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Go to Bible: Matthew 17
|Mat 17:1||- (top)|
“transformed.” The event described in Matthew 17:1-9 (Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36) when Jesus was “transformed” before Peter, James, and John is referred to as “the Transfiguration” because early influential English versions used the word “transfigured” (cp. Tyndale’s New Testament, KJV). Today we would usually say “transformed,” or his “appearance changed” (GWN) or his “appearance was transformed” (NLT). The Transfiguration was a wonderful miracle of God’s grace, preparing Jesus for his torture and death by giving him a taste of his glorious future and by having him talk, via a revelation vision, with “Moses,” and “Elijah.” The Transfiguration shows how much God loved both Jesus and us, and it serves as a model and reminder that God is always at work behind the scenes to prepare people for the difficulties that they will face in life.
Many theologians do not believe Jesus could have been inaccurate in what he said about the timing of the coming of his kingdom in spite of the fact that many Old Testament prophets had been inaccurate about it, saying the Day of the Lord would come soon when it did not (cp. Joel 1:15; 2:1; 3:14; Isa. 13:6; 29:17; 46:13; 51:5; 56:1; Zeph. 1:7, 14; Ezek. 30:3; Obad. 1:15; Hag. 2:6-7). Therefore, some theologians say that the “Kingdom” that Christ was referring to in Matthew 16:28 came at the Transfiguration, but there are a number of reasons why this cannot be the case.
The first and foremost reason is that the Kingdom did not come at the Transfiguration; what Jesus said would happen in Matthew 16:27-28 did not happen at the Transfiguration and still has not happened. Jesus said he was going to come with his angels, and that did not happen, and he also said that when the kingdom came he would, “repay each person according to what he has done,” and that has not happened yet either. Furthermore, beyond what Christ said, the Old Testament prophecies make it clear that when Christ’s kingdom comes to earth, he will rule the earth from Jerusalem, the land and water will be healed, the animals will not be dangerous anymore, there will be plenty of food for everyone, wars will cease, and there will be other blessings as well. None of those things happened at the Transfiguration; for all those reasons and more, the Transfiguration simply does not fulfill the words of Christ, it was not the Kingdom coming in power (Mark 9:1).
People knew then, as they should know now, that when the Kingdom comes to earth, it will stay. No one would have ever thought, based on what the Old Testament, John the Baptist, and Jesus himself said about the Kingdom, that it would come in a short vision and be gone. In fact, if the disciples standing there with Jesus thought he was actually saying, “some who are standing here will not die before God gives a secret vision of the future Kingdom to three men,” no one would have been particularly excited. God had given visions of the Kingdom to prophets who lived before Jesus, such as Ezekiel (chapters 37-48), and also to people who lived after Jesus, such as Paul (2 Cor. 12:1-7). Jesus’ words were exciting to the disciples because they understood perfectly what he was saying: Jesus’ Kingdom on earth would come very soon.
Jesus had been teaching that the Kingdom was near since he started his ministry (Mark 1:15), and there is no theologian who says that Christ’s message, “the Kingdom is near,” is actually saying, “the Transfiguration is near.” Most scholars agree that the Kingdom was the central theme of Christ’s teaching ministry. Given that, it is important to point out that the one and only time when Jesus taught about the Kingdom that some scholars say he was speaking about the Transfiguration is the event recorded in Matthew 16:28, Mark 9:1, and Luke 9:27, and their only reason for saying that is what Jesus said about some disciples not dying did not come to pass. To say that in all of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God, only that one time in Matthew 16:28 the “kingdom” meant “the Transfiguration” is just sophistry to make what Jesus said in that one place become historically correct. Furthermore, saying the kingdom somehow came at the Transfiguration introduces confusion into the Gospel record because Jesus prayed and taught about the Kingdom throughout his ministry, including after the Transfiguration. For example, although the Transfiguration is recorded in Luke 9, in Luke 11 Christ prayed in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come.” If Christ prayed for the Kingdom to come soon after the Transfiguration, then it seems evident that the Transfiguration was not the Kingdom.
The purpose of the Transfiguration was to help prepare Jesus for his suffering and death, and in the vision at the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and spoke with him about his death, his “departure” from life (Luke 9:30-31). The Kingdom could not come if the Messiah was an unacceptable sacrifice, and so his continuing to be without sin until his death was extremely important. Mankind could not be redeemed if Jesus “broke” and sinned while being tortured or while he was on the cross, so God, via a vision, prepared him for his suffering.
At the Transfiguration, Jesus was given a taste of what he would be like in the future; he was clothed in white and was glorious in appearance to help prepare him for “his departure.” Thus, the Transfiguration was not “the Kingdom of Heaven come in power,” and in fact, it was not even a vision of “the Kingdom of Heaven” at all, it was a vision of the glorified Christ. This is confirmed by Peter, who wrote: “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” which referred at least in part to Peter seeing the glorified Christ at the Transfiguration. Peter saw the glorified Christ, but never claimed the kingdom came in any way. Matthew 17:9 calls the experience a “vision” (ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB. Many of the prophets of old, and certainly the apostles Paul and John, had visions of the future Kingdom, but it would be wrong to say that because Isaiah, Zechariah, Paul or John got a vision of the future Kingdom, then the Kingdom had actually come in some way. Similarly, it is wrong to say that the vision of the glorified Christ at the Transfiguration was what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of his Kingdom and the judgments associated with it.
It is important that we understand what Peter wrote about the vision, because the Transfiguration being mentioned in 2 Peter 1:16-17 is a major reason people say Jesus was speaking of his Transfiguration. In those verses, Peter spoke being an eyewitness of the majesty of Christ, and he was, but in a prophetic sense. Peter did not see the reality of Christ as the exalted Messianic King, he saw a prophetic image of it. But the vision that Peter, James, and John saw does not mean that the “kingdom” came at the Transfiguration any more than the kingdom came when Daniel, Ezekiel, Paul, or John had a vision of it.
One of the themes of 2 Peter is to convince his readers of the divine origin of the Scripture and that it is trustworthy. So he said the power and glory of the coming of Christ was not a “cleverly invented” story, but will really happen (cp. 2 Pet. 1:11; 1:16; 2:9; 3:7-14). As evidence of that fact, he speaks of being an eyewitness of the majesty of Christ in a prophetic sense. The whole context of the mention of the Transfiguration in 2 Peter is prophecy. In fact, the Transfiguration made “the word of the prophets more certain” (2 Pet. 1:19). To say that the Transfiguration is the fulfillment of what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 16 is to misunderstand both Jesus and Peter.
Another reason that the Transfiguration cannot be “the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom” is that there is no evidence Jesus knew it was coming until shortly before it happened. It was a miracle done by God to help prepare Christ for his death. It was not foretold in prophecy nor anticipated in Scripture in any way. It certainly caught the only three witnesses by surprise. Jesus may have been given revelation that it was going to occur shortly before it happened, but none of the disciples knew anything about it. For Christ to tell his disciples that some of them would not die until he came in his Kingdom, and then somehow to expect them to realize that he was speaking about an unknown future event and not about the well-known Kingdom they and their ancestors had expected for years makes that interpretation unacceptable. There is simply no good reason to equate the well-known and expected “Kingdom” with an unknown and unexpected vision of the glorified Christ.
Theologians who make the Transfiguration the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:28 create a few insurmountable problems. One of those problems is that Jesus’ words in Matthew 16 were not fulfilled at the Transfiguration: angels did not come and people were not repaid for their works.
Another problem is that in one way or another what Jesus said turned out to be inaccurate. If the Transfiguration was the fulfillment of what Jesus said in Matthew 16:28—that “some” of the disciples would not die until they saw Jesus coming in his kingdom—then that certainly did not come to pass. The Transfiguration was only about 8 days after Jesus spoke in Matthew 16:28 (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28), and it is certain that not just “some” of Jesus’ disciples were still alive, but most or even all of them were still alive 8 days later.
The short 8-day period puts the people who say that Jesus could not be wrong about the timing of his coming kingdom into a vice. If Jesus was not wrong about the timing of the coming of his kingdom and it actually was the Transfiguration, then he was wrong about only “some” of the believers still being alive 8 days later—most or all of them would be alive. If what he said about only some of the disciples being alive when the kingdom came in power—and it has not come yet—then he was wrong because “some” of the disciples are not still alive, they are all dead now. So people who try to rescue Jesus from making a statement that is historically inaccurate do not succeed. The solution is easy and biblical: Jesus, like the prophets, said the Second Coming was near but God for His own purposes delayed the Second Coming.
The renowned scholar, F. F. Bruce saw the problem with the 8 days, and did not believe the Transfiguration was what Jesus was speaking about in Matthew 16:28. He wrote: “It cannot be said that the transfiguration was the event which Jesus said would come within the lifetime of some of his hearers: one does not normally use such language to refer to something that is to take place in a week’s time.”a
It should be pointed out that F. F. Bruce believed that the Kingdom came on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), but that date does not fulfill the words of Christ either. For one thing, even if Jesus’ ministry was over three years, it would still have been probable that almost all of the disciples Jesus addressed in Matthew 16 were still alive, not just “some” of them. Certainly, all of the apostles were still alive. Besides that, on the Day of Pentecost, no angels came and no one was judged and rewarded or punished. Pentecost and the Age of Grace are not the Kingdom and are not a fulfillment of what Christ said in Matthew 16:27-28. Jesus was speaking to his disciples about a kingdom, glory, angels, judgment, rewards, and repayment, all of which they understood, and none of which has occurred yet, but they will occur at the Second Coming of Christ. God has the power and authority to delay the Second Coming, and that is what He did.
Another way we know that the Transfiguration was not the fulfillment of what Jesus said in Matthew 28:16 is that Jesus foretold that “some” of his disciples would still be alive when the Kingdom came with power and those disciples would “see” it (Matt. 16:28; Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27). But by eight days later when the Transfiguration occurred, all of the apostles were at least to see the Kingdom, but only Peter, James, and John were present at the Transfiguration, and they were strictly told to keep it a secret (Matt. 17:9). If the Transfiguration was a secret between Jesus and 3 disciples, it was not the fulfillment of Jesus’ public prophecy that “some” of his disciples (including at least all of his apostles) would be alive to see it.
Since the evidence is that the Transfiguration was not the coming of his kingdom, and since Jesus himself made it clear that he did not actually know when the kingdom would come (Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32), the evidence is that it was God who delayed the coming kingdom of Christ, but Jesus did not know that was going to happen. We learn from reading the prophecies about the end times in the Old Testament that God had delayed it before, so delaying it again was not out of character for God, who in His great mercy keeps giving humankind more and more time to be saved.
[For more on Christ’s coming kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth.” For more on the Resurrection of the Righteous and Resurrection of the Unrighteous, see commentary on Acts 24:15.]
“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.
“Moses and Elijah.” To properly understand the Transfiguration, we must recognize that it was “a vision;” a spiritual experience. Moses and Elijah were not there in person, but only as part of the vision. Matthew 17:9 clearly calls the experience a “vision.” The Greek word translated “vision” is horama (#3705 ὅραμα), and besides here, it is used of visions in Acts 9:10, 12; 10:3, 17, 19; 11:5; 12:9; 16:9-10 and 18:9. Many Bible versions translate the Greek text as “vision” (cp. HCSB; Darby; ESV; KJV; NAB; NASB; NET; NKJV; RSV; YLT). The NIV is not as clear, saying, “What you have seen.”
In the revelation experience at the Transfiguration, Jesus was transported to the future, to the exalted state he would have after his resurrection. The Bible says, “and his face shone like the sun” (Matt. 17:2), which is exactly how it was after he was glorified when he appeared to the Apostle John (Rev. 1:16); in fact, the promise of God is that after the resurrection, all the righteous people “will shine like the sun” (Matt. 13:43). And just as on that mountain that day Jesus was not yet actually glorified, neither were Moses and Elijah actually there in person. But the promise was that if Jesus succeeded in being a sinless sacrifice for the sins of mankind, he would be glorified, and also Moses and Elijah would really be raised from the dead in the Resurrection of the Righteous (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15). The vision God gave Christ would one day be a reality if Jesus endured to the end, which he did.
The most likely reason that God had Moses and Elijah in the vision is that Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the prophets. Beyond that, both Moses and Elijah ministered for many years in extremely difficult circumstances. Moses had spent 80 years serving God (40 in exile and then 40 in the wilderness) and Elijah had spent years ministering during the time of Jezebel when his life was in danger all the time. So Moses and Elijah were fine examples of people who suffered and endured, and that was what the transfiguration was about, it was God preparing Jesus to endure the pain and suffering of torture and crucifixion until his last breath, and Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about his death (Luke 9:31).
God gave Jesus a revelation vision of what things would be like in the future for the same reason that He gave many prophets a vision of the future—for encouragement, strength, and hope. God gave Christ the vision to help prepare him for “his departure,” and the subject that “Moses” and “Elijah” discussed with Jesus was his death (Luke 9:31). Jesus was not the only one to whom God gave courage and hope by giving them a revelation vision of the future. Prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, had very clear revelations of the future, and so did New Testament figures such as Paul and John. So while what God did for Jesus at the Transfiguration was very graphic, it was not materially different from what God had done to encourage others. This should show us the importance of having a clear hope, and building hope in the lives of others.
Although it is commonly taught that Moses and Elijah appeared in person at the Transfiguration, they were only there in a vision, not in reality. The Bible teaches that when a person dies, he is dead in every way, and not alive in any form until God raises him from the dead at the Rapture or one of the resurrections.
[For more information, see Appendix 4: “The Dead are Dead.”]
Another clear reason that Moses and Elijah could not have been on the Mount of Transfiguration is that they could not be alive before Christ paid the price for their sin. If Moses and Elijah could get up from the dead and be in a glorified state before Jesus paid for their sin, then anyone could be raised before Jesus paid for their sin. In that case, there would have been no point in Jesus dying. Some people say, “Well, the body does die, but the soul lives on.” That cannot be correct. If the “souls” of Moses and Elijah could be as glorious as they were on the Mount of Transfiguration before Christ died for sin, then anyone’s soul could live with God in a glorified state before Christ died, so we again arrive at the conclusion that there would have been no need for the death and resurrection of Christ. The Bible is clear that until the death of Christ, no one’s sin had been paid for, which is why no one who had died could be alive in any form before the death and resurrection of Christ.
Another reason we know it was not really Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus is that 1 Corinthians 15:23 says that Christ is the “firstfruits” from the dead. However, if Moses and Elijah were alive on the Mount of Transfiguration in glorified bodies, then they were alive and glorified before Jesus got up from the dead. In that case, Jesus would not have been the “firstfruits” from the dead, but Moses, Elijah, or even some other godly person who died before they did would have been the real “firstfruits.” That cannot be the case. Moses and Elijah were not “firstfruits” before Jesus; they were a vision of the future.
Another reason that we know the Transfiguration event was a “vision” was that neither Jesus nor the Apostles would have known Moses and Elijah by sight. So part of the revelation vision was that Jesus, Peter, James, and John actually understood who and what they were seeing. God did not need to say, “Hey everyone, this is Moses and Elijah.” It often happens that when God gives someone a revelation vision, He also gives him an understanding of what he is seeing in the vision, and that is what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration.
It is sometimes taught that Elijah could be on the Mount of Transfiguration because he never died, but was taken directly up to heaven by God. This idea comes from 2 Kings 2:11, which says that Elijah “goeth up in a whirlwind, to the heavens” (YLT). To understand this verse we need to understand that the word “heaven” (“heavens” in the Hebrew), can refer either to the dwelling place of God or to the air above the earth. That is why the Bible speaks of the birds of heaven (often translated “birds of the air), the rain from heaven, and the snow from heaven (2 Sam. 21:10; Deut. 11:11; Isa. 55:10). Elijah was taken by God’s whirlwind into the air, and in that manner moved away from Elisha, who could then take over his position as head prophet. Culturally, Elisha could never replace Elijah as long as Elijah was there, so God took Elijah away in a dramatic fashion.
The prophets with Elisha knew that God did not take Elijah to heaven, but to somewhere else on earth, and they begged Elisha to let them go look for him, which he finally allowed them to do. Of course, they never found Elijah—God made sure of that, and Elisha stepped into the leadership role over the prophets of Israel. In any case, Moses and Elijah appeared in a vision at the Transfiguration, and even if Elijah never died that does not explain how Moses could have been there.
Elijah eventually died somewhere on earth. We know that because the wages of sin is death, and Elijah was not sinless; no person has ever lived a sinless life except Jesus Christ. If God could take Elijah to heaven and give him everlasting life without Jesus dying for his sins, then God could have taken any good person to heaven before Christ paid for their sins, and the death of the Christ would have been unnecessary. In summary, Moses and Elijah were visions. If Moses and Elijah could have been alive in glorified bodies before Christ died, then Christ did not need to die.(top)
|Mat 17:4||- (top)|
“behold.” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. See commentary on Matthew 1:20.(top)
|Mat 17:6||- (top)|
|Mat 17:7||- (top)|
|Mat 17:8||- (top)|
“from among the dead.” See commentary on Romans 4:24. Wuest says, “from among those who are dead.”(top)
“Then why do the experts in the law say that Elijah must come first?” The religious leaders of Christ’s day taught that Elijah would come before the Messiah, a doctrine based on a misinterpretation of Malachi 4:5: “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.” However, Elijah was long dead, and God did not raise him from the dead to live again before the time of the Messiah. To properly understand Malachi 4:5, we need to know that the name “Elijah” in that verse is the figure of speech antonomasia, or “name change.”a Antonomasia is the figure of speech in which one person is called by the name of another person in order to ascribe the characteristics of the second person to the one we are addressing. For example, we might say to a child who is jumping on the couch, “Stop that, Tarzan!” We know the child’s name is not “Tarzan,” but by calling him “Tarzan,” we ascribe the jungle behavior of Tarzan to the child. Some examples of antonomasia in the Bible include:
That John would be like Elijah was made clear to Zechariah by the angel Gabriel. When Zechariah was ministering in the Temple, Gabriel appeared to him and said that Elizabeth would have a son they were to name “John,” and he would go before God “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). For those who remembered the angel’s words years later when John started his ministry, it was clear that John was indeed the “Elijah,” who was to come.
[See figure of speech “antonomasia.”]
“Elijah is coming and will restore all things.” Jesus knew that John the Baptist was “Elijah.” Here Jesus used the words of the doctrinal formula commonly used about Elijah by the religious leaders. They would say, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things,” and they were correct in saying that Elijah would come, but they missed him when he came because they were expecting “Elijah” to do things that the Elijah of the Old Testament did, such as raise the dead and confront the government in power at the time, things that John the Baptist was not called to do. So by the time Jesus was speaking to his disciples here after the Transfiguration, he had already come. The Scribes had not been wrong when they said “Elijah is coming,” they just did not know to whom they referred and thus missed it when he was among them. Jesus, however, knew that “Elijah” was John the Baptist, as is clear from Matt. 17:12-13.
In this verse, Jesus was referencing the promise in Malachi that Elijah would come. The verb “will restore” (#600 ἀποκαταστήσει) appears here in the same form as in the Septuagint text, an echo of the fact that Jesus, speaking Hebrew or Aramaic, would have been using the same vocabulary as Malachi. The Apostles were not confused by Jesus saying John “will restore” things because they knew the Old Testament text and Jesus immediately followed up what he said by adding that “Elijah” was John. Since John was already dead (see Matt. 14:1ff), it was clear that the restoration work that John did in turning the hearts of the people back to God was done. That restoration work was now left to Jesus. We learn from Mark that John the Baptist came to restore things, and he did baptize many people and turn them back to God, but neither he nor Jesus Christ could turn the nation back to God. Jesus suffered and died so that those who did turn to God and believed could have everlasting life (see commentary on Mark 9:12).(top)
|Mat 17:12||- (top)|
|Mat 17:13||- (top)|
|Mat 17:14||- (top)|
|Mat 17:15||- (top)|
|Mat 17:16||- (top)|
|Mat 17:17||- (top)|
“And Jesus subdued him.” The “him” refers to the demon. This is a good example of how spiritual insight and being a “sympathetic listener” (one who is looking for the author’s meaning, not stumbling at every “possible meaning) is necessary to understand the text. Jesus did not “subdue” the child.
“subdued.” The Greek word translated “subdued” is epitimaō (#2008 ἐπιτιμάω). Usually, epitimaō means to express strong disapproval of someone: rebuke, reprove, censure; or to speak seriously, and thus warn in order to prevent or end an action. It can also mean “punish.”a However, in this context, epitimaō has the technical meaning it has in Greek religion of gaining control over a spirit, a demon. Robert Guelich notes that in contexts like these epitimaō is “a commanding word uttered by God or by his spokesman, by which evil powers are brought into submission.”b Jesus subdued the demon by the power of God that he wielded, power that he expressed in words.
The demon would not respond to just being “rebuked.” Therefore, we cannot agree that Jesus “reproached the demon for having taken possession of the boy.”c For a “rebuke” to be effective, the hearer must have a heart to listen to and obey God, and demons do not have that kind of heart. The demon had to be dealt with by spiritual power. See commentary on Mark 1:25.
|Mat 17:19||- (top)|
“trust like a mustard seed.” This phrase has been mistranslated in a number of versions, resulting in confusion and Jesus giving a teaching contradictory to the context. The context of Jesus’ statement is that Jesus’ disciples were not able to cast a demon out of a boy (Matt. 17:16) and wanted to know why (Matt. 17:19). Jesus told them it was because of their little trust (Matt. 17:20). At that point, the Greek text says: “If you have trust [faith] like a mustard seed….” How much trust does a mustard seed have? Total trust! It may look small to the world, but it has no doubt that it can do what God created it to do and become the largest garden herb. That is the point Jesus is trying to make. It does not matter what he, or his disciples, looked like to the world, if they have the same kind of total trust that a mustard seed does, they could move mountains.
Unfortunately, many translations entirely miss the point that Jesus was making. For example, the NIV84 has Jesus saying, “…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed….” But they added the word “small,” which is not in the Greek text, and that added word completely turns the parable upside down. Other versions that add words about the size of the mustard seed include the HCSB, NET, and NRSV. The problem the disciples had was that their trust was too small for them to cast out the demon. So Jesus is not saying if they had small faith they could move mountains—that is the opposite of what he is saying! Small faith won’t cast out demons or move mountains. But total trust, like the tiny mustard seed has in its ability to grow into a huge plant, will cast out demons and move mountains.(top)
This verse was added to some texts by being copied from Mark 9:29. The textual evidence is quite clear that it was not in the original version of Matthew.(top)
“about to be.” (Lenski; Wuest’s Expanded New Testament).
“handed over.” Jesus’ teaching that he (the Messiah) was going to be betrayed, suffer, and die, was so contrary to what the disciples believed that they could not grasp his clear teaching about it. See commentary on Luke 18:34.(top)
“kill him.” For more on Jesus’ clear teaching that he would suffer and die, see commentary on Luke 18:34.(top)
“the two drachma Temple tax.” This tax was paid by every Israelite male 20 years old and older for the maintenance of the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 30:13; 2 Chron. 24:9; Neh. 10:32). During the Greek control of Palestine, the tax was paid with a coin referred to as the didrachmon (“double drachma”) and the tax took on that name. At the time of Christ, the didrachmon coin was no longer in circulation and the tax was paid with other coinage, but the name of the tax remained the same. The tax was equivalent to about 2 days’ wages.(top)
“poll tax.” The Greek word is kēnsos (#2778 κῆνσος). In the NT it referred to the tax or tribute levied on individuals, and it was to be paid yearly. See commentary on Mark 12:14.(top)
|Mat 17:26||- (top)|
“lake.” The Sea of Galilee, see context, Matt 17:24. They were in Capernaum, right beside the Sea of Galilee.(top)