Matt 17:1-13 The Mount of Transfiguration
Prior to a discussion of the transcendent events of the Transfiguration, we must underscore the brevity of the current account. Just as we know that Joseph Smith saw much more in his Grove of Transfiguration than his history recounts (JS-Hist. 1:20), we must admit that the apostles saw much, much more than they were willing, or allowed, to record. To obtain a clear picture of these events is like trying to get a complete picture from a puzzle in which 90% of the pieces are missing.
Bruce R. McConkie
"Our Synoptic authors make brief mention of-in reality it is scarcely more than an allusion to-what happened on the [Mount of Transfiguration] when they and Jesus spent a sacred night enwrapped in the visions of eternity. This blessed night was one of those seeric periods when the mysteries of the kingdom, 'which surpass all understanding,' are shown forth to souls who are in tune with the Infinite. So marvelous are such revealed truths that it is 'not lawful for man to utter' them, 'Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit.' They are reserved by the Lord for those prophets and seers who, 'while in the flesh,' are yet able 'to bear his presence in the world of glory.' (D&C 76: 114-18.)
"In the providences of the Lord the saints know some things that the world does not know about the spiritual outpouring of divine grace that fell on the Mount of Transfiguration. But even latter-day revelation does not set forth the full account, and until men attain a higher state of spiritual understanding than they now enjoy, they will continue to see through a glass darkly and to know only in part the visionary experiences of the presiding officers of the meridian Church. That which is known, however, singles out this night as one of the most important and glorious in the lives of those who saw within the veil and who heard the voices of the heavenly participants." (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 3: 54.)
Matt 17:2 Jesus was transfigured before them
Transfiguration is the process of temporary glorification by which mortals can withstand the presence of God without being destroyed. Moses said, 'Mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him' (Moses 1:11). That Christ was transfigured merely means that he received again that glory which he enjoyed as the pre-mortal Jehovah. For Peter, James, and John, it meant the same thing as for Moses-that the power and glory of God came upon them so that they could withstand the presence of God. The fact that they survived the experience and saw what they saw is evidence that all three were transfigured.
Spencer W. Kimball
"The glory of the contact was more than they could bear and they collapsed, falling on their faces. While in this state unprintable, unspeakable, unutterable things were said and done. The three mortals thus protected survived even this withering fiery experience." (Conference Report, April 1964, Afternoon Meeting 97.)
Matt 17:3 there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with them
The Greek form of the Old Testament name of Elijah is Elias. This is a source of great confusion regarding the doctrine of Elijah, the doctrine of Elias, and the identity of the individual who appeared with Moses on the Mount. Latter-day prophets teach that this Elias is Elijah the Tishbite (1 Kgs. 17:1; Mal. 4:5).
Joseph Fielding Smith
"When Moses and Elijah came to the Savior and to Peter, James, and John upon the Mount, what was their coming for? Was it just some spiritual manifestation to strengthen these three apostles? Or did they come merely to give comfort unto the Son of God in his ministry and to prepare him for his crucifixion? No! That was not the purpose. I will read it to you. The Prophet Joseph Smith has explained it as follows:
'The priesthood is everlasting. The Savior, Moses, and Elias [Elijah, in other words] gave the keys to Peter, James, and John, on the Mount when they were transfigured before him. The priesthood is everlasting-without beginning of days or end of years; without father, mother, etc. If there is no change of ordinances, there is no change of priesthood. Wherever the ordinances of the gospel are administered, there is the priesthood.... Christ is the Great High Priest; Adam next.'
"WHY MOSES AND ELIJAH WERE TRANSLATED. From that we understand why Elijah and Moses were preserved from death: because they had a mission to perform, and it had to be performed before the crucifixion of the Son of God, and it could not be done in the spirit.
"They had to have tangible bodies. Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection; therefore if any former prophets had a work to perform preparatory to the mission of the Son of God, or to the dispensation of the meridian of times, it was essential that they be preserved to fulfill that mission in the flesh. For that reason Moses disappeared from among the people and was taken up into the mountain, and the people thought he was buried by the Lord. The Lord preserved him, so that he could come at the proper time and restore his keys, on the heads of Peter, James, and John, who stood at the head of the dispensation of the meridian of time. He reserved Elijah from death that he might also come and bestow his keys upon the heads of Peter, James, and John and prepare them for their ministry.
"But, one says, the Lord could have waited until after his resurrection, and then they could have done it. It is quite evident, due to the fact that it did so occur, that it had to be done before; and there was a reason. There may have been other reasons, but that is one reason why Moses and Elijah did not suffer death in the flesh, like other men do." (Doctrines of Salvation, 2:110-11)
Matt 17:4 let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias
Moses, Elias, and Jesus appeared in glory (see Lu 9:30-31). The sight must have been impressive. Prophets can only describe such personages as glorious beyond description. Perhaps Peter thought that these holy men were too glorious to appear in a mountain wilderness without a holy edifice in which to visit. Perhaps seeing Moses made him think of the tabernacle of Moses, where God could visit his people while in the wilderness of Sinai. It is hard to know exactly what prompted this suggestion, but Mark reminds us that Peter was so scared that he didn't know what to say (Mark 9:9). We can all relate to that! How many times do we say something that doesn't make sense because we open our mouths when we don't really know what to say?
Matt 17:5 This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him
Ezra Taft Benson
"On four momentous occasions the Father introduced Jesus as one who was delegated and as 'my beloved Son':
1. When Jesus was baptized of John the Baptist in Jordan, a voice from heaven spoke out: 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' (Matt. 3:17.)
2. At the transfiguration, a voice proclaimed to Peter, James, and John: 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.' (Matt. 17:5.)
3. When Jesus first appeared to the Nephites, a voice was heard saying: 'Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name-hear ye him.' (3 Ne. 11:7.)
4. Almost the same words were spoken when two heavenly personages appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in that first vision which began the restoration of the Church: 'This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!' (Joseph Smith 2:17.)
"In each instance, through the introduction the Father indicated that Jesus had been delegated. The Father said no more. He merely introduced. The Son had been delegated to not only preside over the world but also to redeem it." (God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, 134-5.)
Matt 17:9 Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen
The disciples were faithful to the Savior's charge. In fact, even their later writings do not include much detail about what transpired. Peter said this:
And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.' (2 Pet. 1:16-18).
But what else did the apostles see and learn? Only a fragmented record remains. First, they were shown the earth in its transfigured (glorified or millennial) state:
Second, they received their own personal endowment. In fact, they must have been taught much about temple ordinances. Otherwise the keys of the sealing power would have had no meaning for them. Joseph Fielding Smith stated:
"I am convinced in my own mind that when the Savior took the three disciples up on the mount, which is spoken of as the 'Mount of Transfiguration,' he there gave unto them the ordinances that pertain to the house of the Lord and that they were endowed. That was the only place they could go. That place became holy and sacred for the rites of salvation which were performed on that occasion." (Doctrines of Salvation, 2: 169.)
Third, some have wondered whether they then received their calling and election. Of this, we have no proof. However, Joseph Smith taught that "the power of Elijah is sufficient to make our calling and election sure... [And] this spirit of Elijah was manifest in the days of the Apostles" (Teachings, 338). If Elijah restored these keys, then the disciples were likely taught about the doctrine of election. The Prophet also said, "It is one thing to be on the mount and hear the excellent voice, etc., and another to hear the voice declare to you, You have a part and lot in that kingdom." (Teachings, 306).
Fourth, the apostles undoubtedly received the keys of the kingdom. The apostles had already received the Melchizedek priesthood when they were ordained as apostles (Matt 10:1). So Moses did not bring them the Melchizedek priesthood; he brought them 'the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.' (DC 110:11). Elijah brought them 'the keys of the kingdom of heaven' (Matt 16:19), in other words, the sealing power. The doors to the kingdom of heaven can only be opened by the exercise of those keys which are binding both on heaven and on earth. Had these keys never been restored, in the meridian of time and in the latter days, the kingdom of heaven would have been forever shut to the souls of these dispensations. See commentary for Matt 16:19. Joseph Smith explained:
"The spirit, power, and calling of Elijah is, that ye have power to hold the key of the revelations, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth; and to receive, obtain, and perform all the ordinances belonging to the kingdom of God, even unto the turning of the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the hearts of the children unto the fathers, even those who are in heaven." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 337)
Jeffrey R. Holland
"Then heavenly messengers appeared, bestowing upon this First Presidency every needful key for their ministry...The moment passed. The vision ceased. Peter still had many lessons to learn in the days ahead-of political loyalty and personal forgiveness, of material sacrifice and fruitful service...But whatever lay before him, the transfer of authority was now complete. Endowed with power from on high and armed with the certainty of his conviction, he descended with Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death." (However Long and Hard the Road, 98.)
Matt 17:10 Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
Again, the doctrine of Elias can be very confusing. The apostles are interested in making a connection between this vision of Elijah and the scribes' teachings regarding the return of Elias. "They were asking 'Why is it that you, the Messiah, have been with us for thirty-two years, and now Elias has finally appeared on this mount, whereas the teaching of the scribes has been that Elias would come first or before the Messiah?" (Robert J. Matthews, Studies in Scripture: The Gospels, 308) What they don't seem to have understood is that Elijah and Elias are two separate individuals, and the prophecies regarding them are also separate. The scribes taught that an Elias would come who would restore all things. This teaching comes from many ancient prophecies (see Acts 3:21), which are no longer available to us. Our Old Testament has been stripped of any prophecy about an Elias who would come to restore all things (See Mormon Doctrine, 454).
"It is evident from the questions they asked that both the Jewish leaders and the disciples of Jesus knew something about the doctrine of Elias, but the fragmentary information in our current Bibles is not sufficient to give an adequate understanding of what was involved in use of the term. Only by divine revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith is this topic brought into focus for us who live in the last days." (Bible Dict., Elias)
Hence, Christ's response does not concern Elijah the Tishbite. He is addressing the question they asked-the question about the scribes' doctrine of Elias. Christ's response will encompass the doctrine of an Elias as a restorer and an Elias as a forerunner.
Matt 17:11 Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things
Regarding the doctrine of Elias, specifically with reference to restoring the glories of previous dispensations, Joseph Smith taught:
"Moses sought to bring the children of Israel into the presence of God, through the power of the Priesthood, but he could not. In the first ages of the world they tried to establish the same thing; and there were Eliases raised up who tried to restore these very glories, but did not obtain them; but they prophesied of a day when this glory would be revealed." (History of the Church, 3:388)
The term Elias, as used here, is not a personal name but a title. Therefore more than one individual can act as an Elias. This is true both for a restorer Elias and a preparer Elias. The scriptures specifically mention three individuals whose missions involved acting as a restorer Elias. They are the angel Gabriel, who is Noah, (DC 27:6-7, see also HOC 3:386), John the Revelator (Rev 10:10, DC 77:14), and Christ (JST John 1:28).
Bruce R. McConkie
"No single ancient prophet, standing alone, returned to restore all things. Angelic ministrants came from all of the great dispensations of the past. This promised Elias is, in effect, all of the angelic ministrants who have come in the latter days to restore truths and powers and keys, all of the things that, taken together, compose 'all things.' It was in this way that our dispensation became the dispensation of the fulness of times, meaning the dispensation of the fulness of all dispensations past. Someone came from each of these ancient dispensations to bring to us what was had among mortals in his day." (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 629.)
Matt 17:12 Elias is come already, and they knew him not
Now Christ will shift his focus to refer to the calling of preparatory Elias, of whom, John the Baptist was chief.
Joseph Fielding Smith
"This name (Elias) is a title which is applied to several prophets, and has reference to their office as messengers sent to prepare the way for a greater work. John the Baptist is spoken of as Elias, because he prepared the way before the ministry of the Lord. Joseph Smith is an Elias because he was sent to prepare the way for the second coming of our Lord.
"The Prophet has explained in his teachings the differences in the missions of Elias, Elijah, and Messiah.
"'The spirit of Elias is first, Elijah second, and Messiah last. Elias is a forerunner to prepare the way, and the spirit and power of Elijah is to come after, holding the keys of power, building the Temple to the capstone, placing the seals of the Melchizedek Priesthood upon the house of Israel, and making all things ready; then Messiah comes to His Temple, which is last of all.
"'Messiah is above the spirit and power of Elijah, for He made the world, and was that spiritual rock unto Moses in the wilderness.' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 340)" (Answers to Gospel Questions, 4: 194-5.)
Matt 17:20 If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed
James E. Talmage
"The wild mustard, which in the temperate zone seldom attains a height of more than three or four feet, reaches in semitropical lands the height of a horse and its rider (Thompson, The Land and the Book, ii, 100). Those who heard the parable evidently understood the contrast between size of seed and that of the fully developed plant. Arnot (The Parables, p. 102), aptly says: 'This plant obviously was chosen by the Lord, not on account of its absolute magnitude, but because it was, and was recognized to be, a striking instance of increase from very small to very great. It seems to have been in Palestine, at that time, the smallest seed from which so large a plant was known to grow.'" (Jesus the Christ, 281)
Gene R. Cook
"Alma explains beautifully some of the characteristics of faith. As we study these characteristics, we need to remember that faith is something we know very little about. The Lord says that if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we can say to a mountain, 'Remove hence to yonder place,' and it would remove. (Matthew 17:20.) This teaches me that I must have something less than that, perhaps, and that I know very little about it. Thus, I continue the search to understand what it means to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope that you, too, will take this as a beginning point to greater study, meditation, and prayer to understand faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As you do so, the Lord will reveal to you further knowledge about these important principles, for he has promised, 'If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things-that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.' (D&C 42:61.)" (Living by the Power of Faith, 28.)
A. Theodore Tuttle
"I believe there are basically two kinds of faith. The kind of which I have spoken-faith that God lives and rules in the heavens-sustains us in life's challenges. It enables us to endure without yielding, and bear the trials common to us all. This faith has characterized the lives of this people all through their history. It is a great legacy to inherit and to bequeath.
"There is another kind of faith: more powerful, less known, infrequently observed. This faith in God compounds our ability to accomplish our righteous desires. It is the creative, and generative kind of faith. This is the faith save for the exercise of which things would not happen. This is the great causative force in human lives. This is the faith that moves mountains." ("A Prophet's Faith," Ensign, Nov. 1975, 23)
"Again, he says, 'For verily I say unto you, if ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible to you.' What does this mean? I have exercised all the faith, seemingly, that is in my power, and could hardly heal the sick, let alone remove a mountain, or pluck up a sycamore tree, or any other tree. What does it mean? I begin to discover that the Devil comes along when I get my mind set, and throws some object in view to divert it from the thing before me.
"'If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.' I have an idea that the Devil comes and catches away the word that is sown in our hearts, to defeat the designs the Lord has in sowing it. Whereas, if we could control our minds, and not allow them to be caught away, then our eye would be single, and the whole body would be full of light...The mind is armed with almighty power; and if we could concentrate its powers, and overcome the power of the Devil, we could remove that mountain as easily as to heal a sick person. It requires only faith as a grain of mustard-seed, or a concentrated effort of mind." (Journal of Discourses, 7: 152-53.)
"We ask, then, what are we to understand by a man's working by faith? We answer-we understand that when a man works by faith he works by mental exertion instead of physical force. It is by words, instead of exerting his physical powers, with which every being works when he works by faith." (Lectures on Faith, 7:3.)
Matt 17:21 this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting
"Sometimes I wonder whether there aren't many people who die because we don't exercise our priesthood right. Maybe not, I don't know. When the disciples tried to cast the dumb spirit out and couldn't do it, Christ came along and...said, ' . . this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.' (Matt. 17:19, 21.) They hadn't done enough you see. They hadn't exercised the priesthood enough. And so I wonder if some of us are the same way.
"Of course there are times when you don't have time to fast much; you don't have time to pray much, emergencies, you have to rush. But on the other hand I think if we have a little time, and we intend to go and bless someone, it doesn't do any harm to do a little fasting." (Matthew Cowley Speaks, 149.)
"And so, remember we have great opportunities. Great opportunities to bless. Sometimes I wonder if we do enough in our administration of the sick. You know when the Apostles tried to cast out an evil spirit, they couldn't do it or they didn't do it. The Master came along, and he immediately cast out the dumb spirit. Then the Apostles said, 'Why could not we cast him out?' And what did Christ say? 'This kind goeth not out but by prayer and by fasting.' (Matt. 17:21.)
"Sometimes we rush in, administer to a person, rush out, and say, 'Well, he won't make it. I know he won't.' Of course, we have to, in case of an emergency, go immediately. Sometimes I wonder, if we have a little time, if we shouldn't do a little fasting. 'This kind cometh not out save by prayer and by fasting.'
"A little over a year ago a couple came into my office carrying a little boy. The father said to me, 'My wife and I have been fasting for two days, and we've brought our little boy up for a blessing. You are the one we've been sent to.'
"I said, 'What's the matter with him?'
"They said he was born blind, deaf, and dumb, had no co-ordination of his muscles, couldn't even crawl at the age of five years. I said to myself, this is it. I had implicit faith in the fasting and the prayers of those parents. I blessed that child, and a few weeks later I received a letter: 'Brother Cowley, we wish you could see our little boy now. He's crawling. When we throw a ball across the floor, he races after it on his hands and knees. He can see. When we clap our hands over his head, he jumps. He can hear.' Medical science had laid the burden down. God had taken over. The little boy was rapidly recovering." (Matthew Cowley Speaks, 245 - 246.)
Gordon B. Hinckley
"I believe in [our missionaries] sense of service. I have just been down in South America, where we have some 1,500 of the 13,000 missionaries of this church...May I read from a letter received from one of them: 'The most effective technique we have found in our work is fasting and prayer. We saw how this worked a few weeks ago with an investigator of the Church. He had a number of questions and problems to overcome, and we just didn't seem to get anywhere when we met with him to discuss them. So we would go home to our apartment and ask the Lord to bless him and help him understand what we had explained to him. We felt it was very important that he be baptized, so we asked the Lord to bless him with a desire for baptism. Even up through the sixth lesson he was wavering, so we fasted the day before his baptism, and he has been a faithful member ever since.'
"One thinks of the words of the Lord to his disciples who complained they could not perform miracles. Said he: ' . . . this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.' (Matt. 17:21.)" (Conference Report, October 1969, Third Day-Morning Meeting 114.)
Matt 17:24-27 Doth not your master pay tribute?
Bruce R. McConkie
"Jesus and his disciples are now back in Capernaum, and a situation is about to arise that will enable him to reaffirm his divine Sonship to Peter in a miraculous way. He is about to perform an unusual and unique miracle, one like none other ever wrought by his hands. He will pay a tax he does not owe, with money he has not earned, to appease those whom he prefers not to offend. He will use his gift of seership to find the needed coin, and Peter, in the process, will have another rough edge ground off from that impetuous nature which one day, smoothed and refined to perfection, will guide the destinies of the earthly kingdom.
"Those who collect the tax for the temple in Jerusalem come to Peter and ask: 'Doth not your master pay tribute?' Or better: 'Doth not your master pay the half-shekel?' for, properly speaking, no tribute was involved. Tribute is payable to foreign powers; this was a tax, the 'half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary' which every Jew, who had reached the age of twenty years, paid to the Lord as a 'ransom for his soul.' (Ex. 30:11-16.) This was money due Jehovah; it was comparable to the tithes imposed by the Lord upon his people. Its use: the repair and upkeep of the Lord's House; payment for the public sacrifices, the scapegoats and red heifers, and the incense and the shewbread; and the payment of the Rabbis, bakers, judges, and others connected with the temple services.
"To the query of the tax collectors, which apparently was asked in good faith-for the annual tax was nearly six months in arrears, and it was the custom of the collectors to compel compliance-Peter said, 'Yes.' 'If he had thought a moment longer-if he had known a little more-if he had even recalled his own great confession so recently given-his answer might not have come so glibly. This money was, at any rate, in its original significance, a redemption-money for the soul of each man; and how could the Redeemer, who redeemed all souls by the ransom of His life, pay this money-ransom for His own? And it was a tax for the Temple services. How, then, could it be due from Him whose own mortal body was the new spiritual Temple of the Living God? He was to enter the veil of the Holiest with the ransom of His own blood. But He paid what He did not owe, to save us from that which we owed, but could never pay.' (Farrar, p. 406.)
"Deservedly, when Peter entered the house-no doubt his own, for this is Capernaum-'Jesus rebukes him.' 'What thinkest thou Simon?' he asked, 'of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?' To this there is only one reply: 'Of strangers.' Jesus' answer: 'Then are the children free.'
"How inconsistent for the Messiah, who is the Son of God, to pay tribute for the upkeep of his Father's House, which is also the Son's House. If even earthly princes are exempt from capitation taxes, will not the Highest free his Son from such a burden? He who came to give his own soul a ransom for all surely should not pay a ransom for his own. Should he do so, he would be withdrawing his claim to Messiahship and attesting that he was a man like other men." (The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 3: 76-77.)