Transfiguration of Christ
The Transfiguration of Jesus is an event reported in the New Testament when Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant in glory upon a mountain. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36) describe it, and the Second Epistle of Peter also refers to it (2 Peter 1:16–18). It has also been hypothesized that the first chapter of the Gospel of John alludes to it (John 1:14).
The purpose of the transfiguration of Christ was to reveal Himself in His heavenly glory. It was so His disciples who accompanied Him could gain a greater understanding of the truth of who Jesus was. Jesus underwent a dramatic change in appearance that allowed the disciples to witness Him in His glory. These disciples until that moment had only known Him in His human body, but now they see the true deity of Christ, even though they could not fully comprehend it. That gave them the reassurance they needed after hearing the shocking news of His coming death. Symbolically, the appearance of Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets. But God’s voice from heaven – “Listen to Him!” – clearly showed that the Law and the Prophets must give way to Jesus. The One who is the new and living way is replacing the old – He is the fulfillment of the Law and the countless prophecies in the Old Testament. Also, in His glorified form they saw a preview of His coming glorification and enthronement as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Jesus is about to reveal Himself in a special way to three men in this group (Apostles) to make the point about what is really is at stake. What the whole Christianity, disciple thing is all about. There is a gap of time between verse 27 and verse 28 when Jesus made His statement in verse 27.
Luke 9:28-36 (NKJV)
Jesus Transfigured on the Mount
27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.”
28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” 36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.
This is such a powerful scene and most everyone has heard it before. Let’s look at some observations concerning this scene. Jesus leaves the earlier conversation with the comment that some in the group would see the kingdom of God before experiencing death.
You may know this statement has caused a great deal of confusion in some Christian circles where is has been used incorrectly and out of context to teach that the kingdom Jesus promised arrived in 70 AD when the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed by the Romans. This view is amelleniast, which means there are those who do not believe that there will be a true 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth. But rather they believe the current time is the kingdom that Jesus promised and it started at the beginning of the church.This is one of the things they point to in verse 27. This is what happens when you take scripture out of context and piece it together with other scripture taken out of context. You always end up with false understanding and that can lead you down the wrong path and has the potential to be dangerous in a Christian’s walk.
The understanding of what Jesus said is demonstrated clearly from the text itself. It is about a week later and Jesus takes Peter, John and James up to a mountain. Why these three men. From the Book of Acts we know the significance of these men. Peter a leader in the church to the gentiles. James the leader of the church in Jerusalem. John the longest living disciple and considered the spiritual leader until his death. He wrote several books of the New Testament including Revelation as given to him by Jesus. Arguably who is better than these. So Jesus is taking these early leaders of the church and giving them insight, thus indicating it was God’s plan all the long that they would be early leaders in the church. And here we see The name and location of the mountain is unknown. Jesus begins to pray and the three apostles end up falling asleep. When they awake they see Jesus with Moses and Elijah. And all three of them are glorified. The fact that this event comes right after the earlier conversation makes it clear this is the event that Jesus is talking about. These apostles are seeing the kingdom before them.
Looking at verse 29 we see that Jesus’ appearance is completely different. He didn’t just light up, his face is different. Peter, John and James were given the privilege of seeing Jesus as He will appear in the kingdom of God.
The next important observation is to understand what it means for Moses and Elijah, who are standing with Jesus. Why were they with Jesus? Luke tells us they were talking with Him about what was going to happen in Jerusalem. About his departure. Meaning His death, resurrection and ascension. But what advice or encouragement could these men who were part of creation offer the creator. Possibly, they were being used as prophets by God to share information with Jesus relating to the events that were about to occur in Jerusalem. We need to remember that Jesus is limited by His human form. So God the Father is communicating with His Son through the Spirit and also through Moses and Elijah. It is also possible this conversation was for the three disciples, so they might know about the coming passion of Jesus.
However, we must see the conversation as merely a piece of the puzzle..one question we should ask is what is the main reason for why Moses and Elijah were there? First of all we should understand that they were extremely important men in the Jewish mind. But it might be doubtful if the disciples understood the significance in the moment. Another thing is how did the disciples know who these men were? It is not like they had pictures of them anywhere. So let’s consider what we know about these two men.
Moses was the redeemer of God’s people – the man who brought the nation through the trials in the desert. But he died before the journey was complete. Though no one ever found Moses body.
Deuteronomy 34:5-6 (NKJV)
5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. 6 And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day.
So Moses is a type of Christ in his redemptive work and in how his body will not be found afterward.
Then there’s Elijah –
God said that it would be Elijah in the end times who would bring the hearts of His people back to their God.
Malachi 4:5 (NKJV)
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
Secondly, Elijah’s life ends when God takes him straight into heaven.
2 Kings 2:11 (NKJV)
11 Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
So let’s look at the connection. Jesus is seen standing next to the two men God has used to depict the two-fold nature of Christ’s ministry. On one hand Moses depicting Christ’s redemption of God’s people by His death. And Elijah representing Jesus’ resurrection and ascension in glory.
But there is still more reason to choose these two men among all the Old Testament Saints God could have chosen. And to fully understand why God wanted Peter, John and James to see these two men next to Jesus, we have appreciate Peter’s poor choice of comments in verse 33.
Peter sees these three men standing together and says to Jesus, let’s made three tabernacles – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. And Luke adds that Peter did not realize what he was saying. Why did Luke add this comment? Let’s take a moment to consider what Peter was suggesting. This will allow us to see why what Peter said was wrong. Peter suggest the apostles build three tabernacles for these three individuals. The word here for tabernacle is the Greek word skene, which means tent or dwelling. The same meaning as booth in the Old Testament. In the Law, God gave the nation of Israel a festival He called the Festival of Booths. We can find this in Leviticus, chapter 23.
Leviticus 23:39-43 (NKJV)
39 ‘Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a Sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a Sabbath-rest. 40 And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. 41 You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statue forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. 42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’”
So this festival memorialized the Jews living in temporary housing in the desert. And it can also be seen as a picture of how we are living a temporary existence in this world as we wait our permanent home to come from heaven.
Also in Zachariah –
Zechariah 14:3 (NKJV)
3 Then the Lord will go forth
And fight against those nations,
As He fights in the day of battle.
Zechariah 14:6-9 (NKJV)
6 It shall come to pass in that day
That there will be no light;
The lights will diminish.
7 It shall be one day
Which is known to the Lord—
Neither day nor night.
But at evening time it shall happen
That it will be light.
8 And in that day it shall be
That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem,
Half of them toward the eastern sea
And half of them toward the western sea;
In both summer and winter it shall occur.
9 And the Lord shall be King over all the earth.
In that day it shall be—
“The Lord is one,”
And His name one.
This is Zechariah’s vision of the circumstances around the second coming of Christ. Jesus will arrive at the end of Tribulation to rescue the nation of Israel. He will come from heaven with the Saints (you and me) arriving with Him. And He establishes His kingdom on Earth. Then we read about this interesting detail.
Zechariah 14:16-19 (NKJV)
The Nations Worship the King
16 And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. 17 And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, on them there will be no rain. 18 If the family of Egypt will not come up and enter in, they shall have no rain; they shall receive the plague with which the Lord strikes the nations who do not come up to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. 19 This shall be the punishment of Egypt and the punishment of all the nations that do not come up to keep the Feast of Booths.
When Jesus sets up His kingdom on Earth, the nations of the world will all be expected to observe the Festival of Booths. In fact, not to observe the festival brings judgement in the form of drought and punishment like that which was brought against Egypt will come upon that people. If you are confused about why there would be disobedience in the time of Christ’s reign on Earth, you need to remember that though we will have entered the kingdom in our glorified bodies without sin, there will be others who enter with their sin natures intact. They continue the sin of the world until the very end of the 1,000 year reign when all sin is finally put to an end. You can find details about this in the Book of Revelation.
So let’s connect all the dots. Peter sees Jesus standing there glorified – not just glowing but completely changed. He sees Moses and Elijah there also. Earlier Peter had declared Jesus was the Messiah. And now he is overcome by this scene and believes he is watching the Messiah about to set up His kingdom on Earth. So it is likely that Peter, being a Jew, would assume the prophecy in Zechariah is coming true before his very eyes. So he believes it should be the time to build the booths.
Mark 9:5-6 (NKJV)
5 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— 6 because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.
So it seems Peter is grasping at what to say in the moment. And Zachariah’s prophecy comes in his mind. After all, it seems like a reasonable mistake. So why does Luke add that Peter wasn’t aware of what he was suggesting. The problem is in his statement that the apostles would build tabernacles for all three. Peter instinctively placed Moses and Elijah on the same level as the Son of God. This was instinctive because Jews throughout their history have seen God speak through a variety of sources. There was Abraham and even prophets before Abraham (Abel). There was Moses who gave the Jews their most sacred gift from God – the Law. And there have been numerous prophets in the generations that followed Moses. So Peter sees Jesus with these two men of God and to Peter it becomes a source of revelation and the connection of them together seemed obvious. But Peter is wrong. Not only was Jesus not to be placed on par with Moses or Elijah in terms of importance and honor. But Jesus was also not to be considered just another prophet in the line of God’s messengers. The Book of Hebrews says it best –
Hebrews 1:1-2 (NKJV)
God’s Supreme Revelation
1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
God has been speaking to men from the beginning. And be Christ, God spoke through many men to varying degrees and in various forms. He gave more revelation to some than to others. He spoke through the burning bush to one, dreams to another and visions to others. But now we are in the last days as Jesus said. And in these days, all revelation from God has come through His Son. Through the Gospel record and in God’s revelation of the New Testament given to men (the apostles) who received direct revelation from Jesus. So here Peter is equating these three men.
- Moses, the man through whom God gave the Law
- Elijah, a representative of all the prophets who received God’s revelation
- And finally God’s Son, Who brings the final and complete revelation of God
Now God Himself steps in at this point to address Peter’s mistake.
Luke 9:34-35 (NKJV)
34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”
The Father will have no one misunderstand where His only Son falls in the array of revelators. There is simply no one equal. With this scene we have Moses representing the Law and all it’s significance. We have Elijah representing all the prophetic ministries that have come and gone. But in the midst, God does not declare – these are my prophets, hear them all. Or here is my Son, obey Him and remember the Law and the prophets. What God does say is – This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to Him.
Take note the disciples are not told to forget the Law or dismiss the prophets, and neither should we. But in both cases, the Law and the prophets, we are always to see them in light of what we know about the Son. They were given to reveal Christ. They were given that men might know and understand their need for a Savior and how to recognize Him when He came. They can never hope to stand equal to Him but properly interpreted, they will always be in harmony with Him. We must listen to Christ, pay attention and heed His words. Not be merely hearers of the word, but doers, as James says. That is how we please God.
Having heard the words of God, the apostles drop in fear, and then Jesus leads them from the mountain.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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