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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?