Lessons From the Transfiguration
Matthew 17:1-13 Mark 9:1-13 Luke 9:28-36
“This is my beloved Son, listen to Him”
The Gospel readings before us bring us to the Holy Mountain where our Lord is transfigured in the presence of his three closest disciples. Some background is needed so that we understand the significance of this glorious event.
1. Although the world had misconceptions about Jesus, His disciples had reached the conclusion by this time that Jesus was the divine Messiah and had publicly confessed that faith a few days before at Caesarea Philippi.
2. Based upon that confession (“Thou art the Christ”) Jesus begins to show his disciples that he was to be a suffering Messiah; that he must die.
3. At the revelation about his death, the faith of the disciples waivers. The disciples wanted a living, conquering Messiah, with a visible, earthly, triumphant kingdom and jurisdiction.
4. When Peter protests, Jesus rebukes Peter, saying that his thoughts are satanic in nature.
5. Jesus has shown the disciples that as he must suffer, so also the disciples will have to take up their cross and follow after him. Believers will suffer persecution in this world. No man can truly be a disciple of Christ without absolute self-renunciation. To gain one’s life is to lose one’s soul but to lose one’s life is to find his soul.
6. Christ then makes the announcement of his second coming in power and great glory for the final judgment to reward every person according to their deeds. The great question will be, “Did you lose your life for my sake?”
The transfiguration event is recorded in three Gospels with slight variations. The three disciples chosen to accompany the Lord were Peter, James, and John. These three, according to Mark 5:37, had alone witnessed his power over death when Christ raised the daughter of the synagogue official from the dead. It was these three disciples who would accompany Jesus to the place of prayer in Gethsemane when Jesus would, in agony, wrestle in prayer. These three would also be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection.
Most likely, all three Gospels that record this event are using reports from Peter. Matthew was not present at the Transfiguration and James was dead long before Luke began interviewing eyewitnesses for his Gospel.
Luke records that these four men went to the mountain to pray. This event most likely took place at night since Jesus had a habit of going away for prayer at night when he could be away from the multitudes. That the event took place at night is also supported by the fact that Luke records that the disciples fell asleep at some point. Luke tells us that the Lord was engaged in prayer when the transfiguration event took place.
After the transfiguration, Matthew and Mark tell us that the Lord told the disciples to keep quiet about what they saw. Luke shows the result of that command.
There are three great supernatural events that take place at the transfiguration:
1. The transfiguration of Jesus
2. The appearance of Moses and Elijah
3. The voice of God coming from the cloud
The transfiguration of Jesus
The radiant glory of the Lord at the transfiguration is both an internal and external radiation of light. In fact, the words used in Mark’s account show us that every separate portion of Christ’s clothing was glowing. His clothing was whiter than white. The Phillips translation reads, “…his clothes became white, dazzling white, whiter than any earthly bleaching could make them…” As one man has said, “…his whole body becomes luminous, as if it were a human electric jet…”.
The word used by Mark to speak of the radiant glory of Christ has the following meanings in other Greek literature and classics: “bright brass” in Ezra 8:27; “flashing sword” in Nahum 3:3; and as “sunshine on shields” in 1 Maccabees 6:39.
When the Lord initially came to earth, he made a humble entrance, a little baby lying in a manger. But now, at the transfiguration, the disciples are given a brief glimpse of the great, divine glory and majesty of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The sovereign of the universe transfigures before their eyes and the disciples behold his great and awesome glory.
Peter would later write, “We were not following a cleverly written-up story when we told you about the power and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ – we actually saw his majesty with our own eyes.”
The appearance of Moses and Elijah
Moses represented the law. The law says, “You must die! We must die! We cannot be holy and righteous.” The law says that the substitute for sinners must die.
Elijah represents the prophets. The prophets foretold of the suffering Messiah.
These two great representatives of the glorious plan of redemption come and speak with Christ about his death and become proof for the disciples that Jesus will himself have to die. The era of bondage has ended. The law with its restrictions and penalties has passed away. The Old Covenant has been replaced by a better covenant, a lasting covenant.
In the immediate context of the event, Moses signifies a look back to the Exodus, when God redeemed his people from slavery. Elijah signifies a looking forward to the second coming of Christ and to the eternal redemption that awaits the people of God with that event.
B.H. Carroll speaks of what the conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah may have sounded like:
Suppose Moses had said this: “Jesus, I died on Mount Nebo. No man on earth knows where my bones are resting. Unless you die, that body will never be raised, never, never.”
Suppose Elijah had said: “Jesus, I escaped death as to my body. I was translated. I was carried up to heaven, and am now enjoying in both soul and body the blessed glories of that eternal world, upon your promise to die. That promise must be redeemed. I am in heaven on a credit – the credit is on your promise to pay. You must die.”
The voice of God from the cloud
The interview and meeting is concluded. Moses and Elijah prepare to leave. Peter is frightened and as was his habit, he had to say something. Caught up in both the glory and terror of the moment, Peter cries out, “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here! Shall we put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah?” Peter did not want to lose the awe of the moment. He was an eyewitness to one of the greatest moments in recorded history. He wanted that moment to continue. He was on the mountaintop with Jesus and did not want to come down.
However, Peter’s statement compromised the uniqueness of Jesus the Messiah. The disciples were not to stay on the mountaintop and continue to experience the overflowing magnitude of the moment. The disciples must of necessity go down from the mountain and bear witness of the Beloved Son of God. Jesus is the climax of Biblical revelation and as such, the world must be told about him.
As Peter makes this statement, the cloud symbol of God appears, as it often did in the Old Testament. The fire cloud comes down and surrounds Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in its light.
God’s voice booms from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!”
The significance of the voice of God cannot be underestimated. We are to pay attention to divine revelation, not to human opinion. Moses had told the people in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites, and you must listen to that prophet.” The voice of God from the cloud is the confirmation that Jesus Christ is indeed the True Prophet, the Chosen Servant, and the Son of God. And the command is clear – “Listen to Him!”
The disciples shrink back in terror and lie on the ground as dead. They cannot bear to look upon the overwhelming cloud of fire and are struck as if by lightening when God speaks. The visible glory of Deity brings terror. They stay on the ground until receiving a reassuring touch from Jesus that all is well.
Hebrews 1:1-2 – In days gone by, God had spoken to people through Moses (or the Law) and through the prophets. The announcement by God at the transfiguration is that those days were now over. They were not to be any longer. The old covenant was being replaced by a new and better covenant.
The Apostle Paul says that Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. Christ is supreme over creation. Christ is the creator of everything. Christ has a timeless existence. All things are held together by the power of Christ. Christ is the head of the church. Christ is the first fruit of the promised resurrection. The entire fullness of God dwells in Christ. It is through Christ that reconciliation with God the Father takes place.
Is it no small wonder then, that the voice of God thunders from the cloud and says, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”
Lessons to learn
First, the true test of doctrinal belief is not how we conduct ourselves in the glory of the moment when we have experienced the presence and blessing of God in a great way, but rather, how we act and react to the world around us once we have left the mountaintop. At some point in time we have to leave the mountaintop and go back to the real world we live in and practice our Christianity and discipleship. Our Christian lives cannot and will not always be a life of a spiritual high. To try and make them such is not feasible and in fact, it is impossible.
Second, if we want more knowledge and revelation of Christ, we must be receptive to what has already been given us. Perhaps this is why the Lord took Peter, James, and John with him. They recognized Christ as the Messiah and therefore Christ chose to reveal more of his glory to them. When we look back upon the occasion of the transfiguration and the background of the days before it, we realize that the three disciples were given the privilege of witnessing the sight because they had first confessed Jesus as the Christ. I would ask each of you today, have you confessed Christ as Lord and Savior. If not, why delay?
Just as the command came from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him” so also that same command comes forth today, “here is Christ, the beloved Son of God. Hear him! Listen to him!”
Come to this Jesus, this Messiah, this Savior and Deliverer, this Redeemer and Friend. Find rest in him for your soul. Make this the day that you commit yourself to being Christ’s disciple.
Third, unless the Lord comes, each one of us will walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Each one of us will one day stand at the doorstep of our great enemy – death. However, the transfiguration gives us the hope of a better day, a brighter day, a day of glory and splendor when there is no more suffering, no more pain, no more death; a day when we will get to meet all of those who have been on the glory train with us; a day in which the curtains of heaven will be drawn back and we shall behold the Sovereign, Holy, King in all of His glory; a day in which we will fall prostrate before God, not out of fear and terror but to worship him, bless him, praise him, and thank him for his great mercy and grace.
Fourth, this event calls for a deeper and abiding dedication to the Savior upon the part of those who claim to be Christians. What kind of Christians are we? What kind of self-denial do we practice? Do we faithfully bear our cross to the point of persecution? What kind of decision do we make concerning profit and loss when it comes to our souls?
Carroll: “We … know that the majority of church members are walking on the edge only of practical Christianity; just on the edge of it. Oh, the value of the spiritual power that will come upon all who will utterly decide the question – who will truly say: “I am God’s all over. He is Lord of all my time, and all my money, and all my life.”
We must commit ourselves to praying that the glory of God would rend the heavens and come down, that the fire cloud of God would be over and around the Church. Will you, as Christ’s disciples, commit yourselves this day to praying for the conversion of lost souls, for revival in God’s church, and for a deeper spiritual walk with Christ? And, finally, will you commit to praying for each other as we walk this journey called life that we would be holy and pleasing unto Jesus, and that we would persevere in the faith to the end?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. +Amen.