And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)His disciples asked him.—The context clearly implies that the question came not from the disciples at large, but from the three who had seen the vision, and were brooding over the appearance, and yet more, perhaps, the disappearance, of Elijah, as connected with the tradition of the scribes. If Elijah was to come and prepare the way, why had he thus come from the unseen world for a moment only?Matthew 17:10-13. His disciples asked, &c. — Being much surprised at the sudden departure of Elias, and at their Master’s ordering them to keep his having appeared a secret, they had no sooner finished their dispute about what the rising from the dead should mean, than, addressing themselves to Jesus, they said, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come — Before the Messiah, if no man must know of his coming? As if he had said, Since Elias has gone away so soon, and since thou orderest us to keep his appearing a secret, how come the scribes to teach, on all occasions, that Elias must appear before the Messiah erects his empire? As they supposed that Elias was to have an active hand in modelling and settling the Messiah’s kingdom, they never doubted that he would abide a while on earth; and knowing that the scribes affirmed openly that Elias was to appear, they could see no reason for concealing the thing. Jesus answered, Elias truly shall first come, and restore, or regulate, all things — Jesus not only acknowledged the necessity of Elijah’s coming before the Messiah, according to Malachi’s prediction, but he assured his disciples that he was already come, and described the treatment he had met with from the nation in such a manner as to make them understand that he spake of John the Baptist. At the same time he told them, that though the Baptist’s ministry was excellently calculated to produce all the effects ascribed to it by the prophets, they need not be surprised to find that it had not all the success which might have been expected from it, and that the Baptist had met with much opposition and persecution. For, said he, both the person and the preaching of the Messiah himself shall meet with the same treatment.Mark 9:11-13.
Why then say the scribes ... - The disciples appear to have been satisfied now that he was the Messiah. The transfiguration had taken away all their doubts, but they recollected that it was a common doctrine among the Jews that Elijah would appear before the Messiah came, and they did not then recollect that he had appeared. To this difficulty the word then refers. "We are satisfied that thou art the Christ, but Elijah has not yet come, as was expected; what, then, is the meaning of the common opinions of our learned men, the scribes? Were they right or wrong in their expectation of Elijah?" See the notes at Matthew 11:14.
Mt 17:1-13. Jesus Is Transfigured—Conversation about Elias. ( = Mr 9:2-13; Lu 9:28-36).
For the exposition, see on Lu 9:28-36.Mark 9:10, And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. Then he addeth, And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come. The disciples (as appeareth) were as yet very imperfectly instructed in the doctrine of man’s redemption by Christ, though Christ had before told them, that as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so he should be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth. How dull the best of men are to apprehend spiritual mysteries, which are above the reach of our reason! The Jews had a tradition, and retain it to this day, That before the coming of the Messias Elias should come; they build it upon Malachi 4:4,5. That they had such an expectation appeareth by their sending to John the Baptist, John 1:21, to know if he were he, meaning Elijah the Tishbite (for him they expected); and this was their great error, and still blindeth them. The disciples had now seen Elijah, and possibly might wonder at our Saviour’s forbidding them to speak of the vision, as thinking that nothing could more conduce to the receiving of him as the Messiah: or possibly they might wonder at Elijah’s so soon leaving the earth, the Messiah being come, whom they expected he should come before. So as though they were fully satisfied that Christ was the true Messiah, yet they knew not how to reconcile their faith to the promise, or to their tradition built upon the promise. This causeth the question.
Why then say the Scribes, that Elias must first come? That is, come before the Messiah comes; for certain it is, that this was the sense of the Scribes, as it was of the ancient Jews, and is still the opinion of the modern ones. They say (h),
"that in the second year of Ahaziah, Elias was hid; nor will he appear, till the Messiah comes; then he will appear, and will be hid a second time; and then will not appear, till Gog and Magog come.''
And they expressly affirm (i), that
"before the coming of the son of David, , "Elias will come to bring the good news" of it.''
And this, they say (k), will be one day before the coming of the Messiah. And Maimonides (l) observes,
"that there are of their wise men that say, , "that before the coming of the Messiah, Elias shall come".''
So Trypho the Jew, the same with R. Tarphon, so often mentioned in Talmudic writings, disputing with Justin Martyr, tells him (m), that the Messiah,
"shall not know himself, nor have any power, "till Elias comes", and anoints him, and makes him known to all.''
And hence the Targumist (n) often speaks of Messiah and Elias as together, and of things done by them; and in their prayers, petitions are put for them, as to come together (o): this is founded upon a mistaken sense of Malachi 4:5 and which is the general sense of their commentators (p). Now the Scribes made use of this popular sense, to disprove Jesus being the Messiah: they argued, that if he was the Messiah, Elias would be come; but whereas he was not come, therefore he could not be the Messiah. The disciples having just now seen Elias, are put in mind of this tenet of the Scribes, and of their use of it; and inquire of Christ, not so much about the truth of it, and the reason of their imbibing it, as why they were suffered to make use of it, to his disadvantage; and especially why they, the disciples, should be forbid publishing what they had seen; whereas, were they allowed to divulge this vision, and bear their testimony to this truth, that Elias had appeared, and they had seen him, it might be a means of stopping the mouths of these Scribes; and of convicting men of the truth of the Messiahship of Jesus, upon their own principles, and of confirming them that believed it: or else the sense is, whereas they had seen Elias, and he was gone again, without making any public appearance in the nation, their question is, how came the Scribes to say, that he should come first? and if there was any truth in this, how came it to pass, that he did not come sooner, even before Christ came in the flesh; and inasmuch as he did now appear, why he did not appear more publicly, as the person that was to come, at least, before the setting up of the kingdom and glory of the Messiah; which they might hope were at hand, and that Elias was come to usher it in: but that he did not appear publicly, and they were not allowed to speak of it, they wanted to know Christ's sense of these things; and took this opportunity as they came from the mountain, to converse with him about it.
(h) Seder Olam Rabba, p. 45, 46. (i) Gloss. in T. Bab. Erubin, fol. 43. 2.((k) R. Abraham ben David in Misn. Ediot, c. 8. sect. 7. (l) Hilch. Melacim, c. 12. sect. 2.((m) Dialog. cum Tryph. p. 226. (n) In Exodus 40.10. Deuteronomy 30.4. & Lam. iv. 22. (o) Seder Tephillot, fol. 56. 2. & 128. 2.((p) Aben Ezra, Kimchi, & Abarbinel in loc.And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 17:10. Οὖν] can have no other reference than to the foregoing prohibition (comp. Matthew 19:7): “Seeing that we are forbidden to tell any one about the appearing of Elias which we have just witnessed, and so on, what reason, then, have the scribes for saying that Elias must first come (before the Messiah appears, to establish His kingdom)?” Does it not follow from Thy prohibition that this teaching of the scribes must be erroneous, seeing that, if it were not so, Thou wouldst not have enjoined us to keep silence regarding this manifestation of Elias? This is likewise in harmony with the answer of Jesus, which is to this effect: “That teaching is quite correct; but the Elias whom it speaks of as being the Messiah’s forerunner is not the prophet who has just been seen upon the mount, but John the Baptist, whom they did not recognise, and so on.” This view is so entirely in accordance with the context as to exclude any others, as, for example, that of Euth. Zigabenus, Erasmus, Kuinoel, who, emphasizing πρῶτον, interpret thus: διατί οἱ γρ. λέγ., ὅτι Ἠλίαν χρὴ ἐλθεῖν πρὸ τοῦ Χριστοῦ; πῶς οὖν οὐκ ἠλθεν οὗτος πρὸ σοῦ; or that which ascribes to the disciples the idea, of which there is not the remotest hint, that Christ is going to be revealed before the world in His glory, and that therefore there is really no further room for the manifestation and the services of Elias (Hofmann, Schriftbew. II. 1, p. 518); or that of Grotius, Michaelis, Fritzsche, Lange, Olshausen, Bleek, Hengstenberg, who understand the question of the disciples as referring to the circumstance that Elias had not remained, but had so quickly disappeared again (it was believed, though of this the question contains no hint whatever, that Elias would teach the Jews, settle the disputes among their instructors, restore the pot of manna and Aaron’s rod, and so on; Lightfoot on this passage; Winzer, de ἀποκαταστάσει πάντων, II., 1821, p. 9); or, again, that of Chrysostom, Theophylact, Neander, Krabbe, Ebrard, who suppose that the object of the question was to know whether the manifestation of Elias, which the scribes had in view, was that which had just taken place, or whether it was some other one yet to come; or, lastly, the expedient of Schleiermacher and Strauss, who think that the whole conversation originated in the disappointment felt in consequence of the prediction regarding the coming of Elias not having been fulfilled, and that it has only found its way into the present connection through an erroneous process of combination. According to Köstlin, p. 75, οὖν does not refer back to the transfiguration at all, but seems to say: “Seeing that the Messiah is already come,” which is the idea supposed to be contained in Matthew 16:13-27. He thinks the connection has been interrupted by the evangelist interpolating the story of the transfiguration between Matthew 16:27 and Matthew 17:10.Matthew 17:10. τί οὗν, etc.: does the οὖν refer to the prohibition in Matthew 17:9 (Meyer), or to the appearance of Moses and Elias, still in the minds of the three disciples, and the lateness of their coming (Euthy., Weiss), or to the shortness of their stay? (Grotius, Fritzsche, Olsh., Bleek, etc.). Difficult to decide, owing to fragmentariness of report; but it is most natural to take οὖν in connection with preceding verse, only not as referring to the prohibition of speech Proverbs tem., but to the apparently slighting tone in which Jesus spoke. If the recent occurrence is not of vital importance, why then do the scribes say etc.? To lay the emphasis (with Weiss) on πρῶτον, as if the disciples were surprised that Moses and Elias had not come sooner, before the Christ, is a mistake. The advent would appear to them soon enough to satisfy the requirements of the scribes—just at the right time, after they had recognised in Jesus the Christ = Thou art the Christ we know, and lo! Elias is here to prepare the way for Thy public recognition and actual entry into Messianic power and glory. The sudden disappearance of the celestials would tend to deepen the disappointment created by the Master’s chilling tone, so that there is some ground for finding in οὖν a reference to that also.
Matthew 17:11. ἔρχεται: present, as in Matthew 2:4, praesens pro futuro, Raphel (Annotationes in S.S.), who cites instances of this enallage temporis from Xenophon. Wolf (Curae Phil.), referring to Raphel, prefers to find in the present here no note of time, but only of the order of coming as between Elias and Christ. It is a didactic, timeless present. So Weiss.—ἀποκαταστήσει πάντα. This word occurs in Sept, Malachi 4:5, for which stands in Luke 1:17 : ἐπιστρέψαι; the reference is to restitution of right moral relations between fathers and children, etc. Raphel cites instances of similar use from Polyb. The function of Elias, as conceived by the scribes, was to lead Israel to the Great Repentance. vide on this, Weber, Die Lehren des T., pp. 337–8.
 Septuagint.10. Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?] The truth of the resurrection was new to the disciples, see Mark 9:10. “If thou art the Messiah,” they say, “and shalt rise from the dead, surely the scribes are wrong in teaching that Elijah must precede the Messiah.”
Jesus shews that the prophecy of Malachi 4:5 was fulfilled in John the Baptist. Others contend that our Lord’s words do not necessarily mean this, but that Malachi’s prediction, though partially fulfilled in John the Baptist, should have a more literal accomplishment before Christ’s second coming.Matthew 17:10. Τί οὖν, κ.τ.λ., how then, etc.) To the mention of His death they oppose the restitution of all things by Elias, whom (see 17:31) they suppose to have come; and they think that this fact ought not to be concealed, but, on the contrary, published for the promotion of the faith, that the event may be recognised as already corresponding to the expectation of the Scribes.—πρῶτον, first) sc. before the Messiah’s kingdom.Verse 10. - Why then (ou+n) say the scribes that Elias must first come? The illative particle "then" shows that the apostles' question arose from something immediately preceding. The connection seems to be this: Elias had just appeared and then had vanished again; how could this visitation be reconciled with the scribes' interpretation of Malachi's prophecy? If Elias was to come before the advent of Messiah, and Jesus is the Messiah, how is it that he has only now shown himself? If he has a work to do on earth, how could he do that when his sojourn was limited to a few minutes' duration, and to the view of so few witnesses? Malachi had spoken of the Messenger who was to precede and prepare the way for Messiah; he had said, "Before the great day of the Lord, I will send you Elijah the prophet" (Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5); and the learned among the Jews interpreted these two passages of his appearance in person to herald the approach of Messiah. Hence the perplexity of the apostles, they, like the scribes, not distinguishing the two advents of Christ, and the double allusion in the prophet's announcement - the "Messenger" in Matthew 3:1 being a different personage from "Elias" in Matthew 4:5, though of the same power and spirit. Christ explains the difficulty in the two next verses.
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