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The Transfiguration of Christ (Luke 9:27-36)

Introduction

We all have said something stupid, which after the words have come out of our mouths, we wish we hadn’t said. I remember getting on the elevator with my friend, Don Grimm, after lunch. I started to tell him of the story which I had recently heard about the Hunt brothers, who had just recently lost hundreds of millions of dollars in silver investments. I was starting to say that the Hunts may not have “lost their shirts,” but it sure had “loosened their ties.” Don politely suggested that I hold up on the story for a moment, and after we got off the elevator I learned why. One of the Hunt brothers was standing right beside me.

Years ago, when I was in college, I had an assignment to go to the curriculum library of the Seattle Public School system. A very prim and proper lady in the autumn of life was seated at the desk and asked me if she could be of any help. I responded, “Oh, no thanks, I just came to carouse around.” I meant to say, “I just came in to browse around.” I don’t know how the wrong words came, but they did.

I remember years ago hearing of the man who was introducing a very well-known Bible expositor. He was attempting to impress the audience with the scholarship of the teacher, who was about to address them. He concluded, “And now, it is my pleasure to introduce Dr. Bruce Waltke, who will bring us his suppository message.”

Stupid things sometimes come out of our mouths before we even know it. Peter is one of the disciples who seemed more prone to say something—often something dumb—than the others. It has never puzzled me that Peter was not the author of one of the four gospels. It would have been too tempting for him, I suspect, to edit out of that gospel all of the things he wished he had never said. And so we may be grateful that others recorded Peter’s words, so that we can identify with him, and his tendency to say the wrong thing.

On the mountain of transfiguration, Peter repeats his error of talking too quickly and thinking too little. Luke tells us that Peter did not know what he was saying, something which is quite evident. Peter’s hasty and ill-conceived words provoke a divine response, from God the Father Himself. Those words, aimed at the disciples, but probably most directly at Peter, are just as relevant to men and women today as they were then. In our study we shall seek to learn what happened on the mount of transfiguration, what it was the Peter was suggesting, and what God’s response meant.

The Setting

The identity of Jesus is the central issue dealt with in Luke chapter 9. Herod, we are told by Luke, was very interested in the identity of Jesus, for while he was aware that some thought Jesus to be Elijah or some other prophet, raised from the dead, he feared that he might be John the Baptist, raised from the dead, since he had put him to death (9:7-9). When Jesus asked the disciples who the people thought Him to be, they gave the same answers that Herod had heard (9:19). When Jesus pointedly put the question to His disciples, Peter spoke up, with the most profound statement he has made, up to this point: “The Christ of God” (9:20).

Peter was right, of course. In Matthew’s account of the great confession, our Lord particularly praises him, and speaks of his prominence in the proclamation of the gospel (Matthew 16:17-19). But, when Jesus went on to speak of His suffering, rejection, and death, Peter’s words of reaction and rebuke were not those revealed to him by God, but the very thoughts of Satan (Matthew 16:21-23). Peter was not thinking of the kingdom of God from the divine point of view, but from his own preferences, prejudices, and preconceptions, which, our Lord said, were the viewpoint of man and (interestingly enough) Satan.

Jesus went on to tell His disciples that there would be a “cross” for them to bear as well, if they would follow Him. Man’s perspective is that one must save his life in order to live, but Jesus taught that His followers must give up their lives for Him, in order to live. Life, He said, comes out of death. On the other hand, those who would seek to save their own lives will ultimately lose them.

Jesus then promised His disciples that some of them would see the “kingdom of God” before they died:

“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God (Luke 9:27).

While there are numerous explanations as to what Jesus’ words here mean, the simplest explanation, especially in the context, is that Jesus was foretelling the transfiguration which was to come within a week’s time.

A week later,175 Jesus took three of His disciples with Him up the mountain176 to pray. There are various reasons given as to why only Peter, John, and James were taken along. We know that it was this same three who often were taken along, while the rest were left behind. They alone were taken into the house of Jairus, where Jesus raised his daughter from death (Luke 8:51). One commentator tells us that these three were taken along because they were the “most spiritual” of the three.177

I am not so sure. It may not have been that big of a thing. When I go to the store, I like to have company, and so I’ll announce to my girls, “I’m going to the store. Anybody want to go along.” Usually they want to know which store. If it is the automotive parts house, where I buy my car parts, they likely won’t accompany me. If there is the chance we will stop at the ice cream store, I usually will have company.

It is not inconceivable to me that Jesus would have said to the disciples, “I’m going to Mt. Hebron, would any of you like to go along?” Perhaps one of them asked, “To pray?” That may have prompted the nine to stay behind, while the three may have loyally (or lovingly) gone along.

For whatever reason, only three disciples accompanied Jesus to the mount, for a time of prayer. Little did any of them dream of what they would see and hear on this occasion.

Before we press on to that which occurred at this time of prayer, let us not too quickly pass by the fact that prayer, once again in Luke’s writings, is closely linked with great events. This is true in both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Allow me to summarize some of those instances in which prayer is shortly precedes a great event:

In Luke’s Gospel:

Text

Prayer

Significant Event

1:5-20

Prayer of Zacharias

Announcement of John’s birth

3:21-22

Jesus prays at His baptism

Father appears, speaks (3:21-22)

4:42

Jesus’ private prayer

Galilean ministry (4:43ff.)

6:12

Jesus in prayer

Choosing the twelve disciples

9:18

Jesus in prayer

The great confession

9:28-29

Jesus in prayer

The transfiguration

In the Book of Acts:

Text

Prayer

Significant Event

1:14

Disciples in prayer

Pentecost

4:31

Prayer of church

Powerful witness in Jerusalem

7:59-60

Stephen’s prayer

Saul’s conversion

9:11

Saul in prayer

Saul’s sight regained and filled with Holy Spirit

10, 11

Prayer of Peter, Cornelius

Gospel spreads to Gentiles

12:5

Church in prayer for Peter

Peter’s release

13:1-3

Fasting & Prayer

First missionary journey

16:25

Prison prayers

Earthquake, release, conversion of jailer

It can be safely said that Luke places a heavy emphasis on prayer. He is careful to link prayer with great manifestations of God’s grace and power. We can hardly overstate the need for prayer today, nor car we overstate the lack of diligence of the church to pray as we ought. As the apostle James put it,

You do not have, because you do not ask God (James 4:2).

May we become people of prayer, as our Lord was marked by His prayers.

The Transfiguration of the Christ

While the identity of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah was not acknowledged by the masses, nor by Israel’s political leaders (e.g. Herod), nor by the religious leaders, Peter had just confessed that Jesus was God’s Messiah. Jesus Himself affirmed this profession, and then hastened to go on, spelling out the suffering and death that this necessitated. Now it is time for God the Father to give the final word, as is done in the transfiguration. Here, Jesus is given the Father’s stamp of approval as His appointed King of Israel.

We do not know exactly what time it was, nor how long our Lord had been in prayer. We do know that He was praying as He was transformed before His disciples. It would have been of great interest to have heard the words our Lord was speaking to the Father as His appearance began to be changed.

The three disciples, Luke alone tells us, were sleepy. How easy it is for us to quickly conclude that they were simply tired, and that they, unlike the Master, could not discipline themselves to stay awake. Let me begin by saying that we are not told why they were sleepy, only that they were. Fatigue is, of course, the most simple explanation. But lest we jump to this conclusion as though it were our only option, let me briefly mention two other possibilities.

First, let me remind you that the sleepiness of the disciples in the garden, just before His arrest, was, according to the diagnosis of Dr. Luke, the result of sorrow, not simple fatigue (Luke 22:45). They were exhausted from sorrow. Second, allow me to point out a rather unusual sleepiness which Daniel experienced as the result of a divine revelation, not unlike that which is described here:

I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning,178 his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground (Daniel 10:5-9, emphasis mine).

There are, then, a variety of reasons for sleepiness. We do not know which of these was the cause of the sleepiness of the disciples, but only that they were sleepy at the time that our Lord was transfigured.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to have been in a deep sleep, and to awaken to the sights and sounds that were taking place on that mountain. If it were me, I would first wonder if I really was awake, or whether it was a dream. Then I would wonder where I was. Then I would have been awe-struck by the brightness of the three persons, all of whom (Luke tells us that Elijah and Moses were in glorious splendor—was the splendor of our Lord vastly greater here? We do not know for sure —) were radiant. For sleepy eyes, it must have taken some time to adjust to this kind of luminance, especially if it was during the darkness of night. For some unexplained reason the disciples knew who the two men were who were talking with our Lord. They were Moses and Elijah.179

The “sound track” would also have been of great interest. Not only did the three disciples recognize the three gloriously radiant persons, but they also overheard their conversation. We do not know how long they spoke, nor all of the details which were covered. But we do know the subject of the discussion: the coming departure (literally, the “exodus”) of our Lord in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).

Whatever length of time this revelation or transfiguration took, it eventually ended. This was signaled by the fact that the two men began to leave Jesus. This action prompted Peter to speak:

“Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Luke 9:33).

Luke adds, parenthetically, that Peter did not know what he was saying. That’s for sure!

True, Peter did not know what he was saying, but he was saying something. Mark informs us that it was out of fear that Peter blurted out these words, informing us that all three were frightened by the splendor of the sight of the transfiguration (9:6). Peter’s words were not carefully thought through, but they did propose something. What, then, was Peter suggesting? What was he trying to do?

First, it would seem that he was attempting to keep Elijah and Moses from leaving. His words were spoken just as they began to leave (Luke 9:33). They were departing, but Peter spoke of dwellings. Now there is no need for a motel if you’re not staying the night. By proposing to build three shelters, Peter is seeking to prolong their stay, even though (or, should we say, especially because) they were leaving. Peter may thus be trying to prolong the glory of this event. He may even be selfishly be trying to prolong for himself the excitement and enjoyment of these heavenly visitors. Don’t think that selfishness is out of the question. If you do, read on in this same chapter.

Peter’s proposal may also have been motivated by a desire to see the kingdom and its glory instituted NOW. Jesus had spoken of his suffering, rejection, and death. There were some intervening events, which meant that the kingdom would not come as quickly as the people (including the disciples) would like. The departure of Elijah and Moses was not a good sign, so far as Peter would have been concerned, for it spelled delay. To keep them around might have hastened the coming of the kingdom, something that was still in the minds of the disciples even after our Lord’s resurrection (cf. Acts 1:6).

A Divine Interruption and Statement

If the departure of Moses and Elijah prompted Peter to speak, the ill-thought-through words of Peter seem to have been the cause of this divine interruption, which seems to have stopped Peter in mid-sentence:

While he was speaking, a 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 have chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:34-35).

A luminous cloud settled down over all of them, which seems to have obscured their view of each other, or at least of Moses and Elijah, for when the cloud disappears, these two are gone. The appearance of the cloud caused the disciples to be even more frightened. It seems to have silenced Peter. It is then that God speaks to them from the cloud, adding His testimony that Jesus was the Messiah, the King of Israel.

The words of God were carefully chosen, the very precise formula used to designate the king of Israel. The expression, “this is my Son,” which was also spoken by God previously at our Lord’s baptism (cf. Luke 3:22), is to be understood in the light of its Old Testament origin and meaning. In 2 Samuel 7:14, the expression is used by God with reference to Solomon, and the Davidic dynasty which will follow, and of which our Lord is the final descendent and eternal King. Solomon was Israel’s king, and David’s son, and yet God said of him,

“I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men” (2 Samuel 7:14).

It is evident that while God promises an everlasting kingdom to David, the “son” of whom He speaks is Solomon, David’s son, and not the Lord Jesus Christ. “Thou art my son” is an enthronement formula, a kind of coronation statement, which indicates that God has appointed this person as king, the person who is called His “son.” To be a “son of God” in this sense is to be God’s king.180

This is clearly the sense of the expression, “Thou art My Son,” as it is found in Psalm 2, only here it is specifically speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the eternal king of Israel:

“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill. I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery” (Psalm 2:6-9).

And so, when we find the expression, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen,” it is God’s most emphatic identification of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus is Israel’s King. Peter has said so. Jesus has said so. The Father has now said so, in a most emphatic and dramatic way. But the identification of Jesus is just the beginning. The last statement of the Father, spoken from within the splendor of that luminous cloud, explains the significance of Jesus’ identity. Here is the bottom line, the application of the divine affirmation: “Listen to Him” (Luke 9:35).

Observations

Before we seek to explore the implications and applications of the transfiguration, let us pause for a moment to make an observation about the three who witnessed this event. There were three witnesses to the transfiguration: Peter, John, and James.181 There are also three accounts of the transfiguration in the gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Is it not noteworthy that while there are three witnesses to the transfiguration, not one of them is a gospel writer? Matthew, who wrote one of the accounts, was one of the nine left behind. John, on the other hand, who accompanied Jesus up to the mount of transfiguration, and who wrote a gospel account, does not include the transfiguration in his gospel. I find this most interesting. If such a spectacular event were to happen today, we would be certain to have the “press corps” invited. Jesus did not do so, and He knew what was going to happen (cf. Luke 9:27).

I am not sure that I can explain why this is true, why Jesus would invite three men along, and yet none of them would give a personal account of the event. I think it is safe to say that Jesus did not capitalize upon or emphasize the spectacular. If He handled things as some religious leaders do, He would not only have had the twelve disciples along, but he would have had the radio, television, press, and a huge crowd of witnesses along with him as well. Jesus downplayed the spectacular, while we play it up. Perhaps we need to learn a lesson from our Lord, here.

But why would he play this miracle down? Further still, why did Jesus consistently play down the spectacular? I can think of one reason. The spectacular never really convinces or converts anyone. Throughout His earthly ministry Jesus was challenged to do something spectacular, in order to prove who He was. Even on the cross He was challenged to get Himself down off that cross. But had He done so, it would not have made any difference. Jesus, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, said that even if one were to rise from the dead, he would not be believed if those same people had rejected the Old Testament scriptures (Luke 16:27-31). If, as Jesus had said to Peter, that flesh and blood do not convince men of His identity, but rather the Father, then no spectacular miracle (or any combination of them) can convert lost men. Thus, our Lord does not play up this miracle on the mount of transfiguration.

The Meaning of the Miracle

But what did the miracle mean? Let us first consider the meaning of the miracle in the light of the developing argument of Luke’s gospel. The transfiguration was designed, I believe, to do several things:

(1) The transfiguration confirms the identification of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. When God the Father spoke of Jesus as His Son, He settled the matter of His identity forever. Peter’s confession was confirmed by God, dramatically, emphatically, finally.

(2) The transfiguration also identified the “kingdom” of which our Lord and His apostles spoke with the “kingdom” of which the Old Testament spoke, and for which the Jews were eagerly waiting.182 Notice all of the similarities between the manifestation of the Mosaic Covenant and the “kingdom” which God established there after the exodus, with the phenomenon which took place on the mount of transfiguration. Moses was present here, as he was in Exodus (cf. chapters 19ff.). Moses went up to the top of the mountain (Exod. 19:3), just as Jesus took the three up the high mountain. In Exodus (24:16-18) there was a cloud from which God spoke, just as God spoke from the bright cloud on the mount of transfiguration (cf. also the Shekinah glory, Exodus 40:34f.). The glory of God was made visible on the mount (Exodus 19:11), just as the glory of our Lord was made visible on the mount of transfiguration. On the mount, Jesus’ face glowed (cf. Matthew 17:2), like the face of Moses shone when he descended from the mount (Exodus 34:29-35). All in all, the parallels are too many and too obvious not to conclude that the kingdom of which our Lord was King and that which was spoken of in the Old Testament were very much related.

(3) It clarifies that Jesus is neither Elijah nor Moses, but, indeed is One who is far Greater. We know that some thought Jesus was Elijah, while others thought he was a prophet raised from the dead (Luke 9:8, 19). Moses and Elijah were not only the two Old Testament personalities most closely associated with the coming kingdom, but also those whose identity was most confused with Jesus. When Jesus was set apart from all others as “the Son” by the Father, He was also distinguished from Moses and Elijah.

It almost seems that until the Father spoke from the cloud, Peter may have viewed Jesus, Moses, and Elijah as peers, as equals. If this was so, the statement by the Father made known the vast superiority of Jesus over all others, including Moses and Elijah, raised from the dead or not.

(4) The transfiguration demonstrates, once again, that the crown and the cross are a part of one plan. When Jesus was identified as the coming King by Peter, Peter was unwilling to accept the fact that Jesus would die on a cross. Peter was eager to have a King with a crown, but unwilling to have a King with a cross. The transfiguration welds together the glory of the coming kingdom with the “exodus” of Jesus at Jerusalem—the cross. What will eventually be made clear is that the cross was the path the Father had appointed to the crown.

(5) Finally, the transfiguration was a testimony to the fact that God is able to raise men from the dead, to possess the kingdom. The reason why Peter rejected the cross was that it seemed incompatible with the crown. How could one who dies live in the kingdom of God. Jesus taught that the one who gives up his life gains life. The presence of two Old Testament saints, both of whom were presumed dead,183 alive and talking with Jesus, was testimony to the fact that death did not prevent a saint from participating in the kingdom of God to come.

The transfiguration of our Lord played a very significant role in the unfolding of God’s plan and purpose for Jesus, the Christ of God. It affirms in a dramatic way, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes of the Old Testament saint, that He is the Messiah. But what other lessons did this event have for Peter, James, and John. I believe that the application is made perfectly clear by the Father’s words, “Listen to Him” (Luke 9:35).

The lesson may be stated as a principle with these words: IF JESUS IS THE MESSIAH, THE CHRIST OF GOD, THEN MEN HAD BETTER LISTEN CAREFULLY TO HIM

Peter had spoken well when he confessed Jesus to be God’s Messiah. He had never said anything more profound or more true. But the rest of what Peter said was neither true nor profitable. When Peter resisted the cross of Calvary, the thought as a man, and he spoke as though he were Satan. God’s words, spoken from the cloud were intended to silence Peter, to cause him to be more intent on listening than on speaking, to be more eager to learn from Christ than to correct Him. If Jesus was who Peter said He was, and who the Father indicated, then silence is more golden than speech. Peter had better speak less and listen more. God’s Messiah should be heard and His followers should be learners, listeners.

This principle is not a new one in Scripture. In Psalm 2, the bottom line of application is this: If Messiah is God’s Son, men had be in right relationship to Him. Look at the message of the psalm as a whole:

Psalm 2 Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. 3 “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.” 4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6 “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7 I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” 10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

The more men come to recognize the deity and the authority of Jesus, they more they become listeners and learners. The more they find silence appropriate in His presence. The lesson which God wanted Peter to learn is the same as that which the writer to the Hebrews is teaching:

Hebrews 1:1–2:5 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? 6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7 In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” 8 But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” 10 He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 11 They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. 12 You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” 13 To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? 1 We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. 5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.

Peter, who did not write a gospel account, does refer to the transfiguration. Note that the message of the Father to the three (including him) is the same message which Peter passes on to his readers:

2 Peter 1:12-21 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. 16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

And John, the author of the book of Revelation, gives this account of the vision of the glorified Lord, who seems to look much as he did when John saw Him on the mount of transfiguration.

Revelation 1:10-20 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

The glorified Lord is the One who is speaking to the churches, through the words which are written in chapters 2 and 3. Take note of the one thing which is said to all of the churches:

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear … ” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).

The final words of the book of Revelation once more remind us of this same principle:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).

Conclusion

If Jesus is God’s Messiah, the King who was appointed not only to die for man’s sins, but the King who will come (as Psalm 2 points out) to subdue His enemies, then we had better listen to Him now. This is the very message which Peter brought so forcefully to his countrymen in Acts chapter 2:

“For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “‘The Lord said to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”’ Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:34-36).

My friend, if you have not come to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as God’s King, then you are His enemy, and, a Peter reminds us from the Scriptures, He is coming again to punish those enemies. The application for you is exactly the same as that which Peter made to his audience:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God may call” (Acts 2:38-39).

I urge you, my friend, if you have not acknowledged your sins, your rebellion against God, and trusted in Jesus as your sin-bearer, then do so today, for a day will come when you must acknowledge Him as God’s King.

For all those of us, like Peter, who have come to trust in Jesus as the Savior, the application is that we must listen to Him. Surely none of those who have trusted in Him would deny this, but the question is, are we really listening to Him?

How is it that men can listen to Jesus today? There is but one primary answer, and that is that we listen to Him by reading His word. This is implied or stated often in the Bible. It is the clear inference in Hebrews 1 and 2. God has spoken finally and fully in the person of His Son. If men were to hear what God said in the Old Testament age, how much more must we listen to Him through His Son, the Living Word, and the written word which speaks of Him and for Him.

There are many “Christian” works available to us today, and unfortunately they are often not written or used to enhance our study of the Bible, but to replace it. It is amazing to me how many Christian “fad” books are popular. These are the kind of books which find their source of content in human wisdom, rather than in divine revelation. They do not point us to the Bible, but from it. Oh, the titles may sound Christian, but the theology is not. These books are here for a while, never again to be read or practiced, because they are already out of date or of fashion.

There is a statement that is popular in Christian circles today, coined (as I recall) by a godly man, which goes like this: ALL TRUTH IS GOD’S TRUTH

I could not agree more. If it is true, then it is God’s truth. The problem is that if it is not biblical truth—truth clearly revealed in Scripture—then we don’t know whether it is truth or not. This statement, “All truth is God’s truth,” has become the banner for those who want to make the study of secular subjects their prime task. I fear that we use it as an excuse.

If I understand passages like 2 Timothy 3:15-17 and 2 Peter 1:3-4 correctly, there is no truth necessary for life or godliness which God has not revealed sufficiently in the Bible. For godly living there need not be any other source of revelation. If books and sermons enhance our study and our grasp of the Scriptures, then so much the better. If they hinder it, so much the worse. Let us listen to what our Lord says to us in His Word.

In principle we would surely all agree that we should listen to the Lord Jesus by reading His Word, but in practice we, like Peter do otherwise. Many Christians mistakenly suppose that listening to a preacher is listening to God’s Word. Not so! God has gifted men to teach His Word, but that is to enhance our understanding of the Word, not to replace our own study. It is obvious that men are fallible in their understanding of the Word, otherwise there would be no disagreement. God will hold us responsible for what we believe, not for what others have taught us. Let us do more listening.

We, like Peter, are often talking more about the Word than we are listening to it. I have attended many Bible studies where the mood, if not the stated emphasis went something like this: “Well, this is what this passage means to me … ” Frankly, most of us haven’t studied the text enough to have any opinion as to its meaning. We simply fill the air with our thoughts, rather than being preoccupied with God’s thoughts. Without knowing it, our words are like Peter’s—we don’t know what we are saying. The important thing is to learn what the text means, and then to ask ourselves what we are going to do about it. Let us listen more to God’s Word, and talk less about it.

There is a world of difference between what I would call “privatizing” Scripture and “personalizing” it. Privatizing Scripture is what Peter has warned us against doing in the first chapter of his second epistle. He has said, in effect, “God did not reveal prophecy through men who spoke their own minds, who wrote what they preferred. God directed men to write what He intended, He divinely inspired the Holy Scriptures to prevent them from being merely man’s ideas about God—ideas which are nearly always warped and distorted, just as Peter’s views of Messiah were in error. Peter’s words seem to say that just as God has guarded His Word through the process of inscripturization (the process through which the books of the Bible were written and preserved), so God has given His Spirit to men so that He can guide us to interpret the Scriptures correctly, for we are as able to distort Scripture in its interpretation as men were to distort it in its inscripturization (apart from God’s intervention and enablement). Let us, then, be on guard about making the Scriptures say what we would like them to, rather than allowing God to speak to us through them, often rebuking us, or enlarging our grasp of God’s goodness, His grace, His power, His holiness, and our fallenness, weakness, and need for forgiveness and enablement.

We often “listen” to God’s Word the same way that Peter did. We listen to the parts we like (i.e. the “crown”) and we reject the parts we dislike (i.e. the “cross”). We do not have this option. That is what the transfiguration was saying to Peter. The crown and the cross must be believed and practiced together. They cannot be neatly separated, so that we keep the parts of God’s plan which we find appealing and acceptable. How often when we do read the Word, we read it selectively, taking its promises, its hope, its comfort, but ignoring or setting aside its rebuke. The Words of the Father should be ringing in our ears: Since Jesus is the King, we had better to listen to what He says, all of what He says.


175 In Matthew and Mark, we are told that it was “six days” later. In Luke we read that it was “about eight days after” this (Luke 9:28) that they go up on the mount of transfiguration. In the first place it is clear that Luke has no great concern about the precise length of time which had passed, as indicated by the term “about.” Furthermore, let us recall that this is a “Gentile gospel” and thus the method of reckoning time would be different. The apparent discrepancy is thus easily explained.

176 Matthew and Mark tell us that it is a “high” mountain, while Luke omits this detail. Mt. Hermon is about 9200 feet in elevation, and it may be this mountain which they ascended, though we do not know for certain.

177 J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1939), p. 314.

178 In Matthew’s account of the transfiguration of Jesus, he says that the face of our Lord “shone like the sun” (Matthew 16:2).

179 The fact that the identity of Moses and Elijah were readily known by the three, none of whom had obviously seen either of them before, suggests that we will similarly recognize others and our loved ones in heaven.

180 To me, this sheds a great deal of light of texts such as Romans 8:21.

181 Peter will have something to say about the transfiguration in his second epistle, which I will shortly deal with. James and John were brothers. James died first of the disciples (Acts 12:2), and John died last. John was the human author of the book of Revelation. The vision which he had of the glorified Christ (cf. Revelation 1:12ff.) must have seemed familiar to him, after seeing Christ transfigured on the mount in his earlier years.

182 The Jews were wrong, of course, in much of their thinking about the kingdom, as can be seen from the erroneous thinking of the disciples. But they were right in looking for a King and a kingdom, and the kingdom of our Lord was that kingdom, as He was the King.

183 Interestingly, the “deaths” of both Moses and Elijah were not typical, which may also be relevant and instructive. Death appears to be final, but it is only temporary, which is why Jesus often spoke of it as sleep (cf. Luke 8:52).

Related Topics: Christology