What does Matthew chapter 17 mean?The previous chapter concluded with a prediction: some of those with Jesus would not die before seeing Him coming in His kingdom. That is what happens six days later when Jesus selects Peter, James, and John to climb a high mountain with Him. Once there, they see Jesus transfigured into His glorious reality, His face shining like the sun and His clothes gleaming white as light. Not only that, but the three disciples also see Moses and Elijah, long gone from the earth, standing and talking with Jesus (Matthew 17:1–3).
Peter, ever eager to act, feels the need to say something in response to wonder. In awestruck haste, he blunders by offering to build three tents, one for each of these figures. That suggestion is literally interrupted by a voice from heaven. God the Father arrives in a bright cloud and describes Himself as being well-pleased with Jesus, His beloved Son. He commands the disciples to listen to Jesus. They fall to their faces in terror. When they look up again, all has returned to normal. Jesus commands them to tell nobody about this until after His resurrection and then answers a question about Elijah (Matthew 17:4–13).
The three return to the base of the mountain to find the remaining nine disciples in a crowd of people. A man kneels before Jesus and asks Him to have mercy on his son. The boy has seizures, caused by a demon, that make him to fall into fire and water to hurt himself. This detail distinguishes the condition from something natural like epilepsy. The man tells Jesus the disciples could not heal the boy (Matthew 17:14–16).
Jesus responds with exasperation. The same men who He'd earlier empowered to perform such tasks (Matthew 10:5–8) seem to be doubting their mission. He asks how long He will have to put up with this faithless and twisted generation. He rebukes the demon and the boy is healed. When asked by the disciples why they could not cast out the demon, Jesus says it is because of their little faith. With the even a mustard seed-sized faith, nothing will be impossible for them (Matthew 17:17–21).
Jesus tells the disciples, once again, about His impending death (Matthew 16:21). He will be betrayed and handed over to those who will murder Him (Matthew 17:22–23).
Back in Jesus' adopted hometown of Capernaum (Matthew 4:13), collectors of the annual two-drachma, half-shekel temple tax approach Peter. They ask "if" Jesus will pay the sum required of every Jewish man 20 years and older. Most likely, they are not really wondering, but are there to collect the payment. Peter says yes, Jesus will pay it (Matthew 17:24–25).
Before Peter can bring this up to Him, Jesus explains that, as the Son of God, He is exempt from the tax. However, Jesus agrees to pay the tax to avoid giving offense over the issue. He commands Peter to get the money for the tax by catching a fish in the Sea of Galilee. Peter will find a shekel coin in the mouth of the first fish he catches. He should use that coin to pay the tax for both himself and for Jesus (Matthew 17:26–27).