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.
Verse 1. - Till they see the kingdom of God come with power. In St. Matthew 16:28 the words run thus: "Till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." In St. Luke 9:27, "Till they see the kingdom of God." All these evangelists connect their record of the Transfiguration with these predictive words - a circumstance which must not be lost sight of in their interpretation. The question, therefore, is whether or how far the Transfiguration is to be regarded as a fulfillment of these words. One thing seems plain, that the Transfiguration, if a fulfillment at all, was not an exhaustive fulfillment of the words. The solemnity of their introduction forbids us to limit them to an event which would happen within eight days of their utterance. But there was an event impending, namely, the destruction of Jerusalem, involving the overthrow of the Jewish polity, which, coming as it did within forty or fifty years of the time when our Lord uttered these words, might reasonably have been expected to take place within the lifetime of some of those then standing there. And that great catastrophe was frequently alluded to by our Lord as a type and earnest of the great judgment at the end of the world. What relation, then, did the Transfiguration hold to these two events and to the prediction contained in this verse? It was surely a prelude and pledge of what should be hereafter, specially designed to brace and strengthen the apostles for the sight of the sufferings of their Master, and to animate them to endure the toil and the trials of the Christian life. So that the Transfiguration was an event, so to speak, parenthetic to this prediction - a preliminary manifestation, for the special advantage of those who witnessed it; though given also "for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." Such were the views of St. Hilary, St. Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, and others. "When our Lord was transfigured," says St. Jerome, "he did not lose his form and aspect, but he appeared to his apostles as he will appear at the day of judgment." And elsewhere he says, "Go forth a little out of your prison, and place before your eyes the reward of your present labor, Which 'the eye hath not seen, nor the ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man.'"
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.
Verses 2, 3. - After six days. St. Luke 9:28 says, "About eight days after these sayings." There is no real discrepancy here. There were six whole days that intervened between our Lord's words and the Transfiguration itself. Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John. He chose these three, as the leaders amongst the disciples, and he showed to them his glory, because he intended also to show them afterwards his bitter agony in the garden. This magnificent splendor - this "excellent glory," as 2 Peter 1:17 describes it - this, together with the voice of the Father," This is my beloved Son," would assure them that Christ was truly God, but that his essential Deity was hidden by the veil of the flesh; and that, although he was about to be crucified and slain, yet his Godhead could not suffer or die. It was an evidence beforehand, a prospective evidence, that he underwent death, even the death of the cross, not constrained by infirmity or necessity, but of his own will, for the redemption of man. It was plain that, since he could thus invest his body with this Divine glory, he could have saved himself from death if he had so willed. He taketh with him Peter, and James, and John. St. Peter's reference to the transfiguration (just alluded to) shows what a deep and abiding impression it made on his mind. St. James, too, was there, as one who was to be amongst the first to die for his sake. St. John also was with them, who, having seen the glory of the Son of God, which is subject to no limits of time, might be bold to send forth his grand testimony, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And bringeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves. "It is necessary for all," says Remigius, "who desire to contemplate God, that they should not grovel amidst low thoughts and desires, but ever be lifted up to heavenly things. And thus our Lord was teaching his disciples that they must not look for the brightness of the Divine glory in the depths of this world, but in the kingdom of heavenly blessedness. And he leads them apart, because holy men are in intention and desire separated from evil, as they will be altogether separated from it in the world to come. For they who look for the glories of the resurrection ought now in heart and mind to dwell on high, and to seek these glories by continual prayer." Into a high mountain. A tradition of the time of Jerome identifies this mountain with Tabor, in Galilee. But there are two weighty objections to this view:
(1) that our Lord was at this time in the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi, a considerable distance from Tabor, and
(2) that there is strong reason for believing that Tabor had at this time a fortress on its summit. It must be remembered that Caesarea Philippi was at the foot of Libanus; and the spurs of Libanus would present several eminences answering to the description, "a high mountain (ὄρος ὑψηλὸν)." The Mount of Transfiguration was in all probability Hermon, a position of extreme grandeur and beauty, its snowy peaks overlooking the whole extent of Palestine. "High up," says Dean Stanley, "on its southern slopes there must be many a point where the disciples could be taken 'apart by themselves.' Even the transient comparison of the celestial splendor with the snow, where alone it could be seen in Palestine, should not, perhaps, be wholly overlooked. At any rate, the remote heights above the sources of the Jordan witnessed the moment when, his work in his own peculiar sphere being ended, he set his face for the last time to go up to Jerusalem." Although compelled to dismiss from our minds the old tradition of Tabor as the scene of the Transfiguration, we still think of that mountain as near to Nazareth, where our Lord was brought up; and of Hermon, where he was transfigured, as we rejoice in the fulfillment of the old prophecy, "Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy Name." And he was transfigured (μετεμορφώθη) before them. The fashion of his appearance was changed. It was no illusion, no imaginary appearance, but a real transformation. It was the Divine glory within him manifesting itself through his humanity; and yet not that glory of Deity which no man hath seen or can see; but such a manifestation that the disciples might in some degree behold the glory and majesty, of Deity through the veil of his flesh. Nor, we may believe, did our Lord in his transfiguration change the essence or form of his countenance. But he assumed a mighty splendor, so that, as St. Matthew 17:2 tells us, "his face did shine as the sun." This splendor was not in the air, nor in the eyes of the disciples, but in the person of the Son of God - a splendor which communicated itself to his raiment, so that his garments became glistering (στίλβοντα), exceeding white; so as no fuller on earth can whiten them. This figure is taken from natural things. The first idea of "fuller" from the Latin fullo, is that of one who cleanses by "stamping with the feet." His business is to restore the soiled cloth to its natural whiteness. The evangelist uses an earthly thing to represent the heavenly. The heavenly Fuller gives a purity and a brightness infinitely exceeding the power of any "fuller on earth." It would almost seem as if the figure was one specially supplied by St. Peter.
And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.
And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.
Verse 4. - And there appeared unto them Elijah with Moses. Moses and Elijah were there because Moses was the lawgiver of the old covenant, and Elijah was conspicuous among the prophets; so that they were the representatives, the one of the Law, and the other of the "goodly fellowship of the prophets. They appear together to bear witness to Christ as the true Messiah, the Savior of the world, prefigured in the Law, and foretold by the prophets. They appear to bear witness to him, and then to resign their offices to the great Lawgiver and Prophet whom they foreshadowed. Then, further, Moses died, but Elijah was translated. Moses, therefore, represents the dead saints who shall rise from their graves and come forth at his coming, while Elijah represents those who shall be found alive at his advent. Our Lord brought with him, at his transfiguration, Moses who had died, and Elijah who had been translated, that he might show his power over both "the quick and the dead." St. Luke 9:31 says that Moses and Elijah "appeared in glory, and spake of his decease (τὴν ἔξοδον αὐτοῦ) which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." They appeared in glory; the Divine splendor irradiated them. They "spake of his decease," literally, his departure - his departure not only out of Jerusalem, but out of this life, by his death upon the cross. The death of Christ was thus shown to be the ultimate end to which the Law and the prophets pointed. Even in that hour of his glory, on the Mount of Transfiguration, this was their theme; and thus the disciples were nerved to look with hope and faith to that which they had contemplated with dismay.
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.
Verse 5. - Peter answereth, and saith to Jesus. We learn from St. Luke 9:33 that this happened just as Moses and Elijah were departing. Peter was excited, and there was fear mingled with his excitement. He was bewildered. His first idea was to seek that they might remain, for he saw that they were just preparing to depart. Theophylact says upon this, "Do not say with Peter, 'It is good for us to be here;' for it behoves us ever, whilst in the flesh, to be advancing, and not to remain in one stage of virtue and contemplation, but to pass on to other degrees" It is, perhaps, too curious a question to ask how the three disciples knew them to be Moses and Elijah. The same Divine power which presented them with a vision of the other world gave them an intuitive knowledge on the subject. And we may, perhaps, infer from hence that in that world to come there will be not only recognition, but knowledge, at once imparted, of those whose faces we have not seen "in the flesh." St. Luke 9:32 says that Peter and his companions "were heavy with sleep (βεβαρημένοι ὕπνῳ)." It is probable that the Transfiguration took place at night. The whole manifestation would be rendered more conspicuous and striking amidst the darkness and stillness of night. But St. Luke is careful to add, "when they were fully awake (διαγρηγορήσαντες)." This word might be rendered, "having remained awake." But whichever translation be adopted, the intention of the evangelist is evidently to show that it was not in a dream or a vision of the night that they saw this. It was a great reality, on which they looked with open eyes.
For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.
Verse 6. - They became sore afraid. There is a slight change of reading here. Instead of ῆσαν γὰρ ἔκφοβοι the best authorities give ἔκφοβοι γὰρ ἐγένοντο. A sense of great awe and terror overpowered the bliss and brightness of the scene. All the revelations of the other world strike terror, even though abated as this manifestation was by the presence of their dear Lord and Savior.
And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
Verse 7. - There came a cloud overshadowing them. The cloud enfolded them all, so that they could not be seen, it was so ample and dense, and yet so bright and shining. St. Matthew (Matthew 17:5) says it was "a ought cloud. The cloud was a symbol of the grandeur and unapproachable glory of God. The disciples were admitted within this cloud that they might have a foretaste of future glory, and that they might be witnesses of what took place under the cloud, and especially that they might be able to give evidence throughout all ages of the voice which they heard come out of the cloud from "the excellent glory" (the expression is equivalent to the Hebrew "Shechinah," and St. Peter says (2 Peter 1:18), it came from heaven), This is my beloved Son: hear ye him. But at the same time that this cloud was the symbol, it was also the veil of Deity, of the glory of Deity. "He maketh the clouds his chariot," says the psalmist (Psalm 104:3). Moreover, the cloud abated and subdued the splendor of Christ's appearance, which otherwise the mortal eyes of the disciples could not have borne. It will be observed that St. Mark omits the words, found in St. Matthew (Matthew 17:5)," in whom I am well pleased." So does St. Luke. But it is remarkable that they are found in St. Peter (2 Peter 1:17); from whence we might have expected to find them here. In St. Luke (Luke 9:35) the most approved readings give, "This is my Son, my chosen (ἐκλελεγμένος)." The words, "my beloved Son," are impressed upon us in order that epithets so sweet and endearing might kindle our love and devotion. "Hear ye him" - not Moses, who has now departed, but Christ himself, the new Author of a new Law. "Hear ye him" was not said when our Lord was baptized, because he was then only just proclaimed to the world. But now these words signify the abolition of the old dispensation, and the establishment of the new covenant in Christ.
And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.
Verse 8. - And suddenly looking round about, they saw no one any more, save Jesus only with themselves. St. Matthew here says (Matthew 17:6), "When the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sere afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid." St. Mark omits this; but in his characteristic manner states that which implies what St. Matthew has recorded. It was the "touch" of Jesus that caused them to look round about; and then in a moment they perceived that they were alone with Jesus, as they were before this manifestation began. The order of incidents in the Transfiguration appears to have been this: Our Lord is praying. The disciples, fatigued with the ascent of the mountain, are heavy with sleep; and Christ is transfigured. Then appear Moses and Elijah; and they are talking with Jesus about his exodus - his decease to be accomplished at Jerusalem. The disciples mused from their sleep by the supernatural brightness, and by the conversation, and now, fully awake, behold the glory of Jesus, and Hoses and Elijah talking with him. As Moses and Elijah are preparing for their departure, Peter, excited, enchanted, bewildered, and yet grieved to see that they were going, seeks to detain them by the proposal to make some temporary resting-place for them. Then comes the bright overshadowing cloud, and a voice out of the cloud, "This is my beloved Son: hear ye him." At the sound of this voice the disciples fall terrified to the earth. But they are soon comforted by Christ, and, looking up, they see him alone with themselves.
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.
Verse 9. - He charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, save when the Son of man should have risen again from the dead. They were not even to tell their fellow-disciples, lest it might cause vexation or envy that they had not been thus favored. The time of our Lord's resurrection would be a fitting opportunity for revealing this mystery; and then the disciples would understand and believe it, when, after his passion and death, which were an offense to them, they should see him rising in glory, of which event the Transfiguration was a type. For, by the Resurrection they would certainly know that Christ underwent the death of the cross, not by constraint, but of his own accord, and out of his great love for us.
And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.
Verses 10, 11. - Questioning among themselves what the rising again from the dead should mean; that is, his own rising from the dead, of which our Lord had just been speaking. No doubt the general resurrection at the end of the world was an article of faith with which the disciples were familiar. But they could not understand, when he spake of his own immediate rising from the dead. So their perplexities led them at last to ask him the question; or rather to make the remark to him, The scribes say that Elijah must first come; with a view to obtaining some clearer understanding. They had just seen Elijah in the Transfiguration, and they had seen him disappear. They wondered why he should have departed. They thought, it may be, that he ought to have remained, that he might be the forerunner of Christ and of his kingdom and glory, according to the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 4:6). This the scribes taught; but they erred in the confusion of times, for they did not distinguish the first coming of Christ in the flesh from his second advent to judgment. The thought upon the mind of the disciples appears to have been this: They heard Christ speak of his own resurrection as close at hand, and they had seen the type of it in his transfiguration; and they thought that immediately after that, Christ's kingdom would come, and he would reign gloriously. Why, then, had not Elijah remained, that he might be his precursor? St. Matthew (Matthew 17:13) tells us that our Lord's words which follow showed the disciples that when he said that Elijah was to come first and restore all things, he meant them to understand" that he spake unto them of John the Baptist." Upon the question of a future coming of Elijah, it seems safest to confess our ignorance. The prophecy of Malachi was no doubt in part fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist; but it would be rash to affirm that it may not receive another and more literal fulfillment before the second advent. A host of ancient Christian expositors have held that Elijah will appear in person before the second advent of Christ. St. Augustine, in his 'City of God' (20:29), says, "Not without reason do we hope that before the coming of our Judge and Savior Elias will come, because we have good reason to believe that he is now alive; for, as Holy Scripture distinctly informs us, he gas taken up from this life in a chariot of fire. When, therefore, he is come he shall give a spiritual explanation of the Law which the Jews at present understand carnally, and will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers; that is, the Jews who are the children will understand the Law in the same sense as their fathers the prophets understood it." Indeed, this is one of the principal reasons assigned by the Fathers for this appearance of Elijah, that he may convert the Jews.
And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?
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.
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.
And when he came to his disciples, he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them.
Verse 14. - And when he earns to his disciples, he saw a great crowd around them. High authorities support the reading adopted by the Revisers, when they came to the disciples, they saw a great multitude about them. "They" would thus mean our Lord and the three chosen disciples who had been with him on the Mount of Transfiguration. "They" came to the other disciples who had been left below. St. Luke (Luke 9:37) adds "On the next day, when they were come down from the mountain." This would seem to confirm the supposition that the transfiguration took place in the night. All the synoptists agree in placing the following immediately after the transfiguration. Scribes were questioning with the disciples who had bee left behind. As they had assembled in the neigh-where Jesus was, for the purpose of watching him. Their object in questioning with the disciples was doubtless to throw discredit upon Jesus, because they, disciples, had failed to work the miracle.
And straightway all the people, when they beheld him, were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.
Verse 15. - The multitude were favourably towards Jesus, and were glad that returned at an opportune moment to defend his disciples against the scribes. But why were they greatly amazed? The word in the Greek is ἐξεθαμβήθη. It seems most probable that they saw in his countenance, always heavenly and majestic, something even yet more Divine, retaining some traces of the glory of his transfiguration, even as the face of Moses shone when he came down from the mount (Exodus 34:29). It hardly seems likely that the amazement of the people was simply caused by our Lord having arrived at an opportune time to relieve his disciples of their difficulty. The Greek word expresses something more than would be satisfied by the fact of our Lord having come upon the scene just when he was wanted. Even if there were no remains of the transfiguration glory upon his countenance, the vivid recollection of the scene, of the conversation with Moses and Elijah, and the subject of it, and the voice of the Father, must have invested his countenance with a peculiar majesty and dignity. The same word, though without its compound (ἐθαμβοῦντο), is used further on in Mark 10:32 to express the amazement of the disciples, as he pressed eagerly onwards before them on his way to Jerusalem and to his cross. There was no doubt something then in his countenance which astonished them. The multitude running to him, saluted him. The scribes had not been able to shake their faith. In their view he was still "that Prophet that should come into the world."
And he asked the scribes, What question ye with them?
Verse 16. - And he asked them; that is, the multitude. The context shows this. The reading here is αὐτούς, not τοὺς γραμματεῖς.
And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit;
Verse 17. - One of the multitude answered him, Master I brought - the Greek is ἤνεγκα - unto thee my son. He brought his son, expecting to find Jesus; but failing in this, he applied to our Lord's disciples to cast out the evil spirit, but they could not. St. Matthew (Matthew 17:14) says that the man came kneeling to Christ, "and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatic." The word in the Greek there is σεληνιάζεται. Etymologically, no doubt, "lunatic" conveys the meaning of the word most nearly. But the graphic description here of St. Mark corresponds exactly to epilepsy, and to epilepsy acted upon by an unclean spirit, who in this instance deprived the sufferer of his speech. Lunatics were so called from the prevailing impression, not without foundation, that the light and the changes of the moon have an influence upon the body, and so act through the body upon the mind. This influence seems to be recognized in Psalm 121:6, "The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night."
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.
Verse 18. - Wheresoever it taketh him (καταλάβη); literally, it seizeth hold of him. This is the Greek word from which comes our "catalepsy," the active form of "epilepsy." It teareth him (ῤήσσει). This is doubtless the literal meaning. But there is much evidence to show that it means here "it striketh or throweth him down." This is the reudering of the Peshito Syriac, and of the Vulgate. The same interpretation is also given by Hesychius as one of the meanings of the word. St. Luke (Luke 9:39) describes the symptoms thus: "A spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out, and it teareth him (σπαράσσει αὐτὸν) that he foameth (μετὰ ἀφροῦ), and it hardly departeth from him, bruising him sorely." This it will be remembered is the record of one who was himself a physician. He grindeth his teeth, and pineth away (ξηραίνεται), as though the springs of his life were dried up. The father of the boy is here minutely describing the symptoms when the fit was upon him. He seems here to express the stiffness and rigidity of the body in the approaches of the malady. And I spake to thy disciples that they should cast it out; and they were not able. They had tried and failed. This failure is attributed by our Lord (see Matthew 17:20) to their want of faith; or rather to their "little faith (διὰ τὴν ὀλιγοπιστίαν ὑμῶν)."
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.
Verse 19. - O faithless generation. These words were no doubt intended primarily as a rebuke to the Jews and their scribes; though not without a glance at the weakness of faith of his own disciples. The words are the complaint of one weary of the unbelief of the masses and of the weakness of faith in even his own. Bring him unto me (φέρετε); literally, Bring ye him to me.
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.
Verse 20. - And they brought him unto him. The father, it would seem, was not able of himself to bring him, so fierce and violent were the paroxysms of the disorder. And when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him (συνεσπέραξεν) - it might be rendered, convulsed him - grievously. Observe the Greek construction (καὶ ἰδὼν αὐτὸν τὸ πνεῦμα), masculine participle with neuter noun. The sight of Christ stirred the evil spirit dwelling in the child. He was irritated by the presence of Christ; for he knew his power, and feared lest he should be cast out. Then came the last and most violent convulsion. He wallowed foaming. The word "to wallow" is probably from the Latin volvo. He rolled about in his agony. St. Gregory, quoted by Trench ('Miracles,' p. 397), shows how true all this is to nature; and that "the expulsion of a deadly evil from our spiritual being is not accomplished without a terrible struggle, followed in some cases by extreme prostration."
And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child.
Verses 21, 22. - Our Lord asks the father, not the sufferer, which in this case would have been useless - he was but a lad, and he was dumb. Our Lord's question, How long time is it since this hath come unto him? was intended, not of course for his own information, but to inspire the father with hope and confidence. The father briefly answers, From a child; and then turns to a description of the perils to which his child was continually exposed through these paroxysms. And then, half doubting, half in despair, he says, If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us. It is as though he said, "Thy disciples have failed, perhaps thy power may be greater."
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.
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
Verses 23, 24. - The most approved reading here is, not Αἴ δύνασαι πιστεῦσαι, but simply Αἴ δύνασαι, So that the English rendering is, If thou canst! All things are possible to him that believeth. Our Lord takes up the father's words. It is as though he said, "Thou sayest to me, 'If thou canst do anything!' Ah, that 'If thou canst!' All things are possible to him that believeth." In other words, our Lord said to him, "Believe in me, and your child shall be healed." It was right that Christ should demand faith in himself; for it was not fitting that he should confer his special benefits on those who disbelieved or doubted about him - that he should thrust his blessings on those who were unworthy of them. The answer of the father is touching and beautiful. Greatly agitated, he cried out and said (we might well suppose (μετὰ δακρύων "with tears," although the weight of evidence is against this addition being retained in the text), I believe; help thou mine unbelief. It is as though he said," I do believe; but my faith is weak. Do thou, therefore, increase and strengthen it; so that whatever there is in me of doubt or remaining unbelief may be taken away, and I may be counted worthy to obtain from thee this blessing for my son." Nor can we doubt that Christ heard a prayer so humble and so fervent, and took away from him the last remains of doubt and unbelief.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
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.
Verses 25-29. - The multitude had been much excited by the dispute between the scribes and our Lord's disciples. And now, when they noticed that he had taken the father apart, as no doubt he had done, to question him they came running together (the word is ἐπισυντρέχει, an unusual word, meaning "they ran together to the place") where he was, crowding upon him. Then he came forward, and with a voice of sublime authority he said, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I command thee, come out of him and enter no more into him. The rest of the narrative shows how malignant and powerful this evil spirit was, who dared so to resist and defy Christ that, in his departure out of the afflicted boy, he almost robbed him of life. "Most unwillingly," says Archbishop Trench, "does the evil spirit depart, seeking to destroy that which he can no longer retain." And he quotes Fuller, who says that he is "like an outgoing tenant, that cares not what mischief he does to the house that he is quitting." Some have supposed that this was an evil spirit possessed of more than ordinary power as well as malignity, and that this was the reason why our Lord's disciples could not cast him out; so that this expulsion needed the mighty arm of One stronger than the strong. The words in the Greek are powerful, severe, and authoritative: "He rebuked (ἐπετίμησε) the unclean spirit, ... Thou dumb and deaf spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἄλαλον καὶ κωφὸν), I command thee (ἐγώ σοι ἐπιτάσσω), come out of him, and enter no more into him." This explains our Lord's words when the disciples remarked afterwards, We could not out it out... This kind can come out by nothing, save by prayer; that is, this particular kind of malicious spirit. For there are different degrees of malice and energy in evil spirits as in evil men. The words "and fasting" are added in many ancient authorities.
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.
But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.
And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out?
And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.
And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it.
Verse 30. - This verse informs us that our Lord and his disciples now left the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi. Their route would be across the Jordan above the Sea of Galilee, and so by the usual track through Galilee down to Capernaum. Our Lord now wished for privacy, that he might farther instruct his disciples with regard to his sufferings and death.
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 he is killed, he shall rise the third day.
Verse 31. - For he taught his disciples (ἐδίδασκε γὰρ τοὺς μαθητὰς αὑτοῦ); literally, for he was teaching (imperfect) his disciples. The Son of man is delivered (παραδίδοται) The whole is present to his mind, as though it were now taking place. And they shall kill him (ἀποκτενοῦσιν). This is a stronger form of κτείνω. And when he is killed, after three days he shall rise again (ἀναστήσεται); literally, he shall rise up. Our Lord repeats this prediction, in order that, when these events actually took place, his disciples might not be alarmed or offended, or abandon their faith in him, as though he could not be the Messiah because he underwent so terrible a death. It will be remembered that, notwithstanding these repeated warnings from their Lord, when these events actually took place, "they all forsook him and fled." It was therefore necessary that this coming event of his crucifixion should be repeatedly impressed upon them, that they might thus be assured that he was willing to undergo this bitter death; that he was not going to his cross by constraint, but as a willing Sacrifice, that he might do the will of his Father, and so redeem mankind. Therefore he repeated all this in Galilee, when he returned from his transfiguration, and after he had cast out the evil spirit from the epileptic child, and so had gained to himself great renown. He would thus restrain the excited feelings of his disciples, and impress upon them the reasons for his journey to Jerusalem, and prepare them for the dread realities which were awaiting him there.
But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.
Verse 32. - But they understood not the saying, and were afraid (ἐφοβοῦντο) to ask him; St. Matthew (Matthew 17:23) says, "They were exceeding sorry." They saw that something very dreadful was about to happen. Their Master's words and looks showed them this. But it was a mystery to them. All his words staggered them, but especially those which spoke of his rising again. They did not understand whether it was an entrance into a higher state or a restoration to a common life. They did not understand why he was to die, and how these words of his about his death could agree with those in which he had told them that his kingdom was at hand. Perhaps, on the whole, they inclined to the view most pleasing to them, that Christ would not die; for this was what they wished and most desired. And so they tried to persuade themselves that his words respecting his sufferings and death had some other hidden meaning; and were to be understood in a figurative sense and not a literal. But anyhow, they dreaded to ask him.
And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?
Verses 33, 34. - They have now reached Capernaum. And when he was in the house - the house, that is, which he frequented when staying in Capernaum - he asked them, What were ye reasoning in the way? The words "among yourselves," of the Authorized Version, are not found in the best authorities. St. Matthew (Matthew 18:1) does not record this question of our Lord, which brings to light the fact that they had been disputing by the way which of them should be the greatest. The Greek is (τίς μείζων) who was greater, that is, than the rest. It has been well noticed that this passage, given in substance in all the synoptic Gospels, is a striking evidence of the truthfulness and impartiality of the disciples. This dispute of theirs might easily have been suppressed as scarcely creditable to them. But in writing the Gospels the evangelists thought more of what exalted the Savior than what abased themselves. This dispute of the disciples shows how thoroughly they realized the nearness of his kingdom, and at the same time how much they had yet to learn as to the qualifications necessary for admission to it. It is not unlikely that the preference given by our Lord to Peter, James, and John may have given occasion for his contention.
But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.
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.
Verse 35. - And he sat down, and called the twelve. He sat down, with the authority of the great Teacher, to inculcate solemnly a fundamental principle of the Christian life. If any man would be first he shall be last of all, and minister of all. These words are capable of two interpretations. They might be regarded as analogous to our Lord's words elsewhere, "He that exalteth himself shall be abased;" as though they indicated the penalty which attaches to unworthy ambition. But it is surely far more natural to regard them as pointing out the way to real greatness, namely, by humble service for Christ's sake.
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,
Verse 36. - And he took a little child (παιδίον), and set him in the midst of them. St. Mark adds, what is not recorded by the other synoptists, that he took him in his arms. And taking him in his arms (ἐναγκαλισάμενος); literally, folding him in his arms; embracing him. It is probable that the house where he was was the house of Simon Peter; and it is possible that this little child might have been Simon's. A tradition not earlier than the ninth century says that this child was Ignatius.
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.
Verse 37. - Whosoever shall receive one of such little children in my name, receiveth me. Whosoever shall "receive;" that is, show him offices of kindness and charity. One of such little children; that is, such in simplicity, in innocence and humility, such as this little child is in age and stature. In my Name, that is, with special regard to my Name. He thus seems to link all that is good and beautiful with his Name; as all that is really good and excellent in man is a reflection of his goodness. St. Luke (Luke 9:48) says, 'Whosoever shall receive this little child in my Name receiveth me." Our Lord, therefore, speaks first, literally of a little child, and secondly, in a mystical sense, of those who are like little children; making that little child in his arms the figure and type of all those who are like little children. The sense, therefore, of his words is this: "Humility, which is the foundation and the measure of spiritual perfection, so pleases me that I delight in little children. And all who would be my disciples must become as little children, and so will they deserve to be received by all; for men will think that they receive me in them, because they receive them for my sake."
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.
Verse 38. - This verse, according to the best authorities, should begin simply, John said unto him - although in St. Luke (Luke 9:49) they stand, "And John answered and said" - Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name: and we forbade him, because he followed not us. The casting out of evil spirits was one of the foremost signs of apostleship; and what surprised St. John was that one who followed not Christ should have been able to work this miracle - a miracle in which, it will be remembered, the disciples had recently failed. It thus appears that our Lord's teaching had been so influential, that some, not reckoned amongst his disciples, had shown this proof of a strong and overpowering faith. We know that there were those in our Savior's time, of Jewish race, who cast out devils (Matthew 12:27). And Justin Martyr, in his 'Dialogue with Trypho the Jew,' states that while exorcism, as practiced by the Jews, often failed when it was attempted to be exercised "by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," was eminently successful when administered "by the name of the Son of God, who was born of a virgin and crucified under Pontius Pilate" (c. 85). That spirit has power over spirit in many mysterious ways is one of those truths which science has not yet been able to explain (see Dr. Morison on St. Mark, in loc.). To return, however, to the instance here alluded to by St. John, it should be observed that they who acted thus had faith in Christ; and that by thus acting with him and for him, though not amongst his recognized followers, they contributed towards his honor who, by means of these imperfect instruments, carried out the great purpose of his manifestation, namely," to destroy the works of the devil." Then further, the disciples forbade them not out of envy or hatred, but out of zeal for Christ, as though they were thus serving his cause and upholding his honor. But this was" a zeal, not according to knowledge." They had forbidden them, without having first taken counsel of their Master.
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.
Verse 39. - But Jesus said, Forbid him not. It is as though our Lord said, "Do not forbid him; do not hinder him from a good work - a work which does honor to me and to my cause; because, although he does not actually follow me as you do, he is nevertheless engaged in the same cause; he is celebrating my Name by the casting out of evil spirits. Therefore he is not opposing my Name; on the contrary, he is publishing and recommending it." Here is a warning against that exclusive spirit, which is eager for its own ends rather than for Christ's glory, and would limit the exercise of his gifts and graces to its own system or school, instead of inquiring whether those whom it condemns are not working in Christ's name and for the promotion of his glory, although it may be allowable to think that in some instances they might find a more excellent way.
For he that is not against us is on our part.
Verse 40. - For he that is not against us is for us. In St. Matthew (Matthew 12:30) we find our Lord using a somewhat similar expression, only in an inverted order. He there says, "He that is not with me is against me." The lesson which both these apothegms teach is the same, that there is no such thing as neutrality in reference to Christ and his cause. We must be either with him or against him. Dr. Morison on St. Mark in this place says, "When in applied morals we sit in judgment on ourselves, we should in ordinary circumstances apply the law obversely and stringently,' he who is not with Christ is against him.' But when we are sitting in judgment on others, into whose hearts we cannot look directly, we should in ordinary circumstances apply the law reversely and generously, ' He that is not against Christ is with him.'"
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.
Verse 41. - In my name, because ye belong to Christ. The reading adopted in the Revised Version is, ἐν ὀνόματι ὅτι χριστοῦ ἐστέ: literally, in name, that ye are Christ's; or, because ye are Christ's. The force of this observation seems to be this: "If he who gives you a cup of water to drink in my Name, and out of regard for me, does well, and shall be rewarded of God, much more shall he be rewarded who casts out devils in my Name." The disciples are thus taught that it is contrary to the whole spirit of Christianity to disparage works of beneficence, or to suggest unworthy motives for them (see 'Speaker's Commentary,' in loc.).
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 neck, and he were cast into the sea.
Verse 42. - This verse stands out as the severe antithesis to what has gone before. As he who receives and encourages Christ's little ones and those who are like little children and believe in him, receives him, and so shall receive from him the glorious rewards of Heaven; so, on the contrary, whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Christ is guilty of deadly sin; and it were better for him if a great millstone (μύλος ὀνικός) - literally, a millstone so large as to require to be turned by an ass - were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.
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:
Verse 43. - The hand, or the foot, or the eye represents any instrument by which sin may be committed; and it applies to those who may be the means of drawing us into sin. If your relative or your friend, who is useful or dear to you as your hand, your foot, or your eye, is drawing you into sin, cut him off from you, lest he should draw you into hell, into the unquenchable Gehenna. Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom, lay to the south of Jerusalem. Originally a pleasant suburb of the city, it became in later times the scene of the worship of Molech, "the abomination of the children of Ammon." On this account the valley was polluted by King Josiah. It thus became the receptacle of everything that was vile and filthy. These noisome accumulations were from time to time consumed by fire; and the things which were not consumed by fire were the prey of worms. Hence "Gehenna" became the image of the place of eternal punishment, where "the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." These terrible images are conclusive as to the eternity of future punishment, so far as our nature is concerned and our knowledge reaches. They are the symbols of certain dreadful realities; too dreadful for human language to describe or human thought to conceive.
Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
Verse 44. - Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. These words are a quotation from Isaiah 66:24, and they are repeated three times in the Authorized Version. But the best ancient authorities omit them in the two first places, retaining them at ver. 48. The metaphor is very striking as well as awful. Ordinarily the worm feeds upon the disorganized body, and then dies. The fire consumes the fuel, and then itself expires. But here the worm never dies; the fire never goes out. The words of Cornelius a Lapide on the original passage in Isaiah are well worth recording here: "I beseech you, O reader, by the mercies of our God, by your own salvation, by that one little life entrusted to you and committed to your care, that you will ever keep before your eyes the living memory, as of eternity and of eternal torments, so also of the eternal joys on the other side offered to you by God, and concerning which you here cast the die, and that irrevocable. Let these two things never depart from your mind. In this world, 'Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity.' Oh, what a void there is in earthly things! Oh, how vain is all our life without Christ! In the world to come, truth of truths, and all is truth; stability of stabilities, and all is stability; eternity of eternities, and all is eternity. An eternity in heaven most happy, in hell most miserable, ' Where their worm dies not, and the. fire is not quenched.'" St. Bernard says "the worm that never dies is the memory of the past, which never ceases to gnaw the conscience of the impenitent."
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:
Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
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:
Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.
For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.
Verse 49. - For every one shall be salted with fire; and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. According to the most approved authorities, the second clause of this verse should be omitted, although it is evident that our Lord had in his mind the words in Leviticus it. 13, "Every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt." Every one shall be salted with fire. "Every one." The statement is general in its application. There is no limitation. The good and the evil alike shall be "salted with fire." There is an apparent incongruity here. But it must be remembered that both the salt and the fire are here used in a metaphorical sense; and there is a fire which is penal, and there is a fire which purifies. In the case of the wicked the fire is penal; and the salting with fire in their case can only mean the anguish of a tormented conscience, which must be commensurate with its existence in the same moral condition. But there is a fire which purifies. St. Peter, addressing the Christians of the Dispersion (1 Peter 4:12), bids them not to think it strange concerning the "fiery trial" which was among them. This was their "salting with fire." Those persecutions which they suffered were their discipline of affliction, through which God was purifying and preserving them. This discipline is necessary for all Christians. They must arm themselves with the same mind, even though they may not live in a time of outward persecution. He who parts with the hand, or the foot, or the eye; that is, he who surrenders what is dear to him - he who parts with what, if he was only to confer with flesh and blood, he would rather keep, for the sake of Christ, is going through the discipline of self-sacrifice, which is often painful and severe, but nevertheless purifying. He is salted with fire; but he is pro-served by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
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.
Verse 50. - Salt is good; that is, it is useful and beneficial. This is true of the literal salt. Its wholesome antiseptic properties are universally recognized. But our Lord has before his mind in this whole passage the spiritual meaning. He is thinking of the salt of Divine grace, of the salt of a spirit informed and influenced by the Holy Spirit. He had already told his disciples that they were "the salt of the earth." Not, indeed, that they could deliver the earth from corruption - that was beyond their power. But when Christ had delivered it by his mighty sacrifice and the gift of his Spirit, it was their business, as it is the duty of all Christians, to keep it in a healthy state; so that by their wisdom and purity, their holy lives and holy teaching, they might season the whole world. But if the salt have lost its saltness (ἐὰν τὸ ἅλας ἄναλον γένηται), wherewith will ye season it? This insipid, tasteless condition of salt is familiar to travelers in the East Examples are to be found of largo masses of salt which "has lost its savor." Our Lord here applies this in a spiritual sense to his disciples. "If ye, my disciples, who are the salt of the earth, - if ye lose the true properties of salt; if your Christianity loses its heart, its quickening, stimulating influence; so that on account of the love of the world, or the fear of man, or through lust or ambition, you fall away from the heavenly doctrine and life; - who shall restore you to your former spiritual health and vigor? With what can salt itself be seasoned when its own chemical energies are lost?" Our Lord plays upon this figure of salt, and cautions his disciples, lest by any means they should lose the qualities of this mystic salt. Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another. This sentence fitly winds up the whole. Have the salt of wisdom and purity, and of a Christian life, namely, humility, charity, contempt of the world, and especially peace. Do not be idly contending about place or position, as not long ago you were disputing (ver. 33). Our Lord foresaw that this kind of contention, these rivalries, and these ambitious aims, would prove a great scandal and a great hindranee to the progress of his Church in the future ages of the world. But he also knew that if his disciples in every ago would endeavor to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," their influence would be irresistible, and they would draw all men to them and to himself, the great Centre of attraction, and "the confidence of all the ends of the earth" (Psalm 65:5).