July 26, 2020
What is your favorite Jesus story? There are obviously lots from which to choose – so many teachings, so many healings, so many miracles. Amazing stories, like when He calmed the storm, walked on water, raised the dead, drove out demons – oh, I know a favorite, when He drove out a legion of demons into a herd of pigs. I love that story – those 2000 demon-possessed pigs ran wildly into the Sea of Galilee and were drowned – I call it the Bay of Pigs.
What’s your favorite? Of course, I suppose many of us would pick the cross, as difficult as that is – knowing His death was for us and secured our salvation. Maybe it’s His resurrection on that first Easter Sunday. An incredible story – the women came to anoint His body, found the tomb empty, saw the angels, then Mary Magdalene saw Jesus Himself. He was raised from the dead – there were many eyewitnesses. An amazing story – there are lots from which to choose.
And remember, John said at the end of his gospel that he chose just a few miracles – a sampling, seven of them – well, eight if you count the resurrection. He said if he told us everything, he didn’t imagine all the books in the world could contain all the stories. Wouldn’t you like to read that book? So, it seems the disciples – especially the inner three – Peter, James and John – had lots of stories to tell. For example, there was the time Jesus took those three into Jairus’ house and raised his twelve-year-old daughter from the dead. Can you imagine? “Talitha Kum!” He said, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” and she did.
Lots of stories to prove Jesus was the Christ. Which one would you choose? Interestingly, when Peter wrote his second inspired letter in our Bibles, he shares one story about Jesus. Think about that. If you were Peter, which one would you tell? Maybe this one: I remember once when He healed my mother-in-law – and a lot of other people that night – all of them.
I gotta tell you about the time I walked on water with Him. That was crazy – waves crashing all around, and I walked right on top, well, till I sank. But there was the time – well, there were two times – when we fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus showed up, and we caught so many fish, the boats started to sink, the nets began to break. Oh, and then there was the time in the Garden of Gethsemane – the soldiers came to get Him, and when they asked if He was Jesus, He said two words – two words. But what words they were. He said, “I am.” I was there. At that moment, they all – soldiers and temple police – they all fell flat to the ground.
Of course, that’s when I pulled a knife and cut off the ear of the servant of the High Priest. His name was Malchus, I think. Anyway, cut his ear right off, I did. But Jesus bent over, picked up the ear, and put it back on. There were lots of amazing stories – and Peter, probably more than any other – knew them all. So, of all the stories, why did he pick this one? It’s found in our text – II Peter 1:16-18.
And we scratch our heads – which story is that? Was it His baptism by John the Baptist in the Jordan River? That time, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father came from heaven – this is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Is that it? But that wasn’t at the top of a mountain. And wait, Peter wasn’t there. So, when was this? Oh yeah, I vaguely remember – we call it the Transfiguration. It’s an intriguing story – but why does Peter pick that one? Sure, it’s found in Matthew, Mark and Luke – but, well, it’s not nearly as exciting as walking on water, is it? Why this one?
Maybe it’s more important than we realize. It is found in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9. But we must remember what came right before this story in all three of those Gospels. It helps us understand what’s going on. They were up in Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus asked them, do you know who I am? And Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
You’re right, Peter, I am. And then Jesus said basically this, “I know you think you know what the Messiah is supposed to do when He comes. But you have no idea. Now that you know I am the Christ, let me tell you what I must do. I must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be killed, and be raised again the third day. I know you see that as bad news, but it’s not. It’s good news – it’s called the gospel. My death, burial and resurrection for sinners. It’s how the Lamb of God will take away the sin of the world.”
“Not only that, I’ve got some more seemingly bad news. Not only have I come to bear a cross, I’ve also come to bring you a cross. [That’s what Peter told us in first letter.] Anyone who would come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. And while that sounds like bad news, I want to remind you that by doing so, by losing your life – you find life. You see, there must be a cross before a crown, suffering before glory, sacrifice before reward, giving before gaining, losing before winning. And while that sounds like bad news, it isn’t. But, let me give you some more good news – news you’ve been expecting to hear.” In all three gospel accounts of this story, Jesus said this (Matthew 16):
27 “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. [Don’t miss that – Jesus says, I’m coming back, and I will judge.]
28 “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”
That’s confusing. But then follows the story Peter just referenced – the Transfiguration. You see, Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels.” Meaning, Jesus is coming back. We may not know how it will unfold – everyone has an opinion – but Jesus is coming back. That’s the purpose and promise of the Transfiguration. It simply prefigured Christ’s return, and is supposed to encourage us till He comes. And we remember, the false teachers in the church to which Peter writes were denying that. So, of all stories, Peter picked this one because it pictures and proves Jesus’ second coming.
His first coming took everyone by surprise. They didn’t think He would come like He did – undercover, veiled in human flesh. Jesus actually gives us a stark contrast between His first and second comings in verse 27 of Matthew 16, “For the Son of Man [that’s His first coming – Son of Man refers, among other things, to His humanity – He came in the form of a servant, in appearance as a man, inside a human body] the Son of Man is going to come [that’s His second coming] in the glory of His Father [this time, it won’t be in the humble appearance of a servant. He’ll come] with His angels [in a magnificent display of glory, power and strength].”
While this is familiar to us, this would have been shocking to the disciples. This is the first time in the gospels He told them about a second coming. Totally foreign. They expected the Messiah to come in great glory when He came the first time. Now, He’s just told them, I’m going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. But, what about all the glory we’ve been expecting? That’s coming, Jesus says. But it’s not going to happen this time – it’ll happen when I come back.
Two comings/appearances – they weren’t ready for that. And I want you to understand, the way He’s coming back the second time is completely different than the first. Think of the way He first came.
He came as a baby, not very impressive. And His birth was an inauspicious beginning – born to a working-class couple from, of all places, Nazareth. Not Athens, not Rome, not Alexandria. Not to an emperor, not to a king, not to a Herod, not to a tetrarch, not even to a Pharisee or Sadducee – but to a carpenter and his virgin wife. A Galilean. In a barn, no less. Not very majestic. He grew up in relative obscurity – no official training, no theological or rabbinic schools. Not even any political or military training – we’re not even sure He even knew how to use a sword. The only instruments of His trade? A saw, hammer, perhaps an awl or a chisel.
There was nothing particularly outstanding about His looks that would draw us to Him – Isaiah 53 says, “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” Basically, all that means is there was nothing in His appearance that would cause us to say – that’s gotta be God – that’s gotta be the Messiah.
When He entered His public ministry, there were no armies that followed, no marching bands, no herald announcing His arrival. He was baptized in the Jordan River – true, the voice of the Father was heard from heaven, the Spirit of God descended upon Him – but hardly anyone seemed to notice. For the next three and a half years, He attracted a following. But it wasn’t the political or military leaders – they were only mildly interested. It wasn’t the religious people – they opposed Him. It was the common, everyday people of society – fisherman, tax collectors. Less than that, it was the broken people of society – lepers, paralytics, lame, blind, deaf, crippled, demon-possessed, dead people. Quite a following.
No, there was nothing special in His appearance at His first coming. In fact, Isaiah goes on to say, because of the way He came, men despised Him, they rejected Him. He was a man familiar with sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we esteemed Him not.
But listen – there is a second coming which will be completely different from His first. He will not come veiled, undercover in human flesh. It’s going to be a coming when He will appear in His Father’s glory – with all the majesty, glory, strength, power, honor, and might that you would expect of divine kingship. What was really there all the time will be seen by all men, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Everyone’s going to know it, everyone’s going to confess it – because He will shine like the sun.
Before coming to earth, Jesus was glorious – that is, there was a brilliant, magnificent display of Who He was. But He laid all that aside to come the first time. Paul says He emptied Himself – He laid aside the voluntary use of His attributes – He blanketed His glorified deity in human flesh. But there is coming a day, Jesus says, when He will come in great glory. Not as the Son of Man alone, but the Son of God with great glory, with His angels.
Matthew 24 describes it, “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” He’s coming in great glory – no veil of human flesh – every eye will see Him, every knee will bow to the glory of God the Father – they won’t have a choice. And if they don’t love the light, they will be blinded by it.
The angels will come with Him, because they have a job to do – to gather the elect – that’s us – from the four corners of the earth. And it won’t matter if we’re dead or alive. I Thessalonians 4 says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
John gives us this further description of the Second Coming in great glory with the angels in Revelation 19:
11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.
12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself.
13 He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.
14 And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.
15 From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.
16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
This time, He’s not using a hammer, a saw, a chisel, an awl. He’ll have a sword, and knows how to use it. He’s coming a second time, and it will be a coming of great glory.
And the promise of His return was meant to encourage them, and encourage us. But it may seem remote, very future. Sometimes, just like the disciples, we get overwhelmed. The disciples still had His cross to witness, their crosses to bear. We’re going to Jerusalem. There’s going to be rejection and pain, maybe even death. And so Jesus, while they struggled with His first coming, sought to encourage them, and us, with a picture of His second coming. Not only am I coming back – let me give you a glimpse of My return, a little glimpse of My glory. Yes, it has sounded like bad news – let me give you a little encouragement as you bask in the glory of the Son. Let this picture encourage the church through the ages until I peel back the flesh at my Second Coming. Let’s read the story in Matthew 17:1-8
1 Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves.
2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.
3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified.
7 And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”
8 And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.
We’re not sure exactly where this holy mountain was – Matthew calls it a very high mountain. Many attempts have been made to identify it. The traditional site of Mount Tabor, which tour guides would be happy to take you to, for a fee, is not it. It’s way too south of Galilee, and not particularly a “very high mountain.” Besides, there was a Roman fortress on the top of it when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus took that inner circle, Peter, James and John to this high mountain. And what they saw would impact them forever.
Jesus was transfigured before them. The word is metamorphoo, from which we get our word, metamorphosis. The word suggests a change of nature that may be outwardly visible. He was transformed before them, and it was outwardly visible – His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. When Moses came face to face with God on the mountain, his face shone with the reflection of the glory of God – he had to wear a veil till the glory wore off so it wouldn’t scare the people. Here, Jesus is not reflecting glory – it is His glory – He Himself was transfigured. Jesus was peeling back the cover – He was giving them, and us, a glimpse of the glory. And God’s glory seems to have the visible manifestation of light.
Jesus was here giving His disciples an encouraging, visible expression of His glory. Why? Remember, Jesus has just given them news they didn’t expect. They expected the Messiah to come in great glory. They didn’t expect Him to come veiled in human flesh, in humility, as a servant. They didn’t expect Him to suffer, they didn’t expect Him to die. And they thought if they followed the Messiah, it would be glory for them. They certainly didn’t think if they chose to follow the Messiah, that it would be suffering – self-denial and a cross for them.
So, having enlightened them, Jesus does so even further – figuratively and literally. While it is true that the Messiah will suffer and die and be raised again the third day, while it is true that you will suffer, and maybe even die a martyr’s death – Jesus Christ is still the glorious Messiah. Yes, it’s true that the power and majesty and deity of glory of the Messiah is hidden in the flesh right now. But in order that you may know that I will come in great glory – here, let me give you a little picture. Let me give you a glimpse of the kingdom in its fullness.
And while it’s been 2,000 years, and while we may face trials and opposition, I Peter, be encouraged. Jesus is coming back in great glory. He will make all things right, we will behold Him, we will see Him reigning in the glory of His Father with His angels. We’re supposed to hold onto this picture with everything we’ve got. And when people say, false teachers in II Peter say, “where is this promise of His coming” – you’ll know, won’t you? Jesus is coming back.
In the story, we also see the glory of the Son revealed by these two saints. In Matthew, we read, “And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.” Notice that – they appeared to them, and talked with Him. This was for the benefit of the disciples and Jesus Himself. Matthew doesn’t tell us what they talked about – but Luke does – they came to encourage Him regarding the news He shared with the disciples – that He must go to Jerusalem, suffer, and die.
Now, an important question – why these two? Why Moses and Elijah? Moses is the embodiment of the Old Testament Law – He represented the Law. The Law had come through him – he was the one who went up on the mountain to get it. He’s the one who brought the tablets of stone back down. He’s the one who taught the law to the Israelites. He was the great lawgiver. We even call it what? The Mosaic Law.
Elijah was viewed as one of the greatest of the prophets. He had the school of the prophets – he trained other prophets. He stood up to Ahab and Jezebel. He was the one translated into heaven in a fiery chariot – he never died. He was a prophet-hero in Israel.
The point is, these two men together represented the Old Testament economy – all the Old Testament had to offer – the Law and the Prophets. And they came as a testimony – the law points to and was fulfilled by Christ. All the prophecies point to and are fulfilled by Christ. This is the One – their presence gives testimony to the fact that Jesus was the awaited Messiah.
Of course, as you would expect, Peter missed it, which brings us to another evidence of the glory of the Son – and that is, the testimony of the Father. Peter sees this thing unfold before him, and as he normally did, he just started talking. Get the picture. This is an unbelievable event unfolding, it should leave anyone speechless, but not Peter. The event is too big for words, but he has to talk anyway. In fact, Luke tells us, he didn’t know what he was saying. But, Peter makes a suggestion.
Lord, it’s good for us to have been here. If you’ll let me, I’ll build three tabernacles – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Some think the Feast of Booths or the Feast of Tabernacles was going on at this point, which is why Peter suggested the tabernacles or tents. The Feast of Tabernacles was a time when the Israelites built small tents and stayed in them for a week to commemorate the Exodus and living in tents when they were delivered from Egypt. So, Peter may be saying, let me build three tabernacles, and let’s enjoy a summer camp for a week. Isn’t this fun?
Peter had a good heart – he just missed the whole point of the object lesson. So notice, while Peter was still speaking, the Shekinah glory of God, in the form of a bright cloud enveloped them, and the voice of God the Father said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him.” Not them, Peter – they only pointed to Him – they were only the shadow of the reality to come. They were not transfigured – that is, their flesh did not conceal deity – their flesh was not peeled back to give you a glimpse of their deity – they had none. There is no other – there is only one Son – and I am pleased with Him. All that He does is right – everything He is doing – going to Jerusalem, suffering, dying, and rising from the dead is all according to plan. This is my beloved Son – listen to Him. And now – through this event – know that Jesus is coming back. (Reference to Psalm 2:6-7 and Isaiah 42:1 – the Son as King, and the Servant of Isaiah)
At this point, Peter, James and John fell face down to the ground, and were terrified. That is the only response when coming face to face with the glory of God. Jesus touched them – get up, do not be afraid. And looking up, they saw not one except Jesus Himself alone.
This event changed the lives of these disciples forever. While Jesus was transfigured, they were transformed. Years later, they wrote about it. James, of course, became an early martyr for Christianity, killed by Herod, and never wrote anything that became part of the New Testament.
John, however, wrote of this event in his first gospel. It didn’t take him long to mention it: John 1:14 – “And the Word became flesh [wrapped in a human covering] and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Many feel that John was talking about, in addition to His miracles, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension – he was also talking about His transfiguration.
Peter is more clear about it. While he didn’t know what to make of it when it happened – he figured it out later.
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased” –
18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
This event changed their lives forever. And it’s recorded to help change ours. While He did go to Jerusalem, while He did suffer, while He did die – He also rose again on the third day. And He is coming again in great glory – the glory of His Father and with His angels. And He will reward everyone according to their deeds. Until then, we look to this event, when He peeled back His flesh, as evidence of, encouragement for His coming in glory. Jesus is coming again. And we will see Jesus and Him alone.