DUNCAN/The glory of the Christ: The transfiguration

DUNCAN/The glory of the Christ: The transfiguration


Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 11:1-13. In this passage, we see the manifestation of the glory of Christ.  The transfiguration itself is the first of a series of manifestations of Christ’s coming kingdom in glory. It is not the only manifestation, only some of these disciples of course will see the manifestation of Jesus’ transfiguration. 

This record of the transfiguration of Jesus Christ is vital to our Christian experience.  This is a mysterious passage; there are many things that we do not know the answer to in this passage.  We do not know the answer to any of those questions, but we must not let the mysteries of this passage deflect our attention from the clear truths which it sets forth, and there are three of those that I would like to think through with you.  First, the Christian hope is contingent upon Jesus’ glory.  Second, the glory of Christ ought to impel Christians to trust and obey Him.  Third, Christ’s glory is not to be proclaimed apart from the cross.

I. The Christian Hope Is Contingent Upon Jesus’ Glory  

In verses 1-3 we see a description of the transfiguration and learn something of its meaning and its purpose. We read, “Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves.  And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.  And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.” For a moment the disciples are allowed to see Jesus Christ in the fullness of His glorious nature. It was like a curtain was being pulled back and they were allowed to see Jesus as He is. They were allowed to see Jesus as the Father sees Jesus.

The whole passage is designed to remind us of encounters between great leaders of God’s people and the Lord Himself in the Old Testament. The fact that Moses and Elijah are present when this happens is very interesting. Moses and Elijah both had encounters with the presence of God on mountains. Think for a moment of Moses on Sinai. Moses had to veil His face so that the people would not be blinded by the reflected glory that he apparently had absorbed by his very presence with the Lord on the mountain. Here on the mount of transfiguration, it is not a reflected glory that Jesus unveils, it is an essential glory, it is His glory, not someone else’s glory that is made manifest. And so, as Moses the great lawgiver and Elijah the prophet representing the law and prophets are there on either side speaking with the Lord Jesus, we see that they are outshined by the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

There are many things we could say about this, but let us isolate ourselves to this: each time God the Father spoke audibly to His Son and to the circle of those disciples around Him in the gospels, the message had a two-fold effect.  First of all, the transfiguration was a reminder of the Father to the Son of His love. The Father says in verse 5, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” In the very manifestation of Christ’s glory, the Father reminds Christ of the glory which is set before Him as the Son begins to plunge Himself into the suffering which will lead up to His suffering at the hands of the Romans and of the Jews and eventually His crucifixion.  

Notice also that this would have been a confirmation of the faith of Peter, James, and John. In response to Peter’s confession that Jesus was the divine Messiah, Jesus had said, ‘Peter, you’re right, the Father has revealed that to you.’ And so the Father Himself confirms the expression of truth made by Peter. So now both Jesus the Son and God the Father have confirmed the truth of Peter’s confession. 

Thirdly, the transfiguration teaches us that Jesus’ death was voluntary. As you stand and you see Jesus the Son as He is in the transfiguration, it becomes clear to you that no one could overpower this man. If He dies in Jerusalem, He dies because He has chosen to. You will never understand the cross until you understand that the glorious Christ of the transfiguration is the Christ who was crucified on the cross.  It is the glorious Christ who was crucified for our sins. 

II. The Glory of Christ Ought to Impel Christians to Trust and Obey Him 

In verses 4-6 we see the disciples’ response to the transfiguration and God the Father’s response to the disciples. Peter, of course, blurts out thinking as He goes, responding to this great event.  Peter says in verse 4, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Peter was at a loss for words, he was grasping for them and unfortunately, he was speaking those words as he grasped them. Peter’s words were inappropriate because they reflect a desire to experience the glory of Christ without and apart from the experiencing of the sufferings of Christ. God the Father interrupts Peter in his statements about what has happened to the Lord Jesus, and says, as it were, “Peter, stop talking and listen to what My Son is saying.  Listen to what My Son is saying about His death.” God says in effect, “This is who My Son really is, this is what He looks like, and so you listen to His teaching about the cross, and about His suffering, about the exodus He is going to accomplish, about the resurrection from the dead.”  Of course, these words are a striking lesson to the whole church.  That is the first step forward in the Christian life.

III. Christ’s Glory Is Not to Be Proclaimed Apart From the Cross 

In verses 7-13, we have a description of the aftermath of this transfiguration. Jesus and the disciples are making their way back down the mountain in a theological discussion.  Afterwards, Jesus warns these disciples not to tell anyone about the vision. Why?  It is because the vision of His glory is not to be proclaimed until the reality of His suffering and death had been accomplished and His resurrection had occurred. Why?  Because the cross must be proclaimed as the glory of Christ is proclaimed.  There can be no glory apart from the cross.  This glorious Christ is the crucified Christ. That is the Christ we proclaim, that is the Christ we trust in.  May God enable us to believe in Christ as He is offered in the gospel. That is the glorious Christ who was crucified. 

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary.  He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.

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