The Transfiguration - Part 1

November 09, 2018

Matthew 17:1–13

While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. Matthew 17:5

Events: 

1. Jesus is transfigured on a mountain.

2. Jesus clarifies that John the Baptist was the Elijah expected to return.

3. Jesus casts out a demon and encourages faith in His disciples.

4. Jesus pays taxes from money retrieved from the mouth of a fish.

What does this passage teach us?

Verses 1–13. These verses contain one of the most remarkable events in our Lord’s earthly ministry—the event commonly called the transfiguration. The order in which it is recorded is beautiful and instructive. The latter part of the last chapter shows us the cross. Here we are graciously allowed to see something of the coming reward. The hearts which have just been saddened by a plain statement of Christ’s sufferings, are at once gladdened by a vision of Christ’s glory. Let us mark this. We often lose much by not tracing the connection between chapter and chapter in the word of God.

There are some mysterious things, no doubt, in the vision here described. It must needs be so. We are yet in the body. Our senses are conversant with physical and material things. Our ideas and perceptions about glorified bodies and dead saints, must necessarily be vague and imperfect. Let us content ourselves with endeavoring to mark out the practical lessons which the transfiguration is meant to teach us.

In the first place, we have in these verses a striking pattern of the glory in which Christ and His people will appear when He comes the second time. There can be little question that this was one main object of this wonderful vision. It was meant to encourage the disciples, by giving them a glimpse of good things yet to come. That “face shining as the sun,” and that “clothing white as the light,” were intended to give the disciples some idea of the majesty in which Jesus will appear to the world, when He comes the second time, and all His saints with Him. The corner of the veil was lifted up, to show them their Master’s true dignity. They were taught that, if He did not yet appear to the world in the semblance of a king, it was only because the time for putting on His royal apparel was not yet come. It is impossible to draw any other conclusion from Peter’s language, when writing on the subject. He says, with distinct reference to the transfiguration, “We were eye-witnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16).

It is good for us to have the coming glory of Christ and His people deeply impressed on our minds. We are sadly apt to forget it. There are few visible indications of it in the world. We see not yet all things put under our Lord’s feet. Sin, unbelief, and superstition abound. Thousands are practically saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” It does not yet appear what His people shall be. Their crosses, their tribulations, their weaknesses, their conflicts, are all manifest enough. But there are few signs of their future reward. Let us beware of giving way to doubts in this matter. Let us silence such doubts by reading over the history of the transfiguration. There is laid up for Jesus, and all that believe on Him, such glory as the heart of man never conceived. It is not only promised, but part of it has actually been seen by three competent witnesses. One of them says, “we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). Surely that which has been seen may well be believed.

In the second place, we have in these verses, an unanswerable proof of the resurrection of the body, and the life after death. We are told that Moses and Elijah appeared visibly in glory with Christ. They were seen in a bodily form. They were heard talking with our Lord. Fourteen hundred and eighty years had rolled round, since Moses died and was buried. More than nine hundred years had passed away, since Elijah “went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” Yet here they are seen alive by Peter, James, and John. Let us lay firm hold on this part of the vision. It deserves close attention. We must all feel, if we ever think at all, that the state of the dead is an amazing and mysterious subject. One after another we bury them out of our sight. We lay them in their narrow beds, and see them no more, and their bodies become dust. But will they really live again? Shall we really see them again? Will the grave really give back the dead at the last day? These are questions that will occasionally come across the minds of some, in spite of all the plainest statements in the Word of God.

Now we have in the transfiguration the clearest evidence that the dead will rise again. We find two men appearing on earth, in their bodies, who had long been separate from the land of the living—and in them, we have a pledge of the resurrection of all. All that have ever lived upon earth will again be called to life, and render up their account. Not one will be found missing. There is no such thing as annihilation. All that have ever fallen asleep in Christ will be found in safekeeping; patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs—down to the humblest servant of God in our own day. Though unseen to us, they all live to God. “He is not a God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:38). Their spirits live as surely as we live ourselves, and will appear hereafter in glorified bodies, as surely as Moses and Elijah in the mount. These are indeed solemn thoughts! There is a resurrection, and men like Felix may well tremble. There is a resurrection, and men like Paul may well rejoice.

In the last place, we have in these verses a remarkable testimony to Christ’s infinite superiority over all mankind. This is a point that is brought out strongly by the voice from heaven, which the disciples heard. Peter, bewildered by the heavenly vision, and not knowing what to say, proposed to build three tabernacles, one for Christ, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He seemed in fact to place the lawgiver and the prophet side by side with his divine Master, as if all three were equal. At once, we are told, the proposal was rebuked in a marked manner. A cloud covered Moses and Elijah, and they were no more seen. A voice at the same time came forth from the cloud, repeating the solemn words, made use of at our Lord’s baptism, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased—listen to Him.”

That voice was meant to teach Peter, that there was one there far greater than Moses or Elijah. Moses was a faithful servant of God. Elijah was a bold witness for the truth. But Christ was far above either one or the other. He was the Savior to whom law and prophets were continually pointing. He was the true Prophet, whom all were commanded to hear (Deut. 18:15). Moses and Elijah were great men in their day. But Peter and his companions were to remember, that in nature, dignity, and office, they were far below Christ. He was the true sun—they were the planets depending daily on His light. He was the root—they were the branches. He was the Master—they were the servants. Their goodness was all derived—His was original and His own. Let them honor Moses and the prophets, as holy men. But if they would be saved, they must take Christ alone for their Master, and glory only in Him. “Listen to Him.”

Let us see in these words a striking lesson to the whole Church of Christ. There is a constant tendency in human nature to “hear man.” Against this tendency let us all watch, and be on our guard. Let these solemn words of the vision ever ring in our ears, “Listen to Christ.” The best of men are only men at their very best. Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles—Martyrs, Church Fathers, Reformers, Puritans—all, all are sinners, who need a Savior. They may be holy, useful, honorable in their place—but sinners after all. They must never be allowed to stand between us and Christ. He alone is “the Son, in whom the Father is well pleased.” He alone is sealed and appointed to give the bread of life. He alone has the keys in His hands, “God over all, blessed for ever.” Let us take heed that we hear His voice, and follow Him. Let us value all religious teaching just in proportion as it leads us to Jesus. The sum and substance of saving religion is to “listen to Christ.”

Questions:

1. What are the themes of chapters 1 through 17?

2. What did the disciples learn about Jesus Christ at the transfiguration? What was their response to this amazing sight?

3. Who appeared on the mountain with Jesus when He was transfigured? Why were they there?

4. How does Christ compare to the other two prophets that appeared on the mountain, according to the words of the Father? 

5. What does the Father wish us to do in relation to Christ?

6. How does Peter describe this experience in 2 Peter. 1:16? 

Family Discussion Questions:

1. If Jesus was experiencing His state of humiliation while on earth, what is the position of Christ today? How might we relate to Him? Is Jesus Christ a buddy or is He a King? 

2. What does the appearance of Elijah and Moses on the mountain mean to you? What happens to us when we die?