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Transfiguration

Jesus tells the apostles that He must suffer many things, be rejected by the religious leaders, be killed, and rise from the dead on the third day. He then instructs the apostles that to follow Him, they must deny themselves and pick up their cross daily.

Jesus paints a gloomy picture of His future; forecasting betrayal and death. He tells the apostles that they too will need to suffer by picking up their cross daily. Jesus warns them that if they are ashamed of Him now, He will be ashamed of them later.

Jesus is pointing out the biblical truth about saving faith. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. Saving faith is a faith with evidence. James writes that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Saving faith, which is a work of God, is made evident by joyful obedience and a love for God’s glory.

If you put your faith in Christ, read the statement He makes after removing the warning about being ashamed (v. 26). We cannot lose sight of the hope that is stated along with the warning.

Jesus, the Son of Man, will be coming into His glory. He will come in glory with the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Jesus will come into His glory. That is a fact.

The apostles are looking for a King to sit on the throne of David, and Jesus is saying that will happen. Jesus does not allow the apostles to believe that His suffering and death is the end. He tells them that He will come in glory.

After telling them that He is coming in glory, Jesus reveals that there are some standing there that will see the very glory that He speaks about. He says, “But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:27).

If we are an apostle, we think Jesus is saying He will sit on the throne of David within our lifetime. They will not see Him sitting on the throne of David. But, some of the apostles, three to be exact, will witness something very spectacular. Eight days later, three apostles, Peter, John, and James, will have a glimpse of Jesus in His glory. They have the privilege to experience in person and see with their eyes, the glorified Christ.

What they see is what we call the Transfiguration. The word transfigured is not in Luke’s gospel, but it is in Matthew’s (Matthew 17:2) and Mark’s (Mark 9:2). Transfigured in the Greek is “metamorphoō” which is where we get the word, metamorphosis, which is the word to describe the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Jesus is transfigured from a man to a glorified divine figure. He appears in His glory.

To help us understand the transfiguration on the mountaintop, let’s take a walk through Israel’s history. It is important to see the connection between the glory of God and Jesus.

Our aim is to arrive at this passage in Revelation:

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22-23)

We are going to connect the dots with the presence of God’s glory in the history of Israel, the presence of Jesus on the earth, and John’s revelation of the kingdom of God in Revelation 21.

Exodus Shekinah Glory

The presence of God’s glory is very significant to Israel’s salvation. When Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, they are led by God’s glory. God did not want them to go through the land of the Philistines because they would want to return to Egypt rather than face war.

God leads with His divine presence. The Israelites have a word to describe God’s presence, and it is Shekinah. Shekinah means abide. Most people have heard of Shekinah Glory. Shekinah Glory is the divine presence of God visible with the glory of light.

Exodus 13:21-22 says, “The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.”

God lets His people know He is abiding, Shekinah, by allowing them to see the light of His glory. God provides a dwelling light, Shekinah Glory. God’s Shekinah Glory will guide the Israelites to the Promised Land. When the pillar stops, they stop. When the pillar moves, they move.

Shekinah Glory on Mt. Sinai

Later that year, Moses ascends Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments and the Covenant from God. Scripture describes a fearsome Shekinah Glory.

The glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top.” (Exodus 24:16-17).

Moses spends forty days and nights on the mountain. God’s Shekinah Glory covers Mount Sinai. Moses asks to see God’s glory and God walks past Moses and declares the gospel. At the center of the event is God’s covenant which provides a way to receive forgiveness for sin.

On the mountain, Moses lets God know that the Israelites do not want to go to the Promised Land without His presence (Exodus 33:12-17). The visible Shekinah Glory gives Moses confidence that God is faithful to be present with the Israelites.

Shekinah Glory in the Wilderness

God instructs Moses on how to build a tabernacle. The tabernacle contains the Ark of the Covenant, which is God’s mercy seat. After the tabernacle is completed, Scripture describes what happens:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:34-35)

God proves His presence with the people by filling the tabernacle with His Shekinah Glory. Imagine the joy of all the people when they know God is with us, and He is choosing to dwell on the Mercy Seat in the tent. God dwells in the place where they bring blood sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin.

God’s glory delivers the Israelites from Egypt. God’s glory is at center of mercy and forgiveness in the tabernacle. God’s glory leads the Israelites to the Promised Land.

Shekinah Glory in the Promised Land

The Israelites reach the Promised Land. The Israelites will replace the tabernacle, a tent, with the Temple, which is a permanent structure.

Around 959bc, Solomon completes the Temple. It is a joyous occasion. God has a permanent dwelling place for His Shekinah glory in Zion.

“Now when Solomon had finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the house. The priests could not enter into the house of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD'S house.” (Kings 8:10-11)

God demonstrates His delight in sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins by filling the Temple with His Shekinah Glory.

As we contemplate God’s Shekinah glory throughout the history of Israel, we see common themes emerge.

  • God’s glory instills the fear of the Lord in His people. When the people see His glory, they are in awe and reverence. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom.
  • God’s glory leads His people to Zion, the Promised Land. The Promised Land is a picture (type, icon, representation, a shadow) of what is to come. We are all marching to Zion.
  • Shekinah Glory is a visual demonstration of God’s presence.
  • God’s glory is His mercy and the forgiveness of sins. His glory covers Mount Sinai as Moses receives the Covenant which provides the way for the forgiveness of sins. God’s Shekinah Glory finds rest on the mercy seat in Zion.

History reveals that God dwelling with the Israelites is not permanent. When we read the prophetic literature, particularly the book of Isaiah, we know that God’s people break God’s Covenant and follow false gods.

Shekinah Glory Removed

Approximately 350 years after the temple is completed, during the time of Ezekiel, a tragic event happens. The tenth chapter of Ezekiel describes an event that sounds like a science fiction novel.

Cherub angels move about and travel every direction without turning. Ezekiel says they appear as a wheel within a wheel. They have four faces; one looks like a man, the others look like a cherub, a lion, and an eagle. The cherub angels have come for a purpose. They lift the glory of the Lord.

Then the glory of the LORD departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim. (Ezekiel 10:18)

The cherubim are sent by God to remove His glory in dramatic fashion. God’s presence is no longer seen in Israel for the next 600 years.

Luke’s gospel tells us of the reappearance of God’s glory.

Shekinah Glory Restored

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11).

God’s glory returns to Israel with the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior, and Lord.

Notice how God’s glory interacts with the shepherds. God’s glory instills a fear of the Lord, just as it did in times past. The glory of the Lord leads the shepherds to the King of Zion. The glory of the Lord is centered on the good news of great joy, which is the announcement of forgiveness and mercy. A Savior is born.

In chapter nine of Luke, we will see another appearance of God’s glory. Three of the apostles will witness Jesus as the illumination source of God’s glory.

Shekinah Glory in Christ

Eight days after telling the apostles that some would see the kingdom of God, Jesus took three apostles up on a mountain to pray.

Perhaps the reason Jesus takes three witnesses is that according to the Law, the testimony of two witnesses or three witnesses makes a matter trustworthy. Three witnesses provide conclusive proof of reality, whereas one witness does not. (Deuteronomy 19:15). As these men describe this event at a later date, they may state that they were not alone, but they have the testimony of two other witnesses.

As Jesus is praying, the metamorphosis takes place. His face becomes different. Matthew’s gospel says it became bright like the sun (Matthew 17:2). His garments become white as light and gleam with brightness.

Alongside Jesus are two significant Old Testament figures, Moses and Elijah. Scripture says that both men met with God on a mountain; Moses on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Horeb. Here, they meet with Jesus.

Each man represents an aspect of the Israelites relationship with God. Moses represents the covenant. Elijah represents God speaking through the prophets. Together they represent the summary of the Old Testament.

When Jesus meets with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, He begins with Moses and with all the prophets, and He explains to them the things concerning Himself in the Scriptures. (Luke 24:27).

Imagine the amazement of Peter, John, and James as they see these men talking with Jesus. Moses was buried 1400 years beforehand. Elijah was taken by God in a chariot 900 years ago. Both men appear in glory.

Jesus, Moses, and Elijah speak of Jesus’ departure which He is about to accomplish in Jerusalem. The word departure may be translated exodus. They speak about Jesus’ delivering His people from the slavery of sin. Jesus is the Redeemer.

Peter is overcome with the situation and suggests building tabernacles, or booths, to mark the occasion. What he says is not too farfetched. The Israelites build booths every year as a way to remember the exodus from Egypt. Since they speak about an exodus, building booths is fitting. But, Peter doesn’t realize what he is saying. It is unlikely we would know what to say, either.

The problem with what Peter says is that it puts Moses, Elijah, and Jesus as equals. God will intervene.

Father speaks

As Peter is speaking, a cloud forms and overshadows them. A voice comes out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!”

After the voice of God speaks, Moses and Elijah are no longer present and Jesus stands alone.

God makes three statements pointing to prophetic Scripture.

The first statement, My Son, is a reference to Psalm 2 which is a Psalm proclaiming the Messiah will sit on David’s throne (Psalms 2:6-7).

When God identifies Jesus as His Chosen One, it is a reference to the Servant Songs in Isaiah which speak of the suffering Messiah (Isaiah 42:1),

God tells the apostles to “listen to Him.” It is a reference to Moses' prophecy about the Messiah in the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 18:15).

Next week’s sermon will look at these three statements in greater depth. They are worthy of our contemplation.

Luke tells us that the three witnesses keep silent about what they see. They remain silent until after Jesus rises from the dead and ascends to heaven in the cloud. God’s Holy Spirit gives them illumination to the significance of the Transfiguration. They begin to tell others about the transfiguration and it is forever recorded in history.

Listen to what John writes in the opening of his gospel. He says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we (Peter, John, and James) saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

God confirms to the three apostles that Jesus is the Messiah. For nine chapters, Luke reveals the identity of Jesus by writing of His lineage, birth, miracles, and the testimony of many (Gabriel, Zacharias, Mary, Simeon, John the Baptist, and so forth). Now, God provides the final testimony. Luke will now change his emphasis on the cross.

How ought we to respond to the transfiguration? What is our “so what”? How is life different?

Peter’s Letter provides our Application

Peter writes about the transfiguration. What he writes is instructive because he teaches us how we are to respond. He gives us our application in his second letter to the churches scattered in present-day Turkey.

He writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:16-19)

Peter says that we are not following a clever, made-up story, or fable. We can have confidence we are putting our faith in the truth. Peter’s witnessing of the Transfiguration gives credibility to our decision to follow Jesus. Peter saw Jesus in His glory. He heard God speak. Therefore, as a reliable witness, we need to believe what Peter says is true.

Peter is an eye-witness of the prophetic word made true. What is the prophetic word? Jesus will sit on the throne of David. Jesus is the suffering Servant who is the sacrifice for our sins. Jesus is the One we need to listen to and follow. Peter saw the King in His kingdom. He saw Him receive the honor and glory from the Father.

Therefore, we will do well if we pay attention to the prophetic word. There is a kingdom and Jesus is the King. There is forgiveness and Jesus is the Savior who suffers on our behalf. This is not a fairy tale; it is true. Three witnesses saw the kingdom of God. Three witnesses saw Moses and Elijah living and speaking in glory. We will be changed into glory, just as Moses and Elijah were changed. Peter believes he is headed to Zion where Jesus is the King. He saw enough to believe. And, because he saw it, we need to believe it too.

Pay attention to the prophetic word of God. It is a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

The Glory of Christ Alone

When we began, we said we were on a trajectory to finish with two verses. Let’s read them again.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. (Revelation 21:22-23)

In heaven, the Lamb of God who dies for us and sets us free is the bright and shining glory of God. God’s glory is His forgiveness and mercy and the Lamb of God is God’s glory. Put your faith in Christ alone and nothing else. God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). 

Believe Jesus is God’s Son and Chosen One coming again in His Glory