Jesus glows in a Transfiguration
- 17:1 Six days later, Jesus led Peter and brothers James and John up a high mountain.
- 17:2 While they were there, Jesus changed into another form,1 right in front of them. His face started shining like the sun. And his clothes beamed dazzling white.
- 17:3 Suddenly, Elijah and Moses appeared. They started talking with Jesus.
- 17:4 Peter spoke up and said to Jesus, “Teacher, it’s wonderful that we’re here. If you like, we would set up three tents. One for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”2
- 17:5 Peter was still talking when a bright cloud appeared above them. A voice inside the cloud said, “This is my Son. He is well loved. I’m delighted with him. Listen to what he has to say.”
- 17:6 When the disciples heard that voice, they were terrified and dropped to the ground with their faces down.
- 17:7 Jesus walked over to them, touched them, and said, “You can get up. There’s no need to be afraid.”
- 17:8 When they looked up, they didn’t see anyone but Jesus. The others were gone.
- 17:9 As they walked back down the mountain, Jesus told them, “For now, don’t tell anyone about this vision. Wait until after this Son of Humans has been raised from the dead.”
- 17:10 The disciples asked Jesus, “Why do the scholars3 say Elijah has to come before the Messiah does?”4
- 17:11 Jesus answered them by saying, “You can be sure that Elijah does come to get everything ready.
- 17:12 And I’ll tell you this, Elijah has already come. The people didn’t recognize him and they mistreated him. They’ll mistreat the Son of Humans, too.
- 17:13 The disciples figured out that Jesus was talking about John the Baptist.
Jesus, super exorcist
- 17:14 When Jesus and the three disciples went back down the mountain, a crowd met them. One man walked up to Jesus and knelt down in front of him.
- 17:15 The man said, “Teacher, please have pity on my son. He has crazy fits and he’s in a lot of suffering. Sometimes he falls into the fire and other times he falls into the water. It happens a lot.
- 17:16 I took him to your disciples, but they couldn’t cure him.”
- 17:17 Jesus said, “My goodness, you people have so little faith. How much longer do I have to stay with you? How much longer do I have to put up with you? Bring the boy over here to me.”
- 17:18 Jesus ordered the demon to come out of the boy, and the demon obeyed. The boy was cured from then on.
- 17:19 Afterward, the disciples came over and asked Jesus privately, “Why weren’t we able to order the demon out?”
- 17:20 Jesus told them, “It’s because you don’t have much faith. Listen, because I’m telling you the truth. If you can muster the faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this mountain, ‘Pack your rocks because it’s time to move,’ and the mountain will move wherever you tell it to go. There will be no mission impossible for you.
- 17:21 An evil spirit like this won’t leave without prayer and fasting.”5
Jesus, on his death
- 17:22 Jesus was still in Galilee when he told the people with them, “The Son of Humans is about to be arrested.
- 17:23 Those people will kill him, but on the third day he will be resurrected.” This horrified the disciples.
Jesus, on his taxes
- 17:24 They returned to Capernaum. When they got there, people who travel around collecting the tax to support the Jerusalem Temple came to Peter. They said, “Does your teacher pay the two-day-salary temple tax?”6
- 17:25 Peter said, “Yes.” Then Peter went inside the house. Jesus was there and asked him, “What do you think, Simon? When kings collect money to run their kingdom, does he collect it from his own children or does he collect it from people outside his family?”
- 17:26 Peter said, “From people outside his family.” Jesus said, “You’re right. The children are exempt from the taxes.
- 17:27 But let’s not get these people upset. Go toss a line and a hook in the water. Pull up the first fish you catch and open its mouth. Inside, you’ll find a four-day-salary coin.7 It’ll cover the tax for you and me. Give it to them. “
The Greek word for what happened to Jesus is metamorphoo, from which we get the word “metamorphosis.” The word is often translated as “transfigured.” This event is called the Transfiguration.
Why three tents? Since this happened less than a week after Jesus predicted the coming of God’s Kingdom (9:1), Peter may have thought the kingdom had come. The tents may have been to commemorate the event, much like Jews commemorated the exodus out of slavery in Egypt. They did this by building small huts and living in them for seven days. It’s called the Feast of Tabernacles. Jews not only used this time to reflect on where they came from. They looked forward to the day they would be freed again, this time from Roman occupation. Many expected that the Messiah would lead the way as a warrior king. Big surprise: the Messiah is a turn-the-other-cheek pacifist rabbi.
This verse is missing from some of the oldest manuscripts. It is, however, similar to Mark 9:29.
The tax was equal to about a two-day salary. The currency was two drachma.
It was a four-drachma coin.
In the Transfiguration story, Matthew (along with Mark and Luke) says two Old Testament figures met with Jesus on a mountain: Moses and Elijah. The prophet Malachi predicted the return of Elijah (Malachi 3:1; 4:5). Jesus said John the Baptist, at least figuratively, fulfilled that prophecy (Matthew 11:10). So what do you think was the point of having the authentic Elijah show up in the Transfiguration?
What do you think is going on in the story of the Transfiguration? Why does Jesus apparently tell the disciples not to say anything about it? And when they are finally allowed to tell the story, what do you think is the message of the story?
Matthew says that after Elijah and Moses showed up, “They started talking with Jesus” (17:3). What do you think they might have said to Jesus?
What do you think irritated Jesus so much that it provoked him to tell a group of followers, “My goodness, you people have so little faith. How much longer do I have to stay with you? How much longer do I have to put up with you?” (17:17).
Clearly, Jesus told his disciples he was going to die soon: “The Son of Humans is about to be arrested. Those people will kill him, but on the third day he will be resurrected” (17:22-23). Yet the Crucifixion will seem to catch them completely off guard. Why do you think they didn’t get what Jesus said?
Matthew is the only Gospel that reports the odd story of Jesus paying his annual temple tax by instructing Peter to pull the money from the mouth of a fish. Why do you think he did that? Pick your favorite response—or add one of your own.
- Matthew was a tax collector. Tax stories interested him.
- Reporting that Jesus paid his annual Temple tax must have seemed like an important thing to the writer of the most Jewish-slanted Gospel of the four Gospels.
- Once you hear a story like that, you can’t unhear it and you can’t not tell it.
- Matthew wanted to highlight the point Jesus made to Peter: Jesus is the Son of God and should be exempt from taxes for the Temple where Jews worship God. But Jesus did the humble thing—the Servant thing.
- Matthew wanted to leave people wondering if Jesus knew who lost the money that the fish swallowed.