Matthew 17:14-27 Part 4

Jesus and His disciples had departed Galilee, back in chapter sixteen, to travel to the far northeast region of Phillip’s tetrarchy, which included a Syrian city named Paneus.  Paneus, as you remember, had become so named because, under the third great empire (of Greece), it had been a center of nature worship – therefore it had been named after Pan, a mythological character.

And on the way to this Gentile (and thoroughly pagan area) Jesus had told His disciples that it was necessary that He go into Jerusalem and place himself in the hands of the elders and priests and scribes of Israel, to suffer under them and to be killed, and to be raised on the third day.

This revelation to His disciples, and their negative and obstinate reaction, only a couple of months before Passover 30 AD, is the broad context that governs the interpretation and preaching of this entire passage of Scripture – through chapter eighteen and beyond.  The disciples were greatly distressed, and they were determined that this thing was not going to happen to Jesus because, in their perspective, He was the One sent by God to occupy David’s seat, and restore Israel to prominence, and rule the world from Jerusalem!

As we’ve already seen, they were “scant of faith” in the reality of the Messiah’s Kingdom; and other indications of that will appear in the text later on – such as they and their families jockeying for position and lobbying for political power in the coming, new regime!

But it was significant that Jesus led His disciples into the area of Paneus – for two reasons.  First, this was a part of the Gentile world which epitomized that Biblical definition of “demonic wilderness” – a place of such serene beauty that the Greeks had built a city to the gods of the basic elements of nature.  And they had done so in an area whose culture was predominantly Mesopotamian (eastern mysticism).

But the point is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God without Whom nothing was made that was made – the God of creation (nature) – makes His final appearance to the Gentiles in this place.  And on the way there, He states to His disciples the necessity of His going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and to be raised again.

The second significant reason that Jesus led His disciples here was because of the most prominent feature of the area.  Paneus was in the foothills of the “high mountain”.  The Biblical text doesn’t say that Jesus’ “transformation” took place on Mt. Herman, but Herman was on the border of Phillip’s tetrarchy, and it is the highest point in the region.  There is strong inference that that is the location.

And considering the prophecy in Daniel concerning the removal of the mountain of Israel to the Gentile nations, the location of Christ’s transformation has awesome importance!  Matthew gives this event over a chapter in the life of Christ – that the Son of God prefigures His return to His Father, and His receiving power and dominion and a Kingdom; and doing so from a “high mountain” which is located in and dominates Gentile culture.

And Jesus’ dominion over the culture was demonstrated upon coming down from that mountain by casting out the demon from the child whose whole “being” was controlled by idolatrous nature worship!  (verse fifteen).  When the disciples asked Jesus (verse nineteen), why they weren’t able to cast it out, Jesus answered “because of your scant of faith!”

Having just stated (on the way to this area) that He must suffer and die and be raised again, and having just demonstrated the nature of His Kingdom (while on the mountain), and His great power having been exercised over the powers and principalities of the Gentile nations, it was, even after all of that, obvious that the disciples were not yet aware of the nature and scope of it all; and, therefore, they were not yet participants in the fullness of the work of The Messiah!

You see, the Power to effect the Kingdom rests in the crucified, resurrected and ascended Christ!  The Power to overcome the depravity of man and the forces of Satan is only available in the resurrected Messiah!  The location of the victory over the world is found exclusively in the Body of the Glorified Son of God!

And the just, the redeemed, shall live by FAITH, IN CHRIST!  But the disciples had another idea – another agenda – another eschatology, which was in opposition to Him and His work; and therefore, they were living on the outside of the location of that great Power.  Their “mode of existence” was not “faithing” IN HIM.

So they couldn’t command the demons of the Gentile wilderness, and they couldn’t command the mountain of Israel to be moved, and they couldn’t command the mountain of the New Kingdom to be established among the nations!  So Jesus called them “scant of faith” (verse twenty), which is only “qualitatively” different from the “faithlessness generation” of Jews as a whole.

And should they possess faith (i.e. should they live in Christ by faith), then the size, or strength, of faith is an incidental (or irrelevant) issue!  Faith (the size of a mustard grain is the analogy He uses), is living in the Person and Work of the Messiah – wherein is the Power to overcome the world order!  The Glory of Christ is the Light of the world; and living where that Power and Glory is located means participating in that Power and Glory (the size of faith being an irrelevant factor!).  And should they possess faith, then His Power puts the sin of man and all His other enemies under His feet!

Now, as I have said a number of times while reading the text, verse twenty-one is a later addition to the text.  It’s not in the older and most reliable manuscripts.  Although prayer and fasting are important, God-given means of negativizing the “self” and gaining the excellencies of Christ, the statement is not theologically or historically pertinent to this event.  The facts are that, due to the apostasy of Israel and its leadership, the whole world was in demonic misery.  And Christ came to die and be raised again in order to judge the evil and save the world!  And those who, by faith, live in Him – they, too, will overcome the world by His Power!  At this time the disciples did not yet know the scope of His gracious salvation through His death and resurrection.  As depraved men after the flesh of their father Adam, they did not possess the Power of Life in the Body of the resurrected Son of God!  And Jesus’ use of the term “scant of faith” is descriptive of that fact.

But it wasn’t going to be too long before the Anointed One of God would walk into Jerusalem to suffer under the elders and priests and scribes of Israel; and be killed; and be raised on the third day.  And shortly after that the disciples would be baptized into His Body by the Holy Spirit.  And, by the Power of the Risen and Ascended Son of Man, they would speak with the “voice” of Christ and move the mountain of Israel to the nations; and the Tabernacle of God would dwell with men in all the tongues and tribes of the world sending their demons into the deep and establishing the sovereign rights of the King and His Kingdom.

But let it be said for all to hear:  “The Faith” is that which was once delivered to the apostles and passed from faith to faith.  For we are all baptized into one body – one New Humanity – into Christ Jesus the Risen Lord.  It is the same faith as that given to Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost, for there is only one place where we receive newness of life – in the Glorious Person of Jesus Christ.  And as the great creeds of the Church say, unless one is living in this new “mode of existence” (Ridderbos), one cannot be saved; for God’s gracious salvation is located in only one Place – the Body of His Son.  One must be “born anew”.  In other words, one must receive a new humanity.  The old one is threatened by God with eternal justice; but the “new man” in Christ has eternal life.  And the redeemed shall live by Faith!

Now.  Before we take up the text having to do with the return of Jesus and His disciples to Galilee and Capernaum (verses twenty-two through twenty-seven), let me make a very quick comparison between the darkness and demonism of Paneus and the present condition of our own culture and society.  Although the reign and rule of Christ the King is present and evident in every society on earth, the depraved nature of man often breaks forth in pagan, demonic and beastly rebellion.  And it does so, temporarily, right in the path of the King and His mighty Sword.  Our own people, once sound in “the Faith”, are vexed and distressed by “faithless” leadership and are returning to our roots in Paneus.  In animalistic nihilism on the one hand, and pantheistic mysticism on the other, our culture seems to be falling into the fire and the water in great spasms and paroxysms.  There is a hideous, repulsive, loathsome malevolence among us.  And it sickeningly reminds me of the condition of the demon-infested people of pre-Christian Paneus.

In a recent article by R.E. McMaster, he says that the religious center of the New Age movement is in the Sangre de Christo mountains of Colorado (blood of Christ), and at seven every morning seven mystics sit around a fire on a high mountain, in a Hindu ceremony, with a collection of seven deities also facing the fire.  This is “ground zero” of new age theology!

McMaster goes on to name the seven powers and principalities with which our culture is in league and covenant: 

1)    the unnamed principality which blasphemes God and Christianity in movies, music and TV

2)    the principality Pan – nature – which instills panic and pandemonium in the order of things

3)    the principality Bacchus, the power of nihilistic, mind-altering drug-use and addiction

4)    the principality Rege, the leader of occultism – divination, astrology, fortune-telling, magic, witchcraft, mind control, and all forms of deception

5)    the principality Larz which operates in the realm of lust, promiscuity, fornication, adultery, perversion and homosexuality

6)    the principality Medit, whose mission is anarchy, chaos and rebellion against authority,

7)    the principality Set, the power of psychology, whose purpose is to bring about mania, depression, death and suicide.

Most of all these powers hate the Light of Christianity.  Anything to do with Christ and His Church is anathema to them, because it is Christ Who judges the autonomous, lawless, rebellious heart of man!  Our country looks much like what Paneus must have looked like to Christ.  And it is moving rapidly toward darkness and apostasy – much like what the nation of Israel is described to have been in the Gospel of Matthew.  (The great harlot of the world.)

But the “just” shall live by faith.  The Risen Christ is the King over all of God’s creation – “nature”.  And that includes the principalities and powers in high places.  And it also includes the depravity of mankind!  And it is assured, because God said it, that Christ will conquer them all and put them under His feet.  Christ’s challenge to the seven Churches, in the first three chapters of Revelation, is to overcome.  To live by faith! to be obedient.  By worship, prayer, fellowship, eating together, studying the Word of God, rebuking one another, strengthening one another, keeping the sacraments and ordinances, and manifesting the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, we will be the light of the world.  The power of living in the Body of Christ is irresistible – according the Christ’s Own Word here in verse twenty.  His Kingdom will be completed, and we will overcome the world!


Now, all of that is critical information to what comes next in the text – here in verses twenty-two through twenty-seven.  Most commentaries and sermons indicate a complete break in the context here, and then some teaching by Jesus concerning taxation and our responsibilities to civil authorities.  But Matthew does nothing of the kind!  There is no break at all in the context; and there is no shift of emphasis – the subject matter is exactly the same!  There is, instead, an event here which clearly illustrates the content of all we just said!  And the key to understanding that “is the double drachma” and the purpose of its collection.  So let’s go to that, now, and see how the Glory of Christ and His Kingship over all creation is illustrated in this event.

As Jesus and His disciples are gathering back up in Galilee, after the trip to the far reaches of Phillip’s tetrarchy, He tells them, once more, that He is about to be delivered up to suffer and die and to be raised on the third day. (verses twenty-two and twenty-three)  And, as before, they are greatly distressed that He continues to speak about this thing that they know cannot be!  Their false eschatology completely over-shadows everything that Christ has said and done; and it blinds them as to the meaning, from Daniel’s prophecy, of the “Son of Man” designation!  They are, as Jesus has said to them, “scant of faith!”

And then, as I said, Matthew goes directly to the collection of the double drachmas, which is illustrative of the Creation Kingship of Christ, resulting from His crucifixion and resurrection – sacrificial atonement and ascension.  It is necessary for Christ to suffer and be killed at the hands of men in order that He ascend bodily to receive dominion, power and a Kingdom!

Verse twenty-four says that a collector came to Peter and asked him if his teacher pays the double drachma.  Apparently, after they all got back to Capernaum, Jesus went to His house and Peter went about doing some things on his own.  This was his home town, too, and he had a family.  So he was probably out in the area doing those things required of a man after being away from home for a while.

But he tells the collector “yes”.  And, sooner or later, he goes back to Jesus’ house where the conversation occurs concerning paying the tax.  Now, the double drachma was a well-known contribution from every male Jew twenty years old and above.  It had nothing to do with civil taxation, but it was established by Moses (Exodus thirty, verses eleven through fifteen), after the erection of the tabernacle in the wilderness.  It was called “ransom, an atonement for your souls.”  It was a symbol or token of each man’s individual connection with the propitiatory services of the sanctuary, and it was used for the upkeep of the sanctuary – and later for the temple.

There is no express command to pay it, but for a man to stand aside from paying his part of the upkeep of that place where atonement was made was to place himself outside of the community on whose behalf the sacrifices were daily offered!  And, by inference, it placed him outside the one propitiatory sacrifice which the daily ministrations foreshadowed!

So this is what the collector asked Peter about.  Did Jesus not pay the double drachma – the half shekel – for support of the temple services?  Peter said “yes”, for Jesus and the disciples had probably paid it before.

Now, the underlying issue here is, why should the Propitiatory Sacrifice Himself pay for the upkeep of the place where His Own bloody sacrifice was foreshadowed?

When Peter got to Jesus’ house, the Lord anticipated him and switched to the parallel line of taxation in the civil realm to illustrate that even further!  He said, “What do you think, Simon?  From whom do the kings of the earth take dues or a tax?  From their sons or from the aliens?”  When Peter said, “From the aliens,” (or non-household members) Jesus said, “Then, indeed, the sons are exempt.”  In other words, the broad principle here is that why should a son of the king pay tax to support the king and his family?  He is a part of the family for whom the tax is collected!  Why should the king’s son pay for his own upkeep?!

So, as a tax upon the sons of the king to pay for the upkeep of the king and his family is an inane and senseless tax, so also is the propitiatory sacrifice exempted from paying the tax which goes for the upkeep of the place where the propitiatory sacrifice is made!

So the illustration of taxation in the civil realm is for the purpose of showing Peter that the double drachma was for Jesus, why should the sacrifice pay for His own sacrifice?!  It was necessary that He go into Jerusalem and to suffer many things at the hands of the elders and priests and scribes; and to be killed, and on the third day to be raised.  He was the reason for the double drachma.  He was the propitiation for the sins of many.  He was the atonement for the sin of the world.  He was the Son of God and Lord of the Temple Who needed to pay no atonement money to secure His place in the propitiatory services.  He was the propitiatory service!

And yet – to avoid an occasion of entrapment for those who did not yet know the mystery of His Person, He consented to place Himself on the same level with all others.  And He sent Peter to get the required sum in a way which carried with it the undeniable truth of all these things we’ve said today.  Because it openly exhibited His supreme Lordship over the entire creation.  And Peter’s obedience secured, for himself as well as for Jesus, the token of his own atonement; for he was included – with Jesus, as we all are who belong to Him (Peter was included) in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.  The half-shekel (token of His inclusion) was paid for him by the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  May the Lord teach us these things and cause us to live by faith in the propitiatory sacrifice – Who was offered once in our place and on our behalf.