The Book of Luke, The Transfiguration of Christ - Lesson 119
Last week in our lesson from Luke 9 we heard the Lord Jesus Christ tell his disciples of the cross that he was to bear and the cross that his disciples were to bear.
And along with this dire pronouncement came the truth that whosever saves his life will lose it but the one who loses his life for Jesus’ sake will save it.
These were ominous words for the disciples but Jesus Christ does not leave them with this but leaves them with a promise that some that are standing with him will not taste of death till they see the kingdom of God.
We read this in: Luke 9:27‑36, But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.
28And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. 29And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. 30And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: 31Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. 32But 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. 33And 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 Elias: not knowing what he said. 34While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. 35And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. 36And 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.
The central theme of chapter 9 of the Gospel of Luke is the identity of Jesus as the Christ.
In this passage this theme continues to a crescendo as we are witness to the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And along with the announcement of God the Father that this very Jesus is His beloved Son, comes this clear command that he is to be heard.
This is my beloved Son: hear him.
Amongst the three that Peter, John and James saw on the mountain, God the Father singled out His Son Jesus as the one to be heard.
His identification of his Son was clear, there was no continuing question as to who this Jesus was for heaven had fully identified him as above Moses who represented the Law and Elijah who represented the Prophets.
Earlier in Chapter Nine Luke told us that it was not clear as to who Jesus was and that Herod, the tetrarch, was very interested in the identity of Jesus as well as all of the people.
Some thought him as Elijah or some other prophet, raised from the dead, but Herod, with a guilty conscience, surmised that he might be the beheaded John the Baptist raised from the dead.
When Jesus asked the disciples who the people thought Him to be, they gave the same answers that Herod had heard (9:19).
There was no consensus.
But when Jesus asked whom they thought he was, Peter spoke up, and said, Thou art the Christ!
In this pronouncement we see Peter at his highest point but we are also allowed to see Peter speak words that are clearly of the flesh and worthy of rebuke by the Lord.
In this passage concerning the transfiguration we see another example of a rebuke of Peter where he expresses himself regarding the building of three tabernacles.
But in the midst of his proposal he is cut off by God the Father himself and commanded to hear this One who is his beloved Son.
It was as if the Father was saying to Peter, Peter this is not the time for you to talk, it is the time for me to talk, For this is my beloved Son, hear him.
In these examples Peter is revealed to us as a mere man with all his faults and failures but we must also remember that Peter was only one of three chosen to be a witness of this great revelation.
And Peter testified of this in one of his epistles.
At this point Peter is still digesting the instruction of Christ that he has been told concerning the cross that Christ will bear and the cross he personally is to bear.
We know that he is very interested in the crown of Christ but he is not very anxious to accept the cross of Christ and as such has borne the rebuke of Christ who called him Satan, a Satan who does not savor the things of God.
Peter was not thinking of the kingdom of God from the divine point of view, but from his own prejudices and preconceived notions.
And from the Lords response to Peter, Peter’s viewpoint was that which came from father the devil.
The guiding principle of mankind is self preservation but here now comes one who tells his disciples that there would be a “cross” for them to bear, if they would follow Him.
Man’s perspective is that 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 as we are shown in natural things, He said, comes out of death.
On the other hand, those who would seek to save their own lives will ultimately lose them.
After this pronouncement of cross bearing Jesus then promised His disciples that some of them would see the “kingdom of God” before they died:
Don’t you suppose this promise was an uplift to the sad news that they were to bear such a heavy cross?
But even in this, I would suppose that their thoughts about seeing the kingdom were far from that which Christ was communicating?
Luke 9:27‑36, But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.
But based upon this statement of Christ I would suppose that Peter thought that the kingdom would fully come to earth very shortly.
But I think that what Christ was talking about was the foretelling of the events that would be witnessed by Peter, James and John on the mountain about a week after this saying of Christ.
The transfiguration that was to take place was a vision of the kingdom of God that Peter, James and John were allowed to see.
Trans means across, on the other side of, movement or conveyance from place to place.
The word transport is composed of trans and port.
Port means to carry, trans means from place to place so transport means to carry something from one place to another place.
Transfigure means a figure going from one form to another form,
from one appearance to another appearance.
29And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.
So after this announcement of Christ that some of his disciples would witness the kingdom of God, Jesus took three of His disciples with Him up the mountain to pray.
We do not know for certain what mountain this was but the nearby Mt. Hermon has an elevation of 9200 feet and could certainly meet the criteria that is given in Matthew and Mark for they report the mountain as a high mountain.
We do not know the reason why Jesus took only three of his disciples but these three disciples were his inner circle disciples and on many occasions we see them separated unto him for a particular purpose.
This purpose was of course to witness this great event and to hear this great pronouncement from the Father, This is My beloved Son, hear Him.
Remember the Law says that in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
Peter, James and John were to be these three witnesses for these were the three God the Father was talking to.
We are told by Luke that these three accompanied Jesus to the mount, for a time of prayer.
It was a high mountain and no doubt the climb was very wearying and I can understand that the disciples soon fell asleep instead of staying up to pray.
But it was not so with the Lord Jesus for prayer is always closely linked and foreshadows great events in God’s service.
It is natural and right for anyone who is in the Lord’s service to go to him in prayer prior to that service.
In the Gospels we see many examples of prayer that preceded great events.
Jesus prayed at his baptism and the Father appeared and spoke.
Jesus prayed before the beginning of his Galilean ministry.
Jesus prayed before the choosing of his twelve disciples and Jesus was in prayer before he asked the disciples who they thought he was and Peter announced him to be the Christ.
Luke was careful to include in his Gospel account of the many times of prayer in the life of Christ.
He is careful to link prayer with great out workings of God’s grace and power.
James wrote in James 4:2, You have not because you ask not.
This could never be said of Jesus Christ as he always went to the Father for whatever was needed.
If we ever become a people who do not pray we will have become a people of God in name only deceiving our own selves and acting on our own strength.
We cannot do God’s work without prayer and if we try to do it it is not God’s work.
God’s work, works though prayer!
It is the difference between a business and a ministry and must never be neglected.
But a great event was to occur and we find Jesus on the mountain in prayer.
Peter and those who were with him, John and James, were heavy with sleep but we soon find out they were not allowed to sleep for God the Father desired to bring glory to his Son.
Peter stated in his pronouncement that “Thou art the Christ.”
But now it is time for God the Father to give the final word whereby Jesus Christ is declared to be the Son of God.
And here in the transfiguration, Jesus is given the Father’s stamp of approval as He appointed Him King of Israel.
We do not know exactly what time it was, nor how long our Lord had been in prayer.
We do know that He was praying as He was transformed before His disciples.
The three disciples, Luke alone tells us, were heavy with sleep.
But God would not have this great event go unnoticed for Peter, James and John were there to see what eventually they would report to us as witnesses of this great announcement.
Awaking to see such magnificent sights would perhaps have caused them to think they were dreaming.
Coming from a deep sleep, it must have taken some time to adjust to this kind of brilliant light, especially if it was during the darkness of night.
We are not given how the disciples knew who the two men were who were talking with our Lord.
We are told that they knew them to be Moses and Elijah.
Not only did the three disciples recognize the three gloriously radiant persons, but they also overheard their conversation.
The subject of the discussion was the coming departure (literally, the “exodus”) of our Lord in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).
30And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: 31Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease (exit) which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.
The ending of the revelation or transfiguration eventually ended and the two men began to leave the Lord Jesus.
This action prompted Peter to speak before thinking:
Luke 9:33, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles (a tent or cloth hut); one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said.
Luke adds his comments about Peter’s lack of thinking before speaking by saying that Peter did not know what he was saying but outbursts with words that propose to build three shelters.
Mark informs us that it was out of fear that Peter blurted out these words, informing us that all three were frightened by the brilliance of the sight of the transfiguration.
Mark 9:6, 6For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.
What was Peter up to with this suggestion or was it a first reaction without any substance?
By building shelters it appears that Peter was attempting to keep Elijah and Moses from leaving.
His words were spoken just as they began to leave (Luke 9:33).
They were departing, but Peter spoke of dwellings.
By proposing to build three shelters, Peter seems to be seeking to lengthen their stay, even though they were leaving.
Don’t leave, the kingdom will stay if you stay, perhaps was the message!
He may have been trying to prolong for himself the excitement and enjoyment of these heavenly visitors.
Peter’s proposal may also have been motivated by a desire to see the kingdom and its glory instituted NOW.
Elijah and Moses leaving was not a good sign, so far as Peter would have been concerned, for it spelled delay and delay meant cross bearing.
There was in the minds and hearts of the disciples a hope that the kingdom was to come soon, in spite of the fact that Jesus Christ told them about cross bearing.
But while Peter was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
An interrupting voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son, hear him” (Luke 9:34‑35).
A glowing cloud settled down over all of them, obscuring their view of Moses and Elijah, for when the cloud disappears, these two are gone.
The appearance of the cloud caused the disciples to be even more frightened.
It seems to have silenced Peter.
It is then that God speaks to them from the cloud, adding His testimony that Jesus was the Messiah, the King of Israel.
The words of God were carefully chosen, the very precise formula used to designate the king of Israel.
The expression, “this is my Son,” which was also spoken by God previously at our Lord’s baptism (cf. Luke 3:22), is to be understood in the light of its Old Testament origin and meaning.
In 2 Samuel 7:14, the expression is used by God with reference to Solomon, and the Davidic dynasty which will follow, and of which our Lord is the final descendent and eternal King.
Solomon was Israel’s king, and David’s son, and yet God said of him,
2 Samuel 7:14, 14I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:
It is evident that while God promises an everlasting kingdom to David, the “son” of whom He speaks is Solomon, David’s son, and not the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Thou art my son” is an enthronement formula, a kind of coronation statement, which indicates that God has appointed this person as king, the person who is called His “son.”
To be a “son of God” in this sense is to be God’s king.
This is clearly the sense of the expression, “Thou art My Son,” as it is found in Psalm 2, only here it is specifically speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the eternal king of Israel:
Psalm 2:6‑9, 6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. 8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. 9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
And so, when we find the expression, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen,” it is God’s most emphatic identification of Jesus as the Messiah.
Jesus is Israel’s King. Peter has said so. Jesus has said so.
The Father has now said so, in a most emphatic and dramatic way.
But the identification of Jesus is just the beginning.
The last statement of the Father, spoken from within the splendor of that luminous cloud, explains the significance of Jesus’ identity.
Here is the bottom line, the application of the divine affirmation: “Listen to Him” (Luke 9:35).