Peter answering said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father, who is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou mayest bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou mayest loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Then charged he his disciples, that they should say to no man that he was the Christ.
From that time Jesus began to show to his disciples that he must go away
* [The Greek word can be translated] - Soul or life.
And after six days Jesus taketh with [him] Peter and James and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart; and he was transfigured before them, and his face shone as the sun, and his garments became white as the light. And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here; if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell upon their faces, and were exceedingly afraid. But Jesus came to [them] and touched them, saying, Arise and be not afraid. And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, but Jesus only.
And as they descended from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no one until the Son of man be risen from the dead. And the disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes, that Elias must first come? But he answered and said unto them, Elias indeed cometh and shall restore all things; but I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they did not recognize him, but did unto him whatsoever they would. So also the Son of man is about to suffer from them. Then the disciples understood that he spake to them of John the Baptist.
And when they came to the multitude, there came to him a man falling on his knees to him and saying, Lord, have pity upon my son, for he is a lunatic and suffereth sorely: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water; and I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not heal him. And Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him hither to me. And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon went out from him; and the child was healed from that hour. Then the disciples came to Jesus apart and said to him, Why could not we cast it out? And he saith unto them, Because of your little faith: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-[seed], ye shall say unto this mountain, Depart hence to yonder place, and it shall depart; and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind goeth not out, except by prayer and fasting.” - The Numerical Bible.
That the Christ would be the Son of God, Scripture had again and again declared. The second psalm expressly represents Him as rejected by men, yet owned of God as His Son by nature, yet in manhood, and to be (in spite of all opposition) King at last on Zion. And this is the Scripture which with one accord the disciples quote, after the first appearance of the apostles before the rulers of the Jews, when dismissed, they go to their own company (Acts 4: 25-28).
according to Isaiah, the virgin’s Son would be Immanuel, and this no mere or
hyperbolical name: the Child born, the Son given, upon whose shoulder was to be
the government in
deity, though born in
scriptures there were to shame
Striking it is, too, that John, His most intimate disciple, speaks of Life so much. And with Peter, if we look at his first epistle, we shall find that “living” is a characteristic word. A “living hope,” “the living word,” “living stones” built up upon the “Living Stone,” living unto righteousness, living according to God: all these harmonize with his confession of Christ here; while some of them carry us right back to the confession itself or to the Lord’s words in response to it. They combine to assure us of the Presence in which he had lived and walked, and of its power over him.
Lord answers immediately: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona:
for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father, who is heaven. And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter (Petros), and upon this rock (
faith is thus a divinely given faith, the fruit of a divine revelation to his
soul, and thus he is a true “bar-jona,” (son of a dove,) born of the Spirit of God; and,
Israel having rejected Christ, he must have a new place provided for him, and
for those of like faith. Thus he becomes
Peter, a stone in a new spiritual building which will be Christ’s
assembly. It is not yet said that this
is the house of God, which in
There is no question here, then, to raise or to settle: the “prophetic scriptures have settled it for us in anticipation, before it was raised. The assembly called out to Christ, is built upon Christ, and every way His assembly: relationship to Himself is now the whole question. And He being the Son of the living God, the gates of hades - of death - [the underworld of the waiting dead] - cannot prevail against it [Him]. Death has prevailed over the whole human race, but in the Son of God become Son of man, a new and eternal life has come into humanity, annulling, for those who believe in Him, him who had the power of death, that is, the devil. For these death is abolished, and life and incorruption are brought to light through the gospel.
Here, then, the assembly stands, upon the rock of resurrection, though resurrection has not yet been mentioned in connection with it. But Christ, says the apostle, is marked out Son of God by resurrection [out] of the dead (Rom. 1: 4). Life is thus not in Him simply, but in Him meets the power of death and vanquishes it: the assembly (though in the meanwhile on earth) belongs to the other side of death, yea, to heaven: the gates of hades open in vain for it.
is not, therefore, as
But under all this, and shining through it, there is a higher truth, as has been already said: the Church is that in which, first of all, the power of life over death, death itself made to minister to it and sustain it, comes out in its full character. The eternal life has come in Christ in its perfection, but in Him as a corn of wheat which, falling into the ground and dying, brings forth fruit in which it is perpetuated and multiplied. This is, of course, John’s doctrine, or that of his Gospel rather, and Paul also must come in to give it full utterance; but it is wrapped up here in the Lord’s first announcement of the Church to Peter.
He is going to build it. His words are as yet but prophecy, not a declaration of what He has done, or is doing, but of what He is going to do. Between that and the present lies for Him, as He begins now to declare explicitly, that awful valley of the shadow of death through which a deeper death darkens, - an uttermost woe which He alone can bear, a depth in which no foot but His could find standing. Then the “light of life” will have come, the weight be removed from of man’s heart, the cloud from his path, but more, - the veil rent which covers the sanctuary, he will draw near to God, distance done away for ever, to where the full glory of God in a Human Face shall greet and bless and glorify him with its radiance. This is what Christianity means for us even here; and oh that one could tell it out, but it is impossible. Christ must be for Himself the Speaker, and every one must hear from His own lips, find in His own face, drink in from His own love, that else ineffable reality.
From the announcement of the assembly (or, as it is commonly called the Church*) and of Peter’s place in it, the Lord goes on to speak of the Kingdom and his place in it: two things which are surely connected together, while they are different, and of which it is important to see both the connection and the difference. Here also there has been on both sides as much confusion of thought as in the former case, and far more widely spread. We shall do well therefore to examine with the more care the meaning of what is here before us.
*While in common parlance we may still use this term, it is important in all interpretation of Scripture to keep to the true word, “assembly,” which if it had been always adhered to, would have done much of itself to prevent some of the perversion of thought which has connected itself with the other. Church, as is perfectly well known, comes from the Greek Kuriake “of the Lord” which (as is evident) leaves out the very thing which ecclesia defines, and so permits to free substitution of other thoughts in its place.
common confusion is that of the Church and the Kingdom, and which has both
proceeded from and led on to very serious confusion in other respects. We have already seen sufficiently what the
Kingdom. is, to be delivered from the possibility of
any absolute identification of them. It
certainly was not the Church which John the Baptist proclaimed to be “at hand.”
The Kingdom in its Old Testament character being for the time set aside, on account of Israel’s rejection of the King, the “assembly” which Christ owns as His, in the day of that rejection, becomes the recognized people of God; and in the same relation to the “Kingdom and patience” that Israel will yet have in relation to His “Kingdom and glory.” Still the Kingdom and the people are very different thoughts; although in any picture of the Kingdom we necessarily see the people. So it has been in that history of the Kingdom which we have had put before us in the parables of the thirteenth chapter. But there even, if we have been able to interpret them aright, the people before us in the first parables are not the same people as in the closing one at all; and the Kingdom, while changing in character at the close, goes on beyond the time of the “assembly,” of which we have been speaking, altogether.
and Kingdom are not, then, even for the present time, the same though it may be
urged that (in the same way as with
The Kingdom, it is plain, in its mystery-form, is established in the world, not by any open act of divine power, but by the sowing of the ‘word of the Kingdom’ in the hearts of men. It is thus not territorial, as the kingdoms of the world are, but a Kingdom of the truth, a sphere of discipleship; which may be, however, merely outward and nominal, a profession true or false, which the end will declare. This is plain by the parables that have been before us. Its blessings are thus conditional, dependent upon character and conduct, as the parable of the unforgiving servant especially declares (chap. 18).
That it is administered by men, as representatives of the absent King, the Lord’s words to Peter here are clearly in proof, for the keys of the Kingdom are committed to him: not, I believe, distinctively, but as connected with that place which the Lord had just assigned him. As his confession of Him was just that of the others - of all true disciples, so the place of a stone in Christ’s spiritual building was not Peter’s alone, but that of all disciples; and the keys of the Kingdom go with this: the Church (that is) administers the Kingdom. In the eighteenth chapter, the power of binding and loosing, given here to Peter, is given to the assembly as a whole (ver. 18): and when we consider what the power of the keys implies, we shall find that in fact it is not peculiar to Peter at all. The two statements here go perfectly together, and as Peter is but a living stone founded upon the Rock, Christ Jesus, so every living stone is thus a Peter, and addressed as such through him.
After all that Rome and ritualism and even more evangelical systems have found in these keys, it may be hard to credit such a view as this; and with many it has been customary to point to Peter’s eminent place on the day of Pentecost in opening the Kingdom to the Jews, as afterwards in the person of Cornelius to the Gentiles. But an eminent place may be fully allowed him in this way, while yet we deny him any exclusive place; and in fact we cannot exclude others on the day of Pentecost; nor even at Caesarea allow that this was the sole use of the key in relation to the Gentiles, any more than the use of another key than that which before had opened the Kingdom to the Jews. One act did not surely exhaust the service of the key, nor to open the door twice require two keys. Can it be thought that the door once opened simply remained open, and needed no more opening? On the contrary, I believe it can be conclusively shown that the administration of the Kingdom, which these keys stand for, is not yet over, is not all come to an end in one initial authoritative act. Men still receive and are received in; and if the power of the keys speaks of admission into the Kingdom, and the Kingdom be the sphere of discipleship, then the key is in fact but authority to disciple.
Now there are keys, not simply a key; and so, if we are right, a double way of doing this is implied. The first is what the Lord Himself speaks of as “the key of knowledge,” and which He reproaches the lawyers for taking from the people (Luke 11: 52). Similarly in this Gospel He denounces the Pharisees for shutting up the Kingdom of heaven against men. “Ye neither go in yourselves,” He tells them, “neither suffer ye those that are entering to go in” (Matt. 23: 13).
But while the key of knowledge is thus the first and fundamental form of what is here, it is not the whole. There is also an authoritative reception, which the Lord has enjoined, and which, just as submission to authority, is most suited in entering the Kingdom. Baptism is thus “unto Christ” (Rom.6: 3), and “unto the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8: 16), an open “putting on of Christ” (Gal. 3: 27). It is thus a bowing to the authority of the King, as entering the Kingdom: “Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord,” says Ananias to Saul (Acts 22: 16). But the Lord Himself most distinctly puts the two keys together when, after His resurrection, with all authority given to Him in heaven and earth, He sends out the eleven with the commission of the King, saying: “Go and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the completion of the age” (Matt. 28: 19, 20).
All this is in perfect harmony with the words to Peter here, and sufficiently explains them. Thus read, they are in the highest degree appropriate to the occasion upon which they were spoken, as introducing to the new state of things which was at hand. Their very character as outlining, rather than filling in, leaving much to be explained at an aftertime, is perfectly suited to their introductory position. This is not, however, all that the Lord announces here; He adds, “And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven:” words which have been perhaps as much in contention as to their meaning as any of those connected with them here.
There need be no doubt that the terms “binding” and “loosing” have reference to, and are indeed but the application, in a Christian manner, of those in use among the Rabbins, and the Lord’s extension of them to the assembly in the eighteenth chapter shows absolutely that such power as is implied in them was not simply to belong to Simon Peter. Two or three gathered to Christ’s name have exactly the same authority, the same sanction of their acts; in either case the Lord rises the very same words: “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth” or “loose,” “whatsoever ye shall bind,” or “loose, on earth shall be bound (or loosed) in heaven.” If this were the communication of even apostolic power to Peter, then every two or three gathered to Christ’s name have similar apostolic power. No one doubts, of course, that Peter had this; no one, I suppose, would claim it for the two or three. That is not in contention: the question is solely now of what these words convey. The same words must have the same meaning, if there is to be any certain meaning in words at all: the application, or limitation, must be found in the connection. Not even the Romanist would say that there was to be absolutely no limitation, even in Peter’s case; and if any did, he would have (if he would be consistent) to say exactly the same of every little gathering to the name of Jesus. No one certainly could press a conclusion in the one case that would not have exactly the same title to be pressed in the other.
Now, if we seek the limitation in the context, that in the case of the two or three is easily seen to be to cases of discipline needed to maintain the Lord’s honour in their midst. The assembly does not define doctrine, and has no right to “teach for doctrine the commandments of men.” Christ alone is the authoritative Teacher, by His Spirit, and all we are brethren (chap. 23: 8). But the assembly has to maintain by a holy discipline what is due to Him who is Head and Lord, and whatsoever is truly bound in this way is bound in heaven. Here moral conditions also, in the very nature of things, impose a limitation: for to “bind” a saint to do evil cannot be authorized in heaven, and it would be wickedness to maintain this.
When we take this back with us to Simon Peter’s case, we shall find similar limitations. The context does not speak of the discipline of an assembly, but of administration in the Kingdom of heaven. This is not the Church, but the sphere of individual responsibility to the Lord, and hence the individuality of the assurance, “thou” not “ye.” The connection here is with the keys of the Kingdom, - with discipling into it: here individual teachers teach, and disciples baptize. There is no limit to any class that Scripture gives us, except the limit of capacity, and no control over others recognized except as all are subject to the common discipline of which we have been speaking.
Peter, therefore, in what the Lord says to him here, is not the apostle, but the confessor of his Lord. In his faith he does not stand alone, but is the representative of others. As Peter, the living “stone,” he does not stand alone either. In his use of the “keys” he is not alone; and in teaching and baptizing, the sanction of heaven is put upon what is done on earth; but nowhere apart from such necessarily implied conditions as we all own must come in the case of two or three gathered to the Lord’s name.
There is really no special difficulty in all this. The difficulties have been created for us by ecclesiastical views and claims which have grown up, as the Church, in the decline of spiritual power, came to lean upon external supports and to adopt a legal system as a refuge from license - the boat, as easier than walking on the water. Alas, it must be confessed it is; but oh, that Peter might here be suffered to speak to us of what he found in his walk upon that boisterous sea to meet His Lord, and of that Hand stretched out to meet him when the storm was beyond his strength, with the words which rebuked, not his rashness in walking there, but the little faith that had made it to appear but rashness.
this already tells of rejection of the King. Now He declares it to them in plain words such
as He had not uttered yet. Those who
have just expressed their faith in Him as the Christ are now told that they are
not, to utter this to any man. There is
no hope as to the nation, and He shows them that He must “go to
Thus quickly are the thoughts rebuked of those who would put Peter upon a throne of infallibility above all others. He is now sunk down into a mere ordinary man, with nothing but the thoughts of men, nay, an instrument of Satan to tempt the Lord Himself. Satan too would willingly have spared Him that Cross that He foresaw: for all the counsels of God hung upon it. From one side it was, indeed, but the awful wickedness of man; but from another the display of the glory of God, at once in righteousness and in love towards men. Peter knew not yet his own need, nor yet the unique place and dignity of his Master. He is praying God to be propitious to Him who is to be Himself the one propitiation for others; and to spare Him that by which propitiation could alone be wrought. Thus human wisdom may mistake its way, and human affection set itself against the path of divine love. And thus may the same man who has just now been drinking in, in faith, the revelation of God, without any consciousness of the transition, presently with equal zeal and earnestness be listening to the adversary! How we need constantly to pray, “Search me, 0 God, and try me!”
But the Lord not only declares His own path; He announces it as the path also of all His followers. What was peculiar to Himself in it, the cup that none but Himself could drink, He does not speak of, and here there is indeed an infinite difference; but as far as man’s part in it is concerned, He warns us all, “If any one will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake shall find it.” Thus the conditions of discipleship are laid down with the most decisive plainness, for all without exception. It is a world which has crucified Christ through which our path lies, and we have to make up our mind to face it. It is evident that He does not hold out any hope of the world changing, nor therefore of the path changing. The style of its opposition perhaps may change - even in His case it varied; but the opposition itself, proceeding from its unbelief in Him, could not possibly change, except by that unbelief being given up: and that would mean, of course, the world ceasing to exist, in all that which, according to Scripture, constitutes it the “world.”
Its moral characteristics the apostle John describes for us, where he says that “all that is of the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2: 16). When men are no more characterised by these things, then the world (as such) will have ceased to exist. We know that this has not taken place, however, and Scripture never contemplates such a state before the Lord comes, at least. The path still exists for us, therefore: and the conditions of the path exist.
The Lord calls upon His people, therefore, to take their life in their hand, if necessary in order to follow Him. We must not “will” to keep it, if we “will” to follow Him. That is to be the spirit of our discipleship, and with the implication, of course, that we shall be tested as to it. We know how fully the generations immediately following the days of the Lord on earth were tested - how often the cross and the sword and the flame made His people fully understand the conditions which He here proclaims. Can we fairly refuse the application to ourselves to-day? or to ask - whether there is not still, and for all of us, such a test remaining? or if the spirit of such discipleship must not be found with us at least in order to abide the test?
Our lot may be cast in so-called Christian times and lands, and the arm of open persecution may seem to be, if not shattered, at least so weakened, as to permit us to look upon a test of this kind, for most of us, as hardly to be made. Christian profession is mostly in repute; Christians themselves are in high places of authority, the government as a whole would not wish to be considered other than Christian. The world still exists, but, as the parables we have considered show, and as we all must recognize, has changed its tactics. As Pharisees and Sadducees followed John when all the rest were doing so, so the world largely follows Christ now, after its own worldly fashion. The Church too, bids for popularity, and does not disclaim but is glad of the alliance. Amid all this, is it not possible for the spirit of discipleship any longer to find a cross, when the Church and the world unite to say, “Lord, Lord,” and you are only asked not to take too seriously the things that He says?
Some way it must surely be that the Lord’s words here must have to us also, if we are disciples, some present application - and that straightforward obedience, in the laxest and easiest times, would (even on that very account) find penalty of some real kind in seeking to follow Christ according to His word rather than popular interpretations of it. If this be not just the losing life, this cannot make it less imperative for one to suffer it; and good it is to go back in thought to times in which men in reality “suffered the loss of all things,” and even “counted them but dung that they might win Christ.” There can be no question that the Christ they went after in that way seemed to them unspeakably glorious; and for us it will be well indeed if, being the same Christ, He shine as bright.
The Lord closes here with that appeal to consider the soul’s value which has rung through so many hearts since then: “For what shall a man be profited if he gain the whole world but lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” The question needs no answer: the impossibility to answer it is the answer. He adds, that it is the Son of man, soon to come in glory , who will render to every one according to his doings. Some of those standing there, moreover, should not taste of death until they saw the Son of man coming in His Kingdom.
The reference made by one present at the Transfiguration (which now follows) to this as making visible “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1: 16) should settle all question as to meaning of the last quoted words; opinions as to which have been, however, most various. The great variety has all arisen from taking “the Son of man coming in His Kingdom” in a non natural way as applying to the destruction of Jerusalem and the going out of the gospel and its successes, - both entirely different things. The “Son of man coming in His Kingdom” is a plain reference to the vision of Daniel (7: 13, 14), which indeed in like manner has been interpreted as applying to the “gospel dispensation,” or the Kingdom in that “mystery” form in which we have seen it in the parables of the thirteenth chapter. But this is not the Kingdom of the Son of man as Daniel and the New Testament agree in representing it. We find the expression, no doubt, in the interpretation of the parable of the “tares of the field” (ver. 41) but only when in time of harvest the end of the present time is reached, and the Son of man (having come) sends forth His angels to gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend and those that work iniquity, and cast them into the furnace of fire. Then, clearly, the gospel dispensation will be over, and the Kingdom will have taken its open and millennial form.
That the Kingdom of the Son of man is not the present one, the Lord’s words to the overcomer in Laodicea (Rev. 3: 21) make absolutely plain, in which He distinguishes between the throne on which He had sat down with His Father - where no mere man could ever sit - and His own throne, which He will share with His [overcoming] people. The opening vision (chap. 1: 13) assures us that it is as “Son of man” that He is speaking here. Thus, then, the “Son of man coming in His Kingdom” cannot refer to the present period.
The second epistle of Peter again helps us as to the meaning of the transfiguration, when it speaks of our being called “by glory and virtue” (1: 3). Glory at the end awaits us, to be reached by a pathway of trial, which necessitates “virtue” (or “courage”) to endure it. The apostle evidently refers to what is recorded in the Gospel here, the transfiguration being directly spoken of in the latter part of the chapter, as we have already seen. In it he could not but realize the call of the glory. That which is at the end of the course is in it brought before the disciples at the beginning, to animate and strengthen them in view of what has just been declared as to the conditions of discipleship, and he can appeal it in proof that “we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of His majesty: for He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came to Him such a voice from the excellent glory, This is My beloved Son. in whom I am well pleased; and this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with Him on the holy mount.” Thus it is the goal before them that is here exhibited to them, but the glory of the Kingdom, not the still more wondrous glory of which John speaks, “the glory of the Only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father.” It is the human side that is here dwelt upon, though of course one cannot be separated from the other. John does not give us the transfiguration, because the Only begotten (as such) cannot be transfigured.
The “after six days” with which the account begins, both here and in Mark, (in Luke differently expressed as “about an eight days after,” has reference, I believe, to the final character of what the scene here pictures, after the time of labour and of overcoming is fulfilled. The three disciples whom alone the Lord takes up with Him to witness it, point out to us the need of intimacy with Him such as only the comparatively few possess, if we would enjoy such disclosures. The “high mountain” most probably was Hermon, which was near Caesarea Philippi, but it is not named, and were this certain, we could base nothing on it. Earth has in fact no knowledge of the elevations where such visions of the future may be enjoyed, though even yet it is not so poor as to be without them; and at these times and places it is still the Lord Himself who puts on special glory before the eyes of those so blest as to behold it, and who is the glorious Centre around which all else revolves. So it surely will be in the day of His coming which is here before us. His face will shine as the sun,* for with Him the day will come - the blessed day in which the watch-night ends; and His apparel will be as the light, for it is with the light the sun apparels itself. It is God who is manifested in Him, and God is light. Earth is no more an outcast, but brought nigh.
* Notice, that it is only Matthew that says this. Mark draws attention altogether to His garments. Luke says, His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering. The dispensational character of Matthew is here again strongly marked.
Another thing takes place which strikes them with special wonder. “And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with Him.” In the two other Gospels there are slight differences which yet must have significance: Mark says, “Elias with Moses;” Luke, in evident accordance with the character of the truth as he presents it, presses the fact of men being in such a place: “two men, which were Moses and Elias.” In Matthew the lawgiver and the prophet of judgment because of the broken law, are mentioned in the natural order to remind us of this relation to each other. And they are talking with Jesus: so they had been, we may say, all through the centuries. Law in its fulfilment and law in its non-fulfilment, both alike required and foretold Him whose coming as the Priest-King is the full end of them reached. With Elias judgment itself is in view of restoration, and the last note of the Old Testament prophecy ends with the announcement of his preparation work. Thus Moses and Elias have each a special suitability in connection with this anticipation of the coming of the King. The ages are thus seen all through in harmony; and with power in the hand of Christ eternal harmony is perfectly secured.
voice breaks in, even here, and with words which show how he has failed to
realize the meaning of the glorious vision. Terribly like his would-be
followers to-day, he would enshrine the saints alongside of Christ, and make
the Kingdom which is to come a present thing; giving,
moreover, his help as if it were needed to accomplish this! But here he is stopped at once, and
by an overwhelming spectacle: “There came a bright cloud and overshadowed them”
- the well-known token of the Divine Presence as it had led Israel of old
through the desert, and dwelt in the sanctuary, - “and behold a Voice out of the
cloud which said: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him.” No wonder
that, “when the disciples heard it, they fell on their
faces, and were sore afraid.” It
was, in fact, the holiest of all unveiled. They stood where, only once a year, and with
covering incense and atoning blood, the feet of the high priest alone might
stand. And they were but men of the people, no sacrifice in their hand, no
covering incense, and the glorious Presence, which had long been absent from
the temple, - nay, had never appeared since the captivity in
Yet all else was changed from the time of the shaking mount. Nor was it the Law which was now proclaimed to them, a law which brought but the knowledge of sin, and was, indeed, its “strength” (1 Cor. 15: 56). This Voice pointed them but to the Son of God, whom Peter had but just now confessed as this, their own gracious Master; to put Him in His rightful place, and separate Him from all their misconceptions - from the misconceptions which, alas, have nevertheless followed Him since, and still follow Him. Moses and Elias had but been drawn thither by Him who had drawn them also, and opened heaven to them. Moses cannot open heaven, Elias brings but fire out of it, though he himself is caught away there: in Christ, the Son, the Father’s Name is revealed, the object of the Father’s heart is found, communion with God is attained, the throne of God becomes a throne of grace, His “Kingdom righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 14: 17). In all this He is alone, and thus alone is to be heard.
He comes now, therefore, and touches them, and says what He alone is able to say to such as we are, “Arise, and be not afraid.” And now all else has disappeared: they see no man but Jesus only.
Here we have, then, the central features of the Kingdom, as Christ Himself will introduce it. In Moses and Elias, the dead and the living saints are represented; the glory in which He is seen is that of the Son of man; and the glory of His Father is also here. Thus the hearts of the disciples are strengthened in view of the cross by the knowledge of the end before them. “The knowledge of His glory” is given to sustain them by the way: “glory and virtue” are linked together as principles of the divine calling; for “if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.”
After all, as yet even these favoured disciples know little of what is implied by this glorious vision; and the rest seem not to have been prepared for it in any way, so that it is forbidden to be told them. It would not have given light, but dazzled. They themselves, as Mark tells us, did not know what the rising [out] from the dead of which He spoke could mean; yet it was to be so soon the heart of their message. That Elias was to come and restore all things, as the scribes declared, they could not reconcile with the fact that Messiah was here, and as to the general condition nothing seemed accomplished. Elias they had just seen, but in what different connection! and the very glory of the heavenly vision only seemed, doubtless, to show the more the darkness of things on earth. They turn to Him with this question, which He answers with the assurance that Elias was indeed to come and to restore; but he had already come unrecognized, and men had treated him according to what was in their hearts. So too the Son of man was presently to suffer from them. And then they know that He has been speaking of John the Baptist.
But in fact it was difficult for them
to reconcile what was so opposite: Messiah
upon whom all depended for them, yet cut off and
having nothing. And the divine
purpose could not fail; but how could
they imagine a victory by defeat, a
cross as the way to glory?
The weakness and folly of man (which are but his perversity) are now exhibited among those who have received Christ, and have received from Him also a power which they are not competent to use. It is this which the case of the lunatic child is evidently intended to impress upon us. The disciples had been applied to, to cast out the demon, for which they had had authority given them by the Lord, and they had failed to do so. The father brings his child to Christ with this statement; and it is this which forces from Him the groan over a “faithless and perverse generation” by whom the love which bound Him to them was made to suffer through their unbelief. Seldom does the Lord exhibit to us so clearly the trial of un-congeniality which was His amid His chosen associates. Here it is openly exhibited, and the occasion was such as to require that the cause of a failure which had been manifest should be manifest also.
But He remained still, only the more seen as the unique dependence of His people. “Bring him to Me,” is the assurance of resources that cannot be overtaxed, at the command of a love that cannot be too absolutely relied on. Accordingly the demon departs, and the child is healed. Matthew does not give us the details which we find in Mark, but leaves thus the main point clearer, the glorious power so freely used, where disciples have failed, with all else. But the failure must be searched out, and the disciples themselves inquire about it. They are not conscious of the cause of it, which the Lord had already implicitly declared, and now does explicitly: “Because of your little faith: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Depart hence, and it shall depart; and nothing shall be impossible to you.” This implies, of course, that we are on the path of His appointment for us: for, indeed, faith is impossible for any other; and the suggestive figure of the mountain speaks clearly of the disappearance of the most firmly rooted obstacles in a path like this. In the path of self-will and self-indulgence, how vain would it be to expect anything of this kind! And this the closing words here show: for “prayer is vain” we ask and have not, when we “ask amiss, to consume it upon our lusts” - or “pleasures” (Jas. 4: 3) and “fasting,” if it is to have any spiritual value, implies self-mortification. People often speak of having (or not having) faith for the path; the truth is, we must have the path for faith: faith for any other path than God’s is plainly an impossibility.
responsibilities of the Kingdom follow, by an easy transition, upon the
principles of it as thus declared; closing with a view of the rewards of grace
in which love will satisfy itself at the end of the way. We have here, not merely the fact that there
are such, but the doctrine as to them - a most important one - and giving us a
precious and wonderful insight into heaven itself, which is a sweet and how
fitting conclusion to all this part. After this the Lord presents Himself