Title: The Transfiguration
Scriptures to Read: Mark 9:2–8; Matthew 17:1–8; Luke 9:28–36a
In regards to timing, Mark and Matthew say after 6 days, and Luke says approximately 8 days. How can we resolve this difference? Perhaps Luke includes the day of departure and the day of return so as to tell us that they were on the mountain approximately eight days after the sayings of the previous section, while Mark and Matthew record the time of their departure to the mountain.
Peter, James and John (the two brothers) are chosen to accompany Jesus onto a mountain, which Luke refers to is as a particular mountain, the mountain. Which mountain would that be? Because Mark and Matthew say it was a high mountain, and Luke refers to is as the mountain, and because of where they were at the time, Caesarea Philippi, which was at the foot of one of the ridges of Mt Hermon, this high mountain could be no other mountain than Mt. Hermon. Mt. Hermon is 9,232 feet above sea level, and 8, 632 feet (2,631 metres) above Caesarea Philippi. However, if you go to Israel today they will take you to the Church of the Transfiguration that has been built on Mt Tabor. This Mt. Tabor site is about 45 miles from the Mt. Hermon site. It was not a high mountain but was a fortified place, for it guarded one of the seven entrances into the Jezreel Valley. Mt. Hermon fits both geographically and contextually and is a place where they would be alone, without crowds around them. That would not have been true at Mt Tabor.
As Matthew says, “his face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as light.” Putting all three descriptions together, both His clothing and His face were changed.
1. His clothing became radiant, intensely white, as white as light, and they were dazzling.
2. And His face shone like the sun.
These three apostles see the Shekinah glory that Jesus will have in the Messianic Kingdom, and this is what was promised to them in the previous section. The physical body of Jesus acted as a veil to veil the brightness of His glory. But here at the transfiguration His glory is unveiled.
Moses and Elijah
Suddenly there are two men standing with Yeshua, men who are spoken of in the Jewish Scriptures, Moses and Elijah. While all three gospels tell of their appearance, only Luke tells us the content of the conversation which took place. What were they speaking about? The topic of their discussion was Jesus’ coming death in Jerusalem. The word for departure here is exodos, the same word used for the departure or exodus from Egypt. And just as the departure of Israel from Egypt meant liberation from slavery, so His departure by death will mean liberation in two ways.
1. For Jesus it will liberate Him from the limitations of His Humanity; and
2. For the believer it will liberate him from his enslavement to sin, the world, and the devil.
Once again Peter speaks up, and he makes a suggestion to Jesus: “Let us make three tabernacles; one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” If we consider what Peter knows and understands at the time, we will see that his response actually makes sense. So what is it that he understands at that time, and what is it that he does not yet understand? He understands three things that lead him to suggesting building three tabernacles.
1. Jesus is the Messiah.
2. He is seeing the glory the Messiah will have in the kingdom as was recently promised.
3. He also knows that the Feast of Tabernacles will be fulfilled in the Messianic Kingdom when it will be celebrated each year by all nations.
The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths
Listen to Zechariah 14:16–19:
“Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the punishment of Egypt, and the punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.”
What does Zechariah tell us about the feast of Booths in the kingdom? It will be celebrated in the kingdom by every nation. So, applying what he knows Peter concludes that the Messianic Kingdom is about to be established. In this case it would be perfectly appropriate to build tabernacles to celebrate the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles.
What Peter does not yet understand
But there are some things that Peter does not yet understand, things that would have told him that it wasn’t yet time to establish the kingdom. And his timing is out by at least 2,000 years because of what he doesn’t yet understand.
1. He doesn’t yet understand the death and resurrection program.
2. He doesn’t yet grasp that there will be two comings of the Messiah.
3. He doesn’t understand that the Feast of Passover must be fulfilled before the Feast of Tabernacles can be fulfilled.
4. And that Passover will be fulfilled by Messiah’s death.
But God hasn’t finished. As Peter is speaking, the Shechinah glory cloud that was once on Mt Sinai comes upon this mountain overshadowing all three persons, and for the second time God the Father speaks audibly out of heaven. The rabbis called this a bat kol, a voice from heaven. In the gospels, the first time God the Father spoke audibly was at Jesus’ baptism, and now the second time He speaks audibly is at the transfiguration. He says the same thing that He said back then only now He adds one small clause, and Matthew records it. Can you spot it? What is the significance of this in the context of the setting in which it was made? First of all, look again at the setting. Who are Moses and Elijah? Moses is the one who wrote down the Law and gave it to Israel. And Elijah is the prophet who was taken into heaven in a chariot of fire. Both the Law and the Prophets speak about the coming Messiah. And here are Moses and Elijah speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. So Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets. And they are standing there with Jesus when God the Father says to the apostles, “Listen to Jesus”. The significance of this is that they have heard the Law and they have heard the Prophets, now they must listen to Him.
Jesus will be the final revelation of God to man. Hebrews 1:1-3a also indicates this. Again, these apostles have heard the law and the prophets and now they are told they must listen to Jesus, God’s beloved Son and Chosen One. And to emphasize that point, in Matthew verse 8, when the cloud lifts, they saw only Jesus. Moses is gone, and Elijah is gone. And only Jesus remains.