Sunday, January 9, 2022 Brad Barrett
The Transfiguration: The Coming Glory
Metamorphosis. If we’ve taken any biology class, we’ve heard of this word. To me, it’s one of the more remarkable biological events. Metamorphosis is when an ugly, crawly creature like a caterpillar undergoes a complete transformation and comes out radically different. A beautiful, delicate butterfly. It’s easy to find a time-lapse video of this strange looking caterpillar forming a chrysalis, and then a couple weeks later opening up to display this butterfly.
To me it defies explanation. One creature is nothing like the other.
The Bible has a more remarkable story of a metamorphosis. Jesus himself metamorphosed into some radically different.
The Gospel accounts call it, “The Transfiguration.” Our Bible passage this morning is in Luke 9. You can turn there.
What we are about to read is an unusual story. Strange. Perhaps intimidating. If we have any skepticism in us, this story is so unusual I can understand how we might be skeptical and wonder, “Did that really happen?”
To me, it matches the magnitude of the stories of Christ’s birth (which we’ve looked at in the past couple of weeks) and the resurrection.
28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.
29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.
30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah,
31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.
33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.
34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”
36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
Let’s walk through this verse by verse.
Only 3 disciples went with him. We’re not told why, although it was not unusual for Jesus to pull these 3 aside. Out of the group of 12 disciples, these three were ones Jesus focused even more on.
Once again, Luke tells us about Jesus praying. At least 9 times that I could find in this Gospel. His constant praying shows his love for his Father in heaven…and his confidence that his prayers and his worship were heard.
As a young believer, I would think, “Well, Jesus was the Son of God. Everything was easy for him.” But as Matt talked about last week, there’s a bit of mystery here. Jesus was fully divine yet fully human. And he endured human suffering just like we did. So his need for prayer may not have been that much different than ours.
This passage in Hebrews is startling to me.
Hebrews 5:7 ESV In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.
Many prayers and much supplication. Loud cries and tears.
Jesus understands our suffering because he suffered greatly in his days on the earth. Yet he suffered without ever sinning.
When we are tempted to doubt if our prayers matter, we can read Luke’s Gospel and see that Jesus had no such doubts.
While he was praying, Jesus was transformed before the disciples eyes. “His face was altered. His clothing became dazzling white.” This scene challenges our comprehension, but something heavenly was happening here. His body was glorified. It lit up like a blazing light.
Matthew’s Gospel account says that Jesus was, “transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matt 17:2).
That word, “TRANSFIGURED,” is obviously why we call this the Transfiguration. The Greek word that Matthew and Mark use is basically our word, “metamorphosis.” It means to be transformed. Changed into another form. In nature, metamorphosis is astonishing.
Though it may be more difficult to read a few words in this Gospel account and be similarly astonished, Jesus’ transformation here is more astonishing that anything we’ve ever witnessed. Physically and literally, his body and even his clothing were changed.
“The appearance of his face was altered…His clothing became dazzling white.”
Jesus was glorified, changed from a mere mortal into a glorified, heavenly state. It’s honestly hard to explain and understand.
Between Jesus’ birth and his death, this may be the most significant event in the Gospels.
In a few minutes, we’ll talk more about WHY this all happened. For now, let it suffice that something heavenly is happening.
If the moment wasn’t already astonishing, now two great men of God from centuries before appear with Jesus, right in front of the 3 disciples. Moses and Elijah. There are many speculations why these two men appeared.
Moses seems to represent the OT Law, while Elijah represents the Prophets. Both of those portions of the Scriptures point ultimately to Jesus.
So we may speculate a bit about why these two men appeared.
But the subject matter of their conversation is clear: “They spoke of Jesus’ departure and what he would accomplish in Jerusalem.”
What is this departure and events in Jerusalem? Undoubtedly, they spoke with Jesus of the events in the next few months of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and probably his ascension into heaven. His “departure.” All of that was to happen in and near Jerusalem. The last 3 chapters of Luke speak of this.
What were Peter, John, and James thinking about this stunning scene before them? Jesus glorified like the sun. Ancient leaders of Israel appearing before their very eyes.
So what were the 3 disciples thinking?
Well, Peter as usual is the first one to speak up. I love Peter. In the Gospels, he is bold and outspoken. Sometimes he says something beautiful, like earlier in Chapter 9 when he confesses that Jesus is the Christ. But other times he swings at the pitch, completely whiffs, and strikes out.
Here Peter strikes out. He says something that seems to make no sense: “Let us set up tents for you, Moses and Elijah.”
Why did he say this? Commentators have wide speculation as to what Peter intended to stay. Simply he may have not wanted the experience to end. Or perhaps he was thinking about God’s coming kingdom as displayed in the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles, or the Feast of “Tents.”
But the text here and in Mark’s parallel account seems that even Peter didn’t know. Mark 9:6 says, “he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.”
We might say he was “out of his mind.” Some of us might relate to this. From some frightening experience, we said or did something… and we later wondered, “Why did I do that?”
In any case, it’s clear from the Gospel accounts by Matthew, Mark, and Luke that the disciples were terrified at what was happening. If you look at all three Gospels:
- Mark says they were afraid when Jesus was first glorified (Mark 9:6).
- Luke says they were afraid when the cloud came upon them (Luke 9:34)
- Matthew says they were terrified when the Voice spoke to them (Matt 17:6).
So essentially they were understandably terrified in the entire experience. And I do not fault them at all. I’m convinced every one of us would have responded similarly. Being exposed to the glory of God is an awesome and even terrifying experience. To have Jesus’ entire body and clothing lit up like the sun, and to see two ancient biblical heroes appearing out of the past….well, what’s the only response but amazement and fear?
An event like this has only a few parallels. One example: Moses on Mt. Sinai appearing before the glory of God. When he returns down the mountain, his face literally shined for a time since he had been in God’s presence. Or Isaiah the prophet who, in Isaiah 6, had this heavenly vision of God in full display of his glory and majesty. What was his response? “I’ve seen the Lord! I’m going to die!!”
To see God’s glory provokes an intense response.
This cloud came over them and they heard a voice, God himself, speaking to them.
“This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.”
If Peter, James, and John had any doubts before as to who Jesus was, seeing Jesus lit up like the blazing sun, seeing the long-dead Moses and Elijah alive before them, and now hearing a voice from heaven, surely they had no doubts now. This was a moment they would never forget.
And there is more to it than simply an unforgettable moment. God the Father’s words point us back to an OT prophecy of the coming Messiah. Moses spoke words of a coming prophet. The Great Prophet.
Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…”
This Voice from the cloud seems to be articulating these very words, making the point that this long-awaited Prophet—the Messiah— is here. And the people should listen to him. Don’t ignore him. Don’t doubt him. Don’t disregard him. Don’t disobey him.
They told no one of this astonishing moment. We know from Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels Jesus told them to tell no one until after the resurrection. And besides, how would you explain this? The glorification? Moses and Elijah?
This event was not some simple stunt someone videos and posts on YouTube. This event was unprecedented. Sobering. Alarming. And Terrifying.
Why the Transfiguration?
This is such an unusual moment. I’ve read this many times and wondered, “Why did this happen?” What was the purpose?
There is hardly anything else quite like it in the entire Bible. Let me offer a few thoughts.
- It gave the three disciples a glimpse into the glory of the Jesus Christ when he comes back to earth again soon.
Jesus had recently spoken of his coming glory to the disciples. Look in your Bibles up at vs. 26 here in Luke 9. A week earlier, Jesus spoke of his Second Coming when he returns to earth in glory.
Luke 9:26 ESV For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
God the Father and his Son and even the angels have a glory about them. An inexplicable kind of splendor and majesty and power and light. It is absolutely overwhelming to us mere mortals on earth. This future glory of Christ when he comes again to earth soon is displayed for a short time on this mountaintop experience.
Thirty years later, Peter wrote with words of awe about this day on the mountain.
2 Peter 1:16–18 ESV For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.
All that Peter taught and wrote about for more than 3 decades was founded upon eyewitness experiences he and the other apostles had.
He was not making up stories about Christ. These were not fables or tall tales. He was an eyewitness to the majesty and glory of Christ on that mountain. He saw and heard ancient leaders of Israel— Moses and Elijah. He heard with his own ears the voice from heaven, “This is my Son, my Chosen One.”
Peter never forgot this moment when he had a brief glimpse of the coming glory of Jesus Christ.
A second possible reason for the Transfiguration:
- Jesus himself may have been strengthened by this event.
We know from the Scriptures that Jesus never sinned. He never panicked nor doubted his heavenly Father. Yet as Matt spoke of last week, he not only was 100% divine, he was 100% human with the frailties of humanity.
Though sinless, Jesus experienced pressures and grief and sorrow. The clearest example is his prayerful agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. We can read about that in Luke 22 just hours before the Crucifixion. In his prayerful agony, as he felt the weight of his impending suffering on the Cross, Jesus’ sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. To be glorified here on the mountain, and to talk about his coming suffering in Jerusalem may have given the Lord Jesus strength for his days ahead – strength facing this unimaginable human suffering.
A third possible reason for the Transfiguration:
- The disciples would have been strengthened by this experience.
Just a week earlier, Jesus spoke hard words about his own suffering on the Cross, and the disciples’ suffering for his sake.
Look at the previous page. Vs. 22-23
Luke 9:22–23 ESV “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
After hearing such hard, perhaps even shocking, words a week earlier, now on the mountain the three disciples would have found great strength by seeing a glimpse of the coming glory in the resurrection, ascension, and second coming of Christ.
Yes, Jesus is going to suffer and die. But he will rise. Yes, the disciples themselves will suffer as they follow Jesus and proclaim him to the world. But there is something glorious, something heavenly that awaits them.
And that brings us to our fourth possible reason for the Transfiguration:
- Seeing Moses and Elijah would have given reassurance to the disciples that there is indeed life after death.
To me it’s hard to imagine seeing these two ancient biblical heroes from centuries past. It’s something I think about only if I’m watching a sci-fi movie. Like in Star Wars when Yoda appears as a ghost before Luke Skywalker.
Though it’s hard for us to grasp what happened here when Moses and Elijah appeared, to see them would have been sort of a pledge to the disciples of their own immortality. These ancient leaders of Israel had been gone for centuries. The disciples would have heard of them and read about them from the Scriptures. Now they are standing right here in front of them. They are actually real. They still exist. That means there truly is life after the grave. We don’t die and then simply vanish.
Peter, James, and John already believed in life after death, but surely this moment dramatically increased their convictions that everything they had been taught about life after death was absolutely true.
So we’ve looked at this surprising, once-in-a-lifetime story. An experience the disciples never forgot.
What do we do with this? What is some significance for us today from these words here in Luke 9??
Let me offer you three things.
- The glory of God creates wonder and awe and even terror.
God is transcendent. He is beyond us and greater than us in every way imaginable.
My wife and a few friends are reading a book trying to describe the grandness and majesty and transcendence of God.
But in our smallness, we think God might be like us… but only a little better. We think it would be a cool experience to see God, perhaps like meeting a famous athlete or musician.
If that is our view, we are badly, badly mistaken.
Perhaps an analogy to explain this is that to see a bolt of lightning strike the earth a mile away and to hear the rumbling thunder is one experience. A cool one. One you try to capture with a camera.
But it’s a whole other experience to have that same bolt of lightning strike the tree in your backyard when you’re standing in the window 30 feet away. You fall to the ground trembling, your hair standing straight up. And you’re hoping you’re still alive.
When we see God in all his glory, we will be shaken to the core. He is glorious in power and light and majesty and holiness.
His brilliance and majesty is so beyond us that we won’t know what to do when confronted with him, and we will fall apart.
Even to see an angel in his glory would be terrifying.
Several times over the years, I’ve prayed that I could see an angel. But then I read some of the biblical accounts when angels would appear in glory to God’s people, and those people were typically terrified. Scared out of their minds. Like the shepherds in Luke 2 when the angel announced a Savior was born.
This is not an issue of cowardice. This is simply the contrast of the smallness of our humanity before the might and power and glory of Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth. God is not our Cosmic Buddy to whom we give the “Bro handshake and hug.” There is something so glorious about God and his kingdom that we will melt when confronted with it.
We should read the Scriptures and be in prayer with a hungry sense of wonder. With a thirst to know God. To be confronted by him. To glimpse his majesty and power. To be amazed, even to tremble.
The psalmist said in Psalm 96:
Psalm 96:7–9 (ESV)
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!…
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!
As the years of our Christian life go on, our understanding of God’s majesty and glory and power and brilliance should grow, so that more and more we love him….yet we tremble in awe and fear before him.
And here’s a warning: If any of us have not believed in Jesus Christ, we should tremble. We do not want to meet him still in our sinful state. We do not want to face him without having our sins paid for by him.
The Book of Hebrews says,
Hebrews 10:31 ESV It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
It is a fearful, terrifying thing to meet God in judgment. If we do not know Jesus, we should turn to him. Cry out for mercy.
Talk to someone you trust about this. Perhaps someone in this room.
For though he is glorious and transcendent, he is tender and merciful, and he longs to save our souls through his Son, Jesus.
For all of us, let us seek to know the glory of God that we might experience the wonder and awe and fear of knowing him.
- The Transfiguration increases our convictions of all that Christ did and has yet to do.
Luke wrote this Gospel with this purpose in mind.
Luke 1:4 “…that you may have certainty of what you have been taught.”
We looked earlier at Peter’s words in his second letter. This moment had a huge impact on his faith, strengthening his confidence that Jesus truly was the Christ sent from heaven.
This moment gave great assurance to all that the apostles spoke and lived for. And likewise, we can have greater assurance that the words of the NT are from firsthand eyewitnesses. Our confidence in Christ is strengthened by this testimony.
May we meditate on the reality of this passage. The wonder of it. This was a real and astonishing moment in history. And it speaks to us what Christ did a few months later in his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. And it also testifies to us of what Jesus Christ will do soon when he returns.
- The Transfiguration gives us hope in the life to come.
We see Moses and Elijah, and we are strengthened to know there is life after the grave. For Moses died 1400 years earlier, and Elijah was taken into heaven 800 years earlier, and here they are now in front of Peter, James, and John alive and in glory.
A week ago, I was reading in 1 Corinthians 15 in my daily morning reading. That chapter is all about the resurrection.
The glorified Christ in Luke 9 is a taste of the glorified Christ after the resurrection. And his resurrected… guarantees our resurrection. And we must be resurrected, for 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Our bodies must be transformed. They must be metamorphosed.
Paul says that at the resurrection, we who know Jesus will be changed:
1 Corinthians 15:42–44 ESV So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body…
Perishable –> imperishable
Dishonor –> glory
Weakness –> power
Natural –> spiritual
Perishable means it has an “expiration date.” The can of beans in our kitchen cabinet has an expiration date on it.
You and I in these bodies….we have an “expiration date.” That date is not stamped on us like on the can of beans, but it’s there. But when we are resurrected, we will be imperishable… we will never again have an expiration date!
Our bodies will be glorious. Powerful. Spiritual.
In an excellent book called The Incomparable Christ, author Oswald Sanders said,
“The presence of Moses and Elijah would be to them the pledge of their own immortality. There was tangible evidence that the grave is not the end.”
J. Oswald Sanders, The Incomparable Christ
This moment on the mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah tells us that yes, there truly is life beyond the grave.
Let’s bring this to a close.
Though this story in Luke 9 is quite unusual, even strange, it is a story that builds hope in us. Hope that Jesus is who he claims to be.
It builds faith, that all we’ve been taught is absolutely true.
It increases our motivation to work for Jesus, for everything we do matters. It is useful. It is not in vain.
At the conclusion of his splendid chapter on the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of our bodies, Paul magnificently concludes:
1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
We can go home today and live for Jesus and work for him because it’s all true. It’s real. And it matters.