Matthew Chapter 17:1-13 – Transfiguration

A painting of the transfiguration

Transfiguration of Jesus

This event is also recorded in Mark 9:2-10 and Luke 9:28-36

Transfiguration is the climax of Jesus life on earth before His crucifixion and resurrection. This event happened six days after Jesus told His disciples some of them will see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom (Matt 16:28). Luke said it was eight days, probably he included the day Jesus spoke the prophecy and the day of the transfiguration, wherelse Matthew and Mark only counted the days in between.

The transfiguration shown the three disciples a glimpse of Christ’s glory in His kingdom.

Luke tells us Jesus brought them up to the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28). What was the content of their prayers? They might have been praying about Jesus’s crucifixion since Jesus just told them about it six days ago, and that was the content of Jesus’s conversation with Moses and Elijah.

Which mountain? It may be the 9,232 feet high Mt. Hermon, it is  north east of Caesarea Philippi. It was a sacred mountain (2 Peter 1:18).

Why only bring Peter, James and John but not others? The Lord would also select them only to accompany Him in the garden of Gethsemane. They were the closer disciples to the Lord among the twelve. Maybe the Lord has chosen them because only they were ready to receive this revelation.

Witnessing the glory of the Lord left a deep impression on the disciples. Peter mentioned it in 2 Peter 1:17-18. And John alluded to it in John 1:14: “We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only”.

Why did Jesus transfigure before them? What is the meaning of transfiguration? The greek original word of transfiguration (Matt 17:2) is “metamophoo” (G3339). The english word metamorphosis was derived from it.

Sun and Light signify brightness, Matthews used them to illustrate the face and the clothes of the transfigured Jesus

Locations of Caesarea Philippi and Mt Hermon

Moses and Elijah

Why Moses and Elijah but not others? It is worth noting that Moses and Elijah both had encounter with God on mountain (Ex 19, 1 King 19). Moses may have represented God’s people who had die, and Elijah may have represented God’s people who did not experience death before entering the Kingdom of God. Moses represents the laws of God, and Elijah represented the prophets of God, which together is the major content of the Old Testament texts. The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John (Matt 11:13). It is because the the One who is greater and Moses and Elijah is here.

Only Luke mentioned that Moses and Elijah appeared in “glorious splendor” (Luke 9:31). It was interesting to note that Elijah never die, and no one know where the grace of Moses was (Deut 34:6). The archangel Michael disputed with the devil about the body of Moses (Jude 1:9).

Luke tells us the content of the conversation between Moses, Elijah and Jesus, it was about the death of Jesus (Luke 9:31).

The Jews commonly believed that Elijah must came before the Messiah arrived.

“Elijah comes and will restore all things” (Matt 17:11). John came and called people into repentance however all things were not restored.

Jesus said Elijah has already came but the Jews did not recognize him. The disciples than understood Jesus was referring to John the baptist. Why did John the baptist said he was not Elijah (John 1:21)? An angel of the Lord told Zechariah, the father of John the baptist that he would go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luku 1:17).

The prophecies of Malachi regarding Elijah (Mal 4:5), is fulfilled in two stages, the first stage being in 1st century, fulfilled by John the baptist, and the second stage in the end time, where Elijah will show up, and God the Father will bring all things in heaven and on earth together under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 1:10).

Peter, James and John

Only Luke tells us the disciples fall asleep during prayer meeting with Jesus (Luke 9:32). They may have heard the later part of the conversation between Moses, Elijah and Jesus.

Why Peter think it was good to be here? Is it because he saw the the glorified Jesus and enjoyed it?

Luke tells us that Peter suggested the building of shelters for Moses, Elijah and Jesus as Moses and Elijah were leaving (Luke 9:33). Peter, although received the greatest revelation from God in Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16:17), still acted according to his flesh. He put Jesus at the same level with Moses and Elijah when he suggested to Jesus that he will put up three shelters.

The shelters Peter suggested was “skene” (G4633). It is the same greek word that is translated as tabernacle (Rev 21:3). It is also the booth God asked the Jews to build and live for seven days during the feast of the tabernacle (Lev 23:42-43). It was a seven days feast the look forward to the time when Israel would dwell in peace and rest in the Promised Land.

Although Peter acted impulsy in his old-self, he did ask the Lord: “If You wish”.

Peter also did not think about building shelters for himself or James and John.

This glorious event had a deep impression on Peter, he mentioned it is 2 Peter 1:16-18.

God the Father

God the Father spoke. He called Jesus His Son. Whom He loves. With Him He is well pleased. God said that when Jesus was baptized by John the baptist (Matt 3:17). But this time God added one more thing: “Listen to Him!”

Moses has prophesied that God will raise up a prophet like him, and instructed the Jews to “listen to Him” (Deut 18:15). Here, God is confirming that Jesus is the Prophet by repeating the same word as Moses has spoken: “Listen to Him!”

When disciples heard the voice of God, they fell face down, instead of facing up like what is happening in today’s healing meetings.

Why did the disciples feel terrified when they heard the voice of God?

Jesus touched them, and comforted them not to be afraid.

“They saw no one except Jesus”. They no longer see Moses and Elijah. The voice of God the Father and the dissaperance of Moses and Elijah reveal to us the most important subject of our worship, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Cloud

God spoke from a bright cloud. God frequently speaks from a cloud. God spoke from a cloud in Mt Sinai (Ex 19:16). God led the Israelites with cloud in the day and fire at night after the Exodus (Ex 13:21-22).

God’s glory is frequently manifested with a cloud. For example when Aaron spoke, the glory of God appeared in the cloud (Ex 16:10). The glory of God rested on Mt. Sinai covered with cloud  for six days before calling Moses from the midst of cloud. (Ex 24:15-18). Cloud covered the tabernacle and the glory of God filled the tabernacle when it was completed (Ex 40:34-38).

Daniel’s prophesied the Son of Man will come with the clouds of heaven(Dan 7:13). Jesus ascended into heaven in the clouds (Acts 1:9) and will return the same way.

Coming Down From The Mountain

Every time the disciples went up to the mountain with the Lord, they learned tremendous lessons and had precious experience with the Lord. Now, they need to come down from the mountain to live out what they have learned from the Lord.

Why did Jesus told them not to tell others about the transfiguration until He was resurrected? This is the last of a total of five times Jesus told them to keep silent (Matt 8:4; 9:30; 12:16; 16:20)

The disciples keep the transfiguration event to themselves (Luke 9:36) just as Jesus had told them. They might have shared the experience with the rest of the nine apostles.

Jesus told them right here that He will die, but will resurrect. The disciples didn’t fully understand this. Mark 9:10 told us that they kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant. They may think Jesus meant something else because they were scared to death when Jesus was crucified. Also, when the women came to tell them Jesus had resurrected, they did not believe in them (Luke 24:11).

The lack of faith and understanding of heavenly things on the disciples was changed when the Holy Spirit came in Pentecost (Acts 2). The revelation of the glory of the Lord Jesus on the sacred mountain has made tremendous impact in Peter, James and John’s life. James was martyred at young age (Acts 12:2), Peter wrote 1 and 2 Peter and was crucified upside down according to church’s history, and John was exiled to the Island of Patmos and written the fourth Gospel, the three epistles and the book of revelation.

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