Lesson 67: The Transfiguration
Matt. 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36
A Blending of The Four Gospel Records. This is lesson # 67. Jesus and the apostles were still in the same general region, i.e. near to Caesarea Philippi. If you'll take a brief look at your MAP-WORKSHEET, it shows Mt. Hermon a little north of Caesarea Philippi. That peak was part of the Anti-Lebanon range and the highest peak in Palestine going up to over 9,000 feet and snow capped most of the year. Melting snow from this source accounts for a substantial part of the Jordan's water supply. It was most likely somewhere in one of the many spurs of Mt. Hermon that Jesus took three of his apostles on this occasion. We're going to read all three accounts before commenting. We'll start with Luke in ch.9:28 and read nine verses. Then we'll read Mark and then Matthew. Are you ready to read? Beginning in Luke 9:28. Let's read. "And it came to pass about an eight days after these things, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elijah: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen."
O.K. back to Mark ch. 9. We'll begin in v.2 and read down thru v.13. Did you find it? Mark 9:2 beginning. Let's read. "And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elijah and Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elijah must first come? And he answered and told them, Elijah verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elijah is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him."
A very interesting event indeed; but, let's read Matthew and then discuss it altogether. This begins in Matt. ch. 17. And we'll read 13 verses. Beginning in Matt. 17:1 are you ready? "And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with them. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist."
O.K. let's try to first go over the whole incident and integrate all three accounts. Matthew and Mark said it was six days after the other occasion we've already covered; but, Luke said eight days. The discrepancy probably comes down to whether you count the first day and last day, or whether you simply count the days in between. Jesus took with him Peter, James and John up into a high mountain. Probably some part of Mt. Hermon. Jesus went there to pray. We are not told why Jesus selected these three disciples, nor is it said why the other nine were left behind. But, it was Jesus' custom to go to a private place to pray. He took others to watch while he prayed and to give a little more instruction. The three men selected, you will recognize are three of the disciples that had been with Jesus the longest. That may account for these three being with Jesus. Now, you need to understand, this happened at night. It would appear that the three disciples may have already gone to sleep. Luke said (v.32), "Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory..." etc. Possibly Moses and Elijah had already appeared and were talking with Jesus when one or possibly all there apostles awoke. That point is not clear. Luke said that it was while Jesus was praying that, "the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering." The word "countenance" means facial expression. There was some kind of glow that came from Jesus' clothing. The record says plainly it was Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, i.e. two of the grandest of O.T. prophets. Mark said, "there appeared unto them Elijah with Moses." Matt, said, "there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him." In other words, the three apostles were part of the company; but, the conversation was between Jesus and the two prophets that had appeared. Luke said they "spake of his [i.e. Jesus'] decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." This is the only hint we have as to the line of their conversation. It is not said how the apostles recognized Moses and Elijah unless it came through the conversation they were monitoring. But, Peter mentioned Moses and Elijah in his comment; so, they clearly identified Moses and Elijah.
I think you would agree that was a pretty unique and rare occasion; for those apostles to be sitting with Jesus, Moses and Elijah and listening. This quality of glory would undoubtedly impress most of us. Naturally, those sleepy apostles must have been swirling with thought and awe must have engulfed them. Nothing indicates that Peter was spoken to; but, YOU KNOW PETER. Luke said in v.33, "it came to pass, as they departed from him," i.e. it was when Moses and Elijah departed from Jesus that Peter spoke up and made his suggestion. Now, I want you to think about this a moment. What did Peter say? "Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah..." Now, what was so terrible about that? You see, Peter was NOT savoring the things that be of God (Mark 8:33); Peter was savoring the things that be of men. Peter suggested building three tabernacles. Obviously, we don't know what Peter had in mind. Some think he made reference to a dwelling place. That was the literal meaning of a tabernacle. Or, Peter may have meant a place of worship, i.e. a place to worship Jesus, a place to worship Moses, and a place to worship Elijah. But, it comes through more to me like Peter was thinking of what we would call a monument, i.e. some permanent and honorary structure where tourist could go today, 2,000 years later, stand there and read about the occasion profoundly engraved in stone. You must admit, we commonly make monuments to far less notorious things. And Peter would certainly have found many ready advocates today among those who say, go to the church of your choice, worship according to the dictates of your conscience and honor God your way. Peter would have been right at home among those who have invented Christ Mass and a holiday for every saint. He would find a lot of fund raisers in the 20th century to build that monument. But, Peter was NOT thinking in terms of obedience. Peter was savoring those things that be of men and gratify our instinct for invention, as too often happens. Luke said that Peter made that suggestion, "not knowing what he said." (v.33). Mark said Peter, "wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid." (v.6). And that happens in the 20th century as well. Notice, that Peters said, "Lord...if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles..." Peter was trying to make his suggestion with the Lord's blessings; even though he was doing it ignorantly, you see. There's a great, great, great lesson here for us today. Some, think it O.K. to do anything in the name of religion; if you will but ask the Lord's blessings upon it. But, OUR great human, monumental and inventive thinking does NOT please God, just because it please us. Notice v.5 in Matthew's account. "While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." Luke said in v.34, "they feared as they entered into the cloud." Then add to that fear the voice, i.e. the voice of Almighty God! A rebuke directly from the maker of the universe. Now, what was wrong with Peter's suggestion? You see, Peter was trying to make Jesus equal with Moses and Elijah. What did the voice of God from heaven say when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan? "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." You might observe, the voice of God on Mt. Hermon said identically the same thing; except, three words were added, "hear ye him." That would make a great sermon title, "hear ye him." You see, they were NOT to hear Moses. Jesus came to fulfil the law and the prophets (Matt. 5:17). We are to hear Jesus in all things.
Matthew said "when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid." If a rebuke like that wouldn't frighten you; then surely you've lost your nervous system. The next verse said, "Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid." Many years later the apostle Paul said, "There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus..." (I Tim. 2:5). You see, Jesus is OUR mediator. "And suddenly, when they had look around about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves." Even if they were a little sleepy at the beginning; I'll bet they were so wide awake at that point that they couldn't sleep for three days. Now, look a v. 9 in Matthew. "As they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead." And I would infer that included the other nine apostles who were undoubtedly waiting at the foot of the mountain. Mark said in v.10, they questioned among themselves saying, "what the rising from the dead should mean." You see, Jesus used metaphorical language so commonly and spoke in parable so often; they thought Jesus was speaking figuratively when he spoke of rising from the dead. I suppose in looking back on this, they probably wondered how they, themselves, could be so dumb. But, the writer here, helps us to understand how difficult it was for the apostles themselves to understand. And you can see the immediate need for them to interpret that phrase, "until the Son of man be risen again from the dead;" because, that was the key to WHEN they could tell this experience.
Now, the question arises as to why Jesus showed this to three disciples. I would infer that undoubtedly Peter, James and John showed a little more spiritual maturity than some of the others. This vision showed the relationship of Jesus to Moses and the other prophet. It clearly showed in a predictive way the end of the old law and the transition that was taking place. Peter had that point thoroughly impressed upon him. After Jesus ascended; Peter preached this point with great force in Acts ch. 3:22ff. He showed that Jesus truly was that Prophet referred to in Deuteronomy 18:18, a scripture that we've looked at before.
Then, they asked Jesus, "Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come?" Jesus assured them that the scribes taught correctly when they taught that Elijah must come before the Messiah. But, the error of the scribes was that they did not recognize Elijah when he came. The name Elijah was used figuratively in the O.T. in making reference prophetically to John the Baptist. The classic example is the last two verses of the O.T. So, although the figurative Elijah, i.e. John the Baptist had come and died, the scribes were still teaching that Elijah must still come. Some incorrectly thought Jesus may be Elijah, you will remember from Matt. 16:14 and Matt. 14:1-2. Jesus told these disciples that Elijah had come already and the scribes, "knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they.listed." (Matt. 17:12). Even though John died at the command of Herod Antipater; this rather implies some of the scribes wanted John dead. Then as they walked down that mountain, the next day; Jesus gave them a very descriptive bit of information, at the end of v.12, "Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them." Jesus had already said this in Matt. 16:21; but as I said, Jesus' comment here was very descriptive. Then in Matt. 17:13, it says the disciples understood that Jesus spake of John the Baptist. And, Matthew DID NOT say, the disciples MISUNDERSTOOD. Matthew said they understood. I recall a couple young men who knocked on my door once and invited themselves in for a bible study, as they called it. This verse came up during our conversation. They said the disciples MISUNDERSTOOD Jesus. They said Jesus did NOT mean John the Baptist WAS Elijah. But, my friend I'm afraid the misunderstanding is on the part of those two young men. Not only is it said here; you will remember Jesus confirmed this in Matt. 11:14. So, learn it well. Don't let somebody come along and feed you that misinformation. Take the time to re-read. Until our next lesson, have a good day.