Jesus Reaching Out Giving Comfort to Another

The Transfiguration of Christ

Author: Ray C. Stedman

We have already read together the account of the Transfiguration of our Lord from Mark’s gospel. And I’d like you to turn to that passage if you’d like to follow with me this morning in our consideration of this paramount event in the life of our Lord.

We began this series last Sunday morning examining some of the highlights of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus with a look at the incident of the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness. And now today we come to a very unusual event — this event of the Transfiguration. I don’t think any one of us can read this unusual account without his mind being flooded with questions. What is this strange glory that shown on the face and the garments of Christ on the mountain top? And why did Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament appear with him on the mountain? And why did this voice come suddenly from heaven in the brightness of a cloud? And why was it that Peter and James and John alone of the disciples were chosen to view this event and were with our Lord on the mountain top?

There are many other questions perhaps that come to our mind as we read this account. And these questions I think reveal immediately the challenge and the difficulty of Bible study. We don’t find the answers to them lying right on the surface of these events. We have to dig a little bit. And this is the way God has designed it, deliberately. In the Proverbs it says, It’s the glory of God to conceal a thing, but it’s the glory of kings to search it out. [Proverbs 25:2] And one of the tests of whether we have royal blood or not is whether we will give ourselves to this ministry of searching out these tremendous truths that are hidden away under the surface of the accounts of scripture. And when we do, we discover that it’s an exciting and challenging search. I think there’s nothing more challenging and exciting than to learn to approach your Bible and especially these stories, these kinds of stories, with all the interest and excitement of a Perry Mason just beginning a new murder mystery. For here are clues hidden away that will unravel this account and help us to learn tremendous things if we’ll but give our time and attention to them. So with that brief plug for Bible study, personally, I urge you to get into these passages with us. We’ll turn now to this one here.

Our first question is: What is this glory that appeared on the face of Christ on the mountain top? All three of the evangelists &mdash Matthew, Mark, and Luke — record this account, each with minor differences. But all of them agree that Jesus selected these three disciples and led them apart unto a high mountain. And interestingly enough, tradition tells us that this mountain was Mt. Hermon, the mount for which our Mt. Hermon was named. And perhaps it was named, that name was chosen for Mt. Hermon conference grounds because it was the hope of those who founded it that here would be a place of Transfiguration for many.

Jesus led them up in the evening hours as it was approaching dusk and Luke tells us that he went apart with them this way to pray. And as the disciples were watching him in prayer, his face was suddenly altered; the countenance of his face began to shine and a glory shown up from him that even affected his very garments so that he was bathed in a beautiful, luminous light that lit up the regions around.

I’m always somewhat amused at the explanations that the liberal critics give of events like this in the Scriptures. They tell us that all that happened here was that Jesus was out on a promontory of the mountain where the disciples could watch him. And while they were watching, the sun broke through a cloud and the sun’s rays lit upon him and lit up his garments as though there was a light coming from them and this was all that they saw. But I repeat this is a very naïve explanation for these disciples, Peter, James, and john, were men of outdoors. They’d often seen the sun break through the clouds and light up some other object. They knew what that was like. They would not easily be deceived in that way. But every one of them agreed that this was a different thing. That the light was not coming upon Jesus, it was coming from within him. It was shining out of his countenance. And all them record it in superlative terms — It was like the brightness of lightening, one of them said. It was like the lightening shining out. And Mark records words that no fuller on earth could whiten the garment like they were in this experience, [nothing] could bleach them like this -- an unusual manifestation and shining forth of supernatural light.

Now what is this glory? What is happening to Jesus here? There are many commentators who suggest this is simply an incident where the deity of our Lord Jesus is shining through his humanity. And that once in his earthly career, that basically divine nature, which was his as the eternal son of God from before the foundation of the world, that uncreated glory of deity is now permitted to shine forth and his disciples to see it. And there are some who suggest this is what John means when in his account he says, The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, as of the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. But it seems to me this idea is cancelled out by word in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. In the closing of that passage, remember, he refers to the coming of Christ again and the glory that will accompany him, and to the nature and character of Jesus Christ. And in chapter 6, verse 14 of I Timothy, Paul says:

I charge you to keep the commandment, unstained and free from reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (I Timothy 6:14-16, RSV)

So that if this were the shining forth of the divine nature of Christ, it would be impossible for human eyes to bear. He dwells in unapproachable light, that light of uncreated deity no human eye or heart can bear. As Isaiah cries, Who shall dwell with the everlasting burnings? And this therefore cannot be that light. But if it isn’t that, then what is it? And there are several clues here in our account that give us the answer. The first one is the first verse of this chapter, chapter 9, verse 1. Jesus says to them, Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power. (Mark 9:1, RSV)

Now if you have read this account from Matthew, you will note that this solves a difficulty that Matthew’s account raises. For in Matthew, the story of the Transfiguration begins with the next verse in Mark: After six days Jesus took with him Peter, and James, and John. And there’s a chapter division between these two verses. And thus we miss the connection here. And many have wondered what Jesus meant when he said, there are some standing here who will not taste of death before they see the kingdom of God come with power. And then comes in Matthew’s account a chapter division, and then he goes on with the account of the Transfiguration. And many have thought that perhaps Jesus meant that his coming was to be while men were still alive in the day of his flesh. And this is why many commentators say that Jesus was mistaken about the time of his second return, or he missed the time, since no one who stood there then lived until he returned. But Mark you see solves this for us because he puts these accounts right together and he shows us that the Transfiguration is a fulfillment of what Jesus said, what he meant when he said, there are some standing here who will not taste of death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.

And that’s our first clue as to the meaning of this strange event. For it obviously then is a picture of the coming kingdom. A little foreview -- a foretaste -- granted to these three disciples by which they leaped over the intervening centuries and were, as it were, present at the coming of Christ in his second return to earth. This is the hour then of his return and in verse 38 of chapter 8, Mark links these two events together clearly. Jesus says, For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:38 RSV). So that the Transfiguration and the glory that shown there was a picture of the glory of the returning Christ when the world shall see him come once again to earth in his second return. And this is a foretaste, a foreview, of that very event.And the glory of that second return is the glory of a crowned humanity. This is what Paul means when writing to the Colossians, he says, When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4 RSV). And he links therefore the coming of Christ and the glory of the believer, the glorification of the believer, together.

Now there’s another clue in this passage that helps confirm this. And that is our Lord’s use throughout this of the words the Son of man. He refers to himself throughout this account like this. And in Matthew 24, where we have the account of his return to earth, he invariably uses this phrase The Son of man. Not the Son of God, the Son of man. This was his favorite title for himself. And by this he’s indicating that all that happened to him while he was here on earth happened to him as a man. As Paul tells us in Philippians, though he was God, though he was equal with God, he laid aside the exercise of his deity. He didn’t lay aside his deity — he couldn’t do that. You can’t stop being what you are. But he laid aside the manifestations of it. He laid aside the voluntary exercise of deity and he humbled himself and became a man. And he lived his entire earthly life as a man. Still God. Still the God-man. But in every manifestation of his earthly existence, he was showing forth man as God intended man to be. He didn’t come to show us how God behaves. He came to show us man as God intended man to be.

Now this is confirmed I think by a passage over in Hebrews I’d like you to turn to with me. Hebrews the second chapter where we have a rather strange and very significant word concerning the glory that God intended man to have. In chapter 2 of Hebrews, verse 5, the writer says

It was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, [of which we are speaking, that is, the coming age]. It has been testified somewhere, What is man that thou art mindful of him? Or the son of man that thou carest for him? Thou didst make him for a little while lower than the angels. Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet. (Hebrews 2:6-8a, RSV).

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. Now this is a quotation from the eighth Psalm, and it’s not a prophetic reference to Christ, as many think. It is really a reference to what God intended man to be. All things were to be in subjection to him. It is what we might term as Man’s Lost Destiny. And it’s still the ever present dream of man. We have never as a race forgotten this divine injunction, that all things were to be in subjection unto us. That man is to rule God’s creation. This is why we can never rest content unless we’ve climbed to the top of the highest mountain and gone to the depth of the deepest sea, or found some way to maneuver out into space. What is behind this strange restless urge of man to get out to Mars? What did we ever lose on Mars that we are up there taking pictures of the planet for? Nothing. We just have to be there, that’s all. We have to find out what’s in God’s universe. God made us that way. And man’s dream has ever been to fulfill this.

Ah, but this is the whole story of humanity right here. Man has lost the ability to do what he still has retained the desire to do. And do I need to spend any time in confirmation of that? We can invent the most delicately complicated machinery and come up w/ the most ingenious contrivances for doing things. But we can’t so control human nature that it all begins to work out. And our machines become Frankensteinian monsters from which we run shuddering and hiding in the rocks in terror. You see, man has lost the secret of his humanity. That’s the whole reason for the Bible. That’s the reason for the coming of Jesus Christ to earth. That we might regain the lost secret of humanity. Now look at Hebrews 2:9, As it is, the writer says, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. What an understatement that is in these days. Riots in the streets of our cities. Wars breaking out all over the globe. Strife between capital and laborer and one race versus another, one color of skin against another. All the turmoil and turbulence of our present age is written in that sentence: We do not yet see all things in subjection unto him. But, we see Jesus . [But we see Jesus], who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor, because of the suffering of death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9, RSV).

You see, in this account of the Transfiguration, we see this. When did any man ever see Jesus crowned with glory and honor? Well, one night on a high mountain outside Galilee, Peter, James, and John, taken apart by the Lord, watching him pray, suddenly saw him crowned with glory and honor, fulfilling all the intention in God’s heart for him, fulfilling man’s lost destiny. And Peter understood it exactly this way. For when he came to write his letter to the churches many many years later, decades later, he still had in his mind this unforgettable night on the mountain with the Lord Jesus. And in his second letter, he writes these words: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye witnesses of his majesty, [of his kingliness]. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved son with whom I was well pleased, we heard this voice borne from heaven for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18, RSV).

Now perhaps the picture is beginning to become clear. The Lord Jesus Christ is called in the Scriptures the second man, the second Adam, the last man. And Adam #1 lost the secret of humanity for us. Adam #2 regained it. Adam #2 is retracing the steps of unfallen Adam #1 and in this account we find him going right on through to the end. You see according to the record, Adam #1 was sidetracked somewhere along the line, and got off onto a sidetrack that has spiraled down and down and down into the dark depths of fallen humanity where we all live, where we all enter this world. And because we are sons of Adam, all of us, we can’t go any farther in discovering our humanity than he did. We’re limited by that principle which was introduced of independence into human life that has wrecked humanity, and we can go no further than he did. That’s why, when Adam died, we die too. For as in Adam, all die, the Scripture says. But here’s a second man, the second Adam. And he isn’t sidetracked like this. As we saw last week, he resisted all the clever, subtle stratagems of the devil. He was not sidetracked, he went the whole distance. He lived humanity to its full. He fulfilled all that was in the divine intention for man when God said Let us make man in our own image. And he went right on through to the end, even to that place of passing from this present life into the life to come without going through death. That’s what’s happening here on the mount of Transfiguration. He passed into glory without death. You see, it was never God’s intention that man should die. We speak of so-and-so died a natural death. There’s no such thing as a natural death. Death is the most unnatural thing that’s ever come upon the human race. It was never God’s intention for man. We’ve fallen into the grip of death simply because we’ve fallen into the grip of sin, and the principle of evil that is seized upon humanity. But the Lord Jesus, you see, was not held by death. He didn’t have to die. He lived human life to the complete intention of God, even passing into glory without death. And this is what the apostles were chosen to witness. Now this is the meaning of that passage in Romans 5, which perhaps many of us have wondered about where you have in the latter part of Romans 5 a very remarkable comparison drawn between Adam and Christ. What we lost in Adam, we gained back in Christ. Ah yes, but much more. And again and again in that chapter it says, much more We lost such and such in Adam, but much more in Christ. You see, we go further in Christ than we ever could have gone in Adam. And the second Adam here then is fulfilling the divine intention and goes the whole way.

Now we must deal with question #2. Why did Moses and Elijah appear with on the mountain with the Lord Jesus? What a startling thing this must have been. Moses and Elijah! Why not Abraham? Or David? Or some of the other worthies of the Old Testament. Yet as the disciples watched, suddenly they see two men with him and they recognized them as Moses and Elijah. And how their hair must have stood on end at this point. How did they know them? We ask ourselves that and we really can’t answer it except it’s obvious that they did know them. And perhaps this answers a question that many of us ask. At least every Bible teacher’s invariably asked this question Will we know our loved ones when we get to glory? And the answer of course is Yes. We’ll not only know them but everyone else there. Because there’s some kind of a communication here by which those people whom have never met before suddenly know each other and their whole personality is revealed, imparted by some strange extra-sensory perception here. So that these disciples new immediately who these men were. I’m sure they didn’t recognize them from the illustrations that were drawn in the Scripture books that they may have had. For all the Old Testament characters are always drawn with long beards. And when you put a long beard on a man, he looks like every other man with a long beard. But they knew exactly who he was. And won’t this be wonderful — isn’t this wonderful to recognize that we’ll know these, we’ll know each other. We’ll never have to wear name tags around glory! Everyone knows each other.

But now Peter does a very characteristic thing. Somebody says whenever he enters Scripture, it’s always with a thud. Without realizing, we’re told, without knowing what to say, he said, Let’s make three booths, Lord, one for you, one for Moses, and for Elijah, and let’s stay here. And Mark, who was Peter’s amanuensis, and wrote his gospel under Peter’s tutelage, records this word: that he did not know what to say. Peter must have told him that. There are two kinds of speakers, you know: there are those who have something to say and those who have to say something. And Peter seems to be one of those. He was a chronic sufferer of hoof in mouth disease. And as someone has suggested, the only reason he opened his mouth was to change feet. And in his blundering, foolish way, having to say something, he blurted this out: Lord, well let’s make three booths, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. And it’s recorded of him that he was exceedingly afraid. And perhaps it’s to this that we must look for excuse for his words here. He was exceedingly afraid. As who would not be under these circumstances? And even as he spoke, the account says, that a cloud, a bright cloud, suddenly overshadowed them, and a great booming voice came out saying, This is my beloved Son. Hear ye him. [Listen to him.] Can you imagine what effect this had upon the disciples?

Some of you may recall quite a number of years ago here, in an evening service, shortly after we had moved into this building, I remember, on a Sunday evening, I was preaching from this platform. I don’t remember now what the subject was. I’m sure no one else does. And I can’t remember much about the circumstances except I know that as I was speaking in the message, there came suddenly a great voice booming out in this auditorium, and we heard these words, this male voice suddenly blurting out these words, There’s no one there yet!

And some of you who may have been here remember what a startling effect this had upon us, and especially upon me! We later found out that our public address system had somehow picked up the transmission of a passing fire engine outside on the street and we had gotten right into the midst of this fireman’s transmission to his station and these were the words that came out. But it was a very startling thing. And you can imagine how startled these disciples were when they suddenly heard this voice booming out these words. Here is my beloved son. Hear ye him.

But here in these words lies the clue to the meaning of the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the mountain top. Obviously, the Father is immediately moving to correct the blundering error of Peter, who put Moses and Elijah on the same basis with the Lord Jesus. And God the Father immediately points out his error. He says, No, no. This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.

Moses and Elijah obviously are representative men. Moses of course stood for the Law. And John opens his gospel with that fact. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. And Elijah was always regarded among the Jews as the greatest of the prophets. So that here you have in these two men, Moses and Elijah, the representatives of the great authority to the Jews: the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament scriptures. But here they are seen in association with Jesus and interested with him and talking with him about the departure which he would soon accomplish in Jerusalem, Luke tells us. That they were speaking to him, concerned about these matters, but obviously not on the same level with him. This is what the voice from heaven makes crystal clear. This is my beloved Son. Listen to him. In other words, this was a little drama enacted for these disciples to teach them a lesson they badly need to learn, and one that we Christians today badly need to learn. And that is, that the Law and the Prophets find their complete fulfillment in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth. That the Law and the Prophets are swallowed up in him. That all they have to say to humanity, to mankind, is included, and added to, in the expression in the life of the Lord Jesus, in the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Now there are verses that substantiate that. You remember how Paul begins the eighth chapter of Romans. What the Law could not do, he says, in that it was weak in the flesh, God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteousness which the Law demanded might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. That’s the Law fulfilled in Christ. And you remember how Hebrews begins: God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in times past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, by whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds, who being the brightness of [his] glory, and the express image of his person (Hebrews 1:1-3, KJV). It’s by the Son, you see. So that, the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in him. Let me put it this way. What this little drama signifies and the lesson that is desired to be imparted to them and to us is this. The principle by which Jesus lived his human earthly life, that principle that we have called the Lost Secret of Humanity, is also the principle which makes Law unnecessary to mankind and by which all the predicted program of God in prophecy will ultimately be fulfilled. When we discover what that principle is, that lost secret that is hidden in the humanity of Jesus, we don’t need Law anymore. We don’t need the Ten Commandments. Christ is the end of the Law to everyone that believeth, Paul says.And we don’t need the Prophets. We’ll discover that all they predict will be fulfilled by living on that principle.

Now, what is the principle? Over and over, the Lord Jesus manifested it, declared it. He said again and again that it was his realization that he was indwelt by the Father and that the Father working through his yielded humanity would do everything through him that needed to be done. And that all that was in the mind of God would be fulfilled through him as he expected God to work in his life, indwelling him. Now that’s the lost secret. It takes God to be a man. And if every problem and every program in life is confronted with that realization — that God is in us, to do through us, all that needs to be done, we’ll discover that we have no longer any need for the Ten Commandments. And that all that God predicts will be fulfilled by that.

Now, one last question. And I think this is very essential. And I’ve put it last deliberately. Although perhaps we might put it first when confronting this incident. Why is that Peter and James and John are the disciples chosen to see this and to learn this lesson? Why them? And the answer very briefly is this. These are the only three men among the disciples who before this had openly and vocally avoided the principle of the Cross. We remember just turn a chapter back in Mark, to the eighth chapter, and there we have the account in verse 31 of Jesus beginning to teach the disciples that the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again. But Peter took him aside and said to him ‘Lord, be it not so. Spare yourself Lord. This cross business, you don’t have to go through that. After all, a man like you, the Son of God, you don’t need to go to a cross. Spare yourself, Lord!’ and Jesus said to him Get thee behind me, Satan!....I know that voice. You do not understand the things of God. You only understand the things of man. Of course man doesn’t want a cross. But God does. And therefore Peter was included in this group because he’d rejected the Cross.

James and John, if you’ll just turn a chapter ahead, chapter 10, in an account that is given in verse 35, we read:

James and John the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. And he said What do you want of me? And they said to him, Grant to us to sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory. [They both want glory.] But Jesus said to them You do not know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink? Or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized? And with utter flippancy, in foolish ignorance, they said to him, We are. And Jesus said to them, You shall indeed drink the cup that I drink and the baptism that I am baptized with, shall ye be baptized with. (Mark 10:35-39)

And these three men had thus turned their backs in a sense upon the Cross. One of them out of foolish sincerity had rejected the principle of the Cross, counting it unworthy of his master and of himself. And the other two out of ignorant boldness had treated it as though it were nothing, had minimized the Cross, had regarded it as an incident merely. And as such, they were rejecting the one principle by which this lost secret of humanity, an indwelling God, Christ is us, the hope of glory, can be appropriated and realized. Without that, we never can put it into practice. And so these three now see the glory fade, and the voice ceases, and Moses and Elijah are gone, and they see Jesus with them only. And without another word, they start down the mountain to a lunatic boy and a despairing Father and the growing opposition of the rulers of Israel which would lead them out to the shadows of Gethsemane’s garden and from there, lead the Lord Jesus to the judgment hall of Pilate and the whipping post and the blood and grief and tears of a bitter, bitter cross. No doubt, he could have stayed up on the mountain and have remained in the glory of the Father. For at that point, he had fulfilled all that God intended of human life. And had he remained in the glory, and passed again into the Father’s home, he would have fulfilled all God’s hope for humanity. All God ever intended a man to be, he was, through the years of his life up to and including that point of the Transfiguration.

Well then, why didn’t he? Why’d he come back down again? That one verse from Hebrews answers. Hebrews 12, we read that we’re to look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the Father, in glory. Who for the joy that was set before him, endured the Cross, came back down the mountain. What was that joy? Was it that he might be with the Father again? Oh no. That joy was already his. He could have had that at any time. What was the joy that was set before him? My dear friends, it was that as he looked out upon a lost humanity, a race sunk deep in the agonies and the misery and darkness of self-centered living, he saw the glorious chance, the possibility, nay, the certainty, that if he laid down this perfect human life that he had one, he could share it with us. We too could have it. We could enter in with him. And it was the vision of a redeemed humanity that brought him back down the mountain, back to the agony of the Garden, and the bitterness of the Cross. In order that in that Resurrection morning, he might freely give this life, this lost secret of humanity, this new kind of living, this new arrangement for living, to all who would accept with him the principle of the Cross. And that’s why Jesus said, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

There’s a mistaken idea about Christianity today that because Jesus went to the Cross, we’ll never have to. Nothing could be further from the truth. He went to the Cross in order that we might go with him there. And on through that Cross to the Resurrection beyond. And the Cross is always the open door to liberty. It’s the Cross that sets us free from our self-centered lives and breaks this damnable barrier within us that insists we live to please ourselves. It’s the Cross that puts that to death. And by accepting that, by passing through that, by renouncing this right to self, we experience with him the Cross. But when we come to the Cross, beyond it always lies Resurrection. You can’t have Pentecost without Calvary. You can’t have the glory of a Resurrection morn without the darkness of a crucifixion. But we accept death to our own plans, our own programs, our own lives, our own ego, then beyond lies rest, and power, and the Lost Secret of Humanity — a restored humanity which we’ll share with him in glory. When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall we be with him in glory.


Father in this moment, teach us to accept this principle of the Cross. Help us to stop pushing away Thy hand that leads us into experiences of disappointment, of defeat, of discouragement, these things that spell death to us, Lord. We need them. Teach us to accept them. And thus, immediately, know the release of liberty, the joy of Resurrection. Of a life lived in fellowship with the Risen Lord, who walks the earth yet to restore to man his lost humanity. We thank you Lord for this picture, and what it means, in Christ’s name. Amen.