Theme: A Change in Jesus’ Appearance
1. As He sets His face toward Jerusalem
2. As He connects with Moses and Elijah
3. As He is approved by His Father
Luke 9:28-36 About eight days after these words, He took along Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly, two men were talking with Him-- Moses and Elijah. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of His death, which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were in a deep sleep, and when they became fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who were standing with Him. 33 As the two men were departing from Him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it's good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"-- not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud appeared and overshadowed them. They became afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 Then a voice came from the cloud, saying: This is My Son, the Chosen One; listen to Him! 36 After the voice had spoken, only Jesus was found. They kept silent, and in those days told no one what they had seen. (Luke 9:28 CSB)
The Transfiguration was about change. That’s not such a bold thought for the very word Transfiguration means to “change one’s appearance.” This event in Jesus’ ministry is properly named. Indeed, His literal appearance changed, as we see from our text: His face and clothes became bright. But, even today, the more important aspects of the Transfiguration are often lost on people. We know that Jesus went up on a mountain, became glorious in appearance, and spoke with Moses and Elijah. But what did it all mean? Too many of us can sympathize with Peter who himself was lost for meaning and ended up offering a foolish explanation of what it meant.
The true meaning of the Transfiguration involves a much deeper change than the appearance of Jesus’ face or clothing. There was also a change in Jesus’ mindset and actions as He now approached Jerusalem. He would do fewer miracles in public. He would spend much more time instructing the twelve. He would ratchet up His discussions with the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The first change which manifests this new demeanor is how Jesus set His face for Jerusalem. The Transfiguration often doesn’t receive the prominence of the crucifixion or resurrection when Jesus’ life is discussed, but the reality is that the Transfiguration was just as important, and just as centered on our justification. Verse 31 tells us what Jesus was thinking about: They appeared in glory and were speaking of His death, which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Jesus was not basking in His glory. It was important for the disciples to see and understand that Jesus was truly God, therefore He displayed Himself in what our text calls a “dazzling” way. But, as far as what Jesus was focused on, Luke tells us by inspiration that He was thinking about what lay ahead. The Transfiguration was a blending of Jesus’ divinity and humanity. He displayed Himself in an exalted, glorified way – as He truly was. But, His heart and attitude were centered on sacrifice – a gift that only someone who was also human could offer.
We saw another example of this last weekend, as we studied how Jesus predicted His death and resurrection on three occasions for the disciples. The Transfiguration was sandwiched between two of these prophecies and in a way, acts out exactly what Jesus was predicting. He was approaching glory – both for Himself and for the rest of the world as He would defeat sin and death in Jerusalem. But, this victory would be accomplished through His death. Mocking, ridicule, and suffering would be part of the ordeal. The greatest of contrasts indeed, but the very dichotomy of Jesus Himself: True Man and True God. The Transfiguration testified of both.
Another very important part of the Transfiguration was the presence of Moses and Elijah. But, again, we question, why? This can be seen as the change from Old Testament to New Testament. Moses and Elijah were two of the most revered figures in Jewish culture. Ask any of Jesus’ opponents back then and they most certainly would have said that Jesus was not aligned in teaching with Moses and Elijah. Moses was considered the greatest Savior figure in Old Testament history since he led the Israelites out of slavery under Egypt. Elijah was considered the greatest prophet in Old Testament history.
It was not mere coincidence that Moses and Elijah met with Jesus that day. Their presence was a symbol that the ways of the Old Testament were giving way to the New Testament. Their shared conversation with Jesus was a testimony that Jesus was the Messiah, the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s prophecies. One cannot help but think that the Jews would have certainly benefited from seeing this. The Pharisees, in particular, were so convinced that Jesus was not the Chosen One, certainly this could have changed their hearts.
But, as Jesus said elsewhere, if one does not believe the word of God, what He called “Moses and the Prophets,” they will not be convinced no matter what they see, even if they see someone rise from the dead (Luke 16:31). Truly, this statement itself proved to be prophetic, as after the resurrection the Pharisees chose to lie about it rather than see the Savior for themselves. Long before this moment, they had rejected the Word of God. Seeing the amazing sight of the Transfiguration would not have changed that fact.
However, there was one Jewish man who was quite impressed. Upon seeing the holy conclave of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah Peter rashly recommended, “Master, it's good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Can we really blame Peter? What would we have said in that moment? Probably nothing more wise or sincere. And through Peter’s hasty reaction another change was revealed. Jesus was not here to dwell in earthly tents. The word used here is the same as that of the Old Testament tabernacle, which Moses did use. The time for God to dwell in man-made tents had come to an end. Pretty soon, even the Temple itself would not mean what it used to. The old was departing for the new. The veil which covered the Holy of Holies was soon to be torn from top to bottom. Peter was looking upon the Savior of all nations. You can’t bottle something like that up and save it for later.
Similarly, we are living in the age of our Lord’s fulfillment. As Paul later wrote, the time to believe is now, saying “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Rom 13:11-12).” He also said, Acts 17:30-31 "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 "because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." (Act 17:30 NKJ)
Let us not waste our time trying to preserve things in this fallen and limited world. God wants us to look heavenward. With so many distractions in life that seek to keep us focused on the finite, a lesson we learn from the Transfiguration is to “seek those things which are above, where our Savior reigns,” and just as our Savior taught. Eternal blessings come to those who follow by faith, not by sight. Daily forgiveness and strength is granted to the one who considers his heart, not his bank account. As Peter was taught by the Lord, so we should remember to desire God’s will, not our own.
The final thought of change centers on the words of the Father, This is My Son, the Chosen One; listen to Him! Where Peter was dumbfounded at what to do, God the Father spoke clearly. Our job is to listen to His Son, the Chosen One. The Father wraps up the meaning of the Transfiguration well. As the final puzzle piece in God’s plan of salvation, Jesus proved to be the Chosen One, the Christ and the Messiah. He connected the work of Moses, Elijah and the rest of the Old Testament believers. He gave their lives meaning. But, Jesus also extends the blessings of God’s mercy to future generations. He is the precious and chosen Cornerstone of the Church – It’s founding member and the One who keeps is level.
The Father’s words remind us that the Transfiguration was the Son’s ceremony of approval. He was soon to be despised and rejected by many. He was approaching a moment of forsakenness on the cross, from this same Father, because of our transgressions. This punishment would not be the end, however. The Father’s approval here reminds us of that.
As we read our text, you might have noticed some similarities between what happened here on the mount and what will soon happen in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus goes to a secluded spot to pray. He brings Peter, James, and John with Him. They fall asleep. He gives evidence of His divine and human natures. All similarities among these two events. Yet, there is a key difference.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, the Father spoke to His Son. In the Garden, the Son will speak to His Father. In one setting there is joy and approval. In the other there is agony and submission. From a human perspective, the mount seems to be everything we would expect from the Son of God coming to earth. Glory, honor, and prestige. Perhaps that’s why Peter wanted to stay there. In the Garden, the unexpected occurs: great drops of blood, prayers for relief, and loneliness. What are we to make of this heavenly correspondence between the Father and His Son?
Well, for those who may think that Jesus is nothing more than a great prophet, it’s a reminder that He was not only approved but forsaken. Both acts were necessary for our salvation. If Jesus was a great man and nothing more, the crucifixion was indeed a pointless act of brutality. But, if Jesus is who He said He was, who Moses and Elijah were waiting for, then the Father’s approval and punishment fit perfectly with His Son’s work.
The final change of the Transfiguration was that the simple approval of Jesus as the Messiah needed to fade away to the divine disapproval on the cross; not because Jesus Himself had changed. He knew this even on the Mount of Transfiguration. This change happened because of you and me – our sins. It was the only way they could be taken away. And after Jesus’ death, when both the Father’s approval and wrath had been fulfilled, Jesus’ resurrection began the greatest exaltation – even more than that of the Transfiguration. He is our living Savior and Redeemer. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.