Jesus Altered While Praying (vv. 28-29)
To Show that He Was not Dragged to the Cross
With so much sinful agitation in our land, and “men’s hearts failing them for fear,” we need to ascend this mountain with Peter, James, and John. We need to see the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ and be humbled in the dust so that our faith may be lifted up with rejoicing and singing. For when the Lord allows wicked men to turn everything upside down and the future seems bleak, we think that our Lord is either part of all the turmoil or that he is twiddling his thumbs doing nothing – or worse, that he has abandoned us. He has just announced his cross, which confused and disturbed his disciples. They had no earthly idea what he might mean, other than that Peter took him aside and rebuked him for saying such foolish things. What a trial this was for our Lord – to be fighting Satan day and night, to fight against his own human dread of the cross he had to bear, but then to have his disciples fight against him all the way to Calvary. We have no idea how heavy the cross he bore, or how heavy and many were his daily crosses – all because he loved us and would not lose us to sin, Satan, and everlasting hell.
About eight days after the disciples’ confession and our Lord’s first announcement of his cross, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up onto a nearby mountain in order to pray. Again Luke brings out under the Spirit’s guidance that all the greatest moments, trials, and glories of our Lord’s earthly ministry were in some way associated with him praying. This not only shows us his active seeking of his Father, his complete submission to his Father’s will, and his constant dependence upon his Father’s wisdom, strength, and fellowship, but it is also stands as a permanent memorial to the folly of any disciple not earnestly and constantly praying. If our Savior and Master walked this way, we are to walk as he walked (John 13:16; 15:20; 1 John 2:6). Now from his exalted glory in heaven, he reserves his greatest blessings upon his church and upon his disciples to be granted as a result of our following his example and praying. Otherwise, if we snap our fingers and good things happen, how else will we learn to stand in awe of our Father’s grace and our Savior’s faithfulness and the Spirit’s working in our lives? How shall we learn a smidge of gratitude and humility unless we learn first to draw every good from our Father in heaven through believing and consistent prayer?
As to why he took only these same three to behold his special glory, first, out of the twelve, he was on the closest terms with these three, who were also with him in Gethsemane – highest glory and deepest woe it was their privilege to see. Second, only two or three witnesses are required to establish the truth of any matter. Jesus Christ always keeps his own law, and we may therefore have unshakable confidence that this transformation in our Lord’s appearance actually occurred and that Moses and Elijah came to earth to bear witness to their Savior’s glory. Plus, we should not forget that much of the New Testament Scriptures were written by Peter and John, and their witness is vital for the entire apostolic corpus – “And We beheld his glory” (John 1:14). “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16-18). And why was it necessary for them to see the glory of the Lord? Jesus Christ was not dragged to the cross against his will. Here was his true glory as the Son of God as the Mediator of the covenant – and he humbled himself and become obedient unto death. No man could take away his life from him. He had power to lay it down and take it up again (John 10:18). The disciples had to understand this, as much we, that the Lord of glory willingly lay down his life for us. Men did not snatch away what he was unwilling to give, but he gave into their hands what they had to take in order to fulfill all righteousness.
To Reveal his Glory as God’s Son and Our Mediator
As our Lord Jesus was praying, he began to be altered – Matthew uses “transfigured.” His face and clothes began to shine brightly. He was on the ground praying as this began to happen. His shining glory was veiled behind the weakness of the flesh he assumed for our salvation, but here it began to break through the veil – although no language can be precise here, other than to say as Luke, he was “other,” altered. Here was something more than simply a praying man seeking his Father. Here was the glorious Son of God, as the Father shall soon bear witness, and the Mediator of the covenant, the shining Son of Man, the Christ of God. It was this divine-human Person that laid down his life for us. It was he who sunk so very low even to become “no man, and a worm,” in order to redeem us to God by his blood.
Therefore, all that follows in these months leading to Calvary, we must not forget – these three were not to forget. The glory of God shines in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6), the glory as of the only begotten of the Father. And since he is now exalted higher than all creatures to the highest heaven, sitting on the throne of his father David and ruling over the nations with a rod of iron, never must we tremble at men’s threats, doubt the outcome of our context, or refuse to defend his truth bravely. We serve the glorious Lord of heaven and earth. No one lifts a finger anywhere apart from his bidding. His Bride military is as safe in her earthly conflicts as her triumphant counterpart resting in heaven. Again and again, then and later, the apostles urged the church to see the glory of our Lord, to look upon Jesus Christ by faith, and not to be afraid of anything, especially not man, whose breath is in his nostrils and is to be accounted as less than nothing.
The Law and the Prophets Witness His Glory (vv. 30-31)
Christ the Goal of the Law
If only the disciples had been able to watch with their Lord one hour, they would have seen and heard more of his glory than they did. When he was altered, Moses and Elijah appeared to him. It is evil to demand God conform to the canons of unbelieving science. Its theories regularly change, so we need not concern ourselves with unanswerable questions of how but rather bow before the God who is not bound by the same barriers of space, time, and death as we are. He is not, moreover, the God of the dead, but of the living, and he can prepare bodies for his servants, glorified saints or angels, as pleases him. Moses appeared as the chief representative of the older covenant, of which he was the human author and mediator. They talked with Jesus about his coming “decease” at Jerusalem, about which even in heaven they had the keenest interest. Their very salvation, the truth of their words, the validity and efficacy of their ceremonial systems, depended upon what was about to take place. Moses bore witness that Jesus Christ was the goal, the end, the entire design of the old covenant sacrificial worship and church forms.
The law did not teach salvation by lawkeeping, or give even the slightest hint that it was another covenant of works. The Mosaic covenant was part of the “covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12) – many covenant administrations (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, etc.) but one covenant promise, life and salvation through Jesus Christ, the promised Seed of the Woman, Seed of Abraham, and Seed of David. Thus, the Jews killed the Lord of glory because they misinterpreted their own law – being ignorant of God’s holiness and their own filth, as the apostle wrote, they went about to establish their own righteousness and did not submit themselves to God’s righteousness – the person and work of Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:3-4). This was the great goal to which end the law was given – to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin and drive men by the quickening Spirit into God’s arms of mercy revealed in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:24). This lesson the Mosaic covenant taught through its priesthood, tabernacle, and sacrifices, all of which set forth Christ to come.
Christ the Hope of the Prophets
In doing homage to Jesus Christ, Moses in effect said to the whole world – “My whole work, the Scriptures I was inspired to write, the sacrifices enjoined therein, all pointed to Jesus Christ as the only Savior of the world. It is my pleasure for my shadows to recede before the full gospel light now shining upon the world. His body and blood are the true sacrifice, his mediation the true priesthood, and his presence the true tabernacle.” It was not Moses alone but also Elijah, the prophet who entered the scene of Israel’s rebellion with this thunderbolt: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these three years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1). His end like his life was a fiery chariot of swirling proclamation, warning, and movement. He was not the first prophet but chosen because he is the model for prophetic inspiration, boldness, daring, and courage. The law and the prophets set forth God’s gracious covenant, and his covenant promised Jesus Christ (Luke 24:44; John 1:45; Acts 24:14; Rom. 3:21). Elijah comes to represent Isaiah’s Suffering-Servant, Jeremiah’s Righteous Branch, the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, and Daniel’s Son of Man. They bow in reverence to Jesus Christ, about whom they spoke and wrote (1 Pet. 1:10). They did not live to see those days, but their two greatest spokesmen appeared on earth to bear witness to the coming of the glorious Son of God and his imminent “decease” in Jerusalem.
Christ the True and Final Exodus of the Saints
Concerning what did Moses and Elijah speak with Christ? Here is one of those little insights into the thin line between the church on earth and in heaven. Officially, they came to speak with Jesus about his exodus at Jerusalem. I doubt this only means his departure to heaven by his death on the cross. No one familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures and the place Israel’s exodus from Egypt holds in the heart and faith of God’s people doubts that the word is used purposefully – that Jesus Christ is about to accomplish the true exodus of God’s people, their full deliverance from sin and death, their deliverance unto holy service to God (Luke 1:74-75). Were not Moses and Elijah already in heaven? If you have your heavenly inheritance, why be interested in this? Do those in heaven have such a keen desire, like the angels, to hear about redemption and progress of the church, as well as the march of our Savior’s kingdom? This is most certainly the case. So much that we think important here is not very important, when we consider it in the light of the great exodus our Lord Jesus accomplished at Jerusalem 2,000 years ago – but we have grown so sleepy! Our earthly lives have meaning on the foundation of Christ’s exodus. There is hope on earth only because of the exodus he led out of hell! Those in heaven and those in earth are closely bound by their common exodus. Let this be our joy and our wonder, and we shall give our witness to Jesus Christ and seek to glorify him in all that we do.
The Best of Men Stupefied before Christ’s Glory (vv. 32-33)
Near the end of this interview, Peter, James, and John awakened. How they knew that the two visitors were Moses and Elijah must be attributed to the revealing power of God, perhaps a spiritual insight and recognition that will be common in heaven. How they could make such a ridiculous suggestion – hey, night is coming, and we do not want you to leave, so we shall make three tents for you – forever testifies to the stupefying effects of the glory of Jesus Christ upon the best of men. John could not even get up when he saw him; Jesus had to pick him up (Rev. 1:17). Thomas could by no means do what he had audaciously pledged – to thrust his hands into Jesus’ wounds – but could only bow and confess, “My Lord and my God.” May the Spirit of holiness quicken our hearts to fear the Lord and walk more humbly before him! Let us learn that a chief part of our humility before him is to handle his word carefully and be content with it. Bad doctrine or arrogant good doctrine make equally audacious claims – look at what we will do for you, Lord – either by novelty or pride. He wants nothing of our stupidity. We should not stumble so often if we watched more in prayer. We should never try to control him or make suggestions to him about what he should do. Before his glory – SILENCE! The shekinah glory cloud descended and likely enveloped the entire group. And notice that the cloud did not kill Peter, James, and John, for the glorious Mediator was there, the One who came not to destroy men’s lives but to save them. He would preserve them and atone for their foolishness.
HEAR JESUS CHRIST to Live with God’s Glory (vv. 34-36)
Jesus Christ the Beloved Son of the Father
As with Moses on Sinai, they saw no form, but they heard a voice. Had we not sinned in Eden, we should have heard God’s voice whenever we pleased, for he made us for his fellowship, which is our highest pleasure. But we rebelled against our joy, so he sent his Son to bear our curse. Peter, James, and John chattered nervously, so God silenced them: HEAR HIM. This is my beloved Son. Notice first the intimate bond between Father and Son: love – eternal, infinite, mutual. Second, the Father identifies his Son, so that Peter, James, and John, along with the apostles, may be his faithfulness witnesses. And since the Father loves his Son, third, we see how great his love is for us. It is incomparable. “World” in John 3:16 is just that – the world, this putrid, defiled, rebellious mass of humanity, set on its own ways. God is love, and he loved the world so much that he sent his beloved Son to save the world. Let us tremble at this love. Many want to mete out judgment today, and God is surely Judge, but remember that he is loving and merciful, delights in mercy, is longsuffering, and never in this life treats sinners as they deserve. Never forget, child of God, that when the glory came down in Jesus, love came down.
Jesus Christ the Living Word of the Father
To receive God’s love, we must hear his Son. Jesus Christ is the living Word sent down from heaven to reveal the Father. “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him” (John 1:18). The dead live only by hearing his voice. His disciples must hear his voice. His word alone must carry supreme authority in the church, and what the apostles have written “are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:38). Let us hear him now. He is the ambassador of love and peace. His words are spirit and life. There is no one else to go to. He alone has the words of eternal life (John 6: 68). His name is the Word of God (Rev. 19:13).
To say that Christ is the living word of his Father means, first, that he alone is full of grace and truth (John 1:18). Nothing in the ancient religions prepared them to receive Jesus Christ and salvation. All man’s reading of nature without the collective lenses of Scripture have led only into idolatry and superstition. He alone is the foundation of wisdom and knowledge, as the apostle teaches us (Col. 2:3), and we must beware of being spoiled by man’s philosophies and vain deceits. Many are thinking today that if we only get back to the so-called enchanted medieval world, we would have something with which to beat filthy and sterile secularism. But fairies, lighting tapers, and holy days will not beat the devil – only the indwelling word can overcome the wicked one (1 John 2:14). Nothing but the word defeated a far greater enemy, Roman Catholicism, and it is the sword coming out our Savior’s mouth, his living word, not medievalism, primitivism, or scholasticism, but Scripture alone that will beat Satan and crush him under our feet. This is what our Lord Jesus taught the world by his blessed Reformers such as Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, and Bucer – we must have the Word of God – not mediated through popes and ceremonies but plainly preached for all to hear so that they can see Christ’s glory revealed therein.
This is made clear by one of the witnesses that stood with our Lord on the Mount of his Transfiguration. Peter later wrote about these events in his Second Epistle. In defending the truth of the apostolic gospel, he hearkens back to the eyewitness authority of the apostles (1 Pet. 1:16). They beheld the glory of Jesus Christ. The Father came down in glory and honored his Son (vv. 17-18). But, and here is the important thing, how do we see that glory? We have the Scriptures (v. 19). We must take heed to them by reading, studying, and meditating upon them with great fear and diligence. They are the light that shines in a dark place – not natural revelation, not ceremonies, not scientific theology – the Scriptures – God’s plain and powerful word of life and salvation through Jesus Christ. O, how carefully we must obey and pray through Scripture! We must also be careful with Scripture (v. 20), for it is not subject to our private interpretations, which often lead to twisting, but must be interpreted consistently with itself and the witness of the Spirit in the church down through generations. For the Bible is not of man, at least not primarily (v. 21); “holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
It is through these Scriptures that we must understand life and what is going on in the world. It is through Scripture alone that we have God’s wisdom and power in Jesus to overcome the devil and his thugs (1 John 2:14). The Scriptures are the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) – and without any insult to our Lord Jesus Christ but on his own authority through the apostles, they are better than if we had been with Peter when he was transfigured. We would be just as stupefied as were Peter, James, and John, or Thomas in the upper room, or John on Patmos. His glory is too great, too great. He gives us his Word so that we may understand who he is and the way he works, and thus call upon him in good faith and hope that he “ever lives to make intercession for us. Be conscious, child of God, that it is through these Scriptures that you have fellowship with Jesus Christ. Not that the Bible is a sub-mediator, but it is the living voice of Jesus Christ with us, speaking to us, directing our steps, overcoming the world through us. It is through the Scriptures that our Savior abides with us, the Spirit’s guides us, and the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY God makes reveals his grace to us.