Saturday, April 28, 2012

The transfiguration

Moses and Elijah were considered to be Israel’s greatest prophets sent by God.   How does this relate to the transfiguration?  Let's look into the historical setting.   The account of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ is recorded in Mark and parallel passages are found in Matthew 17:1-3 and Luke 9:28-36.

We will examine the account of Luke.   The identity of Jesus is the central issue that Luke deals with in chapter 9.   Herod, we are told by Luke, was very interested in the identity of Jesus.   He was aware that some thought Jesus was Elijah or some other prophet, raised from the dead, and he feared that Jesus might be John the Baptist, raised from the dead, since he had put him to death (9:7-9).

When Jesus asked the disciples who the people thought Him to be, they gave the same answers that Herod had heard (9:19). So they answered and said, "John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again."

When Jesus pointedly put the question to His disciples, Peter spoke up, with the most profound statement he has made, up to this point: “The Christ of God” (9:20).  Jesus strictly warned them and commanded them to tell this to no one.   Jesus went on to tell His disciples, He must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day."   He tells the disciples that there would be a “cross” for them to bear as well, if they would follow Him. (9:23-25)    

From man’s perspective, one must save his life in order to live, but Jesus taught that His followers must give up their lives for Him, in order to live.  Life, He said, comes out of death. On the other hand, those who would seek to save their own lives will ultimately lose them.

Jesus then tells his disciples there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God." (9:27)    While the identity of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah was not acknowledged by the masses, of Israel or the political leaders (e.g. Herod), nor by the religious leaders, Peter had just confessed that Jesus was God’s Messiah.   Jesus Himself affirmed this profession, and then hastened to go on, spelling out the suffering and death that this necessitated.   Now it is time for God the Father to give the final word, as is done in the transfiguration.  Here, Jesus is given the Father’s stamp of approval as His appointed King of Israel.   

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.  We do not know exactly what time it was, nor how long our Lord had been in prayer.  Luke tells us, they were sleepy and when they were fully awake, they saw  Jesus and two men were standing with Him. (9:32)    

 As Jesus prayed, the appearance of His face was altered.   His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.   And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.   Peter said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up three (tabernacles) shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' (He did not know what to say, he was so frightened.)

 Mark informs us that it was out of fear that Peter blurted out these words, informing us that all three were frightened by the splendor of the site of the transfiguration.  Mark 9:6 because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.    

Peter’s words were not carefully thought through because of fear, but they did mean something. What, then, was Peter suggesting?  What Peter said was so foolish because he was making Jesus equal, too Elijah and Moses.   He wanted to make one tabernacle for each of them.  However, Jesus isn’t just another great  prophet like Moses or Elijah, or even greater than Moses or Elijah.   Jesus is the Son of God.

Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: 'This is my Son, whom I love.   Listen to him! (9:35)      Lest explore the implications of the transfiguration and the observation that should be made when the voice came from the cloud saying “This is my Son listen to him.”

Notice suddenly, that after God’s voice came from the cloud, saying “This is my Son, listen to him” the disciples “no longer saw Elijah and Moses.”  (Luke 9:35-36)  Jesus was found alone.  (The splendor and glory of Jesus was so great that it overshadowed the greatness of Moses and Elijah and Jesus was found standing there all alone. That is the point the transfiguration of Jesus wanted the disciples and us to understand.   Jesus is superior to Elijah and Moses.    The glory of Jesus as God’s only Son overshadowed the greatest of Israel’s prophets.   In other words Moses and Elijah faded away in the Majestic Glory of Christ and they were no longer seen.

Under the old covenant Moses was elected to speak to Israel for God.  Exodus. 20:18-19 "When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, "'Speak to us yourself and (we will listen.)  But do not have God speak to us or we will die." (emphasis mine)

The time had come for the disciples to lay aside their high regards and great esteem for Moses and Elijah and hear  God’s only Son.    This message is repeated a third time to the nation of Israel in Hebrews 1:1-3 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the (fathers by the prophets, 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; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself  purged our  sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (emphasis mine)

The first time the message was hard was when Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. (Matthew 3:13-17)   

The word "transfigured" is a very interesting word. The Greek word is "metamorpho" and it means to transform, literally or figuratively to metamorphose, or to change. The word is a verb that means to change into another form.   It also means to change the outside to match the inside.  Jesus' divine nature was "veiled" in human form.   Hebrews 10:20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,

At the transfiguration, Jesus was changed  outward so that it matches the inward reality and it was a glimpse of that glory.   Therefore, the transfiguration of Jesus  displayed the Shekinah glory of God incarnate in the Son.    The transfiguration of Jesus  was a unique display of His divine character which Jesus had before He came to earth in human form.

In the Old Testament law three witnesses were required to attest to any fact, was satisfied both in earth and in heaven.  Deuteronomy 19:15  "One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.   The three disciples are a demonstration to the three  witnesses that  Jesus Christ was who He claimed to be.    Later, Peter tells how he witnesses the Majestic Glory, of Christ (2 Peter 1:16-18)

Another interesting thing that takes place is in Luke 9:30-31 And, behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. What did they talk about? Elijah and Moses were interested in the outworking of God’s plan through Jesus. They spoke about what Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).    This is powerful.

God tells us that his prophets made inquiring about  what they were prophesying about? (See 1 Peter 1:10-12)  They did not understand the words that the Spirit of God was putting in their hearts concerning the times of the gentiles. They only know there would come a suffering Messiah to redeem the gentiles along with Israel, but they did not know who or in what time or dispensation this would come to pass.  The only revelation they were given concerning this glorious Gospel is that they were ministering to a people who had not yet come into existence.

Now  Elijah and Moses are standing face to face with Jesus talking about what he would accomplish at Jerusalem.  They now know the who, (Jesus) they are prophesying about and the time, and dispensation, of the coming of the Messiah.   What a wonderful thought the scripture gives us.

So the transfiguration of our Lord played a very significant role in the unfolding of God’s plan and purpose for Jesus, the Christ of God.   It affirmed in a dramatic way, that Jesus is the Son of God who is superior to Elijah and Moses.  The one who would fulfill all the hopes of Israel the Messiah.