The Comfort Of The Glory

Jesus desires to encourage us with the glory that is to come, a glory that shall shine brighter than the sun

“As sudden as it appeared, the glory was gone, the Father’s voice stilled, Moses and Elijah had retreated, and on the slopes of Mt. Hermon were only Peter, James, and John with Jesus. This is what all of our experience, all our theology, all our ministry, all our work should come to––seeing only Jesus.”

 

We are taken, in Matthew 17:1–8, to a setting that only three disciples are allowed to witness––Peter, James, and John. Six days prior, Jesus had forewarned his disciples what to expect once they entered Jerusalem. He described the events of his rejection, crucifixion, and the coming suffering he would endure once he arrived in the holy city (Mt 16:21–23). Jesus cautioned his disciples that to identify and embrace the Messiah was to embrace a suffering Messiah, and in order to follow him they too must take up their own crosses (Mt 16:24). To hear such words would have shocked their Messianic expectations. They were instructed all of their lives to watch for a militant Messiah, not a humble suffering servant. When we meet this inner group of Jesus’ disciples in Matthew 17, they are deflated, discouraged, and defeated. With suffering and death on the horizon, Jesus desires to encourage this emotionally crushed group of disciples with something far more glorious than Roman conquest.

The Alteration of the Son

According to the parallel account in Luke 9:28–36, Jesus had led this inner circle of disciples up Mt. Hermon one late evening “to pray.” There is no suggestion as to what Jesus prayed for or how the disciples were involved in this prayer meeting. However, after some time, they became “very sleepy,” and evidently fell asleep (Lk 9:32). Whoever woke up first must have quickly shook the others awake when they saw the scene before them––“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Mt 17:2).

The disciples awake from sleep and Jesus is framed by a thousand summer stars and his clothing is dazzling white. Not only were his clothes blazing brighter than the sun, but Matthew adds that “His face shone like the sun” (Mt 17:2). Jesus was “transfigured,” or more literally “metamorphosed” before his disciples. For a brief moment, the veil of Jesus’ humanity was lifted, and his true pre-incarnate glory was allowed to blaze forth in full brilliance. Peter, James, and John are lifeless on the ground as they beheld this treasured spectacle. John would later reflect, “we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son” (Jn 1:14).

The Advent of Two Prophets

As if the display of the glory of Jesus was not enough to take in, the disciples are given something else, “Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with him” (Mt 17:3). Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet, were the definitive summary of the Old Testament and it is now appropriate that they appear with Jesus as his glory is unveiled. According to Luke, this heavenly council were conversing about Jesus’ coming crucifixion, “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31).

The appearance of Moses and Elijah pointed to the truth that Jesus was God’s ultimate fulfillment and conclusive word to humanity. Jesus achieved what the sacrificial system was teaching. Jesus perfectly obeyed every point of the law that the nation of Israel failed to obey. Everything toward which their religion and history had been inexorably moving was now converging like a mighty rushing river culminating within this one person, the Son of God. This stunning scene was meant to encourage the disciples and give them hope in the shadow of the looming cross.

The Audacity of Peter

Into this perfect scene enters a man who always has something to say when nothing at all should be said. At best, Peter’s response in verse 4 was a courteous reflex desiring to serve Jesus and his heavenly visitors. He wanted to construct tabernacles, or more properly thatched booths, so the disciples could wait on Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Some commentators think Peter may have thought this was the inauguration of the kingdom and all of Jesus’ talk about death and suffering would never come to pass. A quick survey of the New Testament reveals that Peter often desires to avoid the suffering of the cross, to the point that he will eventually deny three times that he even knows Jesus. At best, we don’t know all that is going on in the mind or motives of Peter, but we do know our Lord’s answer––complete silence.

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