Matthew 17

Matthew 17:2-3

And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

Moses and Elijah. The Mount of Transfiguration was like a stage play with three characters. On one side stood Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets.

Matthew 17:4

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

The disciples marveled to see these two pillars of the old covenant talking with Jesus. But this was no cast of equals, for the spotlight shone only on one (see next verse).

Matthew 17:5

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”

This is My beloved Son. The heavenly voice repeats the affirmation heard at Christ’s baptism. See entry for Matthew 3:17.

(b) Listen to Him. Initially, all three actors spoke. Then the Director of the transfiguration play gave his instruction: “Listen to Jesus.” What happened to Moses and Elijah? They exited stage left, leaving the Son of promise to stand alone. The ministries of Moses and Elijah were glorious, but theirs was a fading glory. They could not share the stage with the more glorious ministry of Jesus. By the mandate of heaven, Jesus, the new covenant messenger, speaks alone.

Matthew 17:20

And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

(a) Because of the littleness of your faith. Which is to say they had no faith at all. They were unbelieving (see verse 17).

(b) Faith the size of a mustard seed. We don’t need great faith to draw upon the abundance of God’s grace. Even a small mustard-seed amount of faith is enough to move mountains. We don’t need more faith as much as we need a deeper revelation of God’s love for us. It is his goodness that inspires us to trust him.

Matthew 17:23

and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved.

The third day. On several occasions Jesus prophesied that he would be killed and raised on the third day (Matt. 16:21, 17:23, 20:19, Luke 9:22, 18:33). That prophecy came true when the women discovered his empty tomb (Mark 16:1). Jesus was crucified on the day of preparation (Friday morning; see Mark 15:42) that preceded the Sabbath (the second day), and his empty tomb was discovered the day after the Sabbath (Sunday morning, the third day).

Further reading: “Good Friday Timeline.

Matthew 17:24

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?”

(a) Those who collected the tax were not tax collectors working for the Romans, but religious officials collecting funds for the temple treasury from every adult male (Ex. 30:13–16). Since Peter lived in Capernaum (Matt. 8:14), they probably came to Peter’s house to collect the tax.

(b) The two-drachma tax paid to support the temple.

(c) Drachma. A Greek drachma was roughly equal to a Roman denarius. Since a denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer (Matt. 20:2), the temple tax was equivalent to two days’ wages.

Matthew 17:25

He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?”

(a) He said, “Yes.” Peter misspoke. He presumed that Jesus would pay the temple tax.

(b) Jesus spoke to him first. Either Jesus overheard Peter’s conversation with the collectors of the temple tax, or he had a word of knowledge.

(c) Their sons or strangers. Kings don’t levy taxes from their sons (see next verse).

Matthew 17:26

When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt.

Peter told the collectors of the temple tax that Jesus would pay the two-drachma tax (see previous verse). Jesus spoke to correct Peter’s presumption. Jesus did not need to pay the temple tax because the temple belonged to his Father (Luke 2:49). It’s like he was saying, “Why would I pay rent for my own home?”

Matthew 17:27

“However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”

(a) So that we do not offend them. The tenants of the temple (the priests) had no business asking the Lord of the temple (Jesus) to pay for his Father’s house, but so as not to create trouble, Jesus voluntarily chose to pay the temple tax. No doubt Peter breathed a sigh of relief (see verse 25).

(b) A shekel was a unit of weight and also a unit of currency whose value fluctuated across cultures and historical periods. The coin in the fish’s mouth is assumed to be a shekel, since it paid the temple tax for both Jesus and Peter. (The temple tax was a half-shekel (Ex. 30:13) or two drachmas (Matt. 17:24).)

A Greek drachma was roughly equivalent in value to a Roman denarius, so a shekel was worth four denarii. Since a denarius was a day’s wage for a laborer (Matt. 20:2), a shekel was worth four days’ wages.

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