MATTHEW 17:22-23
Pp Mark 9:30-32, Luke 9:43-45

I noted on the previous web page in my discussion of the whereabouts of the transfiguration (Mtw 17:1-8) and of the deliverance of the demoniac in the valley below (Mtw 17:14-21) that there were three general areas which were conjectured as to the location of both incidents, centred around the three mountains upon which the former incident is reputed to have taken place.

Two of these areas are located within the region of Galilee while the third, the mountain range of Hermon, is in the tetrarchy of Philip near the city of Caesarea Philippi. Certain incidental information such as the crowds that were gathered upon his return (Mtw 17:14) and the existence of scribes (Mark 9:14) were also used to conjecture that they must have been in Jewish territory and, therefore, Galilee and had, since the six days had expired (Mtw 17:1) journeyed south into that territory.

The main problem with an identification other than the Hermon range is that Mark 9:30 which follows on from the record of the incident of the deliverance of the demoniac after the transfiguration specifically notes that

‘They went on from there and passed through Galilee...’

and, in Mark 9:33, that

‘...they came to Capernaum...’

two statements which seem to picture the band of disciples as journeying southwards into the territory of Galilee before finally arriving at Jesus’ home city. It would be difficult to accept on the basis of these Scriptures that they were in Galilean territory when the demoniac was delivered and, even though a location of the mountain of transfiguration may not be as easily identifiable if part of the Hermon range was the area in which it happened as it would be if one summit is singled out in Galilee, it’s unnatural to whisk the band away from Philip’s tetrarchy immediately after the close of Matthew chapter 16.

This declaration of Jesus’ suffering and death in Jerusalem, therefore, should be seen in the context of the band’s travelling towards ‘home’ after a time of ministry amongst the Jews which were settled both north and east of the district of Galilee.

This was a time of private and intense instruction from Jesus to the twelve (Mark 9:31) and a time when Jesus was again attempting to remain incognito (Mark 9:30) with some degree of success it would appear.

We need to clarify the meaning of Matthew 17:22’s word which is translated by the RSV as ‘they were gathering’ and which I have already mentioned on previous web pages could be taken to infer that the saying was being spoken as they were coming together with other pilgrims before their ascent to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (Mtw 19:1).

If this is the case, it tells us much about travelling to Jerusalem from Galilean regions and how pilgrims banded together for comradeship and, more practically, protection from bandits on the road. That Jesus actually travels to Judea ‘beyond the Jordan’ (Mtw 19:1-2) would seem to cut against Jesus’ immediate following of the pilgrims into the city and it would be difficult to see why the crowds would have left numerous days earlier than was required under the Law unless it was that they had decided to follow Jesus, knowing that He had set Himself to attend the festival (Mtw 19:2).

Mattask points out that this translation owes more to considerations concerning the importance of particular manuscripts and which word they have at this point than it does to the meaning of the text and of the relevance of the parallel passage of Mark 9:30-31 which causes us to infer that the words were spoken as they were travelling rather than gathering.

Both words found in the manuscripts are far from perfect, however. The first is sustrepho (Strongs Greek number 4962) which the RSV uses and renders it normally with the verb ‘to gather’ - the other is anastrepho (Strongs Greek number 390) which, as in the KJV, is rendered by the verb ‘to abide’. But neither of these fits well with Mark 9:30 and it’s difficult for us to see them either ‘abiding’ or ‘gathering’ in Philip’s tetrarchy.

However, Kittels notes that this latter word has, as one of its meanings, ‘to return’ (it can also mean ‘to walk’ which would give good sense as well) and is used in Acts 5:22 with this meaning, the verse being translated (my italics) that

‘...when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, and they returned and reported’

It seems best to take this Greek word as being the original one employed regardless of the assumed superiority of the codices which bear the word which gives the concept of ‘gathering’ simply because it harmonises the passage with Mark 9:30 and confirms the idea that this journey southwards was used by Jesus as a special time of teaching concerning His fast approaching suffering and death.

If the meaning ‘gathering’ is retained, however, it could mean no more than that there was a meeting taking place of the disciples in Galilean territory before they reached Capernaum - quite possible if we accept that Jesus must have crossed the Jordan into the northern most tip of Galilee near Lake Huleh about fifteen miles north of the Sea of Galilee. Therefore Mathag renders the first part of the verse as

‘ they were gathering around [Him] in Galilee...’

though Mathen interprets the meaning as

‘...while they were moving about together in Galilee...’

and both of these would make sense in the context of Mark 9:30-31.

At the end of the day, however, we have no way of knowing which exactly took place, but the incident needs to be accepted as having taken place while they were yet a distance away from Capernaum.

These two verses are normally referred to as the second announcement of Jesus’ death even though Mtw 17:9-13 is more literally the second. There, however, the announcement is made only to three of the twelves disciples and would have been, therefore, a limited declaration which sprung out of their question as to the significance of Elijah as the forerunner of the Messiah.

I have previously discussed the various prophetic announcements of Jesus’ death and noted there that the main addition in Jesus’ words here compared to the one which occurs in Mtw 16:21 is that

‘...Jesus now speaks of being delivered into men’s hands rather than speaking of the religious leaders’

but there’s also a significant development in the certainty of the event. In the first announcement, Jesus speaks only of the need for the event to occur whereas here He speaks in words which show that it’s definite and certain. Marklane summarises the comparison as being that it doesn’t speak

‘...of a divinely imposed necessity [as the first does] but of a fact so certain it can be described as accomplished (“is delivered”)’

When we come to Mtw 20:17-19, the announcement again conveys something different from these first two and infers that the time of the fulfilment is immediately at hand and that its imminence is tied in with His ascent to the city of Jerusalem. So, from the plain announcement that the suffering and death is necessary, Jesus moves on here to state its certainty before finally announcing its immediate fulfilment.

This progressive revelation, therefore, should be seen as allowing the disciples time to come to terms with the event - even though they still seem to have missed realising what it was that was about to transpire, and this against their concepts of what should befall God’s Messiah.

Only Mark and Luke inform the reader that what Jesus said wasn’t understood or comprehended by the disciples (Mark 9:32, Luke 9:45). Previously, Peter, James and John have clearly failed to understand what Jesus was meaning by the phrase ‘risen from the dead’ (Mark 9:10) but, now, Luke’s mention only of being delivered into the hands of men (Luke 9:44) seems to be what is misunderstood by them. It may refer to the entire statement by Mark in 9:31 but, seeing as Luke mentions only the one saying, it’s more likely that it was this which they couldn’t assimilate into their concept of Messiah and, besides, Peter appears to have already understood what Jesus was meaning when He spoke of His death (Mtw 16:22).

Matthew alone records that the disciples were ‘distressed’ (Mtw 17:23). Kittels notes that the word (Strongs Greek number 3076) can mean both

‘physical pain and mental anguish’

and the RSV’s translation is to be preferred to the AV’s rendering that they were ‘exceedingly sorry’ which makes it sound as if they’d done something wrong and were regretting it! It appears as if they understood the words of Jesus concerning His death and so were naturally perplexed as to what Jesus was assuring them was certain and fixed while, at the same time, couldn’t come to terms with what the deliverance into the hands of men might mean. If the disciples struggled as the three did who had ascended the mountain with Jesus, then they would also have failed to grasp what Jesus was referring to when He spoke of the rising from the dead (Mark 9:10, Mtw 17:23, Mark 9:31).

There seems, therefore, to have been no one certain understanding of all that Jesus had said concerning what was shortly to take place in Jerusalem. While they understood Jesus’ words concerning His death (but didn’t fully perceive their implications), they couldn’t work out what the ‘rising from the dead’ must mean (a phrase which implies the action of another in bringing it about) and they were totally bewildered by the statement that Jesus was about to be delivered into the hands of men. But it was His death that caused them distress and, fearing what they might be answered if they were to question Jesus about such matters, they decided, rather, to keep quiet about the details - and probably hope that nothing like it ever happened!

Strange but, if the disciples had had their way, no one could have been brought into a restored relationship with God!