Click here for the reading: Matthew 17:1-9.

Jesus’ transfiguration is unbearable – at first. At first what the disciples see is terrifying to them. Jesus is near to being cut off from the company of His chosen brothers and companions. Israel could not look at Moses and bear what they saw. Yet at the Lord’s comfort, “Rise, and have no fear,” the disciples can look at God and yet live. They can see their Brother’s face and listen to His voice and walk with Him. His Word is stronger than their fear.

His Word is strong because He is the Prophet whom Moses prophesied. Like Moses He prophesies, and behold, a greater than Moses is now here. Like Elijah He does mighty miracles and speaks the Lord’s Word against near-universal opposition, and behold, a greater than Elijah is here. Moses and Elijah delight to speak with Him on the holy mountain because now all their prophecy has come to fruition. What was long expected is now coming to pass.

Peter’s desire to build tents as at the harvest festival of tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-36) therefore is understandable and natural. He believes things have come to an end and all is now complete. His misunderstanding is that all that the prophets prophesied must come to pass. Jesus cannot remain on the mountain in celebration of the light and glory He has already obtained and displayed to His disciples. He must go elsewhere.

So the vision must be the servant of the Crucifixion. The vision cannot be spoken of on its own – perhaps the world would not believe what Peter, James, and John saw. Perhaps the world would not understand what the Son of Man had come to do. Perhaps they would think that He could be who He is without the Crucifixion.

But the Father’s benediction is upon the Son Who does all God’s holy will, and God’s will is that His Son should give His life as a ransom for many. The glory of the Transfiguration is not unreal, but it is incomplete without the Cross. The light of Transfiguration must be matched with the darkness of Good Friday. The light sustains hope in the three disciples who saw the glory of Jesus, and the darkness fulfills the prophecies concerning the day of the Lord spoken so long before. All things must come to pass so that the Lord’s Word proves true, so that the Scriptures are fulfilled, so that the Son of Man should die as is written of Him.

And so that the Son of Man should rise from the dead, just as He said. Every Word of God proves true, and every Word of the beloved Son proves true because His words and His deeds are in perfect accord. His Yes is Yes, and His No is No, and He will do what He promises to do. Listen to Him!

Click here for the reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21.

The majestic light has come and is yet to come. Peter saw the majestic light of Christ’s glory on the holy mountain along with James and John. “Cleverly devised myths” do not have eyewitnesses, and purported witnesses to myths do not suffer for them as the apostles suffered to make known to the world the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The light that they had seen showed them the Father’s benediction on the eternal Son about to suffer for the world’s sake, as honor and glory were rendered to the Son of Man before He was glorified and completed in His crucifixion. The majestic light and the Father’s words were seen and were heard by Peter.

Yet we are now in darkness, and the light of the Transfiguration did not endure. Peter was in darkness with us, and glimpses of light do not sustain people when the darkness envelops everything. The darkness of the Crucifixion was enough to terrify the hearts even of those who were with Jesus on the holy mountain, and His companions fled from Him. Accursed and abandoned, forsaken by God and abhorred by man, He died according to His Father’s plan. With Him His Father was well-pleased.

The prophetic word – the Holy Scriptures – are a lamp shining in a dark place precisely because without them we would not understand God’s eternal plan and purpose for us in Christ. We would not know that Isaiah predicted the Messiah had to suffer and die. We would not know that the cry of dereliction from the cross was a cry at last of triumph (Ps. 22). We would not know that all things concerning Christ and all things concerning His people happen according our Father’s plan and for our eternal good (Rom. 8:28). We would not know the Father or the glory of the Son nor the power of the Spirit of love and power and self-control without the light of the Scriptures.

So in a dark place, we take up and read the Scriptures. One day majestic light shall come and shine from east to west. All will see the majestic light and the glory of the Son riding on a chariot of clouds with armies of angels – the King come again in all His glory to reign over all that is His and all who are His and to put away His enemies forever.

But that day of light and complete truth and peace and justice is not yet here. We have glimpses now – in the Transfiguration, in the Resurrection of Jesus. But these are glimpses, and the light now burning until the day of total light is the Holy Scriptures. The Scriptures are the Spirit’s speech through men to men. As a lamp they show us the way to the day of light. They guide us to the place and time when the Morning Star rises and will never be eclipsed, when darkness will be altogether conquered.

Click here for the reading: Exodus 34:29-35.

Moses’ transfiguration is unbearable. It sets him apart from the children of Israel and makes them afraid to speak with him face-to-face. The face-to-face way Moses speaks with God prevents his speaking face-to-face in any normal sense with his fellow Israelites. He shares flesh and blood with Israel but no longer any human interaction without the veil. Moses’ face has become a personal analog to the Holy of Holies, terrible and inaccessible to everyone else, and the curtain hangs in front so none may see.

New barriers and new rules to handle contagion are part of the weak and beggarly element of the law from Moses onward. These are not altogether Moses’ fault since he did not instill the susceptibility to sin and to superstition in man that would cause the Pharisees to tithe mint and dill and cumin but to neglect the weightier matters of the law. Moses is not to blame for the terror of Israel at what and whom has become holy through being in the presence of the Lord. Moses did not choose to be made a stranger to his brothers, who were comfortable making calves and inventing laws for themselves but not with the prophet of God and the shining that came from the Lord’s glory.

The communication between the Lord and his servant Moses is face-to-face but also in words. The Lord speaks with Moses, and when Moses leaves the presence of the Lord, he speaks the Lord’s words to Israel. Sight cannot bear holiness. It is overwhelmed. But the ear can hear and repeat the Lord’s words. The prophet whose advent Moses prophesied in Deut. 18 would speak the Lord’s words and would know God face-to-face as Moses knew the Lord but as no other Israelite from Moses to Jesus would know Him. Seeing God and hearing God were separate from Moses to Jesus, and in Jesus only are sight and hearing reunited. In Jesus we see God and we hear God speak.

There will be something unbearable about Jesus to a world that neither sees Him nor knows Him as true Prophet and true Son of God, as God incarnate, visible, and speaking. The world will be afraid of Him and will beg for His truth to be put far from them. Even those who claim Moses’ Law for a covering will find Jesus unbearable until the veil of ignorance is taken from them (2 Cor. 3-4). Truth and holiness are too much for a world of lies and pollution to bear.

Believers know the only true God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent. Knowing perfect Love, they are free of fear. Knowing perfect Holiness Himself, they are holy as He is holy. Knowing and hearing the Truth, they forsake all lies. What is unbearable to the world is wonderfully inescapable to the church. His holiness and truth and peace are contagious, and like Moses His priestly people shine with the glory they have seen – unbearable as the world may find it.

Jesus began to tell His disciples that He must suffer and die at the hands of men. Christ must walk the way of self-denial, and to be in Christ is to be like Christ, taking up the cross after Him (Matthew 16:24). But now, as Christ begins the way toward Golgotha, He takes Peter and James and John with Him up on a mountain, as He did frequently to pray (Matthew 14:23, for example). Three would be a satisfactory number of witnesses to testify afterwards (Deuteronomy 17:6).

Yet while He is on the mountain, Jesus is transfigured, or transformed, before them. Used of Christ, it refers to His appearance. In His incarnation, He had emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7-8). Christians also reflect this complete change, though in a spiritual sense, since we are called to be transformed in our minds (Romans 12:2) and transformed into the same image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). As Jesus now shows Himself to be God to His disciples, so are we called to become like Him. Thus, the Transfiguration is not merely a light show, but a glimpse of the glory that is to come.

The imagery of shining like the sun is a sign of Christ’s deity. John’s vision of the ascended Christ in Revelation 1 includes the same detail. Ezekiel’s vision of God describes the one seated on the throne as having the appearance of fire (Ezekiel 1:26-28). God is, after all, light (1 John 1:5), dwelling in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16), and clothed with light (Psalm 104:2). Daniel describes God the Father as being dressed in clothing white as snow (Daniel 7:9). Everything about Christ’s appearance in this moment points to His divine nature, now uncovered before the eyes of His three witnesses.

Moses’ face shone with the borrowed glory of God, whom he knew face to face (Exodus 34:29-35). To be in the gracious presence of God is to be transformed. Yet as Moses brought the ministry of death, which could be concealed with a piece of fabric, Christ brings the greater ministry of righteousness, far exceeding it in glory (2 Corinthians 3). Even the clothes on Christ’s body are transformed with Him, shining brightly with the glory of God.

Moses and Elijah appear with Christ, talking with Him. Moses knew the Lord face to face, and his body was not found after his death (Deuteronomy 34). Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1-14). Jesus also frequently referred to “Moses and the Prophets” as a poetic way of speaking about the Old Testament (such as in Luke 16:29). These two chief prophets, then, point toward Christ now as they had in their writings. Here is the One that the prophets of old longed to see, but did not see (Matthew 13:17). Yet now we, with the three disciples, see Him in all His majesty. The fullness of God’s revelation has come in His Son.

Peter, out of a mixture of fear and piety, proposes that three tents be set up in this place. As the tabernacle of old had covered the glory of God, so now it was only fitting that the divine glory receive a new dwelling place. His desire to give the Lord a fitting place for His glory is a noble one. As David says: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4). Likewise the Sons of Korah: “how lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts” (Psalm 84:1)!

Peter misunderstands the purpose of this transfiguration, just as he had misunderstood the purpose of Christ’s suffering about a week earlier. However, the Lord leaves no room for further misunderstandings. As Peter is speaking, a cloud descends upon the scene. Clouds like this are a sign of God’s presence among His people. God descended upon Sinai in a cloud (Exodus 19:9). He went before His people in a cloud by day (Exodus 13:17-22). The cloud of His glory filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35). He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind (Psalm 104:3). Now, just as He once spoke to His people in the wilderness in a pillar of cloud (Psalm 99:7), the great voice of the Father speaks again: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Obey him” (Matthew 17:5).

The usage of Psalm 2 here points toward two things. First, as Peter would later recall in 2 Peter 1:17, God the Father honors and glorifies Christ in this moment. Psalm 2 is, after all, about the coronation of the king. The Lord’s anointed King reigns on Zion, and the kings of the earth should tremble before Him who holds all authority in heaven and earth.

However, the time of Christ’s full glorification has not yet come. Only after His resurrection would He be vindicated by the Spirit (1 Timothy 3:16). Yet He is God’s chosen, sent into the world to redeem it. The Father testifies the truth about Christ, just as He testified using the same words at His Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17). Just as Christ then went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan through much suffering, so also Christ now descends from the mountain to enter a greater wilderness, forsaken by men and the Father on the cross. The ministry of Jesus is thus bracketed by suffering, being tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. This transfiguration, therefore, is not a sidetrack in the Gospel. God repeats Himself to show His determination (Genesis 41:32).