Matthew 17:14-27 Part 1

In order for us to have sufficient insight into the text, it’s necessary now that we look, once again, into the movements of Jesus and the disciples.  We’ve noted before, on several occasions, that the events of Revelation don’t happen in a vacuum.  And, therefore, to examine the deeds and words of Jesus – without noting the time and location of each event – would leave us without any idea at all of their significance.  God’s Revelation isn’t static – as if we could remove a happening in the life of Jesus and just “moralize” from it!  Matthew didn’t include anything in the text of the Gospel which could be removed from its history and remain understandable!

Therefore it’s necessary that we remember that Jesus and His disciples had moved into the far, northeast reaches of the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, which included the pagan city of Paneus (named after Pan, the god of nature).  And that Greek-built city was populated mainly by Gentiles and mixed race Semites who had a plethora of nature-gods, including those of Babylonian mysticism.  It was a Biblical “wilderness” – filled with the ravages of free-wheeling satanic infestation!

And after revealing His intent to go into Jerusalem and place Himself in the hands of the elders of Israel, Jesus then led three of His disciples up into the “High Mountain”.  And we have seen, in the last ten sermons, that the Glory of God’s Anointed King would establish the “Mountain” of God on the tops of all the mountains of the earth, as prophesied in the seventh chapter of the prophecy of Daniel.  In other words, His Kingdom, the fifth and eternal Kingdom, would be the greatest of them all and would rule over al the nations of the world!

So, as the text begins, here at verse fourteen, nine of the disciples have not gone up with Jesus and Peter and James and John.  They were back down in the city and the villages; and, apparently, a crowd had gathered around them.  News of Jesus and His disciples had been spreading far and wide for nearly three years, and many had traveled for miles and miles to Galilee in order to hear Him and bring their sick.  So the stories of the Healer Who “might” be the Messiah were not at all unknown to these pagans.  And it’s certainly not out of the question that some of the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” might live in these pagan, Gentile areas.

So the other nine apostles were probably preaching and ministering to the people of Paneus and the surrounding villages who were filled with horrendous pagan religions and idolatrous practices.  How long Jesus and the three chosen disciples were gone – we don’t know.  Maybe a day or two.  But, nevertheless, when they had come down from the mountain they encountered the crowd which was around the other nine disciples.  It looks as if they might have even been waiting for Jesus to come down.  As we’ve seen before, wherever He went there were large, anticipatory crowds begging for His attention!

So now let’s read the first three verses again – which have to do with the first thing that happened upon His coming down from the “High Mountain”.


“And as they came toward the crowd, a man came to Him kneeling before Him and saying, ‘Lord have mercy upon my son, for he is lunatic and suffers grievously; for often he falls into the fire and often into the water.  And I brought him to your disciples, and they were not able to heal him.’”


Now, the first thing we notice, of course, is that this man (unnamed) has kneeled and addressed Jesus as “Lord”.  Kneeling is a gesture of self-abasement, subjection, worship and supplication.  And it is interesting to note that this is the first time that Matthew has used this word in his text!  So the very first event after Jesus’ glorified Kingship of the nations is revealed to the disciples is a pagan from Paneus kneeling before Him in subjection!  And this gesture of self-abasement is in direct relation to the term which he used to address Jesus – Kurios.  Lord.  And Kurios means One Who has Power (Authority).

So the pagan recognizes the Power which belongs to Jesus.  And he is the first one to whom Matthew applies this new term of subjection.  And, of course, a subject is one who supplicates and obeys his “Lord”!  And the first “supplicant” to “kneel” before the “Lord” after the “High Mountain” revelation of His Kingship is a pagan in a Greek city which was built to idolize mythical nature gods!  This is one of those instances in which it is impossible not to recognize the implication – that (like Elijah) Jesus has taken the Covenantal promises of God to the Gentile nations.

You’ll find this interesting, too – that this word which I’ve translated “kneeling” is the root word from which comes the English “genuflect”.  How strange it is that a hand signal in Roman Catholicism symbolizes the mythological presence of the flesh of Jesus.  Mythology in world religion has gone full-circle back to the nature religion of Paneus where the first genuflection was a real subjection to the King of the nations.

I think it’s also imperative that we compare our subjection and self-abasement-to-the-King-of-Kings to this Greek pagan’s supplication!  We who now live in the New Heavens and the New Earth and who tabernacle with the Lord in His New Temple and who are the beneficiaries of His love and care – seem to be so “tempered” by it all that we’ve grown cold.  This pagan’s public humiliation before the One Whom he called “Lord” was an open and passionate cry for mercy for his son.  Not to mention our reluctance to acknowledge our King in public places (like he did), but when was the last time you were on your knees pleading for mercy for your children?  Isn’t their welfare of such supreme importance to you that (at least privately) you would humiliate yourself before the Lord on their behalf?  This man from Paneus shames us in our own concern for our own children.  He put away his own concern for himself, and he publicly abased himself before the Lord; and, yet, we are unwilling and disinclined to place ourselves at the feet of our Lord – even in private!  It has to make one wonder just how much we believe in the Resurrected and Ascended King when we will not humble ourselves before Him in passionate supplication!

Now, I’m just going to make mention of the child falling into the fire and into the water without going into too much unedifying detail about it.  We simply must remember the historical setting and the geography.  Jesus and His disciples are in Paneus!  And fire and water are the two most basic elements of the universe in mythological pantheism and eastern mysticism!  This is a place of Gentile and pagan population in which the demons have had free reign.  And this man is just explaining the connection between his son’s suffering and the pagan reverence of fire and water!

But the one clue that sets us free to understand the text (and please remember that this is the first episode after Jesus’ glorification on the “High Mountain”; and it is the only encounter with the people of Paneus that is recorded for us in Scripture; so its significance is therefore enhanced greatly) the clue to the text is the description of the suffering of the man’s son.  He said that he was grievously suffering from lunacy!

Those who might wish to diagnose this malady as something similar to epilepsy (due to the child’s falling into the fire and water) are in great error, because they miss the entire significance of the text.  The word which the man uses with reference to his son (and which is carefully recorded for us by Matthew) is seleniazomai.  Selene is the Greek word for “moon”.  So this word means “moonstruck”.  The Latin word for “moon” is “luna” – hence the English “lunatic”.  Now, down through the centuries “lunatic” has come to mean simply “crazy”.  But we must erase that colloquialism from our minds, because this man is definitely not describing his son as “crazy”.  Again, his specific word is “moonstruck”.

So.  Considering our heightened awareness of the eschatological significance of Jesus’ glorification on the “High Mountain”, i.e. His imminent ascension to be crowned King over all the nations of the world, and His “binding’ of demonic free reign among the nations; and considering the location where all of this is taking place, we now have to make ourselves aware of the place of the moon in the eschatology of Scripture!

The only other place in the New Testament where this word is used is in Matthew four, twenty-three (which we covered some two years ago); and that context had to do with the healing of people who came into Galilee from Syria!  Matthew said that some who were brought to Jesus were “lunatic” – moonstruck!  And where is the city of Paneus? It’s in Syria!  Not that Syria itself has any special significance as a place of lunacy, but that it is Gentile!  This is all reminiscent, of course, of the fact that Elijah passed by all the widows of Israel and went to the Gentile Shunnamite widow who lived near the city of Tyre, which is in Lebanon!  The Lord Jesus Christ is the Healer and Savior of the nations, Who (although He found the lost sheep of the house of Israel) left the nation of Israel in its course toward destruction and went to the Gentiles to be their King!

And the Scriptures have a great deal to say about the moon, which is, again, the key to the appropriate interpretation of this passage.  And the first thing we ought to see is, that in the prophetic language of Scripture the light of the moon is affected by the prospect of eschatological judgment and blessing!  Listen to Isaiah thirteen, verses nine and ten:


“Behold, the Day of the Lord comes, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate:  and He shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.  For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light.  The sun shall be darkened in its going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.” 


(This is prophetic language concerning the “lights” of Israel.)

And Ezekiel thirty-two at verses seven and eight:


“And when I shall put you out, I will cover the heaven, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light.  All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and set darkness upon your land, saith the Lord God.”


And here’s the most explicit passage – Joel two, verse ten, and then verses twenty-eight through thirty-two which also have to do with the Day of the Lord:


“The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall tremble:  the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining….”

And now verse twenty-eight:  “And it shall come to pass afterward, I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:  And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My Spirit.  And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth – blood and fire, and pillars of smoke.  The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible Day of the Lord come.” 


(The darkening and destruction of heaven and earth!  Israel!)

And now – two passages having to do with the moon with reference to the brightness of the salvation of the people.  Isaiah thirty, verse twenty-six says:


“Moreover the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord binds up the breach of His people, and heals the stroke of their wound.”


And Isaiah sixty, nineteen and twenty says,


“The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto you an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.  Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.”


Now that last two verses is quoted in John’s Revelation, you remember, concerning the New Jerusalem:


“And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”


And in Revelation twelve at verse one we see the great sign of the woman clothed with the sun (i.e. clothed with the glory of God – the Church!)  and with the moon under her feet!  And she is “with-child” (all of this being the “fullness” of the promise in Genesis three that from the woman would come the Redeemer who would crush the head of Satan).

Now, the last verse I’ll read has to do with the curse of the fourth angel in Revelation chapter eight.  Verse twelve says,


“And the fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were smitten, so that a third of them might be darkened and the day might not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.”


In the prophetic imagery of Scripture, the great “Day of the Lord” comes, in the fullness of time, as Satanic darkness and death has filled the earth.  The rulers and leaders and kings of Israel and the nations, who are supposed to be the “lesser lights” of the people, instead have left them in demonic imprisonment and blindness, lame and dumb and possessed by devils!  Without the “lesser lights” shedding the Light of God upon the people, they are left in misery and vexation, sickness and death.  The “lights” of the people, in other words, have been blind lights!  And their leadership and rulership have, instead led them into a miserable and deathly condition.  Therefore the “Day of the Lord” will come and cause them to be darkened.  In other words, they will be destroyed at the coming of the “Light of the World”.

So in the prophetic language of Scripture, the “heaven and earth” imagery refers to Israel.  It is the earth – the Garden of God.  And its elders and priests and scribes and rulers were the sun and the moon and the stars.  And in the wrath and fury of the judgment of Yahveh, His anger is unleashed at them and they are removed from the heavens!  And the New Jerusalem is enlightened by the Lamb of God – the Light of the world!

Now, the eschatological conjunction here in our passage occurs when the Christ, Who has shone with the brightness of the Glory of God, comes down from that “High mountain” and meets with lunar darkness and grievous vexation.  The rulers of Israel and the nations have left the people worshipping the light of the moon instead of the Light of Yahveh!  Their sun and moon gods, their fire and water gods – their idolatry has them worshipping the creation rather than the Creator!  And Jesus lays the condition of the people right at the feet of Israel’s leadership.  And His rebuking this demon is indicative of His “casting down under His feet” the lesser lights of the world.  The sun and moon and stars of the heavens will be “put out”, and the earth will be destroyed.

His father was right about his child.  He was lunatic.  Moonstruck.  Left in demonic blackness, the very light of the moon itself was sufficient cause for the demon to inflict grievous suffering, for the light of the moon – an object of mystical worship, was the source of darkness and death.

Apostasy and idolatry of earthly rulers brings lunacy and blindness and chaos; self-destruction, raging immorality, violence and terror.  The meaninglessness of life, and economic ruin come on the heels of immoral leadership.  The worship of nature brings demonic possession.  If one is lunatic, then one is besieged by a “lesser light” than Christ.  The lesser lights of heaven and earth had ruined the people.

The “Mountain” of Israel was ruled by lesser lights who were blind and perverted – and they blinded and perverted the people.  Therefore the mountain of Israel was removed, and another took its place – One which sits over the other mountains and fills the whole earth.  And the “apistos”, the faithless, are those who refuse to believe that a King has been enthroned to rule over them.  And they are all “lunatics”, for they idolize a lesser light.

The King is the “light” of the world.  And although the kings and rulers and governors of the world are commanded to honor and obey Him, we no longer need their light.  For there is, now, a New Heavens and a New Earth.  And the Lamb is the Light therein.  And when kings and presidents rule in their own light, let Somalia, Siberia, Iraq… be a sign to them – and to us – that repentance and obedience is required to turn away the wrath of the Almighty King.  Perverse leaders cause national destruction.  Let His Name be praised in the Heavens and the Earth; and let the knowledge of Him cover the Earth as the waters cover the sea.