The Transfiguration of Jesus
The Transfiguration of Jesus
Brad Mills / General
Transfiguration / Luke 9:28–36
Herod was confused by Jesus, intrigued by his popularity and yet, only interested in learning more about Christ to ensure his own position and authority were not being threatened. The feeding of the 5,000 puts the question of Jesus’s identity before the crowd.
In Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his disciples who the crowds thought he was. They were perpetuating various theories—which Herod had also heard—about him being John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet raised from the dead. It was only the disciples who seemed to have an accurate picture of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. And yet, even their confession is mixed with confusion about what Jesus had to do as the Messiah.
Jesus continues his conversation with the disciples warning them of his forthcoming death and resurrection. He is also straightforward with them about their own suffering. They were going to face an increasing level of persecution (recorded for us in Acts). And the only way they would persevere through their trials was if they had a better understanding of the glorious Savior who alone was capable of saving them.
Read Luke 9:28-36.
I. The Glory of the Son (28-31)
Eight days after Jesus had his conversation with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, he takes his closest disciples up a mountain to pray (28). Four different sites have been suggested as the Mount of Transfiguration. Traditionally it was considered to be Mount Tabor, but that was quite a distance from Caesarea Philippi and contained a military fortress at the peak during this time. Many assume they began ascending Mt. Hermon since they were already located at its base. But, Mark 9:14 indicates scribes present at the base of the mountain when they return. This suggests somewhere closer to a Jewish region, not northern Galilee. In the end, we simply cannot be sure where they were because none of the gospels provide a precise location.
When Jesus was transfigured, his face shone and his clothing became white. This parallels the appearance of the glorious son of man we read about in Rev 1:12-16. Matthew confirms Luke’s testimony.
It is important to know that Jesus had glory before his incarnation. In fact, he possessed glory in the presence of the Father “before the world existed” (Jn 17:5). John spoke of him in his prologue as “the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prays that his disciples might see the glory that he possessed before “the foundation of the world” (Jn 17:24).
It is of the same substance as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3). It is the same glory that Isaiah saw and spoke of in his own visions (Jn 12:41).
And now, Jesus is revealing that same glory to his disciples. It is a foreshadowing of the glory he will manifest for all eternity. They received a glimpse of the glory of Christ in his exaltation. After undergoing the climax of his humiliation in his death on the cross, Jesus would be glorified in his resurrection, ascension, and the sending of his Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
His appearance here is also similar to his appearance at his return (Rev 1:13-16). There the emphasis is upon his authority to judge. Here, the emphasis seems to be upon his authority to save. Moses and Elijah were speaking to him about “his departure” (31) which would indicate there encouragement and support of his redemptive mission. The word “departure” is literally “exodus” in the Greek.
How is the death of Jesus like the first Exodus? Just as Moses led God’s people out of slavery to the Egyptians and brought them into the promised land. Under the new covenant, we have a new and better Moses who leads us out of slavery to sin and death, and into the new heavens and new earth.
The presence of the Old Testament witnesses, Moses and Elijah, confirms Jesus’ fulfillment of all the law and the prophets (Mt 5:17). They foreshadowed him. Both of these saints had unique departures. Moses died on Mount Nebo and God buried him in an unknown location (Deut 34:6). Elijah was taken up in a chariot of fire (2 Kgs 2:11). Both of them also witnessed the manifestation of God’s glory (Ex 25-31; 1 Kgs 19:8-18). But their primary roles were to point to the future Messiah.
Now that the Messiah has come, they have an interest and desire to peer into the redemptive plan that is near. These are the things that sinless angels long to look into. Now, we see that glorified saints talked about it too.
Ryle, “If saints in glory see in Christ’s death so much beauty, that they must needs talk of it, how much more ought sinners on earth!”
Having just been forewarned of Christ’s suffering and their own participation in that suffering. The transfiguration of Jesus serves as an encouragement to these select few disciples. This vision of Jesus in glory would have strengthened their faith as they awaited his return. And when they did get around to sharing it (36), their words would have comforted the saints who took it to heart.
The glory serves to build up our hope and create a sense of anticipation, but it follows suffering and humiliation. As long as we remain in this flesh, we will be acquainted with grief. We long for the glory of the perfected kingdom, but for now we must persevere through present suffering.
› The glimpse of glory these three disciples witnessed would serve as a hopeful anticipation.
II. The Request of Peter (32-33)
Peter’s request is in some ways commendable, even though he made it out of ignorance (“not knowing what he said”).
Hughes, “If there ever was a time for silence, this was it. But Peter was a man who could always find something to say when nothing could or should be said” (p359).
After he had had more time to reflect upon the experience it is clear that this stayed with him. He understood that we could rejoice that we get to share in the sufferings of Christ, because then we will “also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pt 4:13). Just before his death, Peter was still writing about the impact of the transfiguration:
2 Peter 1:16–18 ESV
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
There is something positive about Peter’s request. He desired the right thing, but his timing was a bit off. He was created to share in the glory of Christ, just not yet in all its fullness. Jesus promised Martha that if she believed she “would see the glory of God” (Jn 11:40), and then he promptly raised her brother Lazarus from the dead. Believing faith begins a process of transformation.
2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
Later on, during Jesus’ high priestly prayer he will acknowledge that believers share in the same glory that he received from the Father (Jn 17:22). This is what allows them to experience unity. And under the ministry of Peter and Paul, the Gentiles were also brought into “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).
We will continue this process of transformation until Christ’s return when we receive our glorified bodies (Php 3:21).
Hendriksen, “On the other hand, this apostle’s very desire to prolong the glory-scene (“how good it is for us to be here!”) shows that he had not yet fully taken to heart what Jesus had taught him (see on 9:22). From suffering, from the cross, whether for Jesus or for himself, he wishes to stay far removed.”
There is an indication here that Peter was willing to remain in this qualified state of glory because it was so much better than the daily struggle of ministry. He wanted to remain in this state of peaceful fellowship, but it could not have lasted in that fashion. Jesus had to suffer, and so must Peter.
It is good to be filled with hope and anticipation about the future glory that awaits us as saints, but it must never distract us from our present task. In the meantime we have been called to a hard work. Let us engage that work determined to persevere. And that means we take these brief glimpses of the glory of God with us into every conversation. We sprinkle salt and light into our everyday encounters. We bring the vision of glory into the workplace and into our experiences with our neighbors. We recognize that our time in this world is short.
Although Peter was confused at this time, we know he got the point loud and clear on the day of Pentecost. He was waiting for the Spirit to empower him, and then he was willing to proclaim the gospel to all who were willing to listen. May that be an encouragement to us whose transformation is a daily process.
› Peter’s request is interrupted by…
III. The Commendation of the Father (34-37)
The cloud of God’s presence descends upon all who had gathered. We will come back to this in a moment.
There is an allusion to two Old Testament texts in the Father’s commendation of his Son. We hear a hint of Ps 2:7 in reference to the Lord’s Son, and Isa 42:1 speaks of God’s servant as “my chosen”. The Father had given the same commendation at Jesus’ baptism (Mt 3:17).
As we considered this morning, this experience left the disciples terrified (Lk 9:34; Mk 9:6). It is natural for them to experience this reaction in the sight of such holiness. The shepherds were “filled with great fear” when “the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Lk 2:9).
We learn from Mark that they kept silent about this because Jesus had “charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mk 9:9). This was an experience that God wanted to give to three disciples and no more. And for whatever reason it need to be kept a secret until they had all beheld his glory at the resurrection. Maybe Jesus knew it would stir up their jealousy as they would shortly begin debating about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom (Lk 9:46-48).
Jesus is the fulfillment of all the glorious images of the Old Testament. All of the clouds of the Old Testament which represented the presence of the glory of God (i.e., the pillar of the exodus, the cloud that passed Moses as he hid in the cleft of the rock, the Shekinah glory that descended upon the tabernacle, the cloud that filled Solomon’s temple when it was dedicated), point to the glory of our Savior.
Jesus was the cloud and the glory of God all along! He remains the loudest and clearest manifestation of God’s glory today!
And the hope of all true believers is that we will enter into that glory upon Christ’s return.
1 Thessalonians 4:16–17 ESV
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
Kent Hughes, “Someday we are going to be in that cloud! The Shekinah glory is going to surround us!”
The glory of Jesus reveals his authority to save and increases our desire to be with him forever.