Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 17:1b (Holman) “. . .and led them up on a high mountain by
Jesus enjoyed His friends. He wanted them near when He was happy, as on the Mount of Transfiguration, and when sad, as in Gethsemane Garden. Our Master liked the company of people. You who are task driven and success oriented need to remember, people are more important than your tasks and your success. Bless and uplift people. Do not step on them or use them.
Jesus took His three closest friends “up on a high mountain”. Which mountain? We don’t know. The Transfiguration was not about geography.
If we knew precisely where, we would worship the place itself. The mountain would come to mean more than the miracle.
Too many sites in the Holy Land are already overly enshrined, gilded with gaudy gold. But let me hasten to say, this excess by others does not lessen my appreciation for the events that might have happened at or near those sites.
Going to the Holy Land for the first time is a déjà vu experience. You feel like you’ve been there before. For believers, it’s almost like going home. We just have to remember, the events, not the places, make its memory hallowed.
For this special spiritual moment on the mount, Jesus wanted to be alone with the three. Some things cannot be experienced in a crowd. Group time in the upper room has to be matched with time alone on the mount. Carmel must be supplemented with a cave. Public worship must pair with private closets.
In our loud world, we require more quiet time. Privacy is much needed. Our hustle and bustle cries out for solitude. Contemplation must counterbalance activity. Our best visits with Jesus are not in the crowd, but when alone.
Matt. 17:2a He was transformed in front of them, . . .
The verb is “metemorphothe”. Jesus was metamorphasized, transfigured. One of Jesus’ most momentous miracles, the Transfiguration revealed Christ as magnificent in His kingdom. It briefly exposed the kingdom’s King of Kings. Raphael tried to capture its essence in his famous painting at the Vatican.
Jesus had asked the disciples if people knew who He was (Matt. 16:13). After allowing time for their responses, Jesus now answered His own question once and for all time. He had said He was God’s Messianic Son (16:16-17), and God’s suffering Son (16:21). Now He gave visible proof He was God’s radiant Son, sharing the same inner nature of light the Father had.
The Transfiguration was a pivotal event. It was, as it were, the half-way house on Jesus’ roundtrip journey from Heaven to Heaven via Earth. A cradle lay behind Him; a cross loomed before Him. He could gaze all the way back to Creation in eternity past; and all the way to a Crown in etenity future.
Matt. 17:2b . . . and His face shone like the sun.
Suddenly light, as if from behind a dark cloud, broke out, emanating from inside Jesus. Shining with inner, innate, inherent light, He radiated. His body glowed with clear, bright, undiluted light, proving He is the Light of the world.
Peter, James, and John needed to see this, to remind them who He really was when they saw His face slapped, spit on, covered with shame, and dripping sweat drops of blood. This brow would later bleed from thorns, but for now. . . .
Majestic sweetness sits enthroned Upon the Savior’s brow;
His head with radiant glories crowned, His lips with grace o’er flow,. . .
No mortal can with Him compare, Among the sons of men;
Fairer is He that all the fair Who fill the heav’nly train,. . .
Peter, James, and John saw God’s glory in Jesus’ countenance. The face is the foremost feature of our body, the visual image by which people recognize and know us. When John was old, the Transfiguration helped him recognize his Friend of yore. On Patmos, Jesus appeared to John, who recognized his Master immediately because “His face was shining like the sun at midday” (RV 1:16b).
What did this remarkable event on the Mount of Transfiguration mean? Jesus’ true self shined through. God’s glory blazed through the body of a man.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, and in His later appearance to John on Patmos, Jesus showed His divine nature. Jesus was, is, and will be true God of true God, not half-God, semi-God, or demigod. Even after leaving Heaven, He never ceased being God, His Divinity was never separated from His humanity.
What He always was and always will be became as visible as possible without killing the onlookers. When Moses asked to see God, the answer was clear, “You cannot see My face, for no one can see Me and live” (EX 33:20).
Trying to somewhat grant Moses’ request, YHWH put Moses in a cave, covered it with His hand, passed by, removed His hand, and let Moses see His afterglow. Moses’ face shined after this, but it was a borrowed light, a reflected radiance. Light shined on Moses like a spotlight, but radiated from inside Jesus.
Moses saw all of God a human could see without dying. A similar event happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John saw all of God they could see and yet live. They were allowed to see what had always been there, but had been concealed from their eyes for their safety. The Transfiguration was less a new miracle than it was a temporary cessation of an even greater, ongoing miracle. The ultimate marvel was not as much what happened here as was the fact His glory was able to be hid in human flesh at all.
His skin was a jewelry box encasing the ultimate Jewel. It seems Jesus was about to explode; He had to release some glory. On the mount He unlocked the box. Pandora’s box brought trouble; Jesus’ jewelry box brought glory.
Matt. 17:2c Even His clothes became as white as the light.
In Jesus’ face, the light was undiluted. Through His clothes, the light was diffused, but not weakened. His whole body was altered. Beams of light darted from every pore through His clothes, making them “as white as the light”.
Moses’ face, when it shined, could be dimmed by a thin veil (EX 34:35), but Christ’s clothes were saturated with, and penetrated by, the light. His was a supernatural radiance, a reoccurrence of when the glory of the Lord filled the temple, and the priests, unable to minister, had to exit the building (I K 8:11).
Jesus’ Transfiguration gave us a glimpse of how He will appear to all of us some day, when we will have eyes glorified and be able to see Him without harm. His Transfiguration also foretold what we will be. “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is” (I JN 3:2b).
Jesus went to Heaven, not to forget us. He preceded us to welcome us in some day, to share with us His highest glory. Some people rise in status and neglect people who blessed them before their success. Jesus does not do this.
In the meantime, as we await our own final metamorphosis, we are daily to progressively grow more like what we shall ultimately be in Heaven. While on Earth, we “are reflecting the glory of the Lord and are being transformed (metamorphoumetha) into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18b).
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed (metamorphousthe) by the renewing of your mind” (RM 12:2b). He can shine through us now, not by radiating our skin, but by contrasting us enough from the world to stand out in the crowd. He can make us shining lights in a dark world. This is precisely what Jesus meant for us to do. “Let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven” (MT 5:16).
Is this desire to be changed into His likeness an obsession with us? Do we want this more than anything? Does holiness matter most to us?
An old saint, drawing closer to God, was told, “You can’t see God’s face, and live.” He said, “Then let me see God’s face, and die.” Oh for faith like his.