Summary: This lesson provides believers with a glimpse of heaven as we study the transfiguration of Jesus.
“A Glimpse of Heaven”
Text: Matthew 16:28-17:5
This will be our sixth lesson from our series on Mountaintop Experiences. We began with Noah on the mountains of Ararat and then looked at Abraham on Mount Moriah. Next we talked about Moses on Mount Sinai, Deborah on Mount Tabor and finally Elijah on Mount Carmel. How appropriate in this lesson on a mountaintop to encounter two of the previous subjects. As the reading pointed out, we are going to the Mount of Transfiguration. While the transfiguration of Jesus is recorded in all three synoptic gospels, we’ll focus on Matthew’s account which is the longest. So please open your Bibles to our text and we’ll begin.
Let’s begin with the first verse of chapter 17 – Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;
This presents us with two questions: “When?” and “Where?” Both Matthew and Mark indicate that these events occur six days later – presumably after the events at Caesarea Philippi. Luke uses an approximation in Luke 9:28 of about eight days. There is no disparity since Luke was far removed from this scene and could only estimate the time. We might simply say, “A week later.” The tradition from the 4th century onward has been that the transfiguration occurred on Mount Tabor on the northern side of the Jezreel Valley. However, most scholars reject this location since Josephus records that a Roman walled fortress was atop the summit at the time. Also, Mount Tabor’s elevation is only 1900 feet which is certainly not high. Many lean toward Mount Hermon since Caesarea Philippi was at the base of this almost 10,000 foot mountain. Jesus and His disciples could certainly have gone up to one of the spurs of this mountain range. And, it qualifies as a high mountain; however, Mark’s account indicates that, when Jesus gets back to the other disciples, they are surrounded by a great multitude. This is perhaps an indication that they have moved back into predominantly Jewish territory. From Matthew 17:24, we know that Jesus and His disciples are making their way back to Capernaum. Another possibility is that the high mountain is Mount Meron. At approximately 4,000 feet and only eight miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee, this is a more logical choice – in my opinion – than Mount Tabor. But, regardless of the time or place, we do know that Jesus took three of His apostles up on a high mountain. We may never know why Peter, James and John enjoyed this special relationship with our Savior. They had been present when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8 and will also be near Him in the Garden of Gethsemane as He prayed before His betrayal in Matthew 26. Their presence at His transfiguration may be to establish its truth by the mouth of two or three witnesses – Deuteronomy 19:15. The statement by the beloved apostle in John 1:14 may be a reference to this event: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Listen to another witness’ words in 2 Peter 1:16-18 – 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 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.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. Luke records that Jesus went to this place to pray but we do know from our text that Jesus and the three apostles were by themselves on the high mountain. It is here that Jesus was transfigured. Notice verse 2 of our text: and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. The Greek word translated “transfigured” here and in Mark 9:2 appears only two other times in scripture and is the root of our English word metamorphosis. In the other two NT occurrences – Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, the word is translated “transformed”. The basic meaning is to undergo a change in form – an internal one in the Pauline epistles – but the gospel accounts indicate this change in Jesus was definitely visible. His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as the light. You may recall that in between Peter’s great confession in Matthew 16 and the beginning of our scripture reading, Jesus had been telling His disciples about His upcoming death and resurrection. Shortly before His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed these words in John 17:4-5 – “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” You and I cannot imagine the beauty and glory of heaven but the apostle John in his old age was given another glimpse of our glorified Savior. Notice Revelation 1:14-18a as he saw One like the Son of Man: His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.” Verse 3 of our text: And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Luke’s account has Jesus praying when the transfiguration occurs and, like they were in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, James and John were sound asleep! Luke 9:31 states that they were speaking “of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” We do not know how the apostles knew the identities of Moses and Elijah – perhaps it was determined by parts of their conversation. More importantly for us is what did these two great men represent – Moses the great lawgiver and Elijah the prophet. I’d like to suggest two passages for us to keep in mind concerning these two OT figures. The first is a Messianic prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15 as Moses addresses the children of Israel – “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” The second is found in the closing words of the OT – Malachi 4:4-5 – held to be a prelude to the Messiah’s coming: “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant,