Please read Luke 9:28-36 – The Transfiguration of Jesus.
Ask the Holy Spirit for help in understanding God’s Word.
On this occasion, Luke does give us a time frame, although he states it as eight days, whereas Matthew and Mark both say six days, Matthew 17:1, Mark 9:2. Why the difference? It seems that Luke, who generally doesn't keep to any sense of chronology, is simply marking the link between the declaration of Jesus as Messiah, his statement about his death, and his transfiguration.
What is Jesus doing? He is beginning to prepare the Apostles for the end of his earthly life and work. He is the Christ, who shall be killed, then raised from the dead before coming again to judge, verses 20-26. One commentator says of the transfiguration that, it "casts its light on all these statements like a great shining seal of verity."
V28. Jesus takes Peter, James and John.
Jesus had chosen Peter, James and John to be witnesses of the raising of Jairus' daughter. His taking them to witness his transfiguration will not be the last time they will fulfil this role, for Matthew tells us that in Gethsemane, Jesus takes them with him as goes to pray. Only these three are to see and hear what Jesus knows is about to transpire.
There are various suggestions as to which mountain Jesus went up. Traditionally, it was thought to be Mount Tabor, but that is questioned because of the distance from Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus is still thought to be. Another significant suggestion of a mountain in the history of God's people is Mount Hermon, but again, this is also questioned because of the distance involved. The conclusion to draw is that God does not want us to know where this took place; if he had, he would have revealed it to us. God doesn't reveal everything to us in his Word. There is much that we do not know, but he does reveal what we do need to know. Sometimes Christians can become more excited about trying to work out the unrevealed things than what God has clearly stated, which isn't wise.
Something that God does choose to reveal is that Jesus went up the mountain to pray. Not an uncommon practice of the Lord. Jesus seems to have lived on prayer. As we have repeatedly seen, the demands on his life were incredible, and the repeated revelations that he went off on his own, or that he took others with him to pray, is noteworthy. Personally, this is convicting. I preached this past Lord's day that to exercise faith two things need to happen. First, we need to see our need, and second, we need to come to the point where we know and accept that neither we nor anyone else can ultimately help us. I believe prayer comes from that same root. There must first be a sight of 'need', and second, acceptance of our inability to meet it. Oh, that God would be merciful to you and me and give us a greater sight of our deep daily need of him.
V29. The Transfiguration.
As Jesus was praying, something happened. Luke says that "the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white." The term that theologians have devised for it is 'transfiguration'. This change was something that came upon him. That is not to say that he did not know that it was going to happen; he did. Hence, the reason he brought the three witnesses with him. Jesus' human nature is glorified. Matthew tells us that his face shone like the sun, Matthew 17:2. The shining of Jesus' face was so glorious that those present could only describe it later in terms of the brightest thing known to them – the sun. What was true of his face was also true of his entire being and clothes. Mark says of his clothing, that "his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them." Mark 9:3. Again, the comparison with the whitest, brightest, most radiant equivalent on earth is used to try and convey something of what is being seen. This glory is from another place, and these men are struggling to find words to express it adequately. They know that their analogies are falling short of what they are observing, but they can do no more than use the brightest, most glorious equivalent. Peter would later write that they were "eyewitnesses of his majesty." 2 Peter 1:16. John wrote, "we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14. Jesus, the Son of God, emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men and in human form. On this one occasion, on this mount, his divine glory is permitted to shine through that human form. This is something to take a moment to consider.
V30. Behold Moses and Elijah.
"And behold," writes Luke; as if the transfiguration of Jesus was not staggering enough, two men are now talking with Jesus. Note, it is not Peter, James and John; they are fast asleep at this point. These two men also appear in glorified form. What are they talking with Jesus about? Jesus' departure, which he is about to accomplish at Jerusalem. They are speaking with Jesus of his death on the cross, his resurrection, and his ascension to glory. The men talking with Jesus have a huge personal interest, as do all the saints in glory, in this conversation. Their dwelling in heaven is predicated on what will be accomplished through the 'departure' of Jesus. Who are they? They are Moses and Elijah. We are not told how Peter, James and John, when they wake up, realize that it is Moses and Elijah. Did Jesus address them by name as he spoke with them, or will it be the case that the saints in heaven are known by a simple revelation of God? It's an exciting thought, and if I can say it reverently, especially for those of us who struggle with names, faces, etc., that we will instantly know who people are in heaven. Elijah, of course, ascended bodily into heaven, 2 Kings 1:11, while Moses died and was buried by God in a place no one knows the whereabouts of, Deuteronomy 34:5,6, which means that his soul alone entered heaven. So, like the angels who were sent to the earth on occasions as messengers of God, Moses was provided with a form, which was both recognizable and functioned as a body.
But why were Moses and Elijah sent from heaven for this significant conversation with Jesus? The generally held view is that you have in Moses the one through whom God gave his Law, and Elijah is regarded as the representative of the Old Testament prophets.
V33. Peter's offer.
The three sleeping Apostles awaken to the scene described, just as Elijah and Moses are about to leave. God only gives them enough sight of what has transpired that they will be able to recount it in a general, if striking, way. Peter offers to make three temporary dwellings, one for Jesus and one for Moses and Elijah to prolong their stay. It is an offer that is coming from a mouth that is speaking before thinking. He is excited, to a degree overwhelmed, by what he is witnessing, Mark says that there is also a strong element of fear – "they were terrified," Mark 9:6, and he just opens his mouth and speaks. He is not the first person to have done that in life and certainly not the last. Having control of our tongue begins with having control of our hearts, and yet none of us succeed wholly in this regard, James 3:1-12.
V34. The cloud comes, a Voice is heard, and Jesus is alone.
Jesus doesn't respond to Peter's suggestion. He sees it for what it is, sometimes the less said, the better. He also doesn't have time to do so, because as Peter is speaking, cloud envelopes the mountain, covering them all. This is a supernatural event, and it engenders even more fear in the three Apostles. They can see nothing, but then they hear a voice. It is a voice of power and authority. It is the same voice that was heard at the Baptism of Jesus; it is the voice of God, the Father. The words are few. The words are simple. The words are commanding, literally – "listen to him!" This is both a confirmation of Peter's previous confession that Jesus is the Christ, and an affirmation of what these men must do; they must listen to Jesus.
Matthew says that when the Apostles heard this, "they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying 'Rise and have no fear'" Matthew 17:6,7. Luke simply says that "when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone." It was over. They would not speak of what they saw until after Jesus had risen from the dead, Mark 9:9.
What a day it will be when we stand in the presence of the risen, glorified Lord, and meet the saints of old. The difference for us, though, will be that on that day we will have no fear, and the experience will never end.