The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.The Transfiguration
This verse would seem to belong to the preceding chapter. It may be taken alone for homiletic purposes, and treated under the form of an inquiry, viz.,—When does the kingdom of God come with power?
(1) When it so comes as to show the comparative paltriness and worthlessness of other kingdoms.
(2) When it brings the human heart into a state of joyful obedience to its spirit and precepts.
(3) When it throws upon the mystery and solemnity of the future a light which destroys the terror of death.
If the verse be regarded as an introduction to the scene which immediately follows, it will be seen how tenderly, as well as how wisely, Jesus Christ prepared his followers for the most startling events in his life. He was about to be transfigured: what if unpreparedness on the part of the disciples should overthrow their self-control, and disable them for further service? The light may come too suddenly, then what can happen but blindness?
2. And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.
3. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; 50 as no fuller on earth can white them.
4. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.
5. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
6. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.
7. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
8. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.
The whole incident may also be treated by way of inquiry, viz., What purposes would be answered by such an event as the transfiguration? The event is so unique and so sensational, that we may, without irreverence, ask what purposes useful to mankind could be answered by it. Clearly, the transfiguration would, amongst others, answer four purposes:—
(1) It would confirm the newly revealed personality of the Saviour, "Thou art the Christ." Great revelations do need confirmation. They startle and unsettle the mind. Has not God generally accompanied his greatest prophecies by some outward and visible sign? The prophecy of the Messiah, by sacrifice and various ritual? Prophecies of destruction, by uses of the rod, and weapons of war? Prophecies of restoration, by figures and symbols which satisfy all the longing and all the imagination of hope?
(2) It would show that the death which he had foretold was not the result of weakness on the part of Jesus Christ. It was not a fate which he would have resisted had his physical resources been greater. The disciples, on hearing the prediction of his death, might have reasoned—"He is overborne by superior force; no man goes voluntarily to death. He is hemmed in by hostile powers; he yields because he cannot successfully resist." The Transfiguration showed the contrary. See the heavenly light! Behold the heavenly visitants! Hear the heavenly voice!
(3) It would show the relation of the Christian kingdom to prior dispensations. Moses and Elias were present The law and the prophets led up to the gospel. The hour of fulfilment was at hand. God's kingdom, though revealed in sections and phases, is but one. The blade and the golden ear are one. Sinai and Zion are (spiritually) different sides of the same holy hill. "Moses wrote of me." We miss the instructiveness and solemnity of history when we break it up into unrelated chapters. History is one. Its sovereign purpose is the unfolding of the divine kingdom.
(4) It supplemented an individual testimony by a general and authoritative revelation. Peter had said, "Thou art the Christ." Now the Eternal One says, "This is my beloved Son." When Peter spoke, he spoke not of himself. Flesh and blood had not revealed, etc. All true sayings come down from heaven. The testimony was now established by three witnesses. There was henceforth no occasion to refer to Peter's word. Peter's word was introductory. Peter was, in a sense, the last of the prophets. The world needed a higher testimony than had yet been given: here it is—"This is my beloved Son;" there is no height beyond this!
Observe the command which comes after the revelation,—Hear him! Christ is the interpreter of himself. The command may be paraphrased thus: This is my beloved Son; if you would have the proof of his sonship, listen to him, hear his speech, attend to his tone; let him be heard for himself. If Christ were more listened to, he would be more profoundly loved and honoured. How many people, even in Christian congregations, have gone regularly and seriously through the word of Christ for themselves? The question is not, How many people have heard sermons? but, How many have studied the whole life of the Saviour for themselves? We never knew an infidel who quoted the words of Christ accurately and completely.
"Hear him" may be regarded not only as an indication of authority, but as a challenge to human intelligence and consciousness. Hear him, and say if he speak not to your hearts; hear him, and say whether any voice be so full of music, of sympathy, of love; hear him, and say if he speak not in the language of heaven the things which have been dumbly struggling within you, and set in cloudless light the hopes which you could never get beyond the region of misty and self-contradictory speculation.
Peter, James, and John alone accompanied the Saviour. The world's profoundest secrets and sunniest hopes have ever been in the keeping of two or three men. Lonely men, scattered here and there, have told the world when a great event was to be expected: they have predicted comets, and set men watching for new stars, and started men on expeditions full of peril and proportionate riches. We cannot all be treasurers; we cannot all be librarians. Thank God for mountaineers, for the strong climbers who first see the coming on of the new day!
9. And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.
10. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.
We have been dwelling upon the scene which disclosed itself on the top of the mountain: we now enter upon the scene which took place on the way down,—a scene which shows Christ giving a charge, and the disciples displaying intense interest in the revelation conveyed in that charge. We are amazed that silence should be enjoined upon the disciples: why should they not be allowed to tell this thing to all men? Surely such a statement must have a good effect upon the public mind. Instead of enjoining secrecy, why does not Jesus Christ summon thousands of witnesses to behold a repetition of the transfiguring glory? We are impatient to secure results. We would, in our imperfectness, try to do by a stroke what he takes many days to accomplish. Was it not a waste of power on the part of Christ to be transfigured in comparative secrecy? Would not the transfiguration have done more for his interests than the sermon on the mount? Yet the sermon was heard by a multitude, and the transfiguration was seen by three uninfluential men! This is one of the divine processes which we should have reversed. So foolish are we, and ignorant!
(1) All physical phenomena are but temporary.
(2) Wonderful deeds are only permanently valuable as expositions of spiritual truths.
(3) Every miracle or wonder in Christ's life was incomplete until the resurrection had been accomplished. Halt-truths or unfinished statements often do more harm than good. When the resurrection had been accomplished, all the other miracles would fall into their proper proportions,—the resurrection itself would be the one miracle of universal and eternal importance. It is the epitome of all the rest.
(4) What the disciples have already seen is to be eclipsed by what they have yet to see. They have seen the transfiguration, they shall yet see the resurrection! Is not this the law of divine discipline and progress? Can we ever see the richest jewel in God's treasures?
(5) The speculation of one age is the dogma of another. The disciples questioned one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. They had the resurrection before them; we have it behind us. Wonderful in its width of meaning was this rising from the dead! What did it mean? It meant Redemption completed, Death overthrown, Heaven opened! "If Christ be not risen from the dead," etc.
11. And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?
12. And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh 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.
13. 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.
The disciples now begin the deepest questions which they had to propose. They showed themselves students as well as observers. Men misread prophecy. They do not see the principles which are represented by names. John the Baptist was the pre-Christian Elias. Men do not always fully understand their representativeness; even the poorest of men are more than they seem to be: even a little child may typify the kingdom of God.
14. And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.
15. And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.
16. And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them?
17. And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;
18. And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not.
19. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me.
20. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.
21. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.
22. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.
23. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
24. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
25. When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him.
26. And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.
27. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.
28. And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out?
29. And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.
Different diseases require different treatment,—"this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." Illustration may be found in common life; among diseases of the soul may be set down—Pride, Lust, Covetousness, Self-confidence, etc., the cure of which may require variations of treatment. However many and subtle the variations, Christ's power is available for all. On the expression, "This kind goeth not out," etc., Lange remarks: "It were a mistake to regard this demoniacal possession as different from others in kind, and not merely in degree, and hence as constituting a peculiar kind, for which specific prayer and fasting were required. The Lord rather conveyed to his disciples that they had not preserved or cultivated the state of mind and heart necessary for the occasion, that they were not sufficiently prepared and collected to cast out so malignant a demon.... The demons of such complete melancholy could only be overcome by most earnest prayer and entire renunciation of the world." Stier says: "Our Lord says two things in the But: first, that he had meant the casting out of devils by the similitude of removing mountains; and, secondly, that to control spirits, to break the evil will, the wicked power in the kingdom of sin, and of rebellion against the Almighty, who tolerates it according to the law of freedom, and even only thus removes it, is, indeed, another and greater thing than the simple working of miracles on helpless nature."
In this incident, note: (1) A household in misery because of one of its members. Trouble may be intensive as well as extensive. One prodigal may destroy the peace of a whole family. (2) A household troubled by an uncontrollable circumstance. The sufferer in this case was not blamable. Some troubles we bring upon ourselves; others are put into our lot by a power beyond us. (3) A household united in deep concern for one of its members. The father spoke not for himself only, but also for others: "Have compassion on us, and help us." The beauty of individual and social sympathy. An unfeeling heart a greater calamity in a family than the most painful affliction.
The incident may be viewed not only from the point of the household, but from the point occupied by the Church. Thus: (1) The Church expected to have restoring energy; (2) the Church overborne by the evil which confronts it; (3) the Church publicly rebuked for its incapacity; (4) the Church shown to be powerless in the absence of Christ.
Look at the incident as showing Christ's position: (1) Christ calm in the midst of social tumult; (2) Christ exposing himself to severe reprisals in the event of failure,—he spoke rebukingly before he performed the miracle; (3) Christ asserting his independence,—"Bring him unto me." Jesus needed no help: "Without me ye can do nothing,"—but without us he can do everything. (4) Christ over-ruling and destroying evil: he never put evil into any man,—always he sought to cast it out! Christ's antagonism to evil was implacable and eternal.
Learn something from the incident respecting the restoration of men: (1) The worst of cases are not hopeless; (2) devils do not come easily out of men; (3) Jesus Christ not only expels the devil, he gives his own personal help to the recovered man. "Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up." We need Jesus even until we are set in heaven. It is not enough that the devil be expelled; we must have the direct, daily, gracious help of the Saviour. The devil throws down; Jesus lifts up.
30. And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it.
31. For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that lie is killed, he shall rise the third day.
32. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.
Antecedently, there is nothing more improbable than that a man who has worked so beneficently should be "killed." The very miracle which he has just performed should itself bring around Jesus Christ a whole army of protectors. Men should say: "The man who has done this good deed shall never be injured: we take him under our care, and not a hair of his head shall perish." We must, then, go deeper than mere circumstances to find the meaning of this mortal antipathy. What is its meaning? The meaning is that evil and good are in eternal antagonism, and they must come to a final contest. Jesus has cast out a devil; now the devil will try to cast him out.
The 32nd verse shows how mystery is the occasion of fear. The fear in this instance was most pathetic. Even Peter was silent. There are circumstances which make the most flippant and talkative of men solemn. There is no mystery in a straight line; when the curve begins, mystery begins. Jesus Christ was going out of sight for a time,—a specified time, and therefore under the dominion of the very power which seems to be worsted in the fight.
"He shall rise,"—the word of hope spoken in the day of gloom.
"The third day:" (1) A full separation; (2) a brief separation,—"For a small moment I have forsaken thee," etc.
About this announcement there are two remarkable things:—
(1) Jesus Christ gave his disciples the advantage of preparation: so in all our life, could we but see the meaning of things, we are always being prepared for further disclosure of God's purpose and method.
(2) Jesus Christ followed the surprise of grief with the surprise of hope,—"He shall rise the third day." The surprises are equal. That such a man should be killed is impossible. He can work miracles, why, then, should he not save himself? That a man who was weak enough to be killed, should also be strong enough to rise again, was a counterbalancing surprise! Why not use this very strength to prevent suffering and death? If he could overcome death itself, why not overcome those who sought to kill him? He who can do the greater can of course do the less. Herein is the mystery of sacrifice,—the problem of atonement. Jesus "gave himself;" he laid down his life: socially there was murder,—spiritually there was sacrifice.
33. And he came to Capernaum; and being in the house, he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?
34. But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.
35. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.
36. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them,
37. Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.
(1) This dispute about greatness can only be prevented by a deep attachment to Jesus as head of the Church.
(2) All selfish discussions degrade Christian dignity, and impair Christian usefulness.
(3) This dispute is proceeding to-day more vigorously than ever. Who is to be high priest? Who is to be leader? Who is to go first in the procession? Who is to sit on the right hand? The Church is still fighting the battle of etiquette and status. Poor Church!
In Jesus Christ's statement of the case two things are clear:—
(1) That selfishness defeats its own object.—"He that exalteth himself shall be abased." "He that saveth his life shall lose it."
(2) That greatness is a spiritual condition, not a social distinction.—The child-spirit is true greatness. "Whoso abaseth himself shall be exalted." "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." "Pigmies are pigmies still, though perched on Alps, and pyramids are pyramids in vales." A man may be great in grace. By the very necessity of the case all outward distinctions must become less and less, but spiritual attributes endure as long as the being of the soul.
Notice the beautiful picture set forth in the 36th verse. Jesus with a child in his arms!
(1) Childhood teaches simplicity, dependence, trustfulness. (2) Childhood represents freedom from care, anxiety, and fear of the future. The apostle put away childish things, not childlike things.
(3) Jesus values life, not mere age. We baptise human life, not human birthdays.
Jesus Christ has set a child in the midst of the whole world to teach the highest lessons. The child's dependence; the child's ignorance; the child's affliction; the child's death,—these things teach us evermore.
38. And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.
39. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.
40. For he that is not against us is on our part.
41. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.
42. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his nock, and he were cast into the sea.
A sign of great self-importance was this on the part of John! The veto would sound well as the voice of the Church. The right use of authority has always been a subject of special delicacy; and the danger of narrowness has always threatened to impair the primary design of the gospel.
The incident may be homiletically treated as showing five things:—
(1) Whoever attempts to cast out devils has the sympathy of Jesus Christ.—Instead of the word devils, use evils, and the meaning will be clear. Intemperance, ignorance, idleness, etc. The whole reformatory system which society has set up, etc The outworks are Christ's, as well as the citadel.
(2) All who work in a right spirit are in reality one body.—"No man which shall do a miracle in my name." There are two classes excluded—(1) Miracles wrought to satisfy vanity; (2) miracles wrought to promote selfish ends. A beautiful picture is that arising out of the unconscious unity of all good workers.
(3) The solitary and unclassified worker is not ignored by Jesus Christ.—"We saw one casting out devils in thy name." Here is individuality of effort. Each man has his own way of working. Some men cannot work in companies. The solitary worker should not be cynical towards companies. Companies should not be harsh to solitary workers (Mark 9:42).
(4) There are more good people in the world than are gathered around conventional standards.—"Because he followeth not us." We are all prone to make ourselves the standard of measurement. This may be more than weak, it may be sinful. Sects seldom know much of each other. Their mutual animosity is in proportion to their mutual ignorance. Sectarianism is hateful; denominationalism may be convenient and even useful.
(5) Long before men reach the point of miracles, they may reach the point of acceptance with Jesus Christ.—The man in the text had been working a miracle; but Jesus says that the gift of a cup of water shall be treated as a miracle of love. See the variety of work: one man casts out a devil, another gives a cup of water! They are both servants in the same household.
As an interlocution between Christ and the Church, see the infinite superiority of the Master! He speaks the noble word of charity. He draws within his love the strange worker. It is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of man! Thanks be to God, the Church is not to pronounce the decisive word!
The 42nd verse must be guarded from selfish and paltry interpretation. It is easy to offend some people. We may offend a man's vanity, and it is right to do so: we may offend his ignorance, and have the Master's approval,—we are not to offend the Christ that is in any man; we are not to discourage him in doing good; we are not to grieve the Holy Ghost that is in him.
43. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
44. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
45. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
46. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
47. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:
48. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
49. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
50. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.
A perusal of distinguished commentaries has not made the whole meaning of some of these expressions plain to us. We question whether "the kingdom of God" (Mark 9:47) and "hell fire" (Mark 9:47) refer to the future and invisible state. The whole expression is figurative. A man does not enter into heaven because he has one eye, nor is he cast into hell because he has two eyes. The hand, foot, and eye, are not to be taken literally, but symbolically; otherwise what a spectacle would the Church present! The meaning may be this: It is better for thee to mortify every passion in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, so as to enter into true life, than to gratify every lust so as to create within thee corruption full of worms, and a heat terrible as hell. The heart of a depraved man is a Gehenna. There the worm dieth not, and the fire is never quenched. The salt of Christ's presence and discipline can alone save the heart from loathsome corruption.
Homiletic use may be made of the symbolism:—
(1) The hand,—strife, defiance, theft, oppression, etc.
(2) The foot—trespass, wandering instability, supposed solidity of position, etc.
(3) The eye,—covetousness, lust, the fallacy of appearances, the temptation of the visible as against the invisible, etc.
The 49th verse has been variously commented upon, thus:—"By salt understand the spirit of wisdom and grace, seasoning the effect, and by fire tribulation, whereby the patience of the faithful is exercised, that they may have a perfect worker." (Beda.) "Salt is just reproof, which is to be tempered with love, and wherewith our love is to be seasoned." (Jerome.) "It is an exhortation to the vigour of faith, by which others are preserved also, when we use our gift to season them; and lest the acrimony of salt should be too acting, he adds the other member of love." (Calvin.) "The interpretation of the sacrifice of the condemned—and the fire and salt as eternal fire—except in the case of the salt having lost its savour, is contrary to the whole symbolism of Scripture, and to the exhortation with which this verse ends: 'Have this grace of God—this Spirit of adoption—this pledge of the covenant, in yourselves;—and,' with reference to the strife out of which the discourse sprung,—'have peace with one another.'" (Alford.)
General Note on the Ninth Chapter
The transfiguration may be compared to the full noontide light. The scene is one blaze of such glory as the disciples had never beheld. The conversation in passing through Galilee is full of the shadows which point towards eventide. The miracle which intervenes shows Christ at work, though the shadows were lengthening; the conversation which follows shows Christ teaching the very doctrines which would be best illustrated by the humiliation which he had predicted. In this chapter we have brilliant light, solemn shadows, noble service, pathetic instruction. Learn how to meet death, viz., in the midst of holy labour, and in the strength of holy principle.