“Emmanuel’s Confirmation, Part 2” – Matthew 17:1-13

January 3rd, 2016

Matthew 17:1-13 (See also Mk 9:2-13; Lk 9:28-36)

“Emmanuel’s Confirmation Pt 2”

Call to Worship from Psalm 104

Auxiliary Texts from Malachi 4:5-6; 2 Peter 1:16-21;

and Revelation 1:12-18

 

Service Orientation:  We see Jesus as so loving, good, kind, gentle and forgiving that we tend to forget He is God incarnate.  When Jesus speaks, it is God speaking. Only Jesus can guide us into all truth so we might be blessed.

 

Background Information:

  • This glorious event took place just before the Feast of Tabernacles. (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 94)
  • Dwelling in booths was a reminder of those tabernacle days when God’s presence in the pillar of cloud led the children of Israel. So when this new and more glorious tabernacle was dedicated in Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, how appropriate that the cloud, the very presence, the Shekinah, the Holy One of Israel, came to dwell once more in the midst of the people!  (David Brickner, Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles, 67)
  • Several features of this pericope recall Moses’ ascent of Mount Sinai in Ex 24:9-18: a selected group of companions, an overshadowing cloud, and the appearance of God’s glory on the mountain; possibly also the “six days.”  And the reappearance of Moses in this scene further links the two mountain experiences, while the echo of Dt 18:15-19 in v. 5 identifies Jesus as the coming “prophet like Moses.”  All this suggests that the figure of Jesus as a new Moses is a factor in Matthew’s account, though it is important to note that whereas at Sinai Moses was the recipient of revelation, here Jesus is its subject, and it is the disciples rather than Jesus who are in the position of Moses, seeing the heavenly glory and hearing the voice of God.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 344-5)
  • (v. 1) Does Matthew want us to relate what happens here with the days of creation (Gn 1, 2)? Does he want us to make some connection with Moses on the mountain, where the cloud of God’s glory covered it, and after six days the Lord’s voice called out to Moses (Ex 24:15, 16)?  Does he want us to see Jesus as the new Moses, the new exodus, the new lawgiver, the old Creator, all of the above?  (He does.)  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 466)
  • (v. 1) There were three because both OT law (Dt 17:6) and NT law state that official testimony is “established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (18:16). (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 466)
  • (v. 1) Mountains matter in Matthew. In chapters 5-7 we have the Sermon on the Mount.  In 14:23 Jesus prayed on the mountain; in 15:29-38 he healed and fed the multitudes on the mountain; in chapters 24, 25 he taught on the mountain (the Mount of Olives) about the sign of his coming and the close of the age; and in 28:16-20, the Great Commission (the final word from Jesus in Matthew), we are told that the disciples went “to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them” (v. 16).  Then we also have, in chapter 4, the temptation of Christ, where “the devil took him [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (v. 8).  Some scholars surmise that the high mount of transfiguration is the antithesis of the high mount of temptation–true glory versus false glory.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 467)
  • (v. 1) Here (as in 4:8) we are to think of a specific “high mountain” where they could be alone, but which actual mountain it was cannot and need not be determined. The last recorded location was “the region of Caesarea Philippi” (16:13), and Mount Hermon, which rises to the northeast of Caesarea Philippi, is by far the highest mountain in or near Palestine (2826 meters).  But the fact that they will come down from the mountain to meet an apparently Jewish crowd aware of the healing reputation of Jesus and his group suggests a location further south, and the traditional site at Mount Tabor in southern Galilee would be easily reached in six days from Caesarea Philippi.  Tabor is not nearly so high at 588 meters, but to one who has climbed up it from the plain below it certainly seems like “a high mountain.”  But there are other heights, such as Mount Meron (1208 meters), the highest mountain in Galilee, which is more nearly en route for Capernaum (v. 24), and so might better fit Matthew’s few geographical indications.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 646-7)

(v. 2) The Greek word translated “transfigured” is metamorphothe, from which we get our word “metamorphosis.”  The verb refers to an outward change that comes from within.  Jesus’ change was not a change merely in appearance; it was a complete change into another form.  On earth, Jesus appeared as a man, a poor carpenter from Nazareth turned itinerant preacher.  But at the Transfiguration, Jesus’ body was transformed into the glorious radiance that he had before coming to earth (Jn 17:5; Phil 2:6) and that he will have when he returns in glory to establish his kingdom (Rv 1:14-15).  The glory of Jesus’ deity came form within; it was inherent within him because he was divine, God’s only Son.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 340)

  • (v. 2) The expression “dazzling white” suggests supreme glory, purity, and holiness. Mark and Luke also described how Jesus’ clothes and face shone (Mk 9;3; Lk 9:29).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 340)
  • (v. 2) As He promised, God gave Moses a glimpse of His back (34:6-7). When Moses beheld that sight, he was transfigured.  When he came down from Mount Sinai, the people fled from him in terror, for Moses’ face was shining, though he did not know it (34:29-30).  However, the glory of Moses’ face was a mere reflection of the glory of God.  Even so, it was enough to terrify the people of Israel.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 505)
  • (v. 3) In essence, the Law and the Prophets came to Jesus on the mountain to encourage Him in His mission. (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 507)
  • (v. 3) Moses represented the law of God, for God had met with His people in the book of Exodus to give them His law. (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 224)
  • (vss. 3 & 5) There is one very revealing little touch in this passage. No fewer than three times in its eight brief verses, there occurs the little interjection:  “Behold!  Look you!”  It is as if Matthew could not even tell the story without a catch of the breath at the sheer staggering wonder of it.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 189)
  • (v. 4) The word exodus (from Luke 9:31 “departure”) has one special connection: it is the word which is always used of the departure of the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt, into the unknown way of the desert, which in the end was going to lead them to the Promised Land.  The word exodus is the word which describes what we might well call the most adventurous journey in human history, a journey in which a whole people in utter trust in God went out into the unknown.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 186)
  • (v. 4) Do you think Immanuel needs a pup tent from Peter? It’s a pious gesture, but an ill-informed one.  By wanting to hold on to the glory of the transfiguration Peter has no place for the glory of that gory cross.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 470)
  • (v. 4) But his desire was foolish; first, because he did not comprehend the design of the vision; secondly, because he absurdly put the servants on a level with their Lord; and, thirdly, he was mistaken in proposing to build fading tabernacles for men who had been already admitted to the glory of heaven and of the angels. (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 312)
  • (v. 5) The “cloud” is associated, in both the OT and intertestamental Judaism, with eschatology (Ps 97:2; Isa 4:5; Ez 30:3; Dn 7:13; Zeph 1:15; cf. 2 Baruch 53:1-12; 4 Ezra 13:3; 2 Macc 2:8; b Sanhedrin 98a; cf. Lk 21:27; 1 Thes 4:17) and with the Exodus (Ex 13:21-22; 16:10; 19:16; 24:15-18; 40:34-38). Of the synopsists only Matthew says that the cloud was “bright,” a detail that recalls the shekinah glory.  The latter eschatological associations (Lk 21:27; 1 Thes 4:17) show Jesus in his role as the one who succeeds Moses the eschatological prophet; the former associations (Ps 97:2 et al.) Assure us that Jesus is the messianic King whose kingdom is dawning.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 386)
  • (v. 5) In Matthew, God the Father only speaks twice–once at Jesus’ baptism and the other time here. And on those two occasions he only has one line:  “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (3:17; 17:5).  Even that one line is unoriginal, if I can be so bold as to put it that way.  It comes from Ps 2:7 (about the anointed king, “you are my Son”) and from Isa 42:1 (about the Suffering Servant, “in whom my soul delights”).  “You are my Son in whom I delight.”  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 471)
  • (v. 5) The Greek verb akouete, translated “listen,” means not merely hearing, but obeying what is heard. (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 342)
  • (v. 6) The disciples’ fear on hearing God speak recalls that of the Israelites at Sinai; Ex 20:18-21; Dt 4:33; Heb 12:18-21. For falling on one’s face as a mark of awe or entreaty cf. 26:39; Lk 5:12; 17:16; 1 Cor 14:25; Rv 1:17; 7:11; 11:16; in the OT it is the human response to a meeting with God or with a heavenly being (Ez 1:28; Dn 8:17; 10:9, 15).  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 650)
  • (vss. 6-7) Here Jesus encourages our relationship with Him to be both transcendent and imminent.
  • (vss. 6-7) The effect of the Transfiguration on the disciples reminds us of Daniel (Dn 10:7-9; cf. Also Dt 5:25-26; Heb 12:19). The visible glory of Deity brings terror, but Jesus calms his disciples’ fears (cf. 14:26-27; cf. Dn 8:18; 10:18).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 387)
  • (v. 12) Jesus closes verse 12 by saying, “In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” The disciples were being prepared for the reality that Jesus’ ministry of redemption would be accomplished through His suffering and death.  This is a key truth that keeps reappearing in Matthew’s Gospel.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 229)

 

The question to be answered is . . . What are we to learn from this strange event recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke?

 

Answer:  Jesus is God.  Listen to Him alone.  He can guide you to a proper understanding of events past, present and future as well as keep you from forfeiting the blessings in the promises of God.

 

People tend to think of “glory” in terms of brightness, but it is certainly more than that.  It is utter wholeness, completeness.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary 1 & 2 Corinthians, 316)

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Glory

 

From Pastor Keith’s July 18th, 2010 Christ in the Pentateuch Preaching Series “Shekinah”

 

 

Pentateuchal Examples of the Shekinah Glory

 

     A-           Burning bush (Ex 3:3-4)

     B-           Pillar of fire and cloud (Ex 13:21; 14:19, 24)

C-           The glory cloud at the giving of the Law (Ex 24:15-18)

In Scripture the presence of God is often indicated by the mention of a cloud.  In several cases, as also here, it is a bright, white, or luminous cloud (cf. Ex 13:21; 16:10; 40:35; 1 Kgs 8:10, 11; Neh 9:19; Ps 78:14; Rv 14:14-16).  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary Luke, 506)

 

     D-           The glory cloud at the Tabernacle dedication (Ex 40:34-38; Lv 23ff)

     E-           Revelation to Moses (Ex 33:12-34:35)

The prophet was incandescent.  He had been in the glorious presence of God, and as a result of his exposure to divine radiation, his face was glowing.  Moses was luminous.  His countenance was radiant.  His skin was shining with a supernatural light.  It was the afterglow of God’s glory–what John Currid calls “the effulgent splendour of Almighty God.”  The way the Bible describes this remarkable light has been the subject of a good deal of discussion.  The Hebrew literally says, “the skin of his face sent out horns.”  Early translations, such as the Vulgate, typically translated this literally and described Moses as “having horns.”  This explains why medieval and Renaissance artists–such as Michelangelo–typically depicted the prophet with horns on his head!  But the expression actually refers to rays of light.  As a result of his face-to-face encounter with God, Moses had a halo of glory.  Dazzling beams of light were shining out from his face.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word Exodus, p. 1070)

 

 

     F-           The Ark of the Covenant (Nm 10:35-36)

     G-           The beginning of the priests’ ministry (Lv 9:22-24)

 

     H-           Purifying of the Tabernacle worship (Lv 10:1-4)

 

 

  1. Old Testament Examples of the Shekinah Glory

A-           Ark of the Covenant (1 Sm 4:4, 21; 2 Sm 6:2-19; Ps 80:1)

 

     B-           Dedication of the Temple (2 Chr 5:13-14; 1 Kgs 8:10ff)

 

     C-           Revelation to Isaiah (Isa 6)

 

III.      New Testament Examples of the Shekinah Glory

A-           Jesus’ birth (Lk 2:9)

As these shepherds were living in the fields under the sky, suddenly a bright light broke through the darkness.  An angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.  They recognized that this was a supernatural being because of the dazzling light, “the glory of the Lord” that was shining all around them.  “Glory” refers to the majesty and splendor accompanying God’s presence (see also Ex 16:7; 24:17; Ps 63:2; Isa 40:5).  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary Luke, 43)

 

     B-           Jesus’ life (Jn 1:14; Heb 1:3; Jam 2:1)

God has now chosen to dwell with his people in a yet more personal way, in the Word who became flesh:  in Jesus!  The Word, Jesus of Nazareth, is the true and ultimate shekinah glory of God, the complete and perfect manifestation of the presence of God among his people. The place of God’s glorious dwelling is the flesh of his Son! The glory which once shined in the tent/tabernacle/temple of old, veiled in the mysterious cloud, was simply, if you will, of that exceedingly excelling glory now embodied in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ (cf. Col 1:19).

 

Whereas the glory of Moses was only a reflection, the glory of Jesus was inherent.  It came from his own glorious person.  Jesus is God the Son, and the Scripture says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory” (Heb 1:3a).  So his glory is not reflected; it radiates from his own divine being.  Jesus shines with all the glory of God.  In him there is a fullness of glory, compared to which the glory of Moses was only a flicker of light.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word Exodus, 1073)

 

Indeed, the new covenant had already shown God’s glory.  Jesus Christ, in his perfect life, had revealed God to human beings.  Jesus was God in a human body, and his death on the cross revealed God’s loving nature.  God was willing to sacrifice his only Son to save people from their own sins.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary 1 & 2 Corinthians, 319)

 

     C-           Jesus’ baptism (Jn 1:32)

     D-           Jesus’ transfiguration (Lk 9:29; Mt 17:1-13; Mk 9:2-13; 2 Pt 1:16-18)

The Transfiguration was a glimpse of Jesus’ true glory, a special revelation of his divinity to Peter, James, and John.  This was God’s divine affirmation of everything Jesus had done and was about to do.  It reminds us of the experience of Moses on Mount Sinai when, for six days, the glory of the Lord appeared to him in a cloud.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary Matthew, 340)

 

Just as God’s voice in the cloud over Mount Sinai gave authority to his law (Ex 19:9), God’s voice at the Transfiguration gave authority to Jesus’ words.  A bright cloud suddenly appeared and overshadowed this group on the mountain.  This was the cloud that had guided Israel out of Egypt (Ex 13:21), that had appeared to the people in the wilderness (Ex 16:10; 24:15-18; 34:5; 40:34-38), that had appeared to Moses (Ex 19:9), and that had filled the temple with the glory of the Lord (1 Kgs 8:10).  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary Matthew, 342)

 

     E-           Jesus’ resurrection (Rom 6:4)

Jesus’ glory was even more fully revealed in his resurrection.  Near the end of his life Jesus had prayed for God to restore the glory that was rightfully his.  “Father,” he prayed, “glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn 17:5).  The Father answered this prayer by raising Jesus from the dead in a glorious resurrection body.  And this is what authenticated his ministry as the Mediator, proving that he is both Savior and Lord.  Jesus “was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (Rom 1:4).  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word Exodus, 1073)

 

     F-           Pentecost (Acts 2:3)

The presence of the Holy Spirit is also a representation of the Shekinah. The Spirit descended and remained on Jesus (Jn 1:33). At Pentecost the Spirit came down and rested on the 120 disciples:  “And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each of them” (Acts 2:3, emphasis supplied).

The NT is clearly set against the Jewish background. The NT authors attributed to the Spirit and to the Son the glory associated with the Shekinah. Jesus is the mêmrā’ (“Word”), filled with the Spirit of God and full of glory, and He reflects the glory of God.  The Holy Spirit bestows the glory of God on all who are filled with the Spirit, and thus they are graciously renewed in the image of God (see Kline).  (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, 468)

 

Paul did not discount the glory of the old covenant.  He fully acknowledged it, but he made it clear that it was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new covenant.  The new ministry of the Spirit is even more glorious.  The changed hearts and lives of believers is an even more miraculous work of God than lightning, thunder, and earthquakes.  In fact, this greater glory was eclipsing the glory of the old covenant.  Just as the bright light of the sun makes a flashlight useless, so the surpassing glory of the new covenant renders the lesser glory useless.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary 1 & 2 Corinthians, 318)

 

G-           Jesus’ appearance to Saul/Paul (Acts 9:3-9; 22:6-11; 26:12-18)

     H-           Stephen’s trial (Acts 6:15)

After the false witnesses had finished twisting Stephen’s teaching, everyone turned to Stephen for his reaction.  They found his face shining as bright as an angel’s (see Jdg 13:6; Lk 9:28-29).  Stephen’s “glowing face” would certainly call to mind the experience of Moses after being with God (Ex 34:29, 35).  The avid followers of Moses among his accusers (especially the Sadducees) would have made the connection.  Stephen’s glowing face, like Moses’, was likely a literal reflection of God’s glory, a sign of having been in God’s presence.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary Acts, 103)

 

What are we to learn from this strange event recorded here in Matthew 17:1-13?:

I-  Jesus is God veiled yet gloriously incarnate.  Jesus is superior over all!  Listen to Him ONLY!  (Mt 17:1-8; see also: Lk 19:44; 24:16-31;  Jn 1:1-18; Acts 13:27; Phil 2:1-11; Col 2:9; Heb 1:1-4)

 

The Law with its requirement and its sacrifices, and Prophecy with its forward-looking gaze, stand there, in their representatives, and bear witness that their converging lines meet in Jesus.  The finger that wrote the law, and the finger that smote and parted Jordan, are each lifted to point to Him.  The stern voices that spoke the commandments and that hurled threatenings at the unworthy occupants of David’s throne, both proclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God, the perfect Fulfiller of law, the true King of Israel.”  Their presence and their speech were the acknowledgment that this was He whom they had seen from afar; their disappearance proclaims that their work is done when they have pointed to Him.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 347)

 

Moses and Elijah were great men in their day, but Peter and his companions were to remember that in nature, dignity and office they were far below Christ.  He was the true sun:  they were the planets depending daily on his light.  He was the root:  they were the branches.  He was the Master:  they were the servants.  Their goodness was all derived:  his was original and his own.  Let them honor Moses and the prophets as holy men, but if they wanted to be saved they must take Christ alone for their Master, and glory only in him.  “Listen to him.”  (J.C. Ryle, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: Matthew, 151)

 

As no others, Moses and Elijah represented the OT, the law and the prophets.  And as no others, they could give human testimony to Christ’s divine majesty and glory.  By their presence together, they affirmed, in effect:  “This is the One of whom we testified, the One in whose power we ministered, and the One in whom everything we said and did has meaning. Everything we spoke, accomplished, and hoped for is fulfilled in Him.”  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 65)

 

God’s voice bids us hear Christ’s voice.  If He is the beloved Son, listening to Him is listening to God.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 350)

 

Peter does not grasp fully the stature of Jesus, for he is not just another OT figure like Moses and Elijah.  Jesus is superior in every way, and his transfiguration confirms the eschatological inauguration of the kingdom of God.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 592)

 

That Jesus was transfigured “before them” implies that it was largely for their sakes:  whatever confirmation the experience may have given Jesus, for the disciples it was revelatory.  As they would come to realize, they were being privileged to glimpse something of his preincarnate glory (Jn 1:14; 17:5; Phil 2:6-7) and anticipate his coming exaltation (2 Pt 1:16-18; Rv 1:16).  Their confession of Jesus as Messiah and his insistence that he would be a suffering Messiah (16:13-21; 17:9) were confirmed.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 385)

 

His transfiguration did not altogether enable his disciples to see Christ, as he now is in heaven, but gave them a taste of his boundless glory, such as they were able to comprehend.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 310)

 

All this indicates that what the disciples saw on the mountain is on a different level from the shining of Moses’ face when he came down from the mountain in Ex 34:29-35.  Moses shone for a time with a reflection of the divine glory he had seen; Jesus shone with his own heavenly glory.  Moses’ radiance was derivative, Jesus’ essential.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 647)

 

The bright cloud is reminiscent of the way God often appeared in the OT–to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 34:29-35); God’s Shekinah glory filling the tabernacle (40:34-35); the cloud guiding the Israelites during their wandering in the desert (13:21-22; 40:36-38); the cloud of the glory of the Lord filling Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs 8:10-13); and the Branch of the Lord bringing restoration to Jerusalem, as the cloud of the glory of the Lord shelters Zion (Isa 4:1-6).  Jewish literature recognized the cloud of God’s glory as the time when the Lord would gather his people and reveal the location of the ark of the covenant (2 Macc 2:4-8).  (Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Vol 1, 107)

 

Whereas the light from those candelabra would come and go, Jesus claimed to be the Light of the World.  His invitation was, if you follow Me, you’ll never walk in darkness.  No need to wait another year to see the glorious light from the Tabernacles’ celebration.  Jesus invited people to come to Him, to step into the Light even as He spoke.

When Jesus claimed to be the Light, He wasn’t simply claiming to be an outstanding teacher.  He wasn’t merely offering to point out the correct way.  Remember, the illumination ceremony was a symbol of an ever-present God who, during the wilderness wanderings, graced the Israelites with His provision and presence through the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  The Light stood for the Shekinah Glory of God.  Remember how the Shekinah glory filled Solomon’s Temple, and the desire the Jewish people had to see the Temple once again filled with light?

When Jesus stood in the Temple claiming to be the Light of the World, He was making a radical statement.  Those who say that Jesus never claimed to be God have not dealt with this statement.  To stand in the middle of the Temple in conjunction with the Feast of Tabernacles and say, “I am the Light” was like saying, “I am the Shekinah, I am the pillar of fire.”  It’s hard to imagine a more graphic claim to deity.  (David Brickner, Christ in the Feast of Tabernacles, 102-3

 

We can, therefore, better understand why Peter’s comment missed the mark in Mt 17:4–he was putting Moses and Elijah on par with Jesus.  God essentially told Peter to be quiet, for Jesus alone was to be the center of attention.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 226)

 

The great truth which we declare, is, that God is Light (1 Jn 1:5), dwells in light (1 Tm 6:16), covers himself with light, Ps 104:2.  And therefore when Christ would appear in the form of God, he appeared in light, the most glorious of all visible beings, the first-born of the creation, and most nearly resembling the eternal Parent.  Christ is the Light; while he was in the world, he shined in darkness, and therefore the world knew him not (Jn 1:5, 10); but, at this time, that Light shined out of the darkness.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 242)

 

At the sound of the voice of the Father coming from the cloud of his presence, the disciples “fell facedown to the ground, terrified” (17:6).  An experience of the awesome reality of God’s presence commonly produced fear in the people of the OT whether they observed the presence of God in a cloud or heard his voice.  But Jesus tenderly touches his frightened disciples and tells them not to fear (17:7).  This gives them reassuring confirmation that he is the same Master that they have known, even though they have just experienced a stunning revelation of his divine nature.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 592-3)

 

These two men were the twin peaks of Israel’s religious history and achievement.  It is as if the greatest figures in Israel’s history came to Jesus, as he was setting out on the last and greatest adventure into the unknown, and told him to go on.  In them, all history rose up and pointed Jesus on his way.  In them, all history recognized Jesus as its own consummation.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, 187)

 

His glorious form, that was usually veiled by His body of clay, for a brief period appeared as it really was.  “The wick of His essential deity was suddenly turned up.”  He appeared as a real man with human form and clothing, yet all irradiated with divine majesty and glory.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 94)

 

When it is said that in the end they saw Christ alone, this means that the Law and the Prophets had a temporary glory, that Christ alone might remain fully in view.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 316)

 

But transfiguration includes the prefix trans-, which means “across.”  What was crossed in the transfiguration?  We might say Jesus crossed the line from the natural to the supernatural, form the human to the divine, as the cloak of humanity that veiled His true glory was removed and His glory became visible.  (RC Sproul, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary: Matthew, 504)

 

The face of Moses shone but as the moon, with a borrowed reflected light, but Christ’s shone as the sun, with an innate inherent light, which was the more sensibly glorious, because it suddenly broke out, as it were, from behind a black cloud.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 242)

 

Matthew has been picturing to us the career of the King.  It is as if the monarch had been walking in disguise; only occasionally beneath his humble garment has been revealed a glimpse of the purple and the gold.  Here, for an hour, the disguise is withdrawn and the King appears in his real majesty and in the regal splendor of his divine glory.  (Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Matthew, 154-5)

 

The substance of his body remained the same, but the accidents and appearances of it were greatly altered; he was not turned into a spirit, but his body, which had appeared in weakness and dishonor, now appeared in power and glory.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 241)

 

We have probably to regard the Transfiguration as the transient making visible, in the natural, symbolic form of light, of the indwelling divine glory, which dwelt in Him as in a shrine, and then shone through the veil of His flesh.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Matthew 9-17, 344-5)

 

Whatever Peter’s motive may have been, his offer could certainly not be accepted, for the primary purpose of the appearance of Moses and Elijah was to salute their divine Successor, and then to leave Him alone in His unchallenged supremacy, the sole object of His disciples’ veneration.  (R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 164-5)

 

There is no necessity for entering here into ingenious inquiries as to the whiteness of his garments, or the brightness of his countenance; for this was not a complete exhibition of the heavenly glory of Christ, but, under symbols which were adapted to the capacity of the flesh, he enabled them to taste in part what could not be fully comprehended.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 310)

 

The radiant Son of God, who enlightens all of Scripture, is the light of the world (see Jn 8:12; 9:5; cf. 4:16).  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 469)

 

Look neither to Moses nor to Elijah (they have done their job), but now look to Jesus and to him alone.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 471)

 

Here you have arguably the top six heroes of the Old and New Testaments in one place and one time, and God the Father acknowledges and honors Jesus exclusively (it couldn’t be plainer), and then he rebukes Peter for the first building project in church history–wanting to build holy shrines for holy people in the Holy Land.  What would Peter now think of St. Peter’s Basilica?  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 472)

 

The curtain is pulled aside, the veil removed, and we witness the pure light (or as pure as human eyes are permitted to see).  And Lord willing, we are permanently transformed by this momentary transfiguration.  (Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Preaching the Word: Matthew, 472)

 

Three aspects of the incident contribute to its christological force:  (1) the visible alteration of Jesus demonstrates that he is more than a merely human teacher; (2) his association with Moses and Elijah demonstrates his messianic role; (3) the voice from heaven declares his identity as the Son of God.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 642-3)

 

It is clear that Jesus took them up the mountain in order for them to have this experience, which he intends them to remember for future reference (v. 9).  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 643)

 

We cannot, and need not, know what a cinecamera on the mountain would have recorded; in the experience of the disciples heaven has invaded earth and the superhuman glory of the Messiah has been revealed.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 644)

 

II-  Even gloriously fulfilled prophecy can be missed or seriously misinterpreted.  (Mt 17:9-13; see also: Jer 6:14; 7:4; 8:11; Lk 24:13-35; Rom 9:6-18, 30-33; 11:1-32; especially the Jewish people missed Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, Acts and Romans chps 9-11)

 

They were very sure that the Messiah had come in the Person of Jesus, but at the same time they were aware that the scribes were teaching that Elijah would return before Messiah came, and restore everything to its original perfection.  Where was that Elijah?  (R.V.G. Tasker, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, 165)

 

Their ideas of both the Messiah and His forerunner must be drastically revised.  They must learn that it would be a suffering Messiah who would be revealed.  To preach a conquering Messiah would bring untimely tragedy.  Both the timing and the content of the announcement were important.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 95)

 

Where Jesus differs from the scribes is not in their reading of the scriptural promise, but in their failure to recognize when it has been fulfilled.  After the strong hint of 3:4 and the explicit statement of 11:14 the reader cannot be surprised to know that Elijah has already come in the person of John the Baptist, as Matthew spells out again in v. 13 to ensure that no one misses the point.  The account of John’s ministry in ch. 3 supplies clear links with the prophecy of Mal 4:5-6 and its extension in Sir 48:10: John preached the coming of judgment and warned people to repent so that they would escape its terror, and his requirement of baptism as a mark of that repentance and new beginning was a potent symbol of the “restoration” of those of the tribes of Israel who were willing to respond.  So “Elijah has already come.”  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 654)

 

Peter is the only one of the three disciples who has left a written record, and at the beginning of this study I quoted a part of it, his description of what he had seen on the mountain.  He claimed that he was an “eyewitness…of his majesty” and that he heard the voice that came to Jesus “from the Majestic Glory.”  He heard God say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (2 Pt 1:16-17).  But do you know what Peter wrote next?  Immediately after this he wrote, “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Pt 1:19).

This means that Peter’s experience on the mountain was an important one; he bears testimony to it.  But he adds that there is something “more certain” even than this:  the testimony of Scripture to which we must pay the most deliberate and rapt attention.  He is saying that the Bible is more certain even than a voice from heaven, which, in this case, they did not doubt even for a moment was God’s. . . .

. . . There is Peter–a prominent apostle of the Lord, a man who had a visual experience of Christ’s transfiguration as well as having heard an audible word of God from heaven, experiences confirmed as true by the other apostles who were with him at the time–speaking of God’s revelation in the Bible as being “more certain” even than his exceptional experience.  He does it to remind us that we must evaluate our experiences by the Bible’s teaching, rather than the other way around.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 325)

 

Once he was back in the camp, Moses would put his veil back on–but not right away.  If he had a message from God, he would leave the veil off until he delivered it (vv. 33-35).  So whenever the prophet spoke for God, the people could see his glorious face.  As Moses did his mediatorial work, he was glorified.  This was necessary because the people had begun to question his authority.  At the beginning of chapter 32 they had rejected Moses as their mediator–not for the first time, and not for the last.  As a result God needed to reestablish the prophet’s authority in some way.  He was sending Moses to give the law.  But how would the people know that the law came from God?  How would they know that Moses spoke on his behalf?  All it took was one look at the prophet’s face.  There could be no doubt that he had been with God:  He was shining with the reflected radiance of divine glory.  As he did his mediatorial work–with the veil still off–the people could see the glory of God shining from his face.  This was God’s way of authenticating the word that he revealed through his prophet.  God gave Moses glory so that the people would listen to him as their mediator in the covenant.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word Exodus, 1072-3)

 

John the Baptist had taken on Elijah’s prophetic role–boldly confronting sin and pointing people to God.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Matthew, 344)

 

The return to the theme of persecution and suffering, both that of John the Baptist and that of the Son of Man, brings us back to the subject which had occupied the disciples before their experience on the mountain, and forces them to integrate this unwelcome concept somehow with the glory they have just witnessed.  The resplendent Son of God of the mountain is the same as the suffering Son of Man.  The death and resurrection which he has so recently predicted remains his paradoxical destiny.  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 652)

 

They were to wait until after Jesus’ death (and resurrection), since there is no true glory apart from the cross.  Suffering must precede splendor.  This truth doesn’t make sense to the world, but it is crucial if we are to see the divine glory of the Son.  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 229)

 

His words seem absurd; beings from the unseen world would hardly care for huts on the mountainside; it would not be a kindness long to detain here on earth visitors from heaven.  However, his suggestion is far from meaningless; Peter is not to be ridiculed; he realized the blessedness of his experience; however clumsily expressed, his desire was to prolong such an ecstatic vision; in spite of his fear, he wished to continue in such blissful companionship.  (Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Matthew, 155)

 

III-  Our rebellion can negate the glorious promises of God just as our repentance can negate the curses of God.  (Mt 17:10-13; see also: 1 Kgs 11:38; 15:29-30; 21:19-29; 22:37-38; Jon 3:4; Mal 4:4-6; Acts 3:22-23; 2 Cor 3:12-18; 4:4-6)

 

The correct understanding of the prophecy is that John had come “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Lk 1:17).  John was the fulfillment of the arrival of the anticipated Elijah, in that he was the prophet sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus as Messiah (Mt 3:1-3; 17:12-13).  Had the people and religious leadership repented fully and accepted John’s and Jesus’ message of the gospel of the kingdom, John would have been the complete fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (11:14).  But neither John’s nor Jesus’ ministry was accepted fully.  Instead, John was executed, as will be Jesus.  Thus, the complete fulfillment of Malachi’s promise of restoration and judgment cannot now be accomplished.  Another Elijah-type figure will have to come in the future (17:11), again preparing the way, but then for the final consummation of the Day of the Lord prophesied in Malachi, preparing the way for the returning Son of Man who will at that time restore all things and bring God’s wrath on the unrepentant.  (Michael J. Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 594)

 

There was a debate in the early church around the question:  If Jesus is the Messiah why has Elijah not come?  These verses echo that strife.  Jesus is here represented as saying that Elijah has come, not in reincarnation, but in striking likeness of the flesh and in verity of the spirit.  John, dressed like Elijah, lived in the desert as Elijah had lived, and defied Ahab and Jezebel (cf. 11:14).  Granted that John came as Elijah, a further question remained:  Why did Elijah not restore all things according to promise?  Why had the golden age not come?

The controversy about Elijah seems ancient to us, but the question why the golden age comes on leaden feet is always new.  The answer Jesus is purported to have given has its truth for us:  men did not see in John the prophet of God, and in heedlessness they slew him.  Mankind has a certain freedom, and darkly abuses it.  The golden age cannot be forced upon them, for then it would not be gold, but only a gilded coercion.  The golden age comes only through golden souls.  So the Messiah must die on a Cross.  Thus Elijah awakens and Christ renews, Elijah arouses penitence and Christ forgives–if men will see and believe.  But they will not see.  So Christ must die that they may be cleansed of sin and sorrow by that ultimate tragedy.  (George Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7, 462)

 

This means that the scribes were right to insist that Elijah must come before the Messiah, but they were wrong in failing to see that he had in fact come.  They were wrong in their interpretation of the restoration too.  They understood this as a promise of a perfect messianic age.  But that was not a given fact, even in Malachi, since the last verse says that if the people do not repent at the forerunner’s teaching, then God will return “and strike the land with a curse” (Mal 4:6).  Since Jesus is making clear that the work of Elijah had been done by John the Baptist and that the people had not repented at his teaching, the only thing they could reasonably expect from God now was this judgment.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, 324)

 

Moses and his veil illustrate the fading of the old system and the veiling of the Jews’ minds by their pride, hardness of heart, and refusal to repent.  The veil kept many Jews from understanding the references to Christ in the Scriptures they heard every week.  When Moses turned to God, he removed the veil (see Ex 34:34).  In the same way, when a person turns to Christ–God’s only Son–the veil is taken away by Christ himself.  The veil represents the sin that clouds the person’s understanding about God’s great plan of salvation.  The idea of turning implies repentance–a conscious rejection of one’s old ways and turning to God and his ways.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary 1 & 2 Corinthians, 321-2)

 

The Israelites were unable to stare intently at Moses because of the radiant glory that emanated from his face.  (The Greek tense of the verb atenizein [to look at intently] conveys the sense of a single action.)  The reason for the people’s inability even to gaze at Moses’ face lies in the sin of idolatry they committed by worshiping the golden calf.  Not only then, but throughout the history of Israel, the hearts of the people were hardened (v. 14).  Many times God calls the Israelites “a stiff-necked people” (Ex 32:9; 33:3-5; 34:9).  (Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary 2 Corinthians, 112)

 

The veil had the same function in both Moses’ and Paul’s day, for it blocked the glory of the covenant that God had made with his people.  It is a symbol of hardened hearts that refuse to accept and obey God’s Word.  Although Moses conveyed God’s commands to the Israelites, they listened to him but declined to obey the stipulations of the old covenant.  When they asked Moses to cover his face, they in fact turned away from God.  Similarly, the refusal of the Jews to appropriate God’s covenantal promises in faith is a veil that obstructs God’s glory when his Word is read.  Paul combines both the verb to harden and the temporal reference to this very day to show their relevance to his own day (see also Rom. 11:7-8).  (Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary 2 Corinthians, 120-1)

 

God withholds the burning revelation of His holy presence because He withholds the day of judgment that it must bring.  The God of glory has already revealed Himself as the Father of mercy by sending His Son into the world.  He restrains the glory of His appearing so that men may respond to the call of His mercy and taste the wonder of His love.  Men who demand that God show Himself do not know what they are asking!  “Who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand when he appears?”  (Mal 3:2).  (Edmund P. Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, 99)

 

John didn’t usher in a great restoration, or so the disciples thought.  Jesus had to help the disciples understand that the kingdom of God was not being ushered in the way they thought it would be.  They expected a messianic forerunner and then a Messiah who would together usher in a kingdom on this earth marked by triumph and power.  However, God’s kingdom was coming in a very different way.

The promised Elijah, John the Baptist, did in fact have a ministry of restoration.  He announced that the kingdom of heaven was near and he called people to repent (Mt 3:2).  (David Platt, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Matthew, 228-9)

 

Why then, some wonder, did John himself disclaim being Elijah?  When the priests and Levites from Jerusalem asked him, “Are you Elijah?”…he said, ‘I am not’” (Jn 1:21).  He denied being Elijah because, though he knew of the prophecy of Luke 1, like Jesus, he realized the question was about a literal, reincarnated Elijah.  And, though John did not share Jesus’ omniscience, he doubtlessly also realized that the questioning of the priests and Levites originated from unbelief, not sincere faith.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 16-23, 72)

 

 

Worship Point:  Don’t be fooled by the veiled flesh of Jesus.  He is still fully God behind the cloak.  See Jesus—See God.   Worship!

 

Moses represented the Law, Elijah the Prophets, but Christ brought grace and truth.  (J. Oswald Sanders, Bible Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 94)

 

Meeting with God had a remarkable effect on Moses.  Every time he had an audience with the King of kings, he came away glorious.  This shows that it is possible for sinners to shine with the rays of God’s reflected majesty.  Being with God has a transforming effect on people.  No one who meets God by faith is ever the same again, because when we see God as he is, we become like what he is.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word:  Exodus, 1074)

 

There is a profound spiritual lesson in this.  We do not glorify God by looking at ourselves but by looking into him.  It is so easy to get lured into a performance-based approach to the Christian life, in which we are always looking at ourselves to see how we are doing spiritually.  It is also easy to waste time worrying what we look like to others.  Instead, we should be looking to Jesus.  Only then can we reflect his glory to others.  As we look to God, we are transformed by his splendor.  And then when people look at us, they see his glory shining through.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word Exodus, 1074)

 

Gospel Application:  When we get a glimpse of the glory of Jesus, it makes us appreciate even more the price He was willing to pay for our transfiguration through His rejection, suffering, beatings, crucifixion and death. (Jer 31:13-34; Ez 36:25-27; Rom 6:1-4; 8:28-30; 2 Cor 3:16-17; 5:17; Gal 4:19; 6:15; Phil 3:21; Col 3:4; 1 Jn 3:1-2; Rv 21:5)

 

I have no doubt whatever that Christ intended to show that he was not dragged unwillingly to death, but that he came forward of his own accord, to offer to the Father the sacrifice of obedience.  The disciples were not made aware of this till Christ rose; nor was it even necessary that, at the very moment of his death, they should perceive the divine power of Christ, so as to acknowledge it to be victorious on the cross; but the instruction which they now received was intended to be useful at a future period both to themselves and to us, that no man might take offence at the weakness of Christ, as if it were by force and necessity that he had suffered.  It would manifestly have been quite as easy for Christ to protect his body from death as to clothe it with heavenly glory.  (John Calvin, Commentaries, Vol. XVI, 308-9)

 

Both the OT and the NT dispensation had tokens of God’s presence; but that was a dispensation of darkness, and terror, and bondage, this of light, love, and liberty.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 243)

 

As we meet with Christ and experience His glory, we are transformed into His image.  The Bible says that we start out with a lack of understanding of the OT, due to hard hearts (Lk 24:25; 2 Cor 4:4).  This lack is like a veil over our hearts, keeping us from seeing it correctly (2 Cor 3:14-15).  When we turn to the Lord, the Holy Spirit works in us and the veil over our hearts is removed (2 Cor 3:16-17).  Then we see the true glory of Christ.  “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).  (Vern Poythress, Ph.D., The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, 6)

 

The glory that the Spirit imparts to the believer is more excellent and lasts longer than the glory that Moses experienced.  By gazing at the nature of God with unveiled minds, all of us Christians can be more like him.  “Become more and more like him” is literally in Greek “are being transformed.”  The same word appears in Mt 17:2 and Mk 9:2, where it refers to Jesus’ transfiguration, and also in Rom 12:2, where it refers to Christians’ moral transformation.  The gospel reveals the truth about Christ, and the Spirit of the Lord works within us, transforming us morally as we understand and apply it.  Through learning about Christ’s life, we can understand how wonderful God is and what he is really like.  As our knowledge deepens, the Holy Spirit works within us to help us to change to become more like Christ (for more on moral transformation, see Jer 31:33; Ez 36:25-27; Rom 6:1-4; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15).  Becoming Christlike is a progressive experience (see Rom 8:29; Gal 4:19; Phil 3:21; 1 Jn 3:2).  “Becoming more and more” expresses the Greek tense of the verb Paul used here.  Being transformed into Christ’s likeness is a continual process.  “Reflect his glory even more” translates Paul’s literal phrase in Greek:  “glory to glory.”  Thus, Paul was saying that as the Holy Spirit works through our lives, we–step-by-step–come closer to God’s perfect way of living.  It occurs little by little as the Holy Spirit points out more areas of our lives that need to be submitted to God’s will; and we, then, freely submit to God.  The Holy Spirit works through the preaching of God’s Word, the reading of Scripture, our prayer life, and the wise guidance of other mature believers to lead believers on God’s wonderful path of righteousness.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary 1 & 2 Corinthians, 323-4)

 

Spiritual Challenge:  Grow in your understanding of Jesus both from an imminent and a transcendent perspective.  And begin to live with the reality that we will be transfigured like Jesus. (Rom 5:2; 8:18-30; 9:23; 1 Cor 15:49-52; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:7-5:10; Eph 1:18-23; 3:16-21; Col 1:9-19, 27; 2:9; 2 Pt 1:3-4; 1 Jn 3:1-2)

 

 

To meet God, to talk with God, to worship God, you no longer come to a building or a tent or a structure made with human hands. You come to Jesus! Jesus is the Temple of God!

But the story doesn’t end there.  And therefore constitute the temple in which God is pleased to dwell. The shekinah of Yahweh now abides permanently and powerfully in us through the Holy Spirit.  (www.wordpress.com)

 

What is the meaning of being transformed?  How are we transformed?  And, who is the great agent that transforms us?  Jesus, the “firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29), was glorified on the mountain of transfiguration.  By being the forerunner, he assures us that we, too, shall be glorified.  Already in this life we are transformed in his image, now in principle, but eventually in full glory.  The transformation that occurs in the inner being of a person affects all of his or her thinking, speaking, and acting.  The external consequences become immediately apparent and gradually more explicit.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary 2 Corinthians, 129)

 

We presently see the glory of the Lord and know that we are changed in his likeness through the working of the Holy Spirit.  In the consummation, we shall be fully glorified like the Son of God (Rom 8:30; 1 Cor 15:49, 51-52).  (Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary 2 Corinthians, 129)

 

CHRIST:

EMMANUEL

 

 

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