocked after Him, and He turned no one away.
He received, He spoke of the kingdom of God, He healed and, when the
evening drew on and they were hungry, He fed them.
The disciples were like ourselves: they had much to learn. In spite
of having been sent forth as His messengers they had no adequate sense
of His power and sufficiency, and hence they judged as to the difficult
situation in the light of their own powers and resources instead of
judging everything by Him. When He said to them, "Give ye them to eat,"
they thought of their loaves and fishes-pitifully few and small. They
might have said, "Lord, it is to Thee we look: we will gladly give them
all that Thou cost give to us."
How easily we can see what they might have said, and yet fail in
just the same way as they did! We have to learn that if He commands, He
enables. He did enable on this occasion, and the disciples were
employed in dispensing His bounty. Thus they were instructed as to the
fulness of supply that was in Him.
Before multiplying the loaves and fishes Jesus looked up to heaven,
thus publicly connecting His action with God. In verse 18 we again find
Him in private prayer, thus expressing the dependent place which He had
taken in Manhood. The grace was the grace of God, though flowing to men
Having given His disciples this glimpse of His fulness, He warned
them of His approaching rejection, and of its results as far as they
were concerned. The people were still completely in the dark as to who
He was, but Peter-and doubtless the other disciples too-knew that He
was God's Christ, or Messiah. This confession of Peter's was met by the
Lord's command to tell no man that thing. This injunction must have
been a great surprise to them, as up to this point the joyful tidings
that they had found the Messiah must have been the chief item of their
testimony. Now however the moment had arrived for them to know that
what lay before Him was not the earthly glory of the Messiah but death
and resurrection. In breaking the news of this the Lord spoke of
Himself as the Son of Man-a title with wider implications. The Messiah
is to rule over Israel and the nations, according to Psalm 2: the Son
of Man is to have all things under His feet, according to Psalm 8.
In speaking of Himself in this way, the Lord was beginning to lead
their thoughts toward the new developments that were impending, though
not as yet unfolding what the developments were. Still He did intimate
very plainly to them that if death lay before Him, it would also lie
before them. This surely is the significance of the words, "deny
himself, and take up his cross daily." To deny oneself is to accept
death inwardly-death lying upon the motions of one's own will. To take
up one's cross daily is to accept death outwardly, for if the world saw
a man carrying his cross it knew him to be under its sentence of death.
Verses 24-26 amplify this thought. There is life according to the
reckoning of this world, made up of all the things that appeal to man's
natural tastes. If we seek to save that life we only lose it. The path
for the disciple is to lose that life for Christ's sake, and then we
save life in the proper sense, that which is life indeed. The man of
the world grasps at the life of this world and ends by losing himself;
and that is loss of an irreparable and eternal kind. The disciple who
loses the life of this world is no loser in the end. Verse 26 only
speaks of the one who is ashamed. The converse however is true: the one
who is not ashamed will be acknowledged by the Son of Man in the day of
The Lord knew that these words of His would fall as a blow upon the
minds of the disciples, and therefore He at once ministered to them
great encouragement, not by words so much as by giving them a sight of
His glory. This was granted not to all but to the chosen three, and
they could communicate it to the rest. In the transfiguration they saw
the kingdom of God, since for that brief moment they were "eyewitnesses
of His majesty" (2 Peter 1: 16). The expression the Lord used-"taste of
death"-is worthy of note. It would cover not only actual dying but also
the spiritual experience which He had indicated in verse 23. The same
thing stands true for us in principle. It is only as we see the kingdom
by faith that we are prepared to taste of death in that experimental
Once more we find Him praying, and it is only Luke who puts on
record that the transfiguration took place as He prayed. It is a
striking fact that it was the praying, dependent Man who shone forth in
glory as the King. Long before this David had said, "He that ruleth
over men must be just, ruling in fear of God" (2 Sam. 23: 3). Here we
see the One who will take up the kingdom and hold it for God, ruling as
the dependent Man. All the elements of the coming kingdom were there in
sample form. The King Himself was manifested as the central Object.
Moses and Elijah appeared from the unseen, heavenly world, representing
heavenly saints who will appear with the King when He is manifested:
Moses representing saints who have been raised from the dead, and
Elijah those raptured to heaven without dying. Then Peter, James and
John represented the saints who will be on earth, blessed in the light
of His glory.
While the disciples were heavy with sleep the heavenly saints were
conversing with their Lord concerning His approaching death, which is
to provide the basis on which the glory must rest. Luke speaks of it as
His "departure" or "exodus," for it meant His going out from the
earthly order into which He had entered, and His entrance into their
world by resurrection from among the dead. When the disciples did awake
Peter's only thought was to perpetuate the earthly order, and keep his
Master in it. He would have detained Moses and Elijah in it also, had
he been permitted to make his three tabernacles. As yet he did not
grasp the reality of the heavenly order of things just displayed before
his eyes, and he had as yet no proper apprehension of the supreme glory
Hence at that moment there came the cloud-evidently the well-known
cloud of the Divine presence-which overshadowed them with its
brightness, and silenced them with fear. Then the Father's voice
proclaimed the supreme glory of Jesus and marked Him out as the one and
only Speaker to whom all are to listen. No Moses, no Elijah is for one
moment to be coupled with Him. Jesus is indeed to be "found alone."
Though Peter did not at that moment understand the full significance of
all this, and therefore "told no man in those days," he did afterwards,
as his allusion to it in his second Epistle so plainly shows. It
confirmed for him, and for us, the prophetic word, giving the assurance
that in anticipating "the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ" we are not following "cunningly devised fables" but
resting in solid truth.
How great the contrast when the next day they came down from the
hill! Above, all had been glory, the power and glory of Christ, with
its accompanying order and peace. Below, all was under the power of
Satan, with disorder and distraction. The nine disciples left at the
foot of the hill had been tested by the child possessed by a
particularly virulent demon, and had failed. The distracted father
appealed to the Lord, though evidently with but little expectation that
He could do anything. Jesus instantly acted for the child's
deliverance, and "they were all amazed at the mighty power [majesty] of
God." The majestic power He displayed amid the disorders at the foot of
the hill was equal to the glory that had been displayed on its crest
the day before.
Then once more, just when He had thus manifested His power, He spoke
of His death. Said He, "Let these sayings sink down into your ears."
What sayings? we may ask, for Luke has not recorded any particular
sayings in connection with the casting out of the unclean spirit. The
words refer perhaps to the saying on the holy mount, where His decease
had been the theme. But that was the trouble with the disciples at that
moment: they could not tear away their minds from expectations of an
immediate kingdom on earth, so as to realize that He was about to die.
The sad consequence of this is seen in verse 46.
By nature we are self-important creatures, loving prominence and
greatness above all else; and the flesh in a disciple is no different
from that in an unbeliever. Jesus countered the thought of their heart
by the object lesson of the little child, and by words that indicated
that true greatness is found where the littleness of a child is
manifested, and where that "least" disciple is truly a representative
of his Master. To receive an insignificant child is to receive the
Divine Master, if the child comes "in My Name." The significance is in
the Name, not in the child.
This episode evidently stirred John's conscience so that he
mentioned a case that had occurred some time before. They had forbidden
some zealous worker because "he followeth not with us." They had
attached far too much importance to the "us" which, after all, is but a
group of individuals each of which is of no importance in himself. All
the importance, as the Lord has just shown them, lay in the Name. Now
the one who had cast out the demons-the very thing they had just failed
to do-had done so "in Thy Name." So he had the power of the Name and
they had the imagined importance of the "us." The Lord dealt gently
with John yet firmly. The man was not to be forbidden. He was for the
Lord and not against Him.
Luke now groups together four further incidents in the close of the
chapter. It seems that the Lord having displayed to the disciples the
power of His grace and of God's kingdom, is now instructing them as to
the spirit that befits them as those brought under both; and He also
warns them of things which would be hindrances thereto.
The first hindrance is obviously selfishness. This may take an
intensely personal form, as in verse 46. Or it may be collective, as in
verse 49. Yet once more it may be under cover of zeal for the Master's
reputation, and this is the most subtle form of all. The Samaritans
were wholly wrong in their attitude. But He was going up to Jerusalem
to die, while James and John wished to vindicate His importance-and
incidentally their own-by bringing death upon others. Elijah had indeed
acted thus when confronted by the violence of an apostate king, but the
Son of Man is of another spirit. That was the trouble with the
disciples; they did not as yet enter into the spirit of grace-the grace
that characterized their Master.
The three incidents which briefly close the chapter show us that if
we would be disciples indeed, and fit for the kingdom, we must beware
of mere natural energy. An energy which is more than natural is needed
if we would follow a rejected Christ. Also there must be no
half-heartedness and no indecision. The claims of the kingdom must take
precedence over all else.