The Transfiguration — A Glimpse of Glory
“And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.”
We commonly refer to that which is described in these verses as “the transfiguration.” It is one of the most remarkable events in the history of our Lord’s earthly ministry. Here the Holy Spirit lifts the corner of the veil which yet hangs over the world to come and gives us a glimpse of the glory which awaits us.
When the angel appeared to John he said, “Come up hither.” He was about to see and enter into things he had never seen or experienced before. The holy Lord God was about to bring him experimentally near to himself, about to make such great manifestations of himself, his glory, his grace and his purpose in his Son as John had never known before. John saw a door open in heaven and was bidden, as it were, to enter into heaven itself for a while, though he was yet on the earth.
That is the position we are in as we come to the Mount of Transfiguration. Standing before this awesome, majestic passage of Scripture, we hear the Spirit of God saying, “Come up hither;” leave your worldly thoughts; and, for a little while, forget the earth. May God the Spirit graciously enable us to ascend “the holy mount,” as Peter calls it, and see, and learn, and experience what those chosen disciples did on that day. Let us, as it were, go up on Pisgah’s mount, and take a view of the Promised Land awaiting us.
It is true, indeed, eye has not seen, ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of any man to conceive the great and good things which God has prepared for his people even here on earth, much less, those infinitely greater and more gloriously good things that he has laid up for us in the world to come. Yet, God has been pleased to leave upon record this magnificent event that we may form some faint idea of that glory that awaits us in his kingdom above.
When we observe the fact that there is a clear, intended connection between verses 27 and 28, it is obvious that this event is recorded to give us a glimpse of heavenly glory. In verse 27 the Lord Jesus declared, “I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.” Then, in verse 28 we read, “And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.”
That which came to pass in verse 28 is that which our Lord had spoken of about eight days earlier in verse 27. This was obviously what our Lord had in mind when he promised that some standing before him at that time would see the kingdom of God before they tasted death. He had been speaking about the glory of his coming and of his kingdom. Knowing that in their weakness his disciples might think, “This is too good to be true,” the Master promised that he would give some of those very disciples, (Peter, James and John), a glimpse of that glory.
The Chosen Three
All three of the accounts given of this great event tell us that the Lord Jesus took Peter, James and John with him into the mount to see his transfiguration. Why do you suppose he did not take more of the disciples with him? Why just three? Why these three? The Master was pleased to take three and no more to show us his sovereignty. Our God always keeps before us the fact that he is absolutely sovereign in all things. He is sovereign in the election of some to salvation (Ephesians 1:3-6), sovereign in the redemption of his elect by Christ (Isaiah 53:4-10), sovereign in calling of his elect by the irresistible grace of his Spirit (Psalm 63:5; 110:3), sovereign in the revelation of his grace (Galatians 1:15-16), sovereign in the bestowment of the blessings and gifts of his grace (1 Corinthians 4:7), and sovereign in his sweet visitations of mercy (Romans 9:16).
Our Lord took three rather than one, because three were sufficient to verify the truthfulness of this event. — “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” He took no more than three, because these three were enough. And he took these three, Peter, James and John in particular, because they would be the same three who were later to see him agonizing in the garden, sweating great drops of blood falling unto the ground. Seeing him in his glory helped to prepare them for that day when they would see him in his humiliation and agony of heart.
The God-man in Prayer
Our Lord Jesus took Peter, James and John “up into a mountain to pray.” He had no corruption to acknowledge or sins to confess. Yet, our Master was a man of prayer. Often, he rose to pray, went aside to pray, and at least once spent an entire night in prayer. What an example he left for us to follow! — “In the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, our great Savior was heard in that he feared” (Hebrews 5:7). If we would serve our God, seek his glory, do his will, and serve the souls of men, we must learn something about prayer, seeking the honor and glory of God, the will of God, and the interests of the kingdom of God.
Our Savior began, it seems, every work he undertook for the glory of God in prayer. When he came to be baptized by John the Baptist, at his baptism, he was engaged in prayer. When he went into the wilderness to meet Satan in his great temptation, he fasted and prayed. When he was transfigured, as a pledge of his exaltation and glory, he prayed. When he was about to go to Calvary to die as our Substitute, he prayed. On both occasions when God the Father spoke from heaven and declared, “This is my beloved Son,” our Master was engaged in prayer.
“And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering” (v. 29). — Here we see the result of our Lord’s praying. There is an obvious emphasis here upon the fact that our Lord was transfigured as he was praying. You will recall that when Moses went up to the mount of God and God spoke to him face to face, as he came down from the mount Moses’ face shined so brightly that he had to put a veil over his face. The shining of his face was a proof to the people that he had been talking with God. After that, Moses told the people that the Lord would raise up unto them a prophet like unto him, whom the people were to hear (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). Christ is that Prophet! God the Father, in order to give his Son confirmation as that prophet, not only caused his face to glitter or shine, but, also, to show that he was a prophet far greater than Moses, made his very garment white and glittering, and “his countenance did shine as the sun.” What a thing to see! What a change!
Moses, Elijah and the Savior
“And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” (vv. 30-31). — What a sight that must have been! Peter, James and John must have been utterly astounded! I am sure there is much, much more in these two verses than I have yet understood; but the things the Holy Spirit intends for us to learn from them appear to me to be obvious. He seems particularly to call our attention to three things.
1. Their Descent — “There talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elijah.” – Moses and Elijah descended from heaven and spoke to The Lord Jesus in the hearing of Peter, James and John. Moses had been dead for 1500 years. Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, in a chariot of fire, 900 years earlier. Yet, both stood upon the mount with the Lord Jesus, Peter, James and John. The very fact that these two men stood physically with our Lord on the mount and spoke audibly to him is instructive.
First, it tells us that our departed brethren are, indeed, alive and well. Second, Moses and Elijah are specific representatives of all the law and the prophets. Both acknowledged our Savior as the Christ of God, of whom all the law and prophets speak. — “To him give all the prophets witness.” Third, Moses and Elijah are representative of the saints who will appear with Christ in his glory at his second advent. – Moses represents all God’s elect whose bodies are in the grave. – Elijah represents those who are found alive upon the earth at the Lord’s coming, who shall be “caught up to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Blessed be God, there is a world above. All is not over when we have drawn our last breath here. We will live beyond the grave. There is a resurrection day coming. Until that day, our departed friends are safe with the Savior! They are in good keeping. Christ is taking care of them. They are in good company. They are with him! They are not lost, but have gone before us; and the Lord Jesus will bring them with him when he comes again.
Fourth, the fact that Moses and Elijah were immediately recognized by these three disciples, though they had never seen either of them, makes it obvious that God’s saints shall know one another in glory, intuitively and by special revelation. — How dim our present vision is of things to come!
Fifth, the fact that Moses and Elijah spoke with the Lord Jesus about “his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem” tells us that God’s saints in heaven are very much aware of and interested in that which God’s saints are doing on the earth. They are that “great cloud of witnesses” spoken of in the Book of Hebrews.
2. Their Dress — “They appeared in glory.” – Moses and Elijah seem to have appeared in the very same glory as that in which the Lord Jesus appeared. While that may or may not have been the case, this much is certain: — When the Lord God has at last brought us into glory at the last day, the glory which Christ now enjoys as our God-man Mediator shall be ours (John 17:5 and 20; Romans 8:28-29). — In heavenly glory all God’s saints shall possess the same glory!
3. Their Discourse — “They spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” – What language that is! Moses and Elijah spoke of our Lord’s death at Jerusalem as “his decease” (his exodus) “which he should accomplish.” Never was any other man’s death spoken of as a thing that he accomplished. The word really means “fulfil.” Our Lord’s death was something he accomplished by which he fulfilled God’s law and justice, all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, his mission as our Substitute and Surety, and the everlasting redemption of his elect.
The saints in glory speak much about that decease which our Lord Jesus accomplished at Jerusalem (Revelation 5, 7 and 14). They know its meaning. They know what depended upon it. They know what was accomplished by it. They know that they are there because of it, only because of it. The saints in glory see such magnificent beauty in the death of God’s darling Son that they must talk much about it; how much more should saved sinners upon the earth be utterly consumed with it. This is our only hope. This is our only peace. This is our only message to poor, lost sinners. — Redemption is accomplished, finished by the Lord Jesus Christ!
The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Christ in glory, the transfiguration they observed, and the conversation they heard had an overwhelming effect upon our Lord’s disciples. — “But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him” (v. 32). Peter, James and John have been unjustly accused of being bored in prayer, even as the Lord Jesus was transfigured before them, and Moses and Elijah spoke to him of his death at Jerusalem. But that was not the case at all. The sleep spoken of here was not that kind of sleep. Rather, it was a sleep of an almost unconscious state of one utterly overwhelmed, shocked, dumbfounded by something before him. If you will look at the cross reference in the margin of your Bible, you will see that this is exactly what happened to Daniel when Gabriel appeared to him and when Christ himself appeared to him in the form of a man (Daniel 8:18; 10:9).
Peter, James and John were overcome by the sight of the glory of Christ’s garments, the glittering of his body, the glory in which Moses and Elias appeared, and the things they heard. Like the Queen of Sheba, when she saw Solomon’s glory, they had no life in them. But they quickly recovered. — “When they were awake,” that is, when they had recovered their strength, when God had put renewed strength into them, as the angel put strength into Daniel, “they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.”
“And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said” (v. 33). — Peter, who was always the first to speak, when he had drank a little of Christ’s new wine, spoke like a person intoxicated. He was overpowered with the brightness of the manifestation. “Let us make three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” It is well added, “not knowing what he said.” That he should cry out, “Master, it is good for us to be here,” in such good company and in so glorious a condition, is no surprise. Which of us would not have done the same? But to talk of building tabernacles, one for Christ, one for Moses and one for Elias, was saying something for which Peter himself must stand reproved. He was so high on the mountain that his head was spinning.
Still, as always with Peter, there was something in this that revealed the manly honesty and integrity of his heart. Peter knew that the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle and the temple of old. Now that the Lord Jesus is transfigured, and Moses and Elias appeared with him in glory, he thought it only proper that new tabernacles should be erected for them. George Whitefield said, concerning this incident…
“Such a mixture of nature and grace, of short-sightedness and infirmity, is there in the most ardent and well-meant zeal of the very best of men, when nearest the throne of grace, or even upon the mount with God. Perfection in any grace must be looked for, or expected, only among the spirits of just men made perfect in heaven. Those who talk of any such thing on earth, like Peter, they know not what they say.”
No doubt, there is much to be blamed in Peter’s outburst; but there is much to be admired. When Peter saw the Lord Jesus in his glory, surrounded by such companions, knowing that he had said he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die, when he had but a glimpse of glory, he said, “It is good for us to be here.” Oh, how indescribably good it will be for us to be there, with Christ and all who are his in heavenly glory!
“While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud” (v. 34). — Matthew tells us it was a bright cloud, not dark like that on Mount Sinai, but bright, because the gospel opens to us a far brighter dispensation than that of the law. This cloud was like the veil thrown on the face of Moses, and prepared them for the voice which they were soon to hear coming out of it.
Both Matthew and Luke tell us that they feared as they entered into the cloud. Mark says, “they were sore afraid.” Since the fall of our father Adam, there is such a consciousness in us all of guilt and deserved wrath that we cannot help fearing when we enter into a cloud, though Jesus Christ himself be in the midst of it. How quickly those fears were dispelled. How soon is the tumult of their minds hushed and calmed, with that soul-reviving voice that came from the excellent glory.
A Voice from Heaven
“And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him” (v. 35). — Matthew adds, “in whom I am well pleased.” God the Father hereby gives Moses and Elias a solemn discharge, as though they were sent from heaven on purpose to give up their commission to their rightful Lord, and like the morning star, disappear when the Sun of Righteousness himself arises to bring in the Gospel Day. — “This is my beloved Son, hear him.” Understand what the God of heaven declared in those words: — This Man is “my beloved Son.” He is God incarnate! — This Representative Man, this Surety, this Mediator is the One “in whom (alone) I am well pleased!” The Triune God is well-pleased with the Lord Jesus Christ as the Representative of his elect; and he is well-pleased with all his elect in his Son! — “Hear Him!” “Hear ye him.” Believe on, love, serve and obey him. “Hear him.” Hear what he says, for he comes with a commission from above. Hear his doctrine. Obey his Word. Follow his example. Christ alone is our Master. Christ alone we must hear!
We are repeatedly told that the Lord God declared himself well pleased in Christ our Redeemer (Matthew 3:17; 12:18; 17:5; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; 2 Peter 1:17). The Lord God intends for us to hear and understand this wondrous declaration of mercy. God the Father speaks from heaven to Peter, James and John, and by them to us, declaring that he is well pleased with his dear Son, and only with his Son. Moses was there; but God was not pleased with him. Elijah was there; but God was not pleased with him. Peter was there; but God was not pleased with him. James was there; but God was not pleased with him. And John was there; but God was not pleased with him. God never has been and never can be pleased with any sinful man. But God always has been and always must be well pleased with his dear Son, the God-man.
It goes without saying that God the Father is essentially well pleased with his Son as his Son. But here we are told that God the Father is well pleased with his Son as the God-man Mediator. God was well pleased with his Son eternally as our Surety and Mediatorial Representative in the covenant of grace (Isaiah 42:21). He is well pleased, honored by, and delights in the representative life of his Son, by which he brought in everlasting righteousness for us (Matthew 3:13-17). God is well pleased with the substitutionary, sin atoning death of his Son, by which he both satisfied divine justice and put away the sins of his people (Isaiah 53:10; Psalm 85:9-11). He is well pleased with the heavenly intercession of his Son as our Advocate and great High Priest (1 John 2:1-2). God is well pleased with the providential rule of his Son as the sovereign King of the universe (Isaiah 42:1-4). As our Savior said of his earthly life, he might say of his heavenly rule, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). And God shall be well pleased with the results of his Son’s covenant engagements and mediatorial rule (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Christ, as the Mediator, as the God-man, shall present his kingdom to the eternal Father, that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit may be forever glorified (Revelation 19:1-7).
But the voice that was heard from heaven did not say, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” but “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” God is well pleased with his people in his Son. Imagine that! The holy, righteous, just, and true God, Lord of heaven and earth, is honored by, delights in, and well pleased with us in his Son! In our natural condition we are all displeasing to God. This is our miserable state by nature. But our God is well pleased with us for Christ’s sake, because he is in Christ. He was well pleased with us in Christ eternally (Ephesians 1:6). He is well pleased with all that we offer to him and do for him in Christ (1 Peter 2:5). And he is always, immutably well pleased with us in Christ (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16).
“And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen” (v. 36). — Let me call your attention to just two things here.
First, the fact that Moses and Elijah were gone and the Lord Jesus stood before these disciples alone was a vivid declaration that he is the end of the law and the fulfillment of the prophets, and the message of both the law and the prophets. – When Peter, James and John awoke, when they saw clearly and distinctly, they saw “no man, save Jesus only!” Blessed, indeed, are those chosen, redeemed, called men and women who see no man’s hand in the whole affair of salvation, except the hand of Christ.
Second, the disciples told this to no one until after the resurrection. If we compare verse 36 with the records of Matthew and Mark, we see that this was done by Christ’s order: Peter, James and John would otherwise have gone down and told the whole world that they had seen the Lord Christ upon the mount of transfiguration; but our Lord ordered them to keep it silent. Why? — If they had gone down from the mount and told it to the other disciples, it might have stirred jealousy and strife among the believers. Besides, the Lord had declared that he would give no signs to that generation. They must believe him and his word, or they must perish. And, had they told others about this before the resurrection, Peter, James and John would have appeared utterly foolish in the eyes of any who did not believe their testimony. By keeping it secret until after his resurrection, until he had broken the gates of death, the things they witnessed upon the mount were credible in the eyes of others. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Our Lord would not have us cast our pearls before swine.
As there is life beyond the grave for the righteous, so there is death beyond the grave for the wicked. As the righteous shall know one another in glory, so the damned shall know one another in hell. As our knowing one another in heaven will make heaven more blessed, so the wicked knowing one another in hell will make hell more horrible and tormenting.
We have a glimpse of glory before us in the transfiguration. When Christ comes to gather us home, we shall be like him upon the mount of transfiguration: — Wonderfully Changed! — Wonderfully Owned! — Wonderfully Approved!
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