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Life of Peter

The Transfiguration

Various Scripture

Lesson audio

Matthew

Mark

Luke

2nd Peter

Matthew 17:1-9 NASB  Six days later Jesus *took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and *led them up on a high mountain by themselves.  (2)  And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.  (3)  And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.  (4)  Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah."  (5)  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!"  (6)  When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified.  (7)  And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, "Get up, and do not be afraid."  (8)  And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.  (9)  As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead."

Mark 9:2-10 NASB  Six days later, Jesus *took with Him Peter and James and John, and *brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them;  (3)  and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.  (4)  Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus.  (5)  Peter *said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah."  (6)  For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified.  (7)  Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!"  (8)  All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone.  (9)  As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead.  (10)  They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant.

Luke 9:29-36 NASB  And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.  (30)  And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah,  (31)  who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.  (32)  Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.  (33)  And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not realizing what he was saying.  (34)  While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  (35)  Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!"  (36)  And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.

2 Peter 1:16-18 NASB  For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.  (17)  For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"--  (18)  and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

 

The Glory of God

The subject of the glory of God often revolves about this passage. The event is unique in the gospel; the only comparable event in Acts is the appearance of Christ to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. It is such an impressive event that one wonders why it was used more often. Perhaps the fear that it causes limits its usefulness.

More disturbing is this: it has become rare in our preaching. This is rather a new tendency; the ancient authors, up through C. H. Spurgeon, used frequently. By way of example, in the three years since our new pastor arrived, I do not recall it being mentioned. What was once considered to be a major event in the life of Christ has almost completely disappeared.

The Why Questions

The event being so unique, it generates a lot of questions — most of which start with the three-year-old's favorite word, "why?"

Why the Transfiguration at All?

It's a fair question: why did this event occur at all?

·         Many authors feel that this event fulfills the prophecy that Jesus made that some of his disciples might see the kingdom of God coming in power before they died. This would not seem to be a sufficient reason, though it would make it necessary.

·         More likely, it confirms to the disciples that Jesus is indeed the son of God. Remember, this happens just about a week after Peter makes the Great Confession. It confirms that with great power; thus tending to give the disciples confidence during the approaching crucifixion.

·         Indeed, it is only in the light of the cross that we can understand this. Remember, the cross was considered a shameful and humiliating death. Capital punishment was common, and one of the uses of the cross was to subject the criminal to public humiliation while he died. This was supposed to serve as a deterrent to others. In this moment of glory Jesus balances the shame of the cross with the glory of God. It is by the cross that God shows his glory through Christ.

Why the Wait between Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration?

There is a wait of about a week between the confession and the Transfiguration. Perhaps this is a subtle point, but Christ had a reason for it:

·         The delay disconnects the two. So the disciples do not draw the false conclusion that being invited to the Transfiguration is a reward for the confession. This tends to reduce dissension, jealousy and contention in the disciples — of which there is already quite enough.

·         It is also a lesson to us. Often enough, we make a commitment to God in an emotional moment. We then expect God to do something miraculous (or close to it) immediately. We expect our obstacles to disappear as if by magic. That is simply not how God works; he does things in his own time.

Why Three Disciples? Why These Three Disciples?

The simplest reason for this is that Peter, James and John are the three innermost of the disciples. They are preeminent; so if you're going to pick three, these are the three you would pick. But there are other reasons too:

·         These three are the closest to Jesus, and therefore the most fearful of the prophecy concerning his death. To counter this fear he gives them a vision of what is to come.

·         There is a legal point here too. In the Jewish law, the testimony of three witnesses was often required to establish a particular fact. So from the point of view of the other disciples, the fact of the Transfiguration is established by three reliable witnesses.

·         The point may be made spiritually as well. There are three witnesses on the mountain top: God the Father, Moses and Elijah. So the minimum number of witnesses required is provided both in the human and spiritual sense.

·         There is a point of being on the mountain top; there is a point of coming down from the mountain top. The disciples wanted to stay there, but they need to learn that the work is done in the Valley below.

Why Moses and Elijah?

We must assume that Christ could have picked anyone from the Old Testament he liked. But there is a point to selecting Moses and Elijah; indeed, more than one point:

·         Moses and Elijah represent, to the Jewish mind of this time, the "Law and the Prophets." By their appearance they show the supremacy of Christ over both the law and the prophets of the Old Testament.

·         In addition it shows the Christ is Lord over the dead (Moses) and the living — Elijah, who never died.

·         Both of these spoke with Christ discussing his pending departure (via the cross). This was to encourage Jesus, but I suspect it also encouraged the disciples somewhat to.

Why Jesus Alone?

Let's look at it from the perspective of modern man: Jesus is the last one standing. That establishes his supremacy.

Why "Tell No One?"

You might think that the disciples were to spread this news as quickly and as far abroad as possible. And that is correct — after the resurrection. This is consistent with Christ's pattern of telling people not to mention something until after the resurrection, for it might not make sense before hand.

But there is one other question you might consider. What would've happened if Judas had known about the resurrection beforehand?

Lessons from Peter

We must remember that it's been about a week since Peter made the Great Confession. There are some interesting things in his reaction to this event.

Fear

There is an interesting interplay here between Peter and Christ. The fact that Peter experiences great fear is perfectly normal under the circumstances. You will recall that about half the time when an angel appears, the first words out of his mouth are, "fear not." So this is the reaction that you and I would probably have, too. Unlike the angels, Christ deals with this fear by his calm presence. We can picture him radiating the "peace that passes understanding." He is Lord; therefore his followers need fear nothing.

Three Tabernacles

We are told that Peter didn't know what he was doing when he opened his mouth and suggested building three tabernacles (your translation may have the words "tents" or "booths.") Some scholars have suggested that this particular appearance happened about the time of the Feast of the Tabernacles, but that is not certain. What is certain is that Peter felt good being there — and probably want to stay while. More likely, however, this is Peter being Peter: take direct action whenever possible. Action, even if it is wrong. It's important to do something.

So why is it wrong? Simply this: tabernacles are for human beings, the earthly. On the mount of Transfiguration we see Christ in his spiritual form — he needs no tent.

The Original Mountain Top Experience

Why is it that Peter wanted to stay? I think we can answer that from our own experience:

·         On the mountaintop we do not feel the threat or challenge to our faith that we do in the valley. We feel at ease, unchallenged.

·         There is no labor, and hence no weariness, on the mountaintop.

·         Modern minds will particularly understand this: there is nothing there to depress us. There are no "downers."

All of this is really good stuff — but the work to be done is down in the valley below.

Learning about Christ

This is a very concentrated event. But there are some characteristics of the Christ that we must examine.

Beloved Son

The phrase may give rise to misconception, as being misunderstood by any number of heretics. We repeat the obvious:

·         Christ and the Father are the same in essence — which is existence. Both have existed forever from "before time." (Remember that time is also one of God's creations.)

·         They therefore have the same attributes, such as righteousness, truth, wisdom and even love.

·         The fact that God is love carries with it the clearest of ideas: Jesus must be his beloved son. No other relationship between the two of them can be so preeminent. The fact that Christ is the son implies his obedience; the fact that God is the Father implies their love. Love is meaningless without at least two persons; it can be argued that it is meaningless without at least three.

Well Pleased

The phrase might not mean much more than politeness to us. To the ancient Jew however it meant more; the word used for pleased has its roots in the Old Testament. There we find frequent reference to a sacrifice being a "pleasant aroma" to God. Jesus is pleasing to God the Father because he does his will – and becomes the atonement sacrifice. Such sacrifice is an essential part of the Christian life, for Christ is our example. We are Christians, which means to be a "little Christ." The imitation of Christ is the essence of the Christian life; and Christ is our sacrifice.

Hear Him

It is interesting that God adds the command to hear him. Perhaps that's because he knows that we won't unless were told we have to. You can hear him in the Scriptures, which is why we encourage daily reading of the Bible. You can hear him in prayer – note that in Luke's account the disciples went up the mountain to pray.

Lift Him up

Perhaps it is because we so seldom read this account that we fail to give the honor and glory to Christ which is his due. But — as he told us — if he is lifted up, he will draw all men to him. The question is, will we lift him up?

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