Jesus took Peter, James and John
Up a High Mountain where He was Transfigured

Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36a

DIG: It had been six days since Peter declared that Yeshua was the Meshiach, the Son of the living God. Why is that context important for what happens next? What does it mean transfigured? What is the significance of Moses’ and Elijah’s presence? Of the Voice? Why would this be important for Jesus at this stage in His ministry?

REFLECT: How did you come to realize that the Lord was the one above all our Savior and was the one above all others that you should listen to? What spot for you is most like the Mount of Transfiguration – where you grasped a bit of Christ’s glory in a special way? What happened? How has God said to you: This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased?

This is the high point of Christ’s teaching His talmidim, and offers an encouragement for the true followers of the Meshiach. It offers a glimpse of the future glory that will follow the suffering of His coming appointment with death in Jerusalem.

It is no coincidence that Chapter 17 begins with the contextual statement after six days, therefore, tying the two chapters together. The promise of the revealed Kingdom to the inner circle of the Twelve would indeed be fulfilled in the following six days. At that time Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James with Him, and led them up a high mountain to pray, where they were all alone (Mattityahu 17:1; Mark 9:2a). Luke says it was about eight days (Luke 9:28). There is no contradiction here, because Matthew and Mark were counting the days in between Peter’s confession and the transfiguration, while Luke was counting from the first day Kefa’s confession was made and the eighth day on which the transfiguration took place. Based on the geography, and the proximity to Caesarea Philippi, that high mountain could be none other than the gigantic, snowy Mount Hermon.

If you go to Isra’el today, they will take you to another mountain called Mount Tabor, south of Mount Hermon, where the Church of the Transfiguration has been built. This is the Catholic sight of the transfiguration. But it is off by about 45 miles. And also, Mount Tabor was not such a secluded place. It was always well fortified because it was one of the seven key entrances into the Valley of Jezreel.

As the four ascended up the mountain the little group stopped to rest at intervals. Wrapped in their own thoughts, they could look down upon the province of Galilee, dotted with its many towns and villages. Each one probably recalled his experiences of the busy weeks of the Galilean Campaign and the sad hour of withdrawal, when they were persecuted and driven away by their enemies. Or they might look far into the distance and see Jerusalem, where Jesus had said He must soon suffer and die.872

After their ascent up the mountain that day, the Sabbath-sun had begun to set and a pleasant cool hung in the summer air as the Lord and the three apostles finished their ascent. From all parts of the Land, as far as Jerusalem and Tyre, the one great object in view was the snow-clad Mount Hermon. The Sea of Galilee was lit up with a subtle greenish-yellow hue between the nearby hills. The clear died out in a few minutes, and a pale, steel-colored shade was pulled down before them. It was like the shadow of a long pyramid that slid down to the eastern foot of Mount Hermon and crept across the great plain. Damascus was swallowed up by it. Finally, the pointed end of the shadow stood out distinctly against the sky – a dusky cone of dull color against the redness of the sunset. It was the shadow of the mountain itself, stretching for seventy miles across the plain.

The sun underwent strange changes of shape in the thick clouds, until at last it slid into the sea and was extinguished like a red spark. And overhead, the starry host came out one by one as a witness in the sky (see my commentary on Genesis Lw – The Witness of the Stars). We don’t know exactly what route they took, but as they reached the summit on that cool Sabbath evening, the scent of snow – for which the parched tongue would long for in the summer’s heat – must have refreshed them. And now the moon stood out in dazzling splendor. It cast long shadows over the mountain and lit up the broad patches of snow, reflecting their brilliance.873

And He was praying (Luke 9:29a). Without knowing the details, Jesus had much to pray about. No doubt He prayed with His apostles and He prayed for them, just as Elisha prayed for his servant when Syrian horsemen surrounded the city of Dothan – that his eyes might be opened so that he could see the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around them, far more with them than those against them (Second Kings 6:8-23). Thus Christ prayed for His three talmidim that they could see with their spiritual eyes and comprehend the reality of who He really was.

But Peter and his companions were very sleepy, and just like in the garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:40-45), the three apostles started to pray but could not stay awake, despite the enormity of the lesson to be learned. The ascent of 9,000 feet above sea level had been rigorous, and the mountain air was thin. Once they stopped, exhaustion must have set in and, consequently, they dozed off.

As Jesus was praying the appearance of His face changed and shone like the sun. This is very similar to the experience of Moshe on Mount Sinai (see my commentary on Exodus – Hd The Radiant Face of Moses). The difference was that the shining of the face of Moses was a reflection, like the shining of the moon is a reflection of the sun. In this case Messiah is the Shechinah glory (see my commentary on Isaiah Ju – The Glory of the LORD Rises Upon You). As a result, the shining of His face was much greater than Moses’ face. Christ’s veiled glory was unveiled. And when the three apostles became fully awake, they saw His glory (Mt 17:2b; Luke 9:29b-32a). In the following events, there were three powerful proofs that Yeshua was indeed the promised Meshiach.

First, there was the transformation of the Son. There He was transfigured before them (Mattityahu 17:2a; Mark 9:2b). The word transfigured means that a metamorphosis took place. It gave an outward expression to Christ that truly reflected His inner character. Jesus had been living for over thirty years in ordinary human form, but was now partially seen in the blazing splendor of ADONAI (Hebrews 1:1-3). From within Himself, in a way that defies full description, much less full explanation, Yeshua’s divine glory was seen before Peter, James, and John.

What they were seeing was the glory that the Lord will have in the messianic Kingdom promised in the last section (Ga – If Anyone is Ashamed of the son of Man, He Will Be Ashamed of Them When He Comes). It was a striking preview and guarantee of His future coming glory. In his vision on Patmos, Yochanan saw the returning Messiah as someone like a Son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest. The hair on His head was white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and coming out of His mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Revelation 1:13-16).

And his clothes became as dazzling white as bright as a flash of lightening, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them (Matthew 17:2c; Mark 9:3; Luke 9:29c). Here was the greatest confirmation of Christ’s deity. More than on any other occasion, here, Jesus revealed His true identity, the Son of God. As with the Shechinah glory of the TaNaKh, God here portrayed Himself to human eyes in the form of light so dazzling and overwhelming that it could barely be withstood. The contrast of the light in the darkness of the night must have been virtually blinding.

Second, there was the testimony of the prophets. Just then there appeared before the apostles two men in glorious splendor standing with the Lord. They suddenly realized that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus (Mattityahu 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30 and 9:32b). To the average Jew, these two leaders of Isra’el would represent the whole history of the TaNaKh. Moses represented the Torah and Elijah represented Prophets. As no others, they could give human testimony to Messiah’s divine majesty and glory. By their presence together, it was as if they were saying, “This is the One of whom we testified, the One in whose power we ministered, and the One in whom everything we said and did was meaning. Everything we spoke, accomplished, and hoped for is fulfilled in Him, and not only that, but His divine plan is on schedule.”874

Because Elijah never did taste death but was caught up to heaven on the chariot of fire, he holds a special place in Jewish tradition. One example is found in the rabbinic literature where there is often an unresolved theological problem. In such cases, the term Teku is invoked, meaning that it is unresolved. According to some, the Teku is derived from an acronym in Hebrew that translates: The Tishbi will solve all difficulties and questions. The Tishbi comes from Elijah the Tishbite (First Kings 17:1). There is a parenthetical note by Rashi in his Judges 20:45 midrash that after the civil war described there, in which most of the tribe of Benjamin was wiped out, some one hundred members of the tribe fled to the lands of Rome and Germany. Those who remained behind, including Elijah (or his ancestors) came to be called the toshavim, or residents of the Land. Thus, when the unresolved problems of Judaism are discussed, it is maintained that the Tishbi, or those who remain in the Land, will solve all difficulties and questions. Also tradition speaks of a special hope that Elijah will reappear to announce the arrival of King Messiah (see my commentary on Revelation Bw – See, I Will Send You the Prophet Elijah Before the LORD Comes).

These promises are remembered at the Passover Seder, as the cup of Elijah is set aside with the hope that he will reappear to announce the coming of the Meshiach. The combining of these two special prophets are well known in rabbinic thought: Moses, I swear to you, as you devoted your life to their service in this world, so too in the time to come when I bring Elijah, the prophet, unto them, the two of you shall come together (Devarim Raba 3:17). The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus up a high mountain was certainly a conformation of the central message of the Renewed Covenant – the Messiah is the fulfillment of all the promises to the fathers as seen in the Torah and the Prophets.875

It is Luke alone who identifies the topic of Christ’s coming death and ascension, literally His departure or exodus that Moses and Elijah were discussing with Him. They spoke about His departure. They were not merely standing there reflecting on Yeshua’s glory, but were talking to Him as a Friend about His imminent death and resurrection, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). This was an inescapable part of His ministry, without which redemption from sin would have been impossible (see my commentary on Exodus Bz – Redemption).

With this tradition, and Jewish history in mind, it was no wonder the Twelve had such a strong reaction. As the men were leaving Jesus, Kefa said to Him, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three booths - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Other than that, he did not know what to say because they were all so frightened (Matthew 17:4; Mark 9:5-6; Luke 9:33a). Peter takes a lot of heat for this. He is either accused of demoting Jesus to the level of Moses and Elijah, or elevating the two to the level of Christ. But, his offer would have been a most natural response for any traditional Jew. But his timing was off a bit because of what was hidden from him by God. He clearly knows that Jesus is the Messiah, but he does not know about the Church Age or the program of two comings because it was a mystery to the righteous of the TaNaKh (Ephesians 3:2-11).

Peter saw the glory that Christ will have in the messianic Kingdom. Being an observant Jew and a student of the Scriptures, Peter knew that the messianic Kingdom was the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles (Zechariah 14:16-21). So putting two and two together, He makes an assumption the Kingdom was about to be set up! So he wanted to put up three booths to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. But his timing is off because the Feast of the Passover comes before the Feast of Tabernacles. The Passover is fulfilled by the death of Messiah. In other words, Jesus must die first!876

Luke editorially inserted that Peter did not know what he was saying at that time (Luke 9:33b). The thought was not that Peter misunderstood the significance of the coming messianic Kingdom – he was right on that account. The problem was that he must have got caught up in the excitement of the moment and forgot, or did not fully understand, that Jesus had predicted that He would suffer and die (Luke 9:23-24).877 But later in his life Kefa would declare: For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty (Second Peter 1:16).

Third, there was the terror of the Father. While Peter was still speaking the Shechinah glory, in the form of a bright cloud, appeared and covered the three of them. The same cloud that enveloped Mount Sinai, enveloped them and they were afraid as they were surrounded by it (Luke 9:34). For a second time, the bat-kol, or the voice of God the Father spoke audibly out of heaven. The first time was at Christ’s baptism. Here He repeated what He said back then: This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. But then God added a sense of urgency when He said: Listen to Him (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35)! The idea of God speaking periodically from heaven was not unknown among the rabbis. The rabbis teach that after the death of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last of the prophets, the Ruach HaKodesh departed from Isra’el; nevertheless they received communications from ADONAI through the medium of the bat-kol (Tosefta Sotah 13:2). Since it was too intense to consider hearing the voice of ADONAI directly, it was believed that the bat-kol was an echoed deflection as God commanded His people.878 The talmidim heard the Torah (Moses), and the Prophets (Elijah), now they needed to hear Him! Hebrews tells us that God the Son is the final revelation of God the Father (Hebrews 1:1-3).

When the three apostles heard this, they knew they were in the presence of El Shaddai and fell facedown to the ground, terrified (Matthew 17:6). The combined awareness of Messiah’s splendor, His love and His justice, and His lordship should cause a kind of spiritual tension in every believer. On the one hand we can rejoice in Jesus’ loving friendship, grace and mercy, but on the other hand we need to always hold a reverential fear as we reflect on the Lord’s overwhelming holiness and righteousness. This is seen in the difference of the names ADONAI and HaShem; the first is like saying “Daddy,” and the second “Sir.” ADONAI says: Come now, let’s talk this over together (Isaiah 1:18 CJB), while HaShem says: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10a).

But Jesus’ first actions and words after His powerful exhibition of brilliance were those of gentle, loving care. Knowing what great fear His three friends were in, Yeshua came and touched them. Get up, He said. Don’t be afraid (Matthew 17:7). And as if to drive the point home, as the cloud lifted and they suddenly looked up, they must have been relieved to no longer see anyone with them except Jesus (Matthew 17:8; Mark 9:8; Luke 9:36a). Moses and Elijah were gone, their work had been done and Christ superseded them. He was then God’s authorized Ruler and Spokesman. Yet, they would have to continue waiting (as we do today) for the ultimate Second Coming of Meshiach ben David (see Mv – The Jewish Concept of Two Messiah’s).

There are five theological implications of the transfiguration. First, it authenticated that Jesus was the Messiah. He was rejected by men but accepted by the Father. Secondly, it anticipated the coming of the messianic Kingdom. Thirdly, it guaranteed the fulfillment of the Torah and the prophets (2 Peter 1:19-21). It was a pledge of an afterlife. Moses died and he represents the righteous of the TaNaKh who will be resurrected from the dead; and Elijah did not die and he represents the righteous of the TaNaKh who will be translated alive at the Rapture. Fifthly, it was a measure of God’s love for us. Jesus veiled His glory twice. The first time was at the time of the incarnation, and second time was when He came down off of Mount Hermon. Only after His ascension would His glory be revealed forever (Revelation 1:12-16). John sees Him in the fullness of His Shechinah glory, no longer veiled. When He comes back at His Second Coming it will be with His unveiled glory.879

In 1915 Pastor William Barton started to publish a series articles. Using the archaic language of an ancient storyteller, he wrote his parables under the pen name of Safed the Sage. And for the next fifteen years he shared the wisdom of Safed and his enduring spouse Keturah. It was a genre he enjoyed. By the early 1920s, Safed was said to have a following of at least three million. Turning an ordinary event into an illustration of a spiritual truth was always a keynote of Barton’s ministry.

Now it came to pass in the Summer that I journeyed by the side of a Little Lake that lay to the westward of my habitation. And there was an evening when I watched the Sun as it was going down, and behold it was Glorious. And as I turned away from it and entered my dwelling, behold mine own Shadow went before me, and climbed upon the inner wall of the Room as I entered. And as I went forward, lo, another Shadow rose upon the wall, and it was like unto the first, even mine own Shadow. And I marveled much that one man should cast Two Shadows. And the Thing Seemed Passing Strange.

But the reason was this, as the Sun was going down, it shone on the water and was like another Sun, and cast a Shadow even brighter and taller than the Sun in the heavens. For the Sun in the heavens was partly obscured by the trees; but the Sun off the lake cast its reflected rays under the branches and shown clearly. And so it was that in my sight the reflected Sun was brighter than the real Sun, and cast the greater and taller Shadow.

And I thought within my soul how to men and women the vision of the Most High God is likewise often obscured; and how there are those who must see the exceeding brightness of His Person by reflected light. And I prayed to my God that as I reflect His light, such as these may see the true glory of the Son of Righteousness.880

If you have given your life to Christ, God lives in you. And becuse God lives in you, you need to be transformed: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2). And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (Second Corinthians 3:18). The life of a believer is the process of God's glory being revealed in you.

 

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