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Nazareth Revisited


At Bethsaida -- in Cesarea Philippi -- the Transfiguration.

Speeding along on the smooth waters of the Galilean Lake, the boat containing Jesus and the disciples came to anchor at Bethsaida. It is commonly supposed there were two Bethsaidas, though Mr. Oliphant is inclined to think there was only one, and that the idea of there being two is due to the different way in which Bethsaida is mentioned in the Gospel narratives. If there were two, one of them was on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, some four or six miles to the South of Capernaum; and the other, at the north end of the sea, on the eastern side, near the influx of the Jordan. The fact that Jesus was next found in Cesarea Philippi, would suggest that it was this upper Bethsaida that Jesus came to on landing.

When he came to the place, the people becoming aware of his arrival, brought him a blind man, with a request that he would exercise his healing power upon him. Jesus complied with the request, but did not in this case heal by a word. For a reason not stated, and on which we cannot speculate with any probability of being right, "he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town," and at a convenient spot, he "spat on his eyes, and put his hands upon him." He then asked the blind man if he saw anything. The blind man looked up and said, "I see men as trees walking." He then put his hands upon his eyes again, and again made him look up. This time, the man's sight was perfect, and he "saw every man clearly." The man was naturally delighted, but Jesus suffered him not to stay, or to blazon the matter. "He sent him away to his house," and forbad him to report his cure in the town. The reason for such effort at secrecy, we have before considered.

Those who find in this case of healing an evidence of labour, and a suggestion of natural power, have to be reminded that the miracles of Christ were all of them "works" involving the expenditure of the power God had given him; and that special obstructions of faculty might require special applications of that power. They have to be reminded that all power is of God, and that the difference between natural and miraculous power consists in a larger measure and a more direct impartation. They have also to be reminded that if there are one or two miracles suggestive of difficulty, there are hundreds with no trace of such a thing, and that most of them were entirely beyond natural power, and that the series concluded with the most astounding miracle of all -- the restoration of Christ to life after he had been killed and buried -- when, therefore, as a man, he had no power at all, and when the only power that could be operative was that divine presence and energy that had dwelt within him for 3 1/2 years. The friends who find these objections, have a curious propensity for looking only at a part of the evidence, and that a very small part.

From Bethsaida, Jesus appears to have walked to the neighbourhood of Cesarea Philippi with his disciples. The distance would be about 30 miles, in a northerly direction, and the journey would be through the most splendid scenery of Palestine -- under the shadow of the Lebanon range, in whose wild and solitary glades they had time for reflection and private conversation. Jesus asked the disciples what the people were saying of him. They said, "Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." It is evident from his next remark that it was in no spirit of mere curiosity that he had asked about the popular impression, but merely to open the way for "the good confession" of his disciples: "But whom say ye that I am?" However many of his disciples took part in the answer to the first question, Peter stands forth in answer to this: "Simon Peter answered and said," -- this seems to suggest that the others hesitated; taken aback, perhaps, by the sudden call on their own views, after having so freely reported the conflicting opinions entertained by the populace. Or, perhaps, it merely illustrates the more impulsive ardour of Peter, who promptly declared, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." To the modern point of view, it might seem superfluous that Jesus should challenge the confession of his disciples on this subject. If we transfer ourselves to the moment and the circumstances, we may see differently. Jesus had not made his Messiahship a prominent feature of the proclamation in which he had associated the disciples with himself. The kingdom of God was the burden of their preaching. His personal relation to the matter was a thing he rather sought to conceal, on account of the fact that he had to suffer before the kingdom could come. His Messiahship was a subject of private communication mostly, and that very occasionally; and since it was not received either by the leaders or the body of the people, Jesus deemed it necessary to rally the disciples distinctly on this point at this time.

His response to Peter's declaration is full of significance. He did not thank Peter, as a human pretender might have done. He congratulated Peter on the attainment of so important an enlightenment: "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven." This calls for deeper consideration. If "flesh and blood" had revealed the matter to Peter, the revelation would have been of very doubtful value; for flesh and blood, of its own congenital resources, is darkness and not light. Flesh and blood left to itself always goes wrong. But flesh and blood had nothing to do with revealing the Messiahship of Jesus. The Messiahship of Jesus is a divine contrivance wholly, for divine ends: and it is a maxim of the Spirit-illuminated Paul, that "the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." Only God could reveal it. Flesh and blood in the finest state would never tell a man that Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary in the hill country of Jude, over 1800 years ago, was the Son of God, and his Anointed, or Christ. But Peter had attained to this conviction, and the blessedness of it, according to Christ, lay in the fact that the Father himself had revealed it, and therefore it was true, and might be relied upon and built on utterly. How the Father had revealed it to Peter, the life of Christ shows. He had proclaimed it in Peter's hearing on the banks of the Jordan when Christ was baptised of John; and he had testified it by the many works which he had enabled Jesus to perform, "which," said Jesus, "bear witness of me that the Father hath sent me." Peter's faith, therefore, stood upon a rock -- not on hearsay -- not on feeling -- not on flesh and blood; but on the undeniable testimony of the living God himself. A man in such a position is surely "blessed" -- happy. Christ uttered no platitude in saying this.

Then, Jesus turns upon the application of the matter to others to whom Peter should become related in the evolution of the work of Christ with men. In doing so, he fondles the analogy suggested by Peter's name. "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter (a stone or rock); and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." We know the application which the Roman Catholic church gives to this. We need not stay to discuss that. It is effectually disposed of by the declaration of Paul in 1 Cor. iii. 11, that "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ confessed, is the rock or foundation on which God's spiritual house is built. "On this rock will I build my church." But why mix it up with Peter? Well, Peter, whose name is Rock, had just made the foundation-confession. "And I say also unto thee, that thou art" Rock, and upon this rock-confession which thou who art named Rock hast made, will I build my church, and that by thy hands. It was a looking forward to the use to be made of Peter, who was to humble himself for ever by denying his Lord. He was to be made use of in the first official public laying of this rock-foundation of hope for men to build on. "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

The history of the events that came after is the full interpretation of these sayings which have been so grievously wrested from their meaning in propping up the most odious and long-lived tyranny under which the groaning earth has laboured. At the time of their utterance by Christ, the door was locked against the Gentiles. Afterwards, it was reported that God "had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles" (Acts xiv. 27). By whom had this door-opening (or key-using) been performed? Peter answers: 'Ye know how that a good while ago, God made choice among us that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the words of the gospel and believe' (Acts xv. 7). His reference was to the transaction reported in Acts x. and xi., in which it will be found fully narrated how Peter was commissioned to offer salvation to the Gentiles for the first time. By Peter also was the door of repentance opened to the Jews after they had murdered Christ. Let any one read the second chapter of the Acts; and he will see how Peter used the keys of the kingdom of heaven on the day of Pentecost, as well as some years later, in the house of Cornelius, for the Gentiles.

It was fitting, therefore, that in this conversation under the shadow of Lebanon, in which Peter was so prompt to confess that Jesus was the Christ, that Jesus should appoint to Peter the prominent part he was to perform in laying the foundation and opening the door of faith to Jew and Gentile, and should, in doing so, happily associate the meaning of Peter's name with that appointment.

It reads strangely at first sight, that having emphasised the value of Peter's confession of his Messiahship, he should "charge his disciples that they should tell no man that he was the Christ." We have a full explanation in the context. It is an explanation we have had to look at in former cases -- an explanation that could not have arisen if Christ had been a human pretender in any sense. It was because of approaching suffering and death that Jesus wished to throw a veil over his glory. This is specially evident from what we read on this occasion: "From that day forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples how that he must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day" (Matt. xvi. 21). Having such a prospect before him, what marvel that he had no heart in pressing his Messiahship in any manner that would seem to challenge the popular acceptance of his claims? His state of mind is plainly revealed when he exclaimed: "I have a baptism to be baptized with: and how am I straitened (or pained) till it be accomplished" (Luke xii. 50).

Peter, who had just confessed Christ in a special manner, and to whom Christ had assigned the honour of a special association in the coming work of laying the foundation and using the keys of hope, now appears in a wonderful light. He would avert the impending sacrifice of Christ. He protested against the idea that Christ should be surrendered to his enemies. "Peter took him and began to rebuke him" -- to rebuke him -- think of it. "Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee." What was the meaning of this on Peter's part? Did he mean antagonism to the purpose of God? Nothing of the sort. It was "good feeling" without enlightenment. It was the presumption of ignorant kindness, placing itself in opposition to the revealed will of God. If Peter could err in this way, are we to be surprised at "pious" moderns opposing divine principles and purposes?

And here we may note as a little "aside" that Peter had been preaching the gospel (Luke ix. 6) and Peter knows nothing about the sacrifice of Christ! Consider this, ye who preach only the cross, and will have nothing of the gospel of the Kingdom which Jesus and the apostles preached (Luke viii. 1; ix. 2); and to which the doctrine of the cross was an appendix (Acts xxviii. 31). Another point: out of compassion, Peter opposes the programme of divine wisdom. This is considered a very venial offence in our day. "Charitable feeling" condones every opposition to the revealed way of God. How did Christ take Peter's attitude? Not mildly or apologetically at all: "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God but those that be of men." Peter becomes "Satan" when he opposes himself to God's plans and principles. What are modern friends in the same attitude? Are they angels where Peter was Satan? Nay, verily. They may be on excellent terms with themselves and their fellow Peters; but Christ's measure of them will prevail. Their part is all the same, the dangerous one suggested in the words of Paul: "Though we or an angel from heaven preach unto you any other gospel, ... let him be accursed" (Gal. i. 8).

It is a final and noteworthy thought in connection with this incident, that we have the nature and characteristics of Bible Satanism as distinct from clerical diabolism, defined in the words of Christ: "Thou savourest not the things that be of Gad but those that be of men." The ways of God and the ways of men are necessarily different to the roots. How much different, God Himself says: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord: for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah lv. 8). For a man, then, to sympathise with "the thoughts of men" as opposed to the thoughts of God, is to be "Satan" in Bible speech. This is a rule of judgment that not only excludes the supernatural devil of pulpit theology, but condemns the vast mass of mankind now upon earth. In all departments of their "world-life," high and low, they do exactly what made Peter Satan for the time being. "They savour not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." For "the things that be of God" they have no taste. For "those that be of men" they have a sympathy that rouses them to wonderful life in press, pulpit, platform, counting-house, and boudoir. The world is not changed since the days of John and Paul. The "Spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience" is "the Prince of the Power of the air" to the present day -- more literally defined by John as "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life" (Eph. ii. 2; 1 Jno. ii. 16). It is impossible to live in this social "air" or atmosphere without doing homage to its Prince -- the ruling spirit -- incorporate in society as "the desires of the flesh and of the mind." For this reason, it is impossible for a friend of God to be a friend of the world at the same time (James iv. 4). What Jesus said to the disciples applies to their class in all generations: "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (Jno. xv. 19). The world "savours not" -- cares not for -- has no interest in "things that be of God, but those that be of men." Therefore, as Jesus pathetically said to the Father in prayer, "I have given them Thy word: therefore the world hath hated them." The world dislikes all who "savour" -- who like -- care for the things that be of God. Such is the truth, however unpalatable.

For the time being, Peter made himself of this Satan class. If we ask, what could his idea be in opposing the work of Christ; what shape did his feelings take? it may not be difficult on reflection to perceive. Peter, in common with the other disciples, "thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear." To his mind, therefore, the work and cause of Christ would appear all an affair of advantage, to which suffering would seem foreign. The idea of Christ falling into the hands of his enemies -- specially of being killed -- would appear to be inconsistent with the very first element of the kingdom of power and glory which they preached. Peter had not yet learnt that the way to the kingdom is a way of suffering for all -- necessitated by the prevalence of sin, and the moral need for humiliation and proof before exaltation. Especially were the sufferings of Christ essential as the foundation of righteousness for the temple of joy and gladness. To oppose these was to be a Satan to the very first of the ways of God. Peter had no idea he was acting such a part.

Jesus proceeded to apply the necessity for suffering to his disciples as well as himself: "If any man will follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it." Many say about this what the Jews in the Capernaum synagogue said about the flesh-and-blood doctrine: "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" It is "hard" only to a dark state of mind -- the state of mind that does not rightly estimate the vanity of human life -- that is not open to the reality of the work of God done in the earth through Moses and the prophets, Jesus and the apostles. To such a mind, it seems "hard" to lose anything now, for lack of faith in the connection between the losing and the getting promised. It is not hard for those who can feel the force of the argument that Christ immediately added: "What is a man profiled if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul (life). What shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he shall reward every man according to his works."

Let common sense work on this argument, and it will be found irresistible. A man must die; what can he gain by mortal success if it is at the expense of Christ's favour who can give life? His coming is compared to a time of harvest reaping. Let the analogy be followed. A farmer would think it "hard" to put his seed in the ground if he did not believe it would come up again multifold. But believing this, he cheerfully submits to the present loss. So the man who clearly and confidently realises that letting life go now will lead to the keeping thereof in the day of Christ, when all mere natural life will wither like the flowers, can let it go. The words, of course, had special force at a time when the reception of the faith of Christ was about to become a capital offence in all the world; but they have not lost their force as a general truth, that a man to be an accepttable friend of Christ in the day of his coming, must be content to forego the world's favour in an age when the world is Christ's enemy. Men find this "hard." "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."

The immediate disciples of Christ, whom he was to leave behind him in the tempest of persecution that would arise in consequence of the testimony for his resurrection, stood in need of special strengthening for the difficult part they had to perform. This he proceeded to impart in the exhibition of his glory by transfiguration. That it thoroughly served its purpose is evident from the allusion that Peter, who was one of its spectators, afterwards made to it. That is was calculated to do so will be realised by everyone paying close attention to it. To strengthen a man for a persevering testimony in a matter in the face of opposition and unfavourable appearances, the thing necessary to be done is to make him quite certain the thing is true. This is best done by evidence that will implant its own conviction. Jesus had given this evidence in various ways already. He had performed many miracles: but these were performed on others. There was no visible connection between the person of Christ and the performance of the works: and the way was open for cavillers to suggest, as the Pharisees did suggest, that the miracles were the works of another power -- the power of Beelzebub, and not of Christ. Christ was now to show something that would not be open to any suggestion of this sort -- something affecting his own person. His transfiguration would shew them more conclusively than anything could, that the Messiahship of Jesus was not and could not be "a cunningly devised fable." In his own person, he would show in advance the glory of his power and coming of which he so frequently spoke. How powerfully it affected the minds of the three apostles who beheld it is manifest from the words of Peter referred to: "We have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty, for he received from God the Father, honour and glory when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard,when we were with him in the Holy mount" (2 Pet. i. 16-18).

The event thus referred to, occurred immediately after the conversation about what men thought of Christ. Christ prepared them for it by saying, "Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." The transfiguration was a vision of this, in a realistic presentment. About a week after this saying, he took Peter, James, and John -- the three who were always prominent, and whom Jesus on several other occasions drew specially near to himself -- the only three, also, out of the twelve, who have contributed to the apostolic writings, with the exception of Jude. He asked them out with him, and conducted them to "an high mountain apart." The district of Cesarea Philippi is a very mountainous district, lying at the foot of the Lebanon range. It would, therefore, afford many solitary eminences suitable for the purpose for which Jesus had brought out the three disciples. That we are not told which one in particular it was, is probably the result of design. The knowledge of the exact locality would be of no advantage, and might be a disadvantage in giving occasion for an idolatrous shrine.

Visitors to the Holy Land are shewn the Mount of Transfiguration, of course, notwithstanding; but this is mere invention -- or at all events speculation -- with an eye to the offerings of pilgrims -- part of the "abomination" with which the land is infested. It is no part of the wisdom of God to furnish materials for superstition. "An high mountain apart" is all the description given. Leading them to such an elevation, away from the traffic and the intrusion of men, he did not deliver himself of grandiloquent apostrophe, such as the mere literary inventor would have imagined. He made no speech to his three disciples. "He prayed." Think of it. Jesus praying in that retired spot on a hill side, in the presence of his disciples. The disciples listened and beheld; and "as he prayed," they saw a change come over him. "The fashion of his countenance was altered": "His face did shine as the sun." His very clothes changed their appearance. "His raiment became shining" -- "white and glistering" -- "white as the light" -- "exceeding white as snow, so as no fuller on earth can white them." Is it necessary to ask "how" this extraordinary transformation came about, by which even the fibres of an ordinary woollen fabric became lustrous and shining? Is it necessary to suggest it was not a reality, but the hallucination of excited feelings on the part of the apostles? Both suggestions are totally foreign to the character of the appearance, life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ. The transfiguration is on a par with the conception of Christ and all his miracles. It was a phenomenon of divine energy specifically directed, and one that can have no difficulty for students of nature who have realised how universal and subtle is the potency of the electric force of the universe, and how easily under appropriate excitations, dead and lustreless things can be made to glow with blinding brightness. Grant (as the facts in connection with Christ compel you to grant) the operation of the Father, through Iris Spirit, and nothing is impossible or too hard to understand. Christ was exhibited in glory that the disciples might see what it was they were related to, and have such assurance as would qualify them to maintain a testimony by-and-by against all the world.

Presently, two men appeared with Christ in the midst of the brightness. Who were they? The narrative says they were Moses and Elijah, and from a remark immediately made by Peter, it was evident the three apostles knew them to be such. How they were able to recognise men they had never seen, and whose portraits the law of God deprived them of the means of being acquainted with, may appear a difficulty at first sight. The difficulty disappears if we take into account the presence and power of the Spirit of God, which evolved the whole manifestation and embraced the three onlookers in its power. This presence affected them physically. They became heavy with sleep. When this passed off "they were awake." The disciples were there to see and know, and, therefore, the Spirit of God would impart to them intuitively the knowledge that the two men were Moses, the representative of the law, and Elijah, the most notable of the prophets -- by whose presence the work and person of Christ were thus demonstrably associated with the whole work of God with Israel from the beginning.

Presently the apostles hear them converse with Jesus. They listen while the three men "in glory" talk. What is the topic of conversation? "They spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." Is not this the very climax of the interesting and sublime? We had Jesus a few days before instructing the disciples on this very subject, which naturally lay near his heart. We had Peter protesting, and Peter rebuked; and now here is the very same matter made the theme of communication among exalted personages, "appearing in glory." Such a conversation could not fail to strengthen Jesus in prospect of his suffering; and it must have been equally powerful to send home to the hearts of the three disciples the fact which he had sought to impress upon them -- that he must die. Nothing could more strikingly shew the importance of the place occupied by the death of Christ in the scheme of God's love and wisdom, than this conversation of three men "in glory." How important it is was afterwards abundantly shewn in the writings of the apostles -- for the possession of which it is impossible for us to be too thankful. To "the wisdom of this world," in our day, as in Paul's "Christ crucified is foolishness, and to the Jews a stumbling block. But unto them which are called; both Jews and Greeks, Christ (crucified is) the power of God and the wisdom of God, because the foolishness of God is wiser than man, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor. i. 23, 24, 18).

Peter was transported with a fearful joy at the scene -- Christ, Moses, Elijah -- in glory, and in mutual conference! He had "thought the kingdom of God should immediately appear," and Jesus had said they would not taste of death till they saw it, and now surely it was here, before his very eyes. It does not seem so difficult as some find it to understand why he should say, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for thee, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Moses and Elijah were framing to depart, and "as they departed" (Luke ix. 33) Peter requests that they might not go that the desirable situation might not cease. His sense seems to be -- "It is good for this to be: let it not go away. Let the glory continue. Let Moses and Elijah remain. There was one tabernacle in the wilderness, but now there are three greatnesses. Let us make three tabernacles -- a tabernacle for each. Let the kingdom come thus." It was Peter's raw conception of what was desirable. As was his wont, he gave frank and childlike utterance to his impulsive feelings. "He wist not what to say." He spoke out what came first.

Presently his unwise talk was quenched. A cloud drew over the scene -- not a rain cloud, nor a dark cloud, but "a bright cloud." Out of the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him." "They feared as they entered the cloud." "They fell on their face and were sore afraid." Presently, Jesus touched them, saying, "Arise, and be not afraid." They lifted their heads, looked around, and the transfiguration had ended -- the vision had passed; "they saw no man any more, save Jesus only, with themselves." Jesus then invites them to descend from the hill, -- and on the way, he talked with them, and "charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen," until he should have risen from the dead. Why he should wish them to keep such a matter secret we can understand, in view of those considerations (already glanced at) which led him to command them to "tell no man that he was the Christ." On no other principle is it intelligible. There was a time to exhibit the whole matter fully to view; but that time could not arrive while he was still on the scene, and when there was always a possibility that the publicity of his claims might lead to an insurrection of the people to place him on the throne. That he should seek to keep the matter a secret, or even that he should be represented by his apostolic biographers as seeking to do so, is one of the strongest proofs, if reason would but work it out, that his work was a true work, and no imposture in any sense. It is characteristic of all imposture to seek to make an impression by the sedulous cultivation of every opportunity of publicity.

The disciples wondered what Jesus could mean by the rising from the dead (Mark ix. 10). This is another of those constantly recurring symptoms of the truthfulness of the story. Why, except that it was so, should the disciples be represented as not understanding the resurrection of Christ? An artificial narrative, written for the purpose of supporting the story of a Christ who had never appeared, would certainly have assumed that the whole matter was lucid to all concerned from the very beginning, and that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ had developed themselves in harmony with the apostolic conception of things from the start. No conceivable object could be served by any other representation. But here they were put into a quandary by Christ's allusion to his resurrection. The reason is plain. They did not understand he was to die, but, like the Jews in common, expected that when Messiah appeared he would "abide for ever" (Jno. xii. 34). Consequently, there was no room in their idea of things for the resurrection of the Messiah.

That idea was strengthened by the Rabbinical expectation that Elias would appear before the finishing of the Messiah's work. They presented this obstacle to Christ. "Why, then, say the Scribes that Elias must first come?" (Matt. xvii. 10). Surely there would be no dying of the Messiah, and therefore no rising, after the appearing of Elias? Christ's answer was, "Elias truly shall first come and restore all things." That in no way interfered with the place assigned to Messiah's death in the Scriptures. "It is written of the Son of man that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought." On the contrary, it seemed to provide the room for this event: for as Elias had not yet appeared, there was opportunity for the rejection of Christ, so far as that was concerned. Notwithstanding this, he wished them to understand that the Elias precursorship, which the scribes were right in leading the people to expect, had, in an incipient form been realised -- which the scribes were ignorant of. "I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed ... Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist." This was in harmony with the angel's words in announcing the birth of John the Baptist to Zecharias (Luke i. 17). "He (John) shall go before him(Jesus) in the spirit and power of Elias." Christ's reference to John as Elias was in the nature of an "aside." The main argument was that the foretold and destined re-appearance of Elijah (whom they had just seen on the mount in converse with him) was in no way inconsistent with the death that was waiting Christ. The rulers (because they knew him not) had killed John, who had come in the spirit and power of Elias. "Likewise," said Jesus, "shall also the Son of man suffer of them."

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