Matthew 17:20 Meaning

matthew 17 20 meaning

Jesus talks about the importance of faith repeatedly in the Gospel and the theme is echoed throughout the rest of the New Testament. According to the meaning of Matthew 17:20, very little faith is required to accomplish great things.

1) Who Wrote the Book of Matthew ?

    The author of the book of Matthew is not identified in the book itself. Indeed, the name Matthew only appears six times in the NIV with the last appearance of the being in the book of Acts. Other Gospels term him “Levi”, with such multiple names being common at the time, sometimes nicknames, other times names earned for past actions.


    Matthew may have had multiple names because, as a tax collector, he was an unpopular man in Jewish society. Alternatively, the other Gospels, likely written after Matthew, may have termed him “Levi” because of the extensive references to the Old Testament in his Gospel. While modern apostate scholars reject the attribution to Matthew, the early church universally accepted him as the author.

    Such well-known fathers as Irenaeus and Origin both accept Matthew as the author of the book of Matthew.


    Matthew the tax collector reveals in his Gospel that he is well acquainted with both Jewish society and the Law of God. He regularly cites both the Old Testament Law and the prophets to demonstrate that Jesus is the long-awaited King of the Jews. Further, he draws heavily on Jewish culture and tradition to relate to his audience.

    The original audience for the book would likely have been Jewish, meaning it was likely the first Gospel written, probably before the initial outreach to the Gentiles that starts in Acts 10. One estimate is that Matthew was completed by AD 35 and Peter’s visit to Cornelius in Acts 10 occurred in AD 38.

    in the gospels

    Before that time, as is obvious by Peter’s interactions with Cornelius, the Church had primarily focused on the Jews, and Matthew’s Gospel is symptomatic of that.

    2) What Does Matthew 17:20 Mean ?

    "Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
    Matthew 17:20

    To understand this passage, it is important to bring it into context :

    The book of Matthew is written to a Jewish audience that is suffering under the weight of Roman tyranny. They are longing for a deliverer king, one who would crush the Romans, and give the Jews their freedom once more. Matthew’s work is intended to explain to the Jews that their king had indeed come, but they had rejected him.

    matthew 17 20 verse

    In Matthew 17, Jesus ascends the mount of transfiguration and takes only three disciples with Him, Peter, James, and John. The others are left with the multitude at the foot of the mountain. While they await Christ, they are approached by a man with a demon-possessed child. The disciples try and fail to heal the child. The desperate father appeals to Jesus directly.

    lord jesus christ

    Jesus, frustrated, chides the people for their lack of faith. He then heals the child and sends the multitude on their way.  The disciples do not understand why they were unable to heal the child and ask Jesus about it.

    Jesus then responds with the words of Matthew 17:20.

    "Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
    Matthew 17:20

    A. Have faith as small as a mustard seed meaning

      Jesus reproves the disciples for their lack of faith. He says they have faith as small as a mustard seed.

      Mustard seeds would have been commonly known to the Jews and are quite small, being proverbially used at the time to refer to the smallest of things.

      faith as a mustard seed

      Thus, Jesus is saying that the disciples lacked even the most basic amount of faith. This is incredibly important given that the book of Hebrews tells us it is impossible to please God without faith.

      Faith is a crucial element here as well. We know this because, in Matthew 10 and 11, Jesus sends His disciples out to preach. In parallel accounts in Mark 6 and Luke 9, we know that the disciples were able to cast out demons during these trips (Mark 6:13).

      gospel of mark

      However, here, the disciples fail to do so. Jesus specifically says in the following verse that this particular type of demon required prayer and fasting for the disciples to expel. Both of those things entail a willingness to spend time with and put faith in God for answers.

      This additional requirement hints that the disciples were attempting to cast out the demon using their own strength. It was not that they had lost faith in Christ, merely forgotten it in the heat of the moment. They had cast out demons before, there was no reason they could not do it again. What they forgot was that the power to cast out the demons did not come from them, it came from Christ.


      It was Christ that had commissioned them to preach, and it was Christ’s name to which the devils were subject (Luke 10:17). Thus, in this section, Christ is reminding His disciples where their power over the devils came from: Him.

      For the followers of Christ today, this reminder is still potent. Christ still has the power to grant His followers victory over the trials of this world. We are told that all that live Godly lives shall be persecuted in one form or another (2 Timothy 3:12).

      children of god

      Even Paul was afflicted with a thorn in the flesh, which many scholars believe was poor eyesight. Yet when Paul asked for it to be removed, he was told.

      My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness
      2 Corinthians 12:19

      Christ provides the strength to deal with the battles we face, be they physical, or spiritual.

      B. Faith can move mountains meaning

        This section of the verse, along with the “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) are among the most common passages ripped from their context to make poor Scriptural arguments.

        Jesus does not mean we can pick up a mountain and move it, nor did the disciples ever use the passage in such a way. Jesus is instead using familiar elements of nature, the mountain they stood next to and the mustard seed they knew well, to illustrate how small their faith needed to be to accomplish things that seemed impossible.


        And in the book of Acts, we see the disciples do things that ought to be impossible. Paul raises a young man from the dead, Peter heals a man at the temple, and other similar examples.

        It is important to note here that the power to do the things that the disciples did, was not their own. The power flowed from Christ, through the Holy Spirit. It was not something that could be obtained from men as we see in Acts 8 when Simon sought to purchase the ability to lay hands on a man and impart the Holy Spirit. 

        word of god

        Simon had mistaken the power of God, for the power of Peter and thus thought Peter could bestow it. Peter berates the man sharply for this, chastising him for the wickedness of his heart.  

        What this means is that, because this power attached to faith only comes from God, it will only be granted when it glorifies God. Assuming that, because you are a believer, and you command something to happen that it will happen is foolish. Paul never lost his thorn in the flesh, despite praying for its removal.

        biblical verse

        It was more to God’s glory that Paul continued to appear weak to the world around him so that when God worked through Paul, it was obvious it was God, not Paul. That may be the case with whatever thorn you desire to have removed as well. If that is the case remember what God told Paul.

        My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
        2 Corinthians 12:9

        3) Conclusions

          The message of Matthew 17:20, like most of the rest of the New Testament, is simple: faith is key. If you want to successfully serve Christ, it cannot be done on your strength alone. It must be reliant on the strength of Christ, through faith in Him.

          Faith in Christ allows us to stand against whatever comes against us in His power alone. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing, something the disciples learned in Matthew 17:20, and a lesson we would do well to remember as we go throughout our lives.


          Read next: What does Exodus 14:14 mean ? The Bible repeatedly talks about the Lord fighting for Israel, starting in Exodus 14:14, but what does that mean for the modern Christian ?"The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still"

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          • Cathy on

            Thank you for this article on one of the most quoted, and often misinterpreted verses in the bible. Thank you for this clarity.

          • Jeff Kyei on

            i love the way you broke down this verse and emphasized that nothing is possible without first faith in Christ and that just because you pray for something does not mean it will happen but we serve a faithful God who has our best interest at heart. Love from Maryland ❤️

          • SEBUUFU ALEX on

            HI Kayla Moore,thanks so much for your message about faith.May God continue to bless you.
            Please i have alot of questions concerning the word of God.If possible you can send me your email and we keep discussing the word of God.
            I come from Uganda.

          • roy midgett on

            Thank you for that word I am seeking God about some things to change in my life you really inspire me what you said thank you so much

          • Edith Adam on

            So nice to see a young person speaking the word of our Lord. Keep it up.
            Just a note. Mustard to this old farmer is golden yellow not blue/black as your picture shows or maybe that is not your intention. All I know it is the smallest seed!!

          • Sati Anthony on

            I love born again Christian God bless you am in Nigeria pray for us

          • Tommy John on

            remember me in your prayers

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