Summary: What is the Kingdom of God going to be like?
Jesus’ Coming Exodus as Told by Moses and Elijah
The Transfiguration account occurs in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and here in Luke. In each of these gospels it comes at the end of a sequence of events starting with the feeding of the 5,000, then the trip to Caesarea Philippi and Peter’s confession, the revelation of Jesus that he was going to Jerusalem to be rejected, killed, and raised, a call to costly discipleship, and then a promise that some of the disciples would not die until they saw the Kingdom of God come in power. These events mark a turning point in the ministry of Jesus, whereas Luke notes, that from this time, He set His sights on Jerusalem.
Let us look into the account in Luke 9 and see what the Lord is teaching us in this passage.
Exposition of the Text
Luke tells us that the Transfiguration happened on the eighth day after he had promised some of them would not taste death until they saw the Kingdom come in power. This little detail links the statement to the Transfiguration and serves as the fulfillment of the promise He had made them. Jesus took three of His disciples up into a mountain to join Him in prayer. James, John, and Peter would be the same three disciples who would later be asked to pray with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in which they fell asleep.
Luke goes on to tell us that while Jesus was praying that his face was transformed before them, and His clothing became a dazzling white. Then is says that Moses and Elijah appeared beside Him and started conversing with Jesus. Most of your Bibles say that the topic of their conversation was Jesus’ departure, death, or decease that was going to happen to Him at Jerusalem. Each of these translations are trying to translate the Greek word "exodus”, which as we shall see is superior to all the other translations.
The next scene also reminds us of what would happen to them at Gethsemane. While Jesus was praying in agony, they kept falling asleep. So this is why the text said “while Jesus was praying” and not “while they were praying”. But the brightness of the change in Jesus and the appearance of Moses and Elijah had awakened them. When they would be awakened at Gethsemane, it would be by the approach of Roman soldiers and the Temple police with Judas.
The scene the disciples saw was overwhelming. And as usual, Peter is the only one that opens his mouth. And Peter also shows himself to be unaware of the significance of the event. He suggested that they make three booths, one for Jesus and one each for Moses and Elijah. The problem with Peter’s thinking was that he was making Jesus the equal to Moses and Elijah.
The text goes on to say that after Moses and Elijah left and Jesus was left alone that a cloud of glory came down and covered Jesus and the disciples, something which frightened them. Then they heard the voice of God call out to them and say: “This is My Son, the Chosen One. Obey Him!” After this, things returned to normal and they only saw Jesus who commanded them to tell no one.
Meaning of the Text
This text has often been preached along with what was going on at the bottom of the mountain. There the other disciples were struggling in vain to cast a devil out of a boy. When Jesus came down, He had to do this himself. When they asked Him why they couldn't, He answered that that kind of demon could only come out by prayer and fasting. So the connection that it made is that we come to church to be spiritually lifted and then go out to serve in the valley.
Although there is some practical value in this approach, I feel that this text makes a better connection to the suffering of Jesus. We have already seen this by the similarities between this account and the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. The fact that Jesus’ face shone her which reminds us of how Moses’ face shone after He had met with the LORD so brightly that Moses had to wear a veil. Here in this passage, the face of Jesus shines. The comparison to Gethsemane is that there Jesus’ face was contorted in agony with sweat drops of blood coming from it.
Exodus 34 contains the account of Moses’ shiny face in the wilderness. Luke uses several terms to remind us of the connection between Moses and His day and that of Jesus. The first is of course that Moses was one of the people who appeared with Him. Another was Peter’s statement of the three booths. The word here is the same as the booths the people of Israel erected at the Feast of Tabernacles as temporary shelters to remind them of the experience of their ancestors in the wilderness.