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THE TRANSFIGURATION

Matthew 17:1-17:13
Key Verse: 17:2

Thank God that in the last 3 lessons we studied about who Jesus is, the way of Christ and the way of disciples. These can be the most important teachings in the Bible given by our Christ and Lord Jesus. These words’ truthfulness can be proved as we personally accept them. May we put our faith in Christ and what he did and obey the way of disciples at each moment: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Today’s passage is a very unique event in the life of Jesus, his transfiguration. May God help us to know what the transfiguration of Jesus means.

First, “he was transfigured” (1-3). Look at verse 1. “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” This was six days after Jesus’ testing and teaching for his disciples at Caesarea Philippi. We see in the gospel that many times Jesus took his disciples to the Sea of Galilee. Peter, James and John were seamen. This time Jesus led them up a high mountain by themselves. The most probable place is Mt. Hermon. There were only four of them. Mark wrote it in this way, “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and let them up a high mountain, where they were all alone” (Mk 9:2). The four of them were alone; no one else was around. When we refer to Luke, it was most probably late evening (Lk 9:32, 37).

Then what took place? Look at verse 2. “There he was transfigured before them…” Wow! Jesus was transfigured. We don’t know whether the transfiguration was in slow motion or in the twinkling of an eye. Anyway, Jesus was transfiguration before them. There is an event about a sudden physical change recorded in the Bible. In Genesis Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt when she ignored God’s warning and looked back the burning city Sodom we had left (Ge 19:26). It was God’s terrible judgment upon her as a warning for all those who ignore the judgment of God. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, his face was radiant because he had spoken with God (Ex 34:29). But here Jesus was transfigured as a whole in glory. How Jesus was transfigured was described in verse 2b. “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light.” Not only Jesus’ whole outward appearance but also even his clothes were changed in the shining glory. In this world Jesus grew up in a poor family and he was like a root out of dry ground. He he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isa 53:2). But now he was transfigured in an unspeakable glory. This was truly a unique event in human history with no other equal. The transfiguration of Jesus is beyond the scope of our understanding, and it seems to be incomprehensive and unbelievable. We see that in his description the author tried to write the factual evidences of this spectacular event: when (after six days), where (on a high mountain), who (Jesus and three witnesses, Peter, James and John), what (transfiguration), how (was transfigured: definitely by the power of God), and why (we will think of it later).

This glorious transfiguration of Jesus is a reminder of his pre-incarnate, divine glory (Da 7:9; Jn 1:14,18; 17:5) and a preview of his coming exaltation after his resurrection (2 Pe 1:16-18; Rev 1:16) . Daniel 7:9 says, “As I looked, ‘thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.’” This is a description of the image of God Daniel saw in his vision. And Jesus said in his prayer to God the Father in John 17:5, “…Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” So in this transfiguration we see that Jesus was transfigured into his original image as the Son of God. And we read in Revelation, “…I saw…someone ‘like a son of man,’… His head and hair were white like wools, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire…His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Rev 1:12-16) This is the glorious image of the Risen Jesus Apostle John saw in his vision and described. So we see also that the transfigured Jesus was a preview of his resurrection and future exaltation.

What happened next? Look at verse 3. “Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” Wow! This was another fantastic sight. They were gone from the earth long time ago. Traditionally, Moses lived around 1500 B.C. and Elijah 700 B.C. But they appeared on the transfiguration mount and stood there together talking with Jesus. In Luke they appeared in glorious splendor (Lk 9:31). They lived in different ages while on earth and there was no way for them to meet each other and talk. Yet, in their glory they could see each other and talk together along with Jesus. Here the past, the present and the future met at one point. Then the question is why only Moses and Elijah appeared. Moses is the one whom God used to give the Law to his people. Elijah is the one who connects Samuel the beginning of the prophetic era (Acts 3:24) with the later writing prophets. It is noticeable that the name Elijah is written in the New Testament most among all the prophets (29 times; Isaiah 22). So the appearing of Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets as witnesses to Jesus the Messiah, who fulfills the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament (cf 5:17; Lk 24:27,44).

We also see the common points of Moses and Elijah. Both are mentioned together in Malachi 4:4-5, as the giving of the Law through God’s servants Moses and the sending of the prophet Elijah before the coming Day of the Lord. Both of them had visions of the glory of God on a mountain—Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:15,16) and Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:3-14). Moses and Elijah both had unique endings—Elijah was taken directly to heaven (2 Kings 2:11-12), while Moses was buried by God and his grave was never found (Dt 34:6).

When we think about their appearing in glorious splendor on the mount, we can say that they are also representatives of human beings who come to and leave this world with their faith in God. While on earth, they suffered a lot in the course of serving the will of God. Once the Israelites kept wailing to Moses, “Give us meat to eat”, Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?...I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me…put me to death right now…” (Num 11:11-15). As for Elijah, once he was running for his life, he prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors” (1 Kings 19: 3-4). Both of them suffered to the point of hoping to die. Then after this world they entered into God’s glory and now are in splendour ever and ever. The agony of all human beings is that they are born, get old, become sick and die. Whenever we see people’s sickness and passing away, we feel the meaningless and tragedies of mankind. There are some people who taste human glory and honour and wealth in this world. But when they have to depart from this world, they cannot deny human sorrow and tragedy. But in Christ Jesus we are all glorified after departing from this world or when Jesus comes again in our times. This is a crystal clear teaching of the Bible. Philippians 3:20-21 says, “…we eagerly await the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” 1 Corinthians 15:49 says, “And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly men, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” We shall be like Jesus being changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye when he comes again. What a glorious hope we have in Christ Jesus. We also live in eternal glory and splendour together without generation gaps in Christ Jesus in his coming kingdom. Praise God for this glorious hope. We must keep this hope in our hearts as a mystery and secret while living in this world.

Second, “Listen to him” (4-8). Look at verse 4. “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’” In Mark it is written, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah,” (Mk 9:5) and in Luke, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Lk 9:33). In Matthew, to Peter Jesus is always “Lord”. To Peter it was so good to see Jesus transfigured and Moses and Elijah in glorious splendour, though he himself was not glorified. He felt that he was in the part of the glory and wanted to stay in that glory forever. For this he is willing to labour to build shelters all by himself. He did not want to go back to the suffering world. Momentarily he forgot Peter Jr. and his wife and other suffering people. Peter’s desire for the glory is the desire of all people for paradise being freed from the sufferings of this world.

Then what comes next? Look at verse 5. “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’” In the Old Testament cloud signifies God’s presence. A bright cloud enveloped them and God spoke from the cloud. At the time of Jesus’ baptism the same voice from heaven was heard. God was pleased when Jesus was baptized by John in his humility. God was also pleased when Jesus was willing to accept his destination that he had to suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised to life. God the Father was pleased with his Son in obedience.

Then the voice from the cloud said, “…Listen to him.” What did they have to listen to? They had to listen to Jesus who taught them Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection and the disciples’ self-denial and cross-taking in following him. At this time God himself directly involved for them to listen to Jesus’ serious words. When God said, “Listen to him,” he had the big picture of saving all mankind in his mind. For this Christ had to die and his disciples had to follow him denying themselves and taking up their cross. When God said, “Listen to him”, he was presenting them the way of salvation and life for themselves and for all the people of the world.

Also, when God himself said directly to the disciples, “Listen to him”, he was urging them to accept Jesus’ teaching, though it would be hard. This can be the hardest yet the most important part in Christianity. There are many so-called people who reject God’s way of salvation through Jesus, who suffered and died for our sins and rose again from the dead. They do not think that the cross of Christ is the only way of salvation and we can be saved through faith in him alone. They themselves do not take up their own cross. They constantly seek ease and glory in this world. Apostle Paul says of them, “…many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things” (Ph 3:18b,19). The cross of Christ is a challenge to any generation. Still, God says, “Listen to him.” In our deep hearts we reject the way of suffering and self-denial and cross. Whenever there seem to be difficulties in life, we become downcast or our hearts hardened. We do not think that problems and hardships in life are the opportunities to come nearer to God and find God’s will for us. We are easily occupied by humanistic ideas or human thinking. We tend to welcome only favourable situations. We must strive hard to listen to Jesus and accept the way of suffering, self-denial and cross. Without this Christianity cannot stand. Without this discipleship cannot stand. Without this personal faith cannot stand. “Listen” to him is God’s heartfelt voice for all the disciples of Jesus. To let his disciples to hear this voice of God was the purpose of Jesus’ bringing them to the transfiguration mountain and showing his shining glory.

Look at verse 6. “When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’” This is written in only Matthew’s gospel. This reminds us of Jesus, who said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Mt 11:29). When we are in fear and despair, he always comes and encourages us. He tenderly speaks to us to deny ourselves and take up his cross and follow him.

Look at verse 8. “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” In this world Jesus is the one who can lead us to the kingdom of heaven. He is the one whom we can trust in and rely on. Our life of faith in this world is very personal with Jesus only.

Third, “restore all things” (9-13). Look at verse 9. “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’” Jesus said this because people should not be misled to have just the impression that Jesus is the victorious and glorious Messiah without knowing and putting their faith in Jesus who would be raised from the dead. Christ’s glory comes after his suffering.

At this the disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’” A question arose in the disciples’ hearts. Jesus was there with them as the Messiah, and they saw Elijah in glory. They puzzled, “How come then Elijah must come first? Why is this needed?” Look at verse 11. “Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.” According to Jesus, surely Elijah comes and the coming of Elijah is written in the present tense. The purpose of Elijah’s coming is to restore all things. What? “Restore all things?” Can there be such a thing in this world? Even restoring one thing or one person is not easy. Through SBC we could see the restoration work in the hearts and lives of life-testimony speakers and some other people. It was so beautiful. Here is about restoring all things. This is truly the hope of all mankind. Sin ruined each individual, each nation and the world. But all things will be restored. How can be it possible?

Look at verses 12 and 13. “But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.” Here see the restoration work began through the coming of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah. He obeyed God and took up his cross of mission preaching the message of repentance. When he delivered the message of repentance to King Herod, he was put in prison and then beheaded. Humanly speaking his life seemed to be a most tragic one, but before God his life was a most glorious one as he lived and died for Christ. Christ Jesus would suffer most. He would be rejected and be killed at their hands. And then he would rise again. The restoration work would be possible through the sufferings of Christ. All things will truly be restored when Christ comes again. He will be glorified eternally and we all will enter into his glory. And God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28).

We thank God for the transfiguration of Jesus. He was transfigured with his face shining like the sun and his clothes becoming white like the light. This was a preview of his glorious resurrection and exaltation and our glory in his kingdom and the restoration of all things. With this secret of glorious and amazing hope in our hearts we may listen to Jesus, following the way of the cross.

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