The Transfiguration of Jesus: A harmony of Matthew, Mark and Luke (NIV)
“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
About eight days after Jesus said this, He took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a high mountain, where they were all alone, to pray.
As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to Him, “Master, it is good for us to be here, if you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
While he was speaking, a bright cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” He said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
The account of Jesus’ transfiguration is found in Matthew, Mark and Luke. But none of these men were actually present at the transfiguration. They had to be told what happened up there on the mountain. Only Peter, James and John saw it with their own eyes.
John wrote his Gospel a number of years after Matthew, Mark and Luke and he leaves the transfiguration account out altogether. I suppose John didn’t feel the need to rehearse it again. The description found in the other Gospels was sufficient.
Still, John hinted at the transfiguration in the first chapter of his Gospel. Turn to John 1:14. There we read…
“14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NIV).
We have seen His glory.
That’s what the season of Epiphany is all about, seeing Jesus for who He really is. Seeing His glory as the Son of God. Seeing Him as the Savior who came to rescue sinners like you and me.
Of all the snapshots of Jesus that we’ve seen throughout this season of Epiphany, perhaps no picture of Jesus is so complete as this one we see on the mount of transfiguration. In fact, here we see a whole handful of snapshots, each from a different angle, each helping us to see His glory.
First we see His appearance change from the ordinary face of a Jewish carpenter, to the dazzling brilliance of a god. Of THE God actually. Throughout His life, Jesus had stowed His visible glory away. It’s hard to teach everyday farmers, soldiers and fishermen when they’re all terrified because your skin is shining like the sun. But here in the privacy of the mountain wilderness, Jesus let the curtain fall away and the magnitude of His identity shine out: this is God the Son.
That He is also the promised Messiah becomes clear as two figures join Him. Two men who had not made the hike that morning appear beside Jesus: Moses and Elijah. These men represent the whole Old Testament, Moses who wrote the first five books of the Bible at the direction of God’s Holy Spirit. Elijah was the greatest of the ancient prophets.
But while these men represent God’s Old Testament message, they were also ACTUALLY THERE. The same Moses who had been raised in Pharaoh’s court. The Same Elijah who had hidden from King Ahab in the wilderness.
And lest we get distracted by the presence of such great men, their conversation directs us back to Jesus and His importance. They are talking about “His departure, which He was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem”.
Jesus’ departure from this world would not be through the customary door of death. Jesus would indeed suffer and die to win forgiveness of all sinners. But then He would rise from the grave three days later. His departure would happen forty days after that. From the Mount of Olives He rose up into the air, taking His visible presence away from earth.
Jesus’ “departure” would happen, but only AFTER He had succeeded in redeeming the world of sinners. He would depart only AFTER God the Father had trumpeted His success to the world by raising Him from the dead.
Everything about Jesus on the mountain is remarkable. His appearance, brilliant. His company, outstanding. Their conversation, confident concerning the salvation He was about to accomplish for sinners.
But everything about the disciples on the mountain, is fear.
We’ve almost forgotten about Peter, James and John. Jesus had taken these men with Him, to pray. And like the weak men they were, they had fallen asleep.
When they woke to see Jesus in glory, with Moses and Elijah standing beside Him, they were both filled with fear, and with confusion.
Peter begins to ramble away about setting up shelter so that they can stay a bit longer. They’re amazed, afraid and distracted. But then God the Father re-centers their attention back on Jesus.
As Peter rambles a bright cloud envelopes them and the voice of the Father Himself speaks from the mist. He says,
“This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5 NIV).
Jesus’ glory surges again. This time His glory is the approval of God the Father. Of the rest of the human race God has declared,
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6 NIV).
But of His Son, the Father says, “with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” This is the highest endorsement that anyone could ever receive.
And it’s all to much for these simple, ordinary sinners to take in. They fall face down to the ground, terrified in the presence of the Almighty.
And once again, the focus falls back on Jesus. This time, by His own kind consideration. He reaches out to touch His disciples, and to tell them not to fear.
These men did not understand. Though they trusted in Him, they did not understand what lay in store for Jesus in days to come. How He would suffer. How He would be degraded and spit up so that they could be elevated and forgiven. Jesus knew they didn’t understand, and He was patient with them. He is still patient today when we fail to understand what He so clearly lays before us.
We too have seen His glory. We have seen His glory through the Word of God recorded by sinners like us. Sinners forgiven through the Cross of Christ. And now, as we leave the season of Epiphany and enter into the season of Lent, we will see His glory in greater detail.
We will see His glory as we travel toward jeering Jerusalem. Toward Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas. Toward the road to Golgotha and our Savior’s cross. So let’s keep the focus of the Transfiguration in our minds.
Lent IS about seeing our own sins and turning away from them. It IS about looking inside to see the unworthiness and the failures of heart and soul which stain us on a daily basis. But above all, Lent is about the Savior who came not only to show us our sin, but to remove the punishment for those sins.
Above all, Lent is all about seeing His glory, and not being afraid anymore.
I’d like to close our meditation today by reading from John one last time.
“16From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:16-18 NIV).
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.