Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 195-214.
Matt. 17:1-13; Luke 9:28-36.
Let us remark that those selfsame witnesses He takes and leads up “on a high mountain apart by themselves,” whom afterwards (Mark 14) He takes with Him to Gethsemane. What a change from the glories of the one scene to the exceeding sorrow unto death of the other! Yet was the connection close, and the, end of the Lord full of tenderness to His own: even as the mention of His rejection and death leads the way to the transfiguration in the three early Gospels. What is there, indeed, so real as His sufferings and His glories? How blessed to know and rest on them both in the midst of the vain show of men!
Again, let it be observed that Mark says less of the personal change and more as to His raiment than either Matthew or Luke. “And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became shining, exceeding white [as snow]81, such as fuller on earth could not white them.” He is ever the Servant-Son: as profound in His lowliness as He accepts with dignity what comes from above — dignity which manifests its source by a splendour which stains the pride of earthly glory. In Matthew there is no contrast with fuller on earth, but it is added most characteristically that “His face shone as the sun, and His raiment became white as the light” — a most suited image of supreme glory for the great King. In Luke how wonderfully adapted is the description! “And as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance became different, and His raiment was white [and] effulgent.” None but he mentions the Lord thus bowing down before His Father at this very moment; even as he directs us to that which was more personal than any other in the mighty change that thereon ensued.
“And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answering, says to Jesus, Rabbi89, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; for Thee one, and for Moses one, and for Elias one. For he knew not what to say; for they were filled with fear. And there came a cloud overshadowing them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is My beloved Son90: hear Him.82 And suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one any longer, save Jesus only with themselves.” Having already treated of the scene in Matthew,83 I will not dwell on the astonishing circumstance further than to remark that the Lord discloses in this type of God’s kingdom what popular theologians so dislike — earthly things mingled, though in no wise confounded, with heavenly things (John 3). There are the glorified, in the persons of Moses and Elias; there are the men in their still unchanged natural bodies, Peter, James, and John; there is the central figure of the Lord, the Head of all things above and below. So it will be when the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is not any more a testimony of word from those who were eyewitnesses of His majesty, but made good and displayed in the day of the Lord.
It is mere irreverence to deride what will be by-and-by, or what was then beheld anticipatively, as “a mongrel state of things,” “an abhorred mixture of things totally inconsistent with each other.” If transient glimpses of glory, if passing visits of glorious beings have been vouchsafed from the beginning down to our Saviour’s days, is it that man can read in these no more than a tale that is told? Is there to them no confirmation from the holy mount of the prophetic word which declares that Jehovah’s feet shall stand on Mount Olivet, not to dissolve all things as yet, but to be King over all the earth in that day when He shall come, and all His saints with Him? (cf. Zech. 14). “And it shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith Jehovah I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the new wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jizreel. And I will sow her unto me in the land; and I will have mercy upon Lo-ruhamah; and I will say to Lo-Ammi, Thou art my people; and they shall say, My God” (Hosea 2). “Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, for administration of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth; in Him” (Eph. 1:9). It is in vain to pervert this to the eternal state; it is as distinct from that final condition as from the present ways of God. For as the gathering of the Church is essentially eclectic, and in no sense a gathering of all things in heaven and earth into one, so eternity is after all dispensation (
οἰκονομία), administration, or stewardship, is over. The millennial reign, the kingdom of Christ, is the sole answer to this, even as to the other Scriptures. “Let Thy kingdom come, let Thy will be done, as in heaven, so upon the earth” (Matt. 6:10).
To resume: In reporting to us the voice that spake from the cloud (verse 7), Mark, like Luke, was led of the Spirit to omit the middle clause which Matthew gives us, the expression of the Father’s complacency in the Son. But this really imparts special emphasis to Christ’s title as Son, and the Father’s will that they should hear Him - not now Moses and Elias, whom Peter’s unintelligent haste had put on a level with Him. The Divine utterance, too, is scaled by the sudden disappearance of those who represented the law and the prophets, Jesus only being left with the disciples.
“And as they came down from the mountain, He charged them that they should tell no man what they had seen, till the Son of man should be risen from among the dead. And they kept that saying, questioning among themselves what rising from among91 the dead was.” If they knew the Scriptures and God’s power of resurrection, as the Sadducees did not, certainly the rising from among the dead was as new to them as it is little understood yet by many disciples.
Hence the difficulties of learned men perplexed them. “And they asked Him, saying, Why do the scribes say that Elias must first have come? And He answering, told them, Elias indeed, having come first, restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of Man, that He. must suffer much, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, that Elias also is come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they would, as it is written of him.” Our Lord does not dispute the truth pressed by the scribes; but as He points out His own approaching shame and suffering before He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels, so He shows a similar application of Elias’s case in the person of John the Baptist, while the strict coming of Elias or Elijah awaits its fulfilment in the latter day92. To faith the forerunner is already come, as well as the Lord Himself. Unbelief must feel both by-and-by.
Matt. 17:14-20; Luke 9:37-42.
The foot of the mountain presented a far different scene from the transfiguration glimpse of the kingdom, the disciples encircled by a vast multitude, the scribes questioning with them, and the power of Satan in man unremoved. Christ comes down, and all the people in amazement salute Him. Christ challenges the scribes; but what will He answer him who appealed in vain to the disciples for his son with the dumb spirit, his tormentor? “He answering him saith, O unbelieving generation! how long shall I be with you? how long shall I bear with you? Bring him unto Me.” Blessed Lord Jesus! perfect are Thy ways. No love, no tenderness, no long-suffering like Thine; yet didst Thou feel the faithlessness which knew not how by dependence on God and denial of self to draw on that energy which casts out Satan from his strongholds. Yet even in Thy presence, when deliverance, is nigh, how dost Thou try the faith and patience of those who learn all in Thee! “And they brought him unto Him: and when He saw him, immediately the spirit tore him, and he fell on the ground, and rolled foaming.” Not even yet came the rebuke of power. “And He asked his father, How long a time is it that it has been like this with him? And he said, From childhood, and often it has cast him both into the fire, and into waters, to destroy him; but if Thou couldst84 do anything, be moved with pity on us, and help us. Jesus said to him, If thou couldst [is] believe,85 all things are possible to him that believeth. And immediately the father of the child cried out and said [with tears],86 I believe: help mine unbelief92a.” It was certainly but a feeble confession; yet was it true, and the heart was to Him only. “When Jesus saw that the crowd was running up together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. And [the spirit] cried out and rent [him]87 much, and came out, and he became as one dead; insomuch that the most said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And He said to them, This kind can go out by nothing but by prayer and fasting.”88 It is an admirable picture of the ways of gracious power in the deliverance of man, Israel especially, from the well-nigh fatal possession of the enemy, with a serious intimation to the disciples wherein lay the secret of their weakness.
Matt. 17:22, 23; Luke 9:43-45 John 7:18-31; John 10:32-34.
Alas! it is not lack of power we have to own, but scanty entrance into His mind. The fleshly mind can think and talk of glory here below, but the cross breaks in neither understood nor welcome. “And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and He would not that any man should know it. For He taught His disciples, and said to them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men 93 and they shall kill Him; and after that He is killed, He shall rise again after three days.89 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask Him.”
Matt. 17:24-18:5; Luke 9:46-48.
The truth is that other thoughts preoccupied them, which hindered the inshining of God’s grace displayed in the cross, as well as the terrible evidence it gave to the alienation of man from God. The carnal mind which would so end in man was actively at work in themselves; and He knew it, and laid it bare before their eyes. “And He came to Capernaum, and being in the house, He asked them, Of what were ye reasoning90 by the way? And they remained silent; for by the way they had been reasoning with one another who [was] greatest.” And how gracious and faithful the lesson! “And He sat down and called the Twelve, and says to them, If anyone desire to be first, he shall be last of all, and minister of all. And He took a little child, and set him in the midst of them; and when He had taken it in His arms, He said to them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My name, receiveth Me; and whoever shall receive Me, receiveth not Me, but Him who sent Me94.”
Luke 9:49, 50; Matt, 18:6.
Nor is it only the disciples as a whole who need reproof and correction from the Master. As Peter on the mount of glory, at the beginning, so. ere the chapter closes, John betrays the spirit of egoism which shrouds the proper glory of Christ in the very effort of nature to exalt Him. “And John answered Him, saying, Teacher, we saw one casting out demons in Thy name who does not follow;91 and we forbad92 him, because he% does not follow us. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no one who shall do a miracle in My name, and be able soon [after] to speak evil of Me. For he that is not against us is for us95.”
It is not as in Matt. 12, where Christ is rejected by the power of unbelief under Satan’s instigation, which is blind to the testimony of the Spirit of God that it hates and blasphemes. There compromise is impossible, halfheartedness perilous and fatal. “He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth” (Matt. 12:30). Men it is a question between Christ and the darkening, blaspheming power of the devil, the only safety is in being with Christ, the only service is gathering with Him. But where no such question is raised, but, on the contrary, some one, little known and little knowing, it may be, is true to the Lord’s name97ff. as far as he knows it, let us rejoice to own him, and the Lord’s evident honour put on him, though “he does not follow us.” He is no enemy, but a friend of that name which he owns as best he knows. “He that is not against us,” says the Lord in such a case, “is for us96.” So to honour that name in the least thing shall not be forgotten, as also the slighting it, so as to stumble the least believer,93 is ruinous to him who is guilty.
Matt. 18:8, 9.
This leads the Lord into a warning of searching solemnity. “And if thy hand ensnare thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into99 life maimed, than having the two hands to go away into hell94 into the fire unquenchable [where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched].95 And if thy foot ensnare thee, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into life lame, than having the two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire unquenchable [where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched].96 And if thine eye ensnare thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into the hell of fire: where their worm100 dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” The burden, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” falls on the conscience-stricken like the bell that tolls the felon to his doom. Would that it might kindle our hearts who believe into an unwonted earnestness on behalf of perishing souls! (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10, 11).
But there is direct profit for the disciples also. For if “every one shall be salted with fire101,” it is also true that “every sacrifice shall be salted with salt”;97 the former statement, in my opinion, being as large toward man as such as the latter emphatically and exclusively regards the saints set apart to God. “Salt is good,” concludes our Lord, “but if the salt have become saltless, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another101a.” How precious and practical the exhortation! The first requisite is this holy preservative energy in our souls, and then for one with another a spirit of peace. “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace,” adds the Apostle James, (James 3:18).
81 [“Snow”]: as AD and some later uncials, with 33, 69, Amiat. Syrsin pesch Memph. Goth. Edd. omit, after BCL
82 As to the omission of “hear Him” in 2 Peter 1:17, see the “Lectures on Matthew,” p. 376 f.
83 Ibid., p. 365 ff.
84 So Edd., with BD, etc., I. “Canst” is in AC, etc., 33, 69.
85 The oldest and best authorities [B, etc., Memph. Arm. AEth., followed by Edd.] omit “to believe,” though it has large uncial support [ADN and later uncials, most cursives, Old Lat., Chrys.]. Perhaps the difficulty may have led to the omission. The question of power turns on faith (B.T.). After “believe” Ccorr, 1, 33, 69 and most other cursives, Syr.sin, Chrys., add “Lord,” which Edd. omit, after ABCpmD, etc.
86 The evidence [BL
Δ, etc., Syrsin Memph. Arm. AEth., followed by Edd.] is strong against “with tears” (B.T.). The words are inserted in DN and later uncials, most cursives, Old Lat., Syr.pesch hcl Goth.
87 “Him”: so pmACcorr EN, etc., 1, 33, 69, Amiat. Syrr. Memph. Edd. omit, after corrBCpmDL
88 The evidence is weak [Bpm] against “and fasting” (B.T.). The T.R. has the support of ACDLN, etc., most cursives, Old Lat., Syr. (including Sinai palimpsest), and Memph. Lachmann retained the words.
89 “After three days”: so Edd., after BCpmDL
Δ, Syrhcl mg, Memph. — ACcorrEN, etc., 1, 69, Syrsin pesch. have “on the third day.”
90 “Reasoning”: ANX
ΓΔ, etc., 1, 13, 69, Syr. Arm. Goth. AEth. here add “among yourselves” (with one another), which Edd. omit, after BCDL, Amiat. Memph.
91 “Who does not follow”: so Nestle, with A(D)N, most cursives, Syrhcl Goth. Arm. Swete and others omit, as BCL
Δ, Syrsin pesch, Memph. “Because he” omitted by DX, 1, 69, Lat. Arm. On the conflation here see W. H., “Introduction,” p. 150 ff.
92 The T.R. is
ἐκωλύσαμεν (“forbad”), supported by ACNX
ΤΠ, etc. Edd. adopt
ἀκωλύομεν (“were forbidding”), with BD
93 In verse 42 the words “in Me” are supported by ABCcorr ELNX
ΓΠΣΦΨ, Syrsin pesch hcl, Arm. Goth., but Edd. omit them on the slender basis of
Δ, which, presumably, would not have availed for their admission under reversed conditions. It will be observed that the last-found treasure in the convent at Sinai upholds the “received text.”
94 The words “into hell” are attested by most and the best copies and versions, but are not in the Sinai palimpsest.
95 The clause bracketed in verses 44, 46 is in ADN, 69, Old Latin, Syrpesch hcl Goth. AEth., but Edd. omit, following BCL
Δ, etc., and Syrsin.
97 Some witnesses [BL
Δ, I, and several other cursives, with Syrsin] followed by the Revisers leave out the latter half of verse 49. [It is supported by ACNS and most later uncials, and by cursives, with Syrpesch, and other versions.] The substance of the truth abides, no doubt, but the solemnity of the warning appears to be enfeebled in the curtailed form; and the distinction between the wicked and righteous as tested by God’s judgment, moral in grace, or final in verse 49 (B.T.).