See this passage explained in the notes at Matthew 17:14-21.
Questioning with them - Debating with the disciples, and attempting to confound them. This he saw as he came down from the mount. In his absence they had taken occasion to attempt to perplex and confound his followers.
Were greatly amazed - Were astonished and surprised at his sudden appearance among them.
Saluted him - Received him with the customary marks of affection and respect. It is probable that this was not by any “formal” manner of salutation, but by the “rush” of the multitude, and by hailing him as the Messiah.
What question ye? - What is the subject of your inquiry or debate with the disciples?
A dumb spirit - A spirit which deprived his son of the power of speaking.
And wheresoever - In whatever place - at home or abroad, alone or in public.
He teareth him - He rends, distracts, or throws him into convulsions.
He foameth - At the mouth, like a mad animal. Among us these would all be considered as marks of violent derangement or madness.
And pineth away - Becomes thin, haggard, and emaciated. This was the effect of the violence of his struggles, and perhaps of the want of food.
If thou canst do any thing - I have brought him to the disciples, and they could not help him. If thou canst do anything, have compassion.
If thou canst believe - This was an answer to the request, and there was a reference in the answer to the “doubt” in the man‘s mind about the power of Jesus. “I” can help him. If thou” canst believe,” it shall be done. Jesus here demanded “faith” or confidence in his power of healing. His design here is to show the man that the difficulty in the case was not in the want of “power” on his part, but in the want of “faith” in the man; in other words, to rebuke him for having “doubted” at all whether he “could” heal him. So he demands faith of every sinner that comes to him, and none that come without “confidence” in him can obtain the blessing.
All things are possible to him that believeth - All things can be effected or accomplished - to wit, by God - in favor of him that believes, and if thou canst believe, this will be done. God will do nothing in our favor without faith. It is right that we should have confidence in him; and if we “have” confidence, it is easy for him to help us, and he willingly does it. In our weakness, then, we should go to God our Saviour; and though we have no strength, yet “he” can aid us, and he will make all things easy for us.
Said with tears - The man felt the implied rebuke in the Saviour‘s language; and feeling grieved that he should be thought to be destitute of faith, and feeling deeply for the welfare of his afflicted son, he wept. Nothing can be more touching or natural than this. An anxious father, distressed at the condition of his son, having applied to the disciples in vain, now coming to the Saviour; and not having full confidence that he had the proper qualification to be aided, he wept. Any man would have wept in his condition, nor would the Saviour turn the weeping suppliant away.
I believe - I have faith. I do put confidence in thee, though I know that my faith is not as strong as it should be.
Lord - This word here signifies merely “master,” or “sir,” as it does often in the New Testament. We have no evidence that he had any knowledge of the divine nature of the Saviour, and he applied the word, probably, as he would have done to any other teacher or worker of miracles.
Help thou mine unbelief - Supply thou the defects of my faith. Give me strength and grace to put “entire” confidence in thee. Everyone who comes to the Saviour for help has need of offering this prayer. In our unbelief and our doubts we need his aid, nor shall we ever put sufficient reliance on him without his gracious help.
As the people on the plain caught sight of Jesus, they ran to meet Him, greeting Him with expressions of reverence and joy. Yet His quick eye discerned that they were in great perplexity. The disciples appeared troubled. A circumstance had just occurred that had caused them bitter disappointment and humiliation. DA 427.1
While they were waiting at the foot of the mountain, a father had brought to them his son, to be delivered from a dumb spirit that tormented him. Authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, had been conferred on the disciples when Jesus sent out the twelve to preach through Galilee. As they went forth strong in faith, the evil spirits had obeyed their word. Now in the name of Christ they commanded the torturing spirit to leave his victim; but the demon only mocked them by a fresh display of his power. The disciples, unable to account for their defeat, felt that they were bringing dishonor upon themselves and their Master. And in the crowd there were scribes who made the most of this opportunity to humiliate them. Pressing around the disciples, they plied them with questions, seeking to prove that they and their Master were deceivers. Here, the rabbis triumphantly declared, was an evil spirit that neither the disciples nor Christ Himself could conquer. The people were inclined to side with the scribes, and a feeling of contempt and scorn pervaded the crowd. DA 427.2
But suddenly the accusations ceased. Jesus and the three disciples were seen approaching, and with a quick revulsion of feeling the people turned to meet them. The night of communion with the heavenly glory had left its trace upon the Saviour and His companions. Upon their countenances was a light that awed the beholders. The scribes drew back in fear, while the people welcomed Jesus. DA 427.3Read in context »
But the purposes of Christ were not thwarted. He allowed the evil spirits to destroy the herd of swine as a rebuke to those Jews who were raising these unclean beasts for the sake of gain. Had not Christ restrained the demons, they would have plunged into the sea, not only the swine, but also their keepers and owners. The preservation of both the keepers and the owners was due alone to His power, mercifully exercised for their deliverance. Furthermore, this event was permitted to take place that the disciples might witness the cruel power of Satan upon both man and beast. The Saviour desired His followers to have a knowledge of the foe whom they were to meet, that they might not be deceived and overcome by his devices. It was also His will that the people of that region should behold His power to break the bondage of Satan and release his captives. And though Jesus Himself departed, the men so marvelously delivered, remained to declare the mercy of their Benefactor. GC 515.1
Other instances of a similar nature are recorded in the Scriptures. The daughter of the Syrophoenician woman was grievously vexed with a devil, whom Jesus cast out by His word. (Mark 7:26-30). “One possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb” (Matthew 12:22); a youth who had a dumb spirit, that ofttimes “cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him” (Mark 9:17-27); the maniac who, tormented by “a spirit of an unclean devil” (Luke 4:33-36), disturbed the Sabbath quiet of the synagogue at Capernaum—all were healed by the compassionate Saviour. In nearly every instance, Christ addressed the demon as an intelligent entity, commanding him to come out of his victim and to torment him no more. The worshipers at Capernaum, beholding His mighty power, “were all amazed, and spake among themselves, saying, What a word is this! for with authority and power He commandeth the unclean spirits, and they come out.” Luke 4:36. GC 515.2
Those possessed with devils are usually represented as being in a condition of great suffering; yet there were exceptions to this rule. For the sake of obtaining supernatural power, some welcomed the satanic influence. These of course had no conflict with the demons. Of this class were those who possessed the spirit of divination,—Simon Magus, Elymas the sorcerer, and the damsel who followed Paul and Silas at Philippi. GC 516.1Read in context »
There are many who think they can come to Jesus only in the way the child did who was possessed of the demon that threw him down and tore him as he was being led to the Saviour. You are not of the kind that should have any such conflicts and trials. Richard Baxter was distressed because he did not have such agonizing, humiliating views of himself as he thought he ought to have. But this was explained to his satisfaction at last, and peace came to his heart. 2MCP 808.5Read in context »