Matthew 17:12
But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
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(12) Elias is come already.—These words, the emphatic repetition of what had been said before in Matthew 11:14 (see Note there), ought, it is believed, to be decisive as to the issue raised in the preceding verse. So far as the prophecy of Malachi required the coming of Elijah, that prophecy had been fulfilled in the Baptist, all unconscious of it as he was, as coming in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17). The disciples need not look for any other personal appearance. The use of the present and future tenses in Matthew 17:11 point to a deeper truth, which they were to learn afterwards. The Elijah ministry, the work of the preacher of repentance, is not a transient phenomenon belonging to one stage only of the Church’s history, but was to be, throughout the ages, on to the end of all things, the indispensable preparation for the coming of the Lord. Only through it could all things be restored, and the path made ready for the heralds of forgiveness and of peace.

They knew him not.—The Greek word implies full and accurate knowledge. Better, perhaps, they recognised him not. Must we not say that those who, after these words, still look forward to the personal advent of Elijah are unconsciously placing themselves on a level with those whose dimness of perception our Lord thus condemns?

But have done unto him whatsoever they listed.—Literally, they did in him (in him, i.e., as the region in which their will wrought) whatsoever they would. To “list,” now practically archaic, was the same as “lust,” without the special evil sense which has attached to the latter word. It is significant that our Lord charges the guilt of the rejection and death of John upon the scribes and the people at large, with no special reference to the Tetrarch Antipas. The passions and intrigues of the palace were but instruments working out the intent of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.—Another instance of what may be called the new colour which from the time of the Transfiguration spreads over our Lord’s teaching. All is, in one aspect, darker, sadder, more sombre. He is drawing nearer to the cross, and He brings the thought of the cross closer to the minds of the disciples.

17:1-13 Now the disciples beheld somewhat of Christ's glory, as of the only begotten of the Father. It was intended to support their faith, when they would have to witness his crucifixion; and would give them an idea of the glory prepared for them, when changed by his power and made like him. The apostles were overcome by the glorious sight. Peter thought that it was most desirable to continue there, and to go no more down to meet the sufferings of which he was so unwilling to hear. In this he knew not what he said. We are wrong, if we look for a heaven here upon earth. Whatever tabernacles we propose to make for ourselves in this world, we must always remember to ask Christ's leave. That sacrifice was not yet offered, without which the souls of sinful men could not have been saved; and important services were to be done by Peter and his brethren. While Peter spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, an emblem of the Divine presence and glory. Ever since man sinned, and heard God's voice in the garden, unusual appearances of God have been terrible to man. They fell prostrate to the earth, till Jesus encouraged them; when looking round, they beheld only their Lord as they commonly saw him. We must pass through varied experiences in our way to glory; and when we return to the world after an ordinance, it must be our care to take Christ with us, and then it may be our comfort that he is with us.Elias is come already - That is, John the Baptist has come, in the spirit and power of Elias. See Luke 1:17.

They have done unto him whatsoever they listed - The word "list" is an old English word, signifying to choose, to desire, to be inclined. See Judges 3:8. It means, here, that they had done to John as they pleased; that is, they had put him to death, Matthew 14:10.

Mark adds Mark 9:12 that Jesus told them that it was "written of the Son of man that he must suffer many things, and be set at naught." This was written of him particularly in Isaiah 53:1-12. To be set at naught is to be esteemed as worthless or as nothing; to be cast out and despised. No prophecy was ever more strikingly fulfilled. See Luke 23:11, Luke 23:14-21. This narrative, with some additions, is found in Mark 9:14-29, and Luke 9:37-43.


Mt 17:1-13. Jesus Is Transfigured—Conversation about Elias. ( = Mr 9:2-13; Lu 9:28-36).

For the exposition, see on [1321]Lu 9:28-36.

See Poole on "Matthew 17:13".

But I say unto you,.... A way of speaking used by Christ, when he opposes and contradicts any of the tenets of the Scribes and Pharisees; see Matthew 5:22 "that Elias is come already"; the person that was signified by, and prophesied of, under the name of Elias: for Christ refers not to the late appearance of Elias on the mount, but to the coming of a certain person some time ago; who came in the power and spirit of Elias, and was the forerunner and harbinger of him, the Messiah; as was said of him he should, "and they knew him not"; that is, the Scribes and Pharisees, who believed that Elias would come before the Messiah; and yet when he who was designed by him was come, they knew him not, they did not know him to be the Elias; they knew him under the name of John the Baptist, and seemed pleased with his ministry for a while, but afterwards rejected his doctrine and baptism, which is referred to in the next clause:

but have done unto him whatsoever they listed; they did not believe what he said, nor repent upon his preaching to them; they rejected the counsel of God he declared, not being baptized of him; they treated him with indignity and contempt, charging him with having a devil, and were well pleased when Herod put him to death; some of whom were doubtless among those that sat at meat with him; for whose sake, as well as for his oath's sake, he ordered the execrable murder to be committed:

likewise also shall the son of man suffer of them. Christ takes this opportunity to confirm what he had said in the preceding chapter, concerning his sufferings and death; and his meaning is, that as sure as John the Baptist had suffered indignities, and death itself, so sure should the son of man suffer like things; if not from the same individual persons, yet from that generation of men.

But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
Matthew 17:12. Οὐκ ἐπέγνωσαν αὐτόν] that is, as the expected Elias. The subject is the γραμματεῖς, Matthew 17:10.

ἐν αὐτῷ] towards him, not classical, but comp. LXX. Genesis 40:14; Daniel 11:7; Luke 23:31.

ὅσα ἐθέλησαν] indicating the purely arbitrary manner in which they treated him, in contradistinction to the way in which God desired that he should have been received.


The incident of the transfiguration has been regarded as a vision by so early a writer as Tertullian, c. Marc. iv. 22, by Herder, Gratz, Krabbe, Bleek, Weizsäcker, Pressensé, Steinmeyer; it would have been nearer the truth if a distinction had been made between the real and the visionary elements contained in it. We have no vision, but a reality in the glorious change which came over the outward appearance of Jesus, Matthew 17:1-2, that objective element to which the ecstatic subjective manifestation owed its origin. On the other hand, we cannot but regard as visionary the appearing of Moses and Elias, and that not merely in consequence of ὤφθη, Matthew 17:3 (Acts 2:3; Acts 7:26; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:5 ff.), but owing to the vanishing away of the heavenly visitants in the cloud, and the impossibility of any bodily manifestation, at least of Moses (whose resurrection would, according to Deuteronomy 34:5 f., have to be presupposed).[461] Moreover, Matthew and Mark themselves represent the manifestation of both in such a way, that it is impossible to assert that they regarded it in the light of an actual fact; notice, on the contrary, the different modes of conception as implied in καὶ μετεμορφώθη ἔμπροσθεν αὐτῶν (not: Κ. ὬΦΘΗ ΑὐΤΟῖς ΜΕΤΑΜΟΡΦΩΘΕΊς) and ὬΦΘΗ ΑὐΤΟῖς ΜΩΣῆς, etc. Only in the case of Luke is it manifest that he has followed a tradition which has divested the incident of its visionary character (Luke 9:30-31). The of course obvious and common objection, that three persons must be supposed to have witnessed the same phenomena and to have heard the same voice, is deprived of its force if it is conceded, as must necessarily be done, that a supernatural agency was here at work with a view to enable the three leading disciples to have a glimpse beforehand of the approaching glory of Him who was more to them than Moses and the prophets. However, it is attempting too much to attempt to show the higher naturalism of the incident (Lange, L. J. II. p. 904 ff., thinks that the heavenly nature of Jesus flashed forth from under the earthly; that the disciples had actually had a peep into the spirit world, and had seen Moses and Elias, which was rendered possible in their case through the peculiar frame of Christ’s mind and the intercourse with those spirits which He enjoyed), in opposition to which Ewald insists that the event was altogether of an ideal character; that the eternal perfection of the kingdom of God was unquestionably disclosed to view, in such a manner, however, that everything of a lower nature, and which was at all calculated to suggest the form which the narrative ultimately assumed, was lost sight of amid the pure light of a higher sphere of things (Gesch. Chr. p. 462). To assume as the foundation of the story (Baumgarten-Crusius) only some inward manifestation or other in Jesus Himself, such as led to His obtaining a glimpse of the glory that was to follow His death, is as decidedly at variance with the statements of the Gospels as it is to trace the matter to a vision in a dream (Rau, Symbola ad ill. ev. de metamorph., etc., 1797; Gabler in the neuest. theol. Journ. 1798, p. 517 ff., Kuinoel, Neander), in connection with which view some have likewise had recourse to the idea of a thunderstorm (Gabler), and the presence of two secret followers (Kuinoel). This way of looking at the matter is not favoured by Luke 9:32. No less inconsistent with the gospel narrative is the hypothesis of a secret interview with two unknown personages (Venturini, Paulus, Hase, Schleiermacher), in connection with which, again, a good deal has been made of atmospheric illumination, and the effect of the shadows that were projected (Paulus; Theile, z. Biogr. J. p. 55; Ammon, L. J. p. 302 ff.). The mythical view (Strauss, Scholten, Keim)—which regards the narrative as a legendary invention, and substantially ascribes its origin to a desire to see the glory of Moses on Sinai repeated in a higher form in the case of Jesus, and to represent the latter as the fulfilment of the law and the prophets—can least of all be justified here, where it is not only at variance with the studied unanimity of the evangelists in regard to the date of the occurrence, but also with the fact that the testimony of the three apostles must have gone far to prevent the myth from finding its way into the circle of their brethren; while, as regards the silence of John, it is certainly not to be explained on anti-docetic grounds (in answer to Schneckenburger, Beitr. p. 62 ff., see Strauss, II. p. 250), but it is explicable, to say the least of it, on the ground of his ideal conception of Christ’s mundane δόξα, and no more disproves the reality of the incident in question than his silence regarding so many other important historical facts already recorded by the Synoptists. Further, we must regard as purley supjective, and subversive of the intention and meaning of the evangelists, not merely the rationalistic explanation of the incident, according to which Jesus is represented as telling the three disciples in what relation He stood to Moses and Elias, and as thereby bringing them “into the light of His Messianic calling” (Schenkel), but likewise the imaginary notion of an admonitory symbol, after the manner of Revelation 1:12 ff; Revelation 11:3 ff., the historical basis of which is supposed to be contained in the fact that Peter and the first disciples had seen the risen Lord appear in heavenly radiance (Volkmar); and lastly, also the allegorical view (Weisse), according to which we are understood to have before us the symbolical conception, originating with the three enraptured apostles themselves, of the light which then dawned upon them in regard to the mission of Jesus, especially in regard to His relation to the old theocracy.

But, according to Bruno Bauer, the incident is to be regarded as the product of the conviction on the part of the church, that, in the principle on which it is founded, the powers of the past have found their glorified centre of unity.

The passage 2 Peter 1:16-18 can be of no service in the way of confirming the historical character of the incident, except for those who see no reason to reject this Epistle as spurious; but it is of great importance, partly as furnishing, all the same, an ancient testimony in favour of the occurrence itself, and the significance attached to it as a historical event; partly in reference to the telic point of view from which it is to be regarded, namely, as a foreshadowing of the impending δόξα of the Lord, in which He is to come back again, and into which His most intimate disciples were in this wonderful way privileged to gaze previous to His sufferings, in order that they might be strengthened for fulfilling the difficult task that would devolve upon them after His ascension. So far as the object of the incident is concerned, it must have been intended expressly for the disciples, as is evident from ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ.

According to what has been said above, and judging from what is stated in Matthew 9:31 as to the subject of conversation, it may be affirmed that Luke’s account bears the impress of a later stage of development (Fritzsche, Strauss, de Wette, Weisse, Ewald, Weiss), so that in point of originality we must give Matthew the preference (in answer to Schulz, Schleiermacher, Holtzmann, and others), and that even over Mark (comp. Ewald, Köstlin, p. 90; Keim, II. p. 588). See also note on Mark 9:2 ff.

[461] It is thus that Origen, Jerome, and other Fathers consistently argue. According to Hilgenfeld, the “Ascension of Moses” (N. T. extra canon. I. p. 96; Messias Judaeor. p. 459) was already known to the evangelist; but the Ascensio Mosis belongs, in any case, to a somewhat later period. Grotius saw himself driven to adopt the expedient of supposing that “haec corpora videri possunt a deo in hunc usum asservata,” very much as Ambrose had maintained that the body of Moses had been exempted from putrefaction. According to Calvin, God had raised the bodies ad tempus. Thomas and several other expositors refer the appearing of Moses to the category indicated by the words: “sicut angeli videntur.” Similarly Delitzsch, Psychol. p. 427 [E. T. 499], according to whom the form in which Moses appeared, and which bore a resemblance to His earthly body, was the immaterial product of his spiritualized psychic nature. Gess, with greater indefiniteness, speaks of the manifestation as a coming forth on the part of Moses and Elias from their state of invisibility. But neither Delitzsch nor Gess satisfies the requirements of the words μετʼ αὐτοῦ συλλαλ., which in any case presuppose a glorified corporeity, or else it amounts to nothing else than a mere appearance. Comp. Beza, who adds: nisi malumus ecstaticam fuisse visionem.

Matthew 17:12. λέγω δὲ: Jesus finds the prophecy as to the advent of Elias fulfilled in John the Baptist, so still further reducing the significance of the late vision. The contrast between the mechanical literalism of the scribes and the free spiritual interpretation of Jesus comes out here. Our Lord expected no literal coming of Elijah, such as the Patristic interpreters (Hilary, Chrys., Theophy., Euthy., etc.) supposed Him to refer to in Matthew 17:11. The Baptist was all the Elijah He looked for.—οὐκ ἐπέγνωσαν: they did not recognise him as Elijah, especially those who professionally taught that Elijah must come, the scribes.—ἀλλʼ ἐποίησαν ἐν αὐτῷ, etc. Far from recognising in him Elijah, and complying with his summons to repentance, they murdered him in resentment of the earnestness of his efforts towards a moral ἀποκατάστασις (Herod, as representing the Zeitgeist.).—ἐν αὐτῷ: literally, in him, not classical, but similar construction found in Genesis 40:14, and elsewhere (Sept[104]).—οὕτως: Jesus reads His own fate in the Baptist’s. How thoroughly He understood His time, and how free He was from illusions!

[104] Septuagint.

12. knew him not] did not recognise him as the Elijah prophesied by Malachi.

Matthew 17:12. Δὲ, but) He teaches that there is not only no inconsistency, but also an actual congruity, between the coming; of Elias and the death of the Messiah.—οὐκ ἐπέγνωσαν αὐτὸν, they knew him not) although Jesus (Matthew 11:14) had openly told it them.[785]—ὅσα ἐθέλησαν, whatsoever they listed[786]) The death of John is not ascribed to Herod alone; cf. Gnomon on ch. Matthew 14:9. Jesus asserts that Elias has come in the person of John the Baptist; John denies it; both truly, if you compare these apparently conflicting statements with the questions to which they were replies. The Jews asked John, whether he were Elias (cf. ch. Matthew 27:49)—he, that is to say, who was to come before the second advent, or great and terrible day of the Lord. John therefore replies in the negative. The disciples, comparing the opinion of the Scribes with the discourses of Christ, and endeavouring to reconcile them together, fancied that Elijah the Tishbite would come before the first advent; therefore Jesus replies, that he[787] has already come in the person of John the Baptist.[788]

[785] The world either altogether disbelieves the truth, or else, clinging to mere expectations, refuses to believe the actual fulfilment itself.—V. g.

[786] Whatsoever they listed, and that too owing to their evil and wanton lust. It is this very blind perversity of the world which causes the necessity that one must burst through so many obstacles to a good cause. It not seldom happens, that one who has effected some good, waits in expectation of most splendid recompences from the world on that account. But the man who knows God, the world, and himself, cannot long persist in such an expectation. The merits which receive remuneration of this kind are not spiritual, but worldly.—V. g.

[787] i.e., The Elias, who was appointed to precede the first advent.—ED.

[788] Matthew 17:13. περὶ Ἰωάννον, concerning John) not concerning that Elias, or Elijah, whom they had seen, as recorded in Matthew 17:3.—V. g.

Verse 12. - Elias is come already. The mystical, not the real, Elias, even John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elias (Luke 1:17). Christ is here speaking of the past, as in the preceding verse he spake of the future. The common Jewish interpretation confused the two events and the two personages, reducing them to one. And this mistake has been committed by many modern expositors. They knew him not. They did not recognize his true character and the import of his mission. Though they gathered round him and listened to his preaching and denunciations, very few saw in him the precursor of the Messiah, and many, misunderstanding his austere, self-denying life, deemed him to be possessed by a devil (Matthew 11:18). They have done unto him. John suffered a long imprisonment, and was eventually murdered; and though Herod was primarily answerable for these doings, the people were virtually guilty, in that they consented to the injurious treatment and made no effort in his favour. Likewise...also. Taking occasion from the mention of the Baptist's fate, Jesus foretells his own sufferings and death, endeavouring to make the apostles familiar with the idea of a dying as well as a conquering Messiah. Matthew 17:12
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