The Lord and the disciples were in the region of Caesarea Philippi, near the beginning of the Jordan, in the north, the region of great springs and trees and flowers and fine mountain air. We learned of a question that the Lord asked the disciples, and of Peter's answer. It was now a week later, and the Lord took three of the disciples and went with them into a high mountain apart. The three disciples were Peter, James, and John, the same three who were with Him when He raised the little daughter of Jairus. We think of some part of Mount Hermon, the mountain that rises grand and beautiful above the valley. It was perhaps toward evening, for they stayed all night in the mountain. (Luke 9:37) The green valley lay below with the shadows lengthening across it; the cliffs and snowy ridges of the mountain were round them.
The Lord was praying and the disciples were heavy with sleep. Then when they looked up they saw the Lord transfigured. He was changed, and so bright and glorious. His face did shine as the sun and His raiment was white as the light. Two men, heavenly men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with Him. The disciples felt that it was a very holy place and that it was good to be there. But the glory was more than they could bear, and a bright cloud overshadowed them. They heard a voice out of the cloud and they were afraid. But Jesus touched them and told them not to be afraid, and when they looked up they saw Jesus only with themselves. They were not to tell at once what they had seen; others were not ready to hear it; but they should remember it and be encouraged by it in hard times that were coming, and should encourage others then by telling them of the Lord's glory. Let me read so much of the story. (Matthew 17:1-13)
While the three disciples were with the Lord in the mountain something very different was happening at the foot of the mountain. A multitude was there. A man had brought to the disciples his boy who was possessed by a devil, for them to cure him. We have learned of others who were possessed by devils, which made them so fierce that they could not be bound or tamed. So this boy was sore vexed, and the devil often made him fall into the fire and into the water. But the disciples could not cure the boy, and when the Lord came down from the mountain the father of the boy came to Him, kneeling and asking His help. Then the Lord rebuked the devil and cured the child. He told the disciples that they could not do it because of their unbelief, and He said, too, "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." Let us read this and another little story that comes at the end of the chapter. (Matthew 17:14-27)
The tax in this last story was the tax of a half-shekel which the men of Israel were to pay each year for the temple at Jerusalem, which was the temple for all the land. The half-shekel was a silver coin about the size of a quarter-dollar. The coin which Peter found in the fish's mouth was worth two half-shekels and was enough to pay the tax for both the Lord and Peter. This story helps us to remember how the Lord knows all things about every little bird and flower and creature in the world, and takes care of every one and makes each one useful.
In Raphael's famous painting of the Transfiguration there are two scenes brought together in one picture, one on the mountain and the other at the mountain's foot. We find both described in our chapter. ( Matthew 17) As you read the chapter it will be interesting to follow also the accounts in Mark 9 and Luke 9, which tell some other particulars. "After six days." What was it that happened a week before? Where were the Lord and the disciples? And what mountain naturally comes to mind as we read of His taking them up into a high mountain apart? What does "transfigured" mean? How could the disciples who were living in this world, see Moses and Elijah who were in heaven? It must have been by the opening of their spiritual sight, for it is only in that way that men in this world can see the angels. And the Lord's glory which they saw at the same time was something of the glory which angels in heaven see about the Lord; for the shining of the Lord's love and wisdom are the sun of heaven. Read Isaiah 60:19, 20, and Revelation 21:23.
Moses and Elijah were talking with the Lord, and in Luke it says that they "spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem." Moses and Elijah stand for the Scriptures, for the history and the prophecy. Their appearance with the Lord in glory and their talking with Him represents the fact that all the Scriptures are about the Lord; and their speaking of His decease means that the Scriptures everywhere in their deeper meaning tell about the temptations and victories of the Lord's life. The cloud overshadowing the disciples suggests the dimness of their minds and of all our minds in perceiving the Lord's glory and the message of the Scriptures in regard to Him. Still, from the cloud we can at least perceive the testimony of all the Scriptures to the Lord's Divinity, like the voice which the disciples heard. (At what other times had these same words been heard?) After even a little glimpse of the Lord's glory we come back to the simple story of His life and to the simple thought of His presence with us, with a fuller sense of His power, like the disciples who looked up and found "Jesus only with themselves." The fuller experience of the Lord's power after perceiving something of His glory is further expressed in the story as we come down with the disciples to the foot of the mountain.
Read of the scene at the foot of the mountain in the three Gospels in which it is described. The possession by devils which was so common in the Gospel days shows the extent to which the power of evil spirits had grown; even children were possessed, like the poor boy in the story. The story makes it very plain that only the Lord's power is able to cast out devils, is able to meet and overcome any evil. But He has brought His power clear down to the foot of the mountain where we are, and He gives us the help we need if we believe in Him and do the work of repentance which is represented by the prayer and fasting.
In connection with the story of the tribute money keep in mind the fact that this was not a tax to earthly rulers, but the yearly temple tax. You can read of the institution of this tribute in connection with the numbering of the people, in Exodus 30:11-16. The tribute was a half-shekel from every man twenty years old and upward. The coin which Peter found in the fish's mouth was a Greek "stater" of twice this value, enough for two. But should the Lord pay tribute to His own temple? While He lived with men on earth He would do this duty with them; and it is a duty which we all should do according to our means. What is the meaning of "prevented" in verse 25? Compare Psalm 119:147.
1. "Six days" after what? "A high mountain." What mountain? "Go thou to the sea." What sea?
2. Who were with the Lord in the mountain? What did they see? What did they hear? Of what use was the vision to them?
3. Who were waiting at the foot of the mountain? What did the Lord do for them?
4. How was the tribute paid for Peter and the Lord? To what was this tribute paid?
Do you see an appropriateness in the place of the Transfiguration - "a high mountain apart"? Compare the going up into a mountain to hear the Christian law. (E. 405)
Do you see why Peter, James, and John were chosen to be with the Lord at this and other times, and to see His glory? What elements of character do they represent, which bring us near to the Lord? Peter, you know as the type of firm faith in the Lord, and John as the type of the deepest love for Him. James, a brother of John, represents the love which is like unto love to the Lord and closely joined with it. (A. Preface to Genesis 18; E. 600, 820, 821)
What Divine attribute of the Lord was represented by the shining of His face as the sun? And what by His raiment white as the light? (E. 401; H. 129)
Remember the thick cloud which shrouded the Lord's presence on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19:16) The thick cloud represented the obscure knowledge of the Lord of which the children of Israel at that time were capable. His truth could be revealed only as stern literal commands which inspired fear and wholly concealed from them the Lord's tender love. A cloud overshadowed the disciples on the mountain of Transfiguration, but now it was a bright cloud. It represented the simple forms of truth in which the Lord accommodated His love and wisdom to their feeble comprehension. (A. 8106, 8814) When you think of Moses and Elijah as representing the history and prophecy of the Lord in their inner meaning testifying of the Lord and His glorification, what seems to be the special significance of this cloud? (S. 48)
Does there seem to be a reason why the Lord spoke to the disciples of John the Baptist as they came down from the mountain and why the messenger of repentance in this way connects the vision of the Lord's glory on the mountain and the experience of His power to cast out devils at the mountain's foot? Is it not by the practice of repentance that the inspiration of the interior state is brought down and made powerful in the external life? Much the same thought is expressed in the Lord's saying, "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." The rejection of John the Baptist and his message, and the neglect of such prayer and fasting was the cause of the helpless subjection to evil which is pictured in this scene at the foot of the mountain. What two dangers into which evil leads us are represented by the fire and water into which the devil cast the child? (A. 739; E. 504, 518)
It is important in studying the spiritual meaning of the story of the tribute money, to know that this was the temple tax. The lesson is in regard to the duty of acknowledging things of natural life to be the Lord's, and of making them useful to the Lord and spiritual life. The sea especially represents the department of natural life - natural interests and knowledge; and the fish represents the love of such natural things. The acknowledgment of the Lord in each natural interest and possession, and its service to the Lord and spiritual life, is the tribute in the fish's mouth. Even the Lord paid this tribute. We may say that the Lord especially paid this tribute, as in His life on earth He made everything of His human nature serve the Divine. There is a beautiful suggestion of the Lord's companionship and help to us in this duty, in the one piece of money which paid the tribute for Peter and the Lord. (E. 513)