days later Jesus *took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and *led
them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them;
and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And
behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 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."
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!" When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were
terrified. And Jesus came to them and
touched them and said, "Get up, and do not be
afraid." And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus
(Mat 17:1-8 NASB),
It is the favorite question of
pestiferous three year old children. It is also a tool of inquiry for those
who would understand.
Why the Transfiguration at all?
This is (obviously) no accidental
happening – there are no accidents with God.
Indeed, then, why?
- So that – as promised – some
might see the kingdom of God coming in power before they die.
- To confirm to the disciples –
with great power – that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, as Peter has
confessed a few days before.
- Per Crucem ad Lucem – from the Cross to the Light.
He tells them of His suffering to come; but He also shows them where this
Why these three disciples?
- Because these three are the most
preeminent among the Apostles, the closest to Christ.
- These, being the closest to Him,
are also the most fearful of His prophecy of His own death. To counter
this fear He gives them the vision of what follows the Cross.
- It provides to these three the
“testimony of two or three witnesses” needed under the Law to establish
something in court.
Moses and Elijah are two; the Father is the third.
- Perhaps most important, so that
they may learn the necessity of coming down from the mountain top of God
to the valleys of sin below. They wanted to stay; God had other plans.
They must carry the Good News to the world.
Why Moses and Elijah?
- Moses and Elijah represent “the
Law and the Prophets.” By their appearance they show the supremacy of
Christ to the Law and the Prophets.
- So that the disciples might know
that Christ is Lord of the dead (Moses) and the living (Elijah, who never
- Both of these spoke to Him about
His coming departure, so that Christ, the Son of Man, might be
encouraged. And that His disciples might be encouraged too.
Baptism and Transfiguration
It is a distinct point: the voice of
God has thundered from the heavens before – at the baptism of Jesus by John.
At that incident, there is no fear recorded; the scene is gentle and calm. In
this scene there is fear; why?
- First – by the other accounts –
Peter offers to build three tabernacles.
It isn’t specifically stated, but evidently this was the wrong thing to
do. So the disciples are aware of their failings before Almighty God.
- There is, of course, the uncanny
nature of the encounter. They’re not quite sure what to make of it – but
there’s plenty to fear here.
- From the Old Testament we know
that no one may see the glory of God – and live.
So fear besets them. It takes the
familiar voice saying, “Get up, and do not be afraid” to conquer that fear. It’s
like a child with a nightmare; what a relief to wake up and see the familiar,
loving face of the father who rescues you from danger. It is necessary, for
the storms of fear must be calmed before teaching can begin.
And when they look up, who do they
see? Jesus, Alone. It tells us something:
- It tells us of the unity of the
Trinity. You need not hear the Father thunder from heaven, nor the Spirit
in the form of a cloud – all that is God is in Jesus, the Christ.
- It tells us that our practical
example is Jesus, the person of God in the body and soul of man.
- It tells us, as the Father
commanded, that we are to hear Him.
Elijah Must Come
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." And His disciples asked Him, "Why then
do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" And He answered and said,
"Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did
not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man
is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood
that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.
(Mat 17:9-13 NASB)
Transfiguration – sample of what is to
God has a curious way of repeating
Himself – poetic, in a sense. In the Psalms we see poetic echo in words; here
we set up a poetic echo whose second half will be the transfiguration of the
children of God. The baptism of Christ is our sign of the first
transfiguration – the transfiguration of the soul in Christian baptism. The
Transfiguration on the Mount is the sign of the second transfiguration to come
– the transfiguration of the entire human being, body, mind, soul and strength.
At the Resurrection the glory of God
will indeed be revealed, His children transfigured so that no longer do they
need to hide their face from it, but rather see it and praise Him.
One might ask: is there any reason
for this? Why a bodily resurrection? Why not just a happy transition to
ghost-hood? Permit me a simple thought.
There is in this world much evil; we
shall take as our example Adolf Hitler. Do you think that Hitler got what he
deserved for his actions in this world? I submit you don’t; how can one be
properly punished for six million deaths? Where then is the justice of God?
Either God is unjust or God is weak – or both.
Or He isn’t finished yet. God has yet
to close His books on Hitler – or you. Or me, either.
Elijah will come
The disciples are worried about what
they have been taught in prophecy. It is clear that before the “great and
terrible Day of the Lord” Elijah is to come to turn the hearts to God.
They associate this with the coming of the Messiah; as yet they have not
perceived that the Messiah will come twice – once as the Lamb of God, then as
the Lion of Judah. Christ makes it clear that Elijah also comes twice – and at
this coming, it’s John the Baptist of whom He speaks.
Many believe that at the next coming
Elijah himself will return. This is based not only upon what Christ says here
(which, after all, could mean another man like Elijah, as John the
Baptist was) but upon the idea that every man must die once.
Elijah, along with the other man who did not die, Enoch, are believed in this
view to be the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation 11.
It should be pointed out that this
interpretation is not the only one for this chapter; in another view the
witnesses are seen to be the Old Testament and the New Testament. The argument
will continue, I suspect, until the Lord returns.
What are you going to do about it?
It is often useful to end a lesson
with, “so what?” What is it that the teacher expects the student to do as a
result of the lesson?
- Rejoice. Here is the evidence of the
life to come and its glory. This is where the Cross leads, and we will
share it with our Lord.
- Watch and Pray. Be ready for His return at all
times. There are many predictions of the time of His return – but there
is always time to be ready, if you will seize it.
- Reach out. This is good news; that’s what
“gospel” means. Take that good news to all who will hear.