Matthew 17:13
Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
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(13) Then the disciples understood.—The words are suggestive both as indicating the conclusion in which they ultimately rested, and the frankness with which they owned how slowly they had passed from the literalism of the scribes to a true apprehension of the spiritual meaning of the prophecy in question.

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.

Ver. 11-13. Mark saith, Mark 9:12, He answered and told them, Elias verily comes first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him. Our Saviour agreeth to the promise, but showeth their mistake as to the true sense of it. They understood the promise of Elijah the Tishbite: the promise referred only to one of his spirit, and such a one was come, that was John the Baptist, as the angel told Zacharias, Luke 1:17, He shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias. Very much of the power and spirit of Elijah was evident in John. Elijah was full of zeal for God, 1 Kings 19:10: so was John the Baptist. Did Elijah freely reprove, not only Baal’s priests, but even Ahab and Jezebel? John as freely reproved Herod and Herodias, and the Pharisees and Sadducees. Was Elijah an austere man? Such was John the Baptist. Did Elijah flee unto the wilderness to save his life? John Baptist, for some time, lived and preached there. Elijah living in a corrupt time, was a great means or instrument to restore decayed religion: so was John the Baptist, in the time wherein he lived. This notwithstanding, not the Jews only, but some Christians, and that not only papists, but some protestants, think, that besides the Elias which is long since come, there is another Elias, who shall come before the end of the world. They found their opinion upon this text in a great measure,

1. Because our Saviour here saith, ercetai prwton, he doth come first; and Mark saith, elywn prwton, apokayista, coming first, restoreth all things. Now John the Baptist was both come and gone; nor had he restored all things. Besides, they say, that John denied himself to be Elias, John 1:21; and it is plain, that not the scribes and Pharisees, but the disciples, only understood the prophecy of Elijah the Tishbite; and Malachi saith, that Elijah should come before the terrible day of the Lord, which day, they say, is the day of judgment, in the constant language of Scripture. But to all this is answered,

a) That the Baptist, John 1:21, only denied himself to be that Elias about which they inquired, according to their tradition.

b) That it is true, that the disciples were led away with the Jewish tradition, and looked for Elijah the Tishbite, but Christ both here and elsewhere correcteth their error.

c) That not only the day of general judgment is called the terrible day of the Lord, but the gospel time, Matthew 3:10, when the axe was laid to the root of the tree, &c.; so Acts 2:20; and the day of the Jews’ particular judgment, which some understand hinted in those texts.

d) That our Lord first repeateth the words of Malachi, and so he saith, Elias shall come, or is coming; and then he expounds the words of Malachi of John the Baptist.

e) That the words of Malachi 4:6 are expounded by the angel, Luke 1:16,17, and there applied to John the Baptist.

f) That John did fulfil the words of the prophet, by endeavouring the conversion of the Jews, and prevailing in a great measure.

g) That the last words in Malachi, lest I smite the earth with a curse, plainly show that the text in Malachi cannot be understood of the day of judgment.

And though the name of Elias be given to John, yet it is no more than the giving the name of David to the Messias, Ezekiel 37:24. So as there is no other Elijah to be expected, but the Elijah prophesied of by Malachi was (as our Saviour doth expound it) John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded.

They knew him not, their tradition blinded them so as they could not discern the prophecy of Malachi fulfilled in him, so did unto him whatsoever they listed; and, saith our Saviour, so shall they do with the Son of man, that is, with me, who am the Son of man.

Then the disciples understood,.... By his saying that Elias was come, and by the account he gave of his ill usage, it was clear to them,

that he spake unto them of John the Baptist; and that he was the Elias that was to come, and was come: so that this observation, that according to prophecy Elias was to come before the Messiah, was no objection to Jesus being the Messiah; but on the contrary, since he that was intended by Elias was come, and had done his work and office, it was a confirmation of the truth of his Messiahship.

Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
Matthew 17:13. τότε συνῆκαν: the parallel drawn let the three disciples see who the Elijah was, alluded to by their Master. What a disenchantment: not the glorified visitant of the night vision, but the beheaded preacher of the wilderness, the true Elijah!

13. understood] See note ch. Matthew 16:12.

Verse 13. - Then the disciples understood. Though Jesus had said publicly concerning John, "This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face," and, "This is Elias which was for to come" (Matthew 11:10, 14); and though the angel Gabriel, in announcing his birth, had avowed that he should "go before the Christ in the spirit and power of Elias" (Luke 1:17), the apostles hitherto had not taken to heart the truth thus conveyed. Indeed, it was something quite new that they should thus at once apprehend Christ's meaning, so slow were they of faith, so unintelligent in appreciating the full signification of their Master's instructions. Matthew 17:13
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