A. The Historical Setting
- Jesus retreats with His disciples to Caesarea Philippi for a season of confidential and important teaching. Located south of great Mt. Hermon the city was so named by Phillip, tetrarch of Trachonitis as a gesture of honor for Caesar Augustus. Now Jesus questions His disciples concerning popular opinion about Himself. Though men did not generally understand that Jesus was the Messiah, many did feel He was a forerunner of the looked-for One. But, there was much difference of opinion -- some even feeling he was John the Baptist, returned from the dead. It was popularly held that Elijah, or one of the prophets, would return to earth in preparation for Messiah's coming.
- Jesus' deliberate appeal to the disciples for their confession to doubt, is His way of strengthening them for the jolt of His next teachings. He knew the excitement over His present ministry was to be short-lived. Already official opposition was showing itself more boldly. It is here that Jesus makes His first very plain prediction of His coming humiliation, death and resurrection. Peter shows that he is more in tune with popular beliefs of the day about the Messiah's expected political power and immediate reign, and he reproves Jesus. To the Lord, this attitude is Satanic and He rebukes the enemy accordingly. Now Jesus must confront the entire crowd with the warning that His disciples must indeed suffer if they would share his honor. Because these teachings would seem almost unbelievable and no doubt discouraging to any Jew of this period, the Transfiguration probably is given to help with this very need.
B. Contemporary Setting
- Jesus' motive for questioning His disciples regarding popular opinion about Himself was far different from that of many leaders today. Popularity polls are avidly used and responded to by national leaders today. Jesus was, however, using this approach to draw His disciples to a decided opinion about Him before the serious, more definite instruction about the crucifixion -- His and theirs. Much vagueness and scattered thinking about Jesus exists today also. The pointed question needs to be posed to modern men, Who do you say Jesus is?
- Just as the religious culture of Jesus' day made it difficult for His followers to expect suffering, so the secular culture of our day has the same difficulty but for a different reason. In modern America we like ease and a religion that is free and without the price of any pain or persecution. Suffering is still an offense. We are glad that Evangelical Christianity is more favored, yet there is the uneasy feeling that we would be quickly discouraged in event of a change in the popularity poll. Jesus' words still stand that the cross is the cost of faithfully following Him. True believers see enough difficulties to make them appreciate the great Transfiguration scene. No one is living the really Christian life who does not need the inclusion of the Transfiguration.
THEME: The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ offers encouragement.
I. ENCOURAGEMENT TO JESUS
- Timely Encouragement
- Each of the Synoptic Gospels is careful to connect the Transfiguration account with the instruction which precedes it in the previous chapter. This is done in two ways: First by promising that some of His hearers will presently see the Kingdom of God in power. Secondly, the synoptics all record the time interval of an approximate week between the two chapters. This serves to make a close relationship between the first of His three predictions of suffering and the glories of the Transfiguration.
- Jesus as a man was comforted and strengthened by three events on the Mount of Transfiguration. First, the term describing our Lord's glorious experience is from the compound Greek term matamorphoo. The preposition joined to the verb root indicates a contrasting change in Jesus' form from humiliation to glory. Here is a special term indicating a virtual transformation. Its cognates appear in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18. Secondly, Jesus must have been greatly uplifted in His conversation with Elijah and Moses. These two had known glorious departures from this life and returned to speak with Him of His own "exodus." See Luke 9:31. Thirdly, Jesus "received honor and glory from God when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory." (2 Peter 1:7 and I Peter 2:4) The first occurrence of such a voice from heaven was at Jesus' baptism. One other time it will occur and that is to be in Judea shortly before His crucifixion. John 12:28ff
- The Need Ahead
- The two heavenly visitors returned to their bliss, but as for Jesus it was Via Dolorosa. Even His own disciples, despite the glory witnessed on the Mount, would again become enshrouded in the dark stupor of troubling doubts regarding the way of suffering. Soon it would be the gentle slopes of the Mount of Olives and Calvary where the same chosen three would sleep with heavy hearts and fail to watch with their Lord in His moments of agony. As for Jesus, Scripture makes it clear that He was well sustained by "the joy set before Him." (Hebrews 12:2)
II. ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE DISCIPLES
- Trouble Inescapable
- Moses himself had during a dark period cried out to God for a view of divine glory. (Exodus 33:18) Now the disciples share the same, even though they do not yet sense the same desperate need. However, what Jesus has warned them of in Caesarea Philippi, in the way of the cost of discipleship, must surely come to pass. Opposition and hurt experienced by Moses and Elijah will be their lot also.
- It was already beginning. With a considerable sorrow and consternation of heart as the revered John the Baptist had been slain by Herod and they tended to his burial. No doubt the Transfiguration glory helped to ease their troubled hearts.
- Lessons Learned
- With typical enthusiasm Peter liked very much the heavenly happenings there on the Mount. He did not want the glory to fade. Not knowing what to say, he blurts out his suggestion to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. As A. B. Bruce suggests, Peter was of the mind to bid farewell to the earth and the cross and welcome heaven and the crown!
- Peter had yet much to learn of suffering before he could possibly face the martyrdom which God planned for him. All the disciples were finding Jesus' prediction of His own death and of their future lot of suffering as very unwelcome teaching. Therefore, hunger and need must precede great encouragement. Later on when they were strengthened by the Holy Spirit and seasoned by sufferings, it is likely that this vision on the Mount greatly strengthened them. Writing as an old man in his last letter, Peter refers in the opening chapter with great relish to this particular experience.
III. ENCOURAGEMENT TO US TODAY
- Moderns on the Mount
- This view of heavenly joy must not bring impulsive, false hope into our thinking. We are not promised escape from troubles. Rather, we are prepared for tribulation. Nonetheless, we feel with Peter "it is good for us to be here," (v.5). It is imperative that we respond to the Father's voice when He orders, "Listen to Him!" (v.7) Our attention must be trained upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The fact stands that "everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2 Timothy 3:12) Each faithful Christian today will suffer his share of afflictions and rebuffs from the world. Besides this, he must ever be watchful to deprive himself of evil desires and thus by choice accept crucifixion of the flesh. Often he will need the elevating view of the Mount of Transfiguration with all its lessons of encouragement.
- Heavenly Help for the Valley
- "The vision of the holy mount is a gracious pledge that glorious things are in store for the people of God." (J. C. Ryle) However, just as the three privileged disciples again descended into the valley with their Lord, so that is ever our lot today. Though we are privileged to "have the first fruit of the Spirit," yet we often "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons." (Romans 8:23)
- Looking again at the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, our eager hope is quickened when we read in I Corinthians 15:49 "and just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven." In our present stresses we should be much uplifted by the thought of Jesus returning in glory and our sharing with Him in that splendor (Colossians 3:4) Indeed, "We shall be like Him." (I John 3:2) If the brief view of Jesus on the Mount and of two saints returned from glory is of such encouragement, what will it be like when we have Him forever along with the throng of heavenly companions from all the ages! (I John 17:24, Hebrews 12:22, 23)
- At the outset of His Messianic ministry, Jesus stood on another mountain and refused its glories as Satan offered Him wealth and power of the world. Instead He chose Calvary. The choice was clearer and easier because of the joy placed before Him and given in experience there on Mt. Hermon. His joy in glory and resignation in suffering was the very example the disciples needed.
- Now, it is our turn to run in the race and we are taught in Scripture that we must give up besetting sin and fasten our eyes upon Jesus and profit as He did from joy beyond. (Hebrews 12:1-3) Like Jesus, we are to remember that whatever distracting glory the world might seem to offer, it is but short-lived and we look for eternal pleasures and reward beyond. (2 Peter 3:11-13)
- Why was the Transfiguration particularly fitting at the time it was given?
- What was there about the whole transfiguration experience that encouraged Jesus?
- Why was it fitting that Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus?
- In what ways was the Transfiguration to the disciples somewhat parallel to God's personal revelation to Moses?
- What evidence do we have that this experience meant much to Peter?
- What benefit may we derive from the appearance of Elijah and Moses on the Mount?
- How may we today profit from this view of Jesus' glory?