The Transfiguration: What is the significance of the transfiguration of Jesus, when he changed in appearance and spoke with Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop? This mysterious event reveals the glory that Jesus had from before the creation of the world, and the glory he would again possess after his resurrection. Recorded on Mar 6, 2022, on Luke 9:28-36, by Pastor David Parks.
This message is part of The Supremacy of Christ sermon series. The Christian gospel claims that Jesus is far greater than anyone or anything. And it’s true that his first coming was marked by humility, suffering, and even death on a cross. But is that how Jesus is today? Absolutely not. Jesus has risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God. Today, Jesus reigns and rules over all of creation and will one day return in glory to judge the living and the dead.
This year, the annual theme which unites all of our sermon series is The Greatness of God. Today, we’re starting a new sermon series called The Supremacy of Christ. And here’s the big idea of this series: the Christian gospel claims that Jesus is far greater than anyone or anything. And it’s true that his first coming was marked by humility, suffering, and even death on a cross. But is that how Jesus is today? The answer, as we’ll see, is absolutely not. Jesus has risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God. Today, Jesus reigns and rules over all of creation and will one day return in glory to judge the living and the dead. And if we fail to get this vision of Jesus, high and lifted up, supreme over all, then we will have all sorts of problems in our life of faith. But with this proper view of reality, and the supremacy of Christ, all sorts of other problems are solved. Today, in the story of the transfiguration, we’ll consider the eternal glory of Jesus and what this has to do with our future. If you have a Bible/app, please open to Luke 9:28.
Luke 9:28–36 (NIV), “28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “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.” (He did not know what he was saying.) 34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.”
So the gospel of Luke is the first of a two-part series in the Bible written by a man named Luke. Luke was a physician who became a Christian through the ministry of the Apostle Paul, probably in/near the city of Ephesus. Luke was sponsored by a man named Theophilus to do a careful investigation into the person and work of Jesus by interviewing eyewitnesses of his life and teaching and, ultimately, his death and resurrection from the dead. The gospel of Luke is the first half of this work and the book of Acts is the second, which explores what happened next. What happened after Jesus rose from the dead. In two weeks, we’ll consider the ascension of Jesus back into heaven from Acts chapter 1. But let’s back up and work through this text together. v28.
Luke 9:28 (NIV), “About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.” Let’s pause here. So about eight days after Jesus said what, exactly? Well, after Peter’s famous confession of faith that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God, Jesus revealed that he, “…must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Now, even though Jesus was very clear about his future, his disciples just couldn’t believe that he was talking literally about dying and rising again. But after this major revelation of Jesus, after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John, and James with him up onto a mountain to pray. At different points in his public ministry, Jesus had many thousands of people — men, women, whole families — following him. Out of these many disciples, he chooses twelve to be his apostles. These twelve were to first be eyewitnesses to his ministry and would second be leaders of the Christian movement after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus back into heaven. But even among the twelve, there was a smaller group who was closer to Jesus than any other. These are the three mentioned here, Peter, James, and John. James and John were brothers and were known as the sons of thunder. Peter is always listed first among the apostles and is therefore thought to be the leader of the apostles. Now, we’re not sure exactly what mountain they climbed on their little prayer retreat. But I think that means it probably doesn’t matter. In fact, if we knew which mountain this was for sure, there would be some people who would probably be tempted to worship that place (as Peter later seems to suggest) instead of the person of Jesus. v. 29.
Luke 9:29-31 (NIV), “As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 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.” Now, don’t miss this. This whole experience/revelation came as Jesus was praying. Prayer is never “plan b” in God’s kingdom. Heavenly power comes through prayer. Healing comes through prayer. Some of you never have an experience of the power or presence of God because you never pray. But as Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed. Peter, James, and John certainly knew what Jesus looked like. But Jesus looked different somehow. And his clothes became as bright white as a flash of lightning. In the dark of night, Jesus was radiant. If you were there, what would you be thinking/feeling at this moment?
All of a sudden, two men appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. Who were these men? None other than Moses and Elijah, alive, though long dead, radiating the glorious splendor of heaven. And why these two? Luke doesn’t say for sure, but I believe these two appeared for several reasons. First, Moses, as the author of the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible, represents the OT law. While Elijah represents the prophets of the OT in the Bible. This shows us that Jesus isn’t a new plan of God for his people, but is the culmination or the fulfillment of everything God had been doing and saying up until that point in history. Remember Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt 5:17). In this way, the transfiguration is almost like a visual representation of the Bible, the Law and the Prophets and Jesus, Old and New Testaments. Another reason why it might’ve been Moses and Elijah who met with Jesus is that both Moses and Elijah had the experience of meeting with God on a mountaintop. Isn’t it interesting, then, that it’s these two who meet with Jesus on the mountaintop? What do you think this implies about the person of Jesus? They had each met with God on the mountain and here they met with Jesus. But, no matter why they were the ones who appeared that night, they started talking to Jesus. About what? Luke says they spoke about his departure (or literally, his exodus), which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Just as ancient Israel had been rescued from captivity in Egypt and made their way through the wilderness of the Exodus before arriving in the promised land, so too, Jesus would have to face the exodus of the cross and the grave before the promised land of resurrection and life everlasting in the promised kingdom of God. FI you were there, how would you respond to all this? Hopefully, better than Peter. Look at v32.
Luke 9:32-33 (NIV), “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. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)” Luke is careful to show that this wasn’t a dream or vision. It was late and the disciples were very sleepy. But when Jesus was transfigured, when his appearance changed, and when Moses and Elijah appeared, they were wide awake. And they saw his glory, the glory of Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God himself. But after this mountaintop chat with Moses and Elijah, these ancient brothers left and went back into heaven. And Peter said, “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.” And I love that Luke has this little aside here, “(Peter did not know what he was saying.)” In the presence of the glory of God, Peter didn’t want to leave. And that’s good! That’s often the case after mountaintop-type experiences of the glory of God. But where Peter was a little off in his theology is by saying that Moses and Elijah were on the same level as Jesus. That they needed three shelters or booths, one for each of them. Jesus had just been telling them that his mission would ultimately take him elsewhere. The mountaintop was not his destination, it was just part of his journey toward the cross and the empty tomb. But Peter wanted to set up camp there. He did not know what he was saying. Jesus wasn’t just another famous prophet. He wasn’t just another powerful leader of the people of God. He wasn’t just another Moses or Elijah. But it is the Father in heaven himself who corrects Peter.
Luke 9:34-36 (NIV), “While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered 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.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” So while Peter was saying this he didn’t understand, while he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them and Peter, James, and John were afraid, another gospel account says they were terrified. This is exactly what happened with Moses at Mount Sinai and with many others in their encounters with God. But then a voice spoke saying, This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” This was a similar message to the voice of the Father at the baptism of Jesus. When Jesus was baptized there too was a voice from heaven who said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17). This is my son. Jesus is God, and Jesus is the Son of God. But as the true Son of God, Jesus is the beloved son, the son who makes the Father happy, the chosen one of the Father. This is who Jesus is. About 700 years before this moment, Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, saying, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.” (Isa 42:1). God had told his people for countless generations that he would send one who would finally deal with the problems of sin and death. Jesus was that one. Jesus was that son.
Of course, later, Peter would fully understand. He would fully understand the foolishness of what he suggested, that Jesus wasn’t on the same level as even the great prophets of Moses or Elijah or David or Isaiah or anyone else. He would come to fully understand and believe that Jesus had to die on the cross as a sacrifice of atonement to pay the price for the sins of the world. He would fully understand that Jesus would have to rise from the dead as the victorious king of the kingdom of God, the firstborn to rise from the dead in order to conquer death and hell and the grave. Later, Peter would write, 2Pe 1:16-18 (NIV), “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 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.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”
But what does this mean for us today? How does the transfiguration of Jesus apply today? Mainly, what I’d like you to see is what Peter and James, and John needed to see. That is, the glory of Jesus. Jesus is supremely glorious. There is no one who deserves more of the glory, honor, and praise than he does. There is no one who deserves more of our lives in sacrifice and service and glad obedience than he does. As I said, it’s true that his first coming was marked by humility, suffering, and even death on a cross. But was Jesus always meek and mild? Before his incarnation, was Jesus always marked by humility, suffering, and death? Is that how Jesus is today? Is that how Jesus will return? In darkness and mystery? Hidden from the worldly powers? The answer, we see here, is absolutely not. First, from eternity past, Jesus had all the glory and splendor and riches of heaven, as the son of God. When Jesus was praying in John 17, on the night before his crucifixion, he prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:5). Jesus was glorified from eternity past. And today, as we’ll see in the coming weeks, Jesus reigns and rules today with all the glory and power of heaven. All authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. And one day, he will return to judge the living and the dead. In that future day, he will not come in quietness and humility. He will come in power with all the host of heaven, in radiant glory. Is this how you picture Jesus? Is this the Jesus you follow? Is this the Jesus who set aside his glory and all the comfort and riches of heaven to seek and to save you? Because this is the Son that the Father loves, with him he is well pleased, he is the chosen one, he is the ruler over all. Let us give thanks! Let us sing his praises! For God, “…has called us to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2Th 2:14). Do you see it? Can you even believe it?