By Nicole McLeod
In Luke chapter 9, we will be going up to the “Mount of Transfiguration” for morning devotions as we read Luke’s account of what took place there in verses 28-35, and will discuss what it means for us today. This was the only time on the earth that Jesus revealed Himself this way, and as we see the veil was lifted, those present were given a glimpse the glory of Jesus, the glory He had before he came to earth, and a preview of the power and great glory with which He will return someday. He is coming again, and when He comes His glory will be in fulness, and will fill the earth. This is His promise. I hope that as we read these verses today, they will renew our vision of His glory, and give us courage and confidence to live fully for Him till He returns.
Lord, as we look into Your Word, may we sense Your Holy Spirit’s presence with us to teach and help us. May you open our eyes to see, and grasp the significance of this glimpse of Your glory. May Your Word strengthen our faith, and our desire to live wholly for You, for Your Kingdom and glory, in Jesus name.
Many important things happened on mountaintops in the Bible, but I would venture to say that in the NT this was one of the most spectacular! It has been called “the most significant event between Christ’s birth and passion,” (Expositors Bible Commentary). The actual mountain is not identified in scripture, (many think it may have been Mt. Hermon) but it is not its location that makes it so special, it was the presence of Jesus and what He did there that day. Before we read Luke’s account, I’d like us to begin with Peter’s reflection on what that moment meant to him, in 2 Peter 1:16-21. It was years after the transfiguration and Jesus’ resurrection, that the apostle Peter wrote about what he experienced when he saw the majesty, and beheld the glory and heard the voice of God on the mountain that day… and how it impacted him. It made the truth of scripture more sure for him than anything. He wrote:
2 Peter 1:16-21 “ For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He (Jesus) received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so, we have the prophetic word (the scriptures) confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, (referring to this world, the world means murky, like a swamp) until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; (speaking of the Light and glory of Christ ) 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
You can sense Peter’s desire to impart the sense of awe and wonder that he felt as he uses the phrase “Excellent Glory” to refer to God’s presence. He also placed emphasis on the historical fact of this event, of which he was an eyewitness. In verse 21 he also confirms that the Holy Spirit is the One who has inspired the written accounts of this, found in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9. How blessed we are today, to have all of the holy scriptures, not only to tell us all about God’s great plan of redemption, and tell us who Jesus was, is and is to come, but to inspire us daily into holy living in the truth and light of Jesus. Now let’s turn to Luke 9…
The setting of this story is very important, as is the week that led up to this moment. As Luke chapter 9 begins, (vs. 1) we see Jesus send out the twelve with power and authority to do great things in His name, which they did. Luke then points out (vs. 7-9) that this caused lots of talk in the community about ‘who is Jesus’, and this reached the highest levels of government, Herod himself was asking. When the twelve returned, (vs. 10) Jesus took them aside privately for rest and refreshment, but the multitudes followed, so that evening He miraculously fed all 5000 + of them – a miracle recorded in all 4 gospels. In vs. 18, the subject of ‘who is Jesus’ comes up again, this time it was Jesus who asked His disciples “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They told him what the talk on the street was.
But when Jesus asked them, “who do you say that I am,” Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ because God had revealed it to him. And although Peter said this, he didn’t yet understand what it meant, and all that the Messiah would be. Jesus told them to keep this quiet, for it was not time yet for this to be declared. Then, all three gospels tell us that for the first time, Jesus spoke to His disciples plainly about His ultimate mission, and the fact that He had to die as part of God’s divine plan of redemption, Luke 9:22 “ saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” He had given them hints all along to try to prepare them.
Jesus also referred to Himself as the “Son of Man” which was a term rich with significance, (see Daniel 7:9-14)* identifying Himself with humanity, as the plans God had set into motion involved a Suffering Messiah. (ref: Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 and more…). But this was not what Peter and the others expected for Messiah and so they didn’t comprehend. (Luke doesn’t mention that fact that Peter tried then to discourage Jesus from going to the cross -and Jesus had to correct him). Then, in (23-26) Jesus addressed all His followers calling them to deny themselves, pick up their own cross, and give their lives wholly to Him, and be willing to share in His sufferings as cross-bearing disciples. They were to have the same mindset about the world as He, and He told them that they would be treated like Him by the world, as well. He ended this challenging sermon with an encouraging reference to his glorious kingdom to come… and in vs.27, Jesus tells his followers. “ But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” …a promise … and then about a week later, He gave three of them this glimpse of His future glory and kingdom to come.
( 28-29) “Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.” Matthew and Mark say it was “six days” after these difficult sayings, whereas Luke says “about 8 days, (not a contradiction). It is believed Luke included the day of the teaching and day of the ascent up the mountain, so we safely say this took place about a week after this promise was made.
As Jesus prayed, Luke described three things that happened.
1. Jesus’ appearance changed, his face and clothes became white and bright as a flash of lightening (28-29)
2. Moses and Elijah appeared to talk with him about his coming departure, “exodus” at Jerusalem (30-33)
3. God spoke from a cloud of Glory, as He had at done at Jesus Baptism and in the garden of Gethsemane and all heard the voice and saw the bright cloud of His glory that overshadowed them (34-36).
It is important to note here, that under Jewish Law, Deuteronomy 9:15 "Anything that is stated to be true must be confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses.” These three disciples were reliable witnesses and part of His “inner circle”. They were with Jesus when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead in private (8:51), with Him here on the mountain, and also with Him in the time of agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. They testified to all of these things. Moses and Elijah were also witnesses, to the disciples of who Jesus was as they spoke to Him (in glory) about all that was going to come to pass in Jerusalem.
What started as a mountain top prayer meeting, changed into the shining forth of the glory of Jesus. We aren’t told if it was daytime or night, if Jesus was on his knees, or standing, how long He had been praying or what He was asking His Father for. But as He prayed, Jesus’ entire appearance was transformed in a brilliant radiance of flashing light that made that mountaintop into a true “Holy of Holies” bringing to mind the awesome Shakina glory of God! Matthew and Mark use the word “metamorphoo”, a term we use for metamorphosis, to describe what happened to Jesus. It speaks of a change that takes place from the inside out. Luke used a different word that gives the same idea of a light from within that shone out from him. As the veil over Jesus’ humanity was lifted, God’s light from within was revealed, and was witnessed by human eyes. Matthew 17:2 says that Jesus’ “ face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as the light.” It was a majestic brilliant display of purity, divinity and holiness. When He said, "I am the light of the world," (John 8:12) He meant that! For this brief time, Jesus’ appearance was more appropriate for the King of Glory than for a humble man.
This was how John (one of these 3) described this, John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
“The transfiguration of Jesus confirms that, despite having the outward appearance of a mere mortal man, Jesus of Nazareth is in his nature and essence God – deity dressed in a body. In His transfigured radiance, Jesus showed His glory as King over all God’s Kingdom. He promised that He would suffer, die, and rise again, but He is still the King of Glory.”
(30-31) “And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
Two men… appeared in glory with Jesus, whom they recognized as the great prophetMoses (representing God’s law and the past) and the great prophet Elijah (representing the prophets, and the future). It can be said that “the sum of Old Testament revelation came to meet with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration.” Matt 5:7 “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Jesus is the culmination of the Old Testament and the fulfillment of all these two great figures had taught and represented from God to mankind.
When the disciples saw Moses – they may have thought about the frightening and holy display of glory that took place upon another mountain, Mt Sinai, when he received the law of God (read Ex. 24 – 34) And having been in the presence of God’s glory, Moses face shone so brightly that he had to cover it with a veil. Moses face shone because he was reflecting the glory of God with whom he had been speaking – but the glory was fading away. But Jesus face shone because he was transfigured from within, it was his own glory that was being made visible for the disciple’s and our benefit.
And when they saw Elijah, they might have thought about his glorious experience on top of Mt Carmel when fire from heaven descended upon the prophets of Baal! Or when God opened the eyes of his servant to behold the armies of God on the mountainside with them (2Kings 6) . Both of these men were great prophets of God, who had glorious mountaintop experiences with God, and both of their lives ended very unusually. Moses died alone, and God buried him in an unknown location on Mount Nebo and carried him to glory (Deut. 34:6) and Elijah went into God’s glory in a fiery chariot without having to die (2Kings 2:11-12 and Malachi 4:5). So, it can be said that Moses represents those who die and go to glory, and Elijah represents those who are caught up to heaven without death as some will be in the future rapture of the church, and both will be in the Kingdom with Christ. (1 Thes. 4:13-18.) At the end of his Gospel, Luke wrote about how after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to disciples on the Emmaus Road, (Luke 24:27), where beginning with the Law and the Prophets, He explained them how all these things must occur to fulfill the Scriptures. How amazing that conversation must have been! (Many people believe these to be the “two witnesses” of Re 11:3-13.)
This conversation was about Jesus’ “exodus”, His upcoming sacrificial death and the redemptive work, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Moses had led the exodus of the children of Israel out of the bondage of Egypt; Elijah had delivered them from the bondage of false gods. Jesus would die to deliver a sinful world, and free them from bondage to sin and death (Gal 1:4; Col 1:13; Heb 2:14-15). And from this point forward, Jesus spoke of heading towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:51, 13:33, 17:11 18:31).
But look at verse (32). But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep. T his is an interesting and important detail!!! This may suggest, (and some have), that the disciples only saw and heard a small part of this prayer meeting Jesus had with His Father. We don’t know and aren’t told. Were they tired because it was late at night or very early morning…were they tired from the climb, or the altitude - perhaps they dozed off, if the prayer meeting had gone on a long time.
Spurgeon: “It is very probable that, on this occasion, he had been engaged in earnest prayer for several hours before the transfiguration came, and it is worthy of note that he was transfigured while he was praying. Every blessing comes to the great Head of the Church, and to all the members of his mystical body, through prayer.”
These same three men were also “heavy with sleep” when Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:45). The spectacle they saw aroused them thoroughly and they were fully awake! They were overwhelmed at sight of the glory of what was taking place before them.
(33) “Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”; not knowing what he said.
Then it happened . Peter spoke up as they were parting from Him. It was an such an awesome moment, he wanted to say or do something and perhaps felt they were leaving – and didn’t want them to leave, or this scene of glory to stop. In suggesting three tabernacles, Luke notes that he spoke “not knowing what he said” as Peter made the mistake of putting Jesus on an equal level with Moses and Elijah.
(34) While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them . They were fearful as they entered the cloud: At first, they said, “it is good for us to be here”, but as the glory intensified and the cloud overshadowed them, it began to create in them the awe and dread that sinners feel in the presence of a Holy God. The cloud of light and glory was real and present. You remember in the Old Testament there was a bright cloud that led the children of Israel when they came out of the bondage of Egypt, and that cloud followed them and led them through the wilderness.
And it was the cloud that represented the Shekinah, the glory of God’s presence with them to lead and protect them. When the tabernacle was completed, and they were ready to begin the sacrifices, this bright cloud descended there on the tabernacle, the glorious presence of God filled the Holy of Holies. And later on when Solomon completed the new temple, and they dedicated it to the Lord, again this bright cloud came upon it which meant that God Himself was present, which was awesome and fearful thing. (Ex. 13:21-22; 40:35, 38). (note: The cloud overshadowed them- which is the same term used in Luke 1:35, when the glory of God came upon Mary and she received the child Jesus.)
(35) And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One, Listen to Him!” They were afraid when they entered the cloud… so imagine how they felt when they heard a voice, they knew was God’s. The other gospel writers add that they were terrified, Matthew 17:7 “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”
(36) When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen. This scene ends with Jesus alone as the center of the disciple’s attention where He should always be. Matt. and Mark add that Jesus gave them orders not to speak of this until after His resurrection, so, they told no one in those days.
This was a holy moment and full of glory to behold!!! Jesus was lit up from within like lightening flashing with glory, the great prophets Moses and Elijah appearing - talking with Him about his exodus to come, and now this the cloud – the Shakina glory of God overshadowing. And then hearing the voice of God speak to them confirming Jesus as His beloved, “chosen” Son- telling everyone to listen now to Him. Awesome! This is one of the three recorded times in the NT God spoke to confirm Jesus to His followers. First was at Jesus baptism, Luke 3:22 and Matthew 3:17) “This is my Son whom I love; with Him I am well pleased .” Here at the Transfiguration was the second. John records a third time God spoke audibly from heaven in John 12:28-30 when Jesus was praying to His Father about the cross just a few days away, prayed, “ Father, glorify Your Name.” (note that even then His heart was to glorify the name and character of God the Father. Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.
On all three occasions God has spoken for benefit to those who follow Jesus, so we may know for certain that Jesus is His Son, the One we have waited for, the Messiah – the One to whom we must listen. The writer of the book of Hebrews said this: Heb. 1:1-3a “ Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
He is the shining out of the glory of God. He perfectly expresses God's attributes, God's essence, God's nature to us. Just as the radiance of the sun reaches the earth and lights the earth and warms the earth and gives life and growth to the earth, so in Christ shines into the hearts of men and women… and we must receive and believe and abide in Christ. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses told the people of Israel, “The Lord will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” And the Voice from the Cloud of Glory made it abundantly clear that though Moses and Elijah had an important place in God’s unfolding plans, the attention is to be upon Jesus, God the Son.
“If He says he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, believe Him. If He says He will be raised on the third day, He will. If He tells you that you must deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him in discipleship, it’s what we are to do and if He says He will come again in “ His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” Luke 9:26, we had better live accordingly!” John MacArthur commentary
Before we leave this glorious mountaintop, I’d like to offer 5 thoughts as to why seeing this transfiguration event is so important to us today.
1.First, God provided this glimpse or preview of Jesus glory to the disciples to correct their misconceptions of the Messiah, to give them confirmation of His Word, and the fact that Jesus, the One they followed, is indeed God’s Messiah. And though He must first take the path of suffering - it would lead to the crown of glory and the glorious kingdom He promised would come. Jesus had all along been revealing His person and glory through His Words, His works, His miracles but didn’t yet understand. This moment made his Word and glory true to them.
2. Second God provided this moment to speak His love and approval to Jesus, His faithful Son, and to strengthen Him for the suffering ahead as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. This gives us also a glimpse of the glory of the cross and submission to it that would lead to a crown. If you put all three gospel accounts of what God spoke together, we see/hear a loving affirmation to Jesus as well as a clear confirmation to the disciples that Jesus is theBeloved (agapetos) Son of Godwith whom God is well pleased, and is The Chosen One who glorifies God.
3.Thirdly, Jesus revealed the glory of His Kingdom in the presence of these greatly respected prophets, to give strong direction to the disciples (and to us) as to who to listen to. Luke 1:32-33” He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Also, ref: Luke 1:68-77)
Hear Him, Listen to Him is a corrective command in the present imperative to say: Listen and obey and yield to Him. This is one of the reasons we daily set aside time alone in the Word, with Jesus, because as wonderful as mountaintop experiences are, they are not the basis for a consistent Christian life and walk. God has given us His Light in His Word and His Spirit to teach us, so we daily seek His guidance and direction and take it to heart.
4. Fourthly, we again see Jesus show us the importance of prayer by His example. The transfiguration took place as part of a powerful prayer time between Jesus and His Father. Prayer is a time to let God transform us. CS Lewis on prayer: “I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me.” There are times prayer changes us – transforms us from a place of worry or fear, into faith and peace and confidence God will take care of things. Worship can also be a transformative experience. We come just as we are, but as our worship and thoughts turn to God, and we listen and receive and walk in what we learn, we are being changed – our lives transformed- which leads us to…
5. Fifthly, God provided this moment to give us all hope for the glory of our own transformation as God’s Spirit works in us. “Glory reveals itself from heaven, but its goal is the transfiguration of the created world and mankind.” We call this our sanctification and it is a continual process of growth and change as we abide in His Word and yield to the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. We are being changed by God’s power working in us. Romans 12:1-2 tells us how to yield to God in this;
Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. And “transformed” is the same word metamorphosized.
“Communion with God changes us,” a ccording to Warren Wiersbe. “We can have a spiritual transfiguration experience each day as we surrender body, mind and will (Romans 12:1-2) the Lord transforms us from within so that we are not conformed to the world. If the world controls our thinking, we are conformers; if God controls our thinking, we are transformers” WW.
As God works in us our focus also changes 2 Cor. 5:15 “… and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
In 2 Cor. 3:17-18 Paul also wrote: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
You and I are being transformed by God’s Word, and by His Spirit at work within us. Warren Wiersbe wrote: “When a child of God looks into the Word of God and sees the Son of God, he or she is transformed by the Spirit of God, into the image of God for the glory of God. And we may come boldly to God’s throne of grace at any time in Christ ( Hebrews10:19-20) we don’t have to climb a mountain J!
6.Lastly, whatever you are going through, and wherever you are at today may seeing Jesus in this glory give your faith a boost and encourage you to persevere as Christ is at work in your life, for His glory. Here is a comment I found so valuable from my WW study Bible: “ When God’s servants are discouraged and disappointed because of the sins of their people, the best remedy of a broken heart is a new vision of the glory of God.” May we receive this fresh vision today from these verses as the Holy Spirit helps us see, and gives us strength to persevere and finish our race well. He is the Lord of glory, and this is our sincere hope and prayer as we end this devotion today, Amen.
Discussion time: Please share about a “mountaintop” experience you’ve had with the Lord, or a time when the Lord revealed Himself personally in a powerful way. (We treasure these times, and like the disciples on this mountaintop, we don’t want them to come to an end, but down the mountain there are needs to be met, people to be reached, and much Kingdom work left to do so that others can come to know Christ as we have.