March 11th, 2018
I promised one of my parishioners a few weeks ago, when it actually was “Transfiguration Sunday” on the church calendar, that I would dedicate a service to this event soon. While I am not one to strictly follow the lectionary, I am happy to compose and preach a sermon on a topic that someone requests for whatever reason. And since the transfiguration seemed the perfect follow up to last Sunday’s message on renewal, that is what we are going to take a closer look at this morning.
The Transfiguration is an exciting topic for a variety of reasons. Not only was it a miraculous event with a bright message of hope, but also one that raises many questions, and often triggers debates and controversy. Let’s take a look at the more difficult verses first, and then we will focus on the hope and inspiration that Jesus meant for this to give, not only to the three disciples that accompanied him, but to us as well.
Let’s start with a very minor portion of those Scriptures first. People that like to point out what they believe are contradictions in hopes of discrediting the Bible, might use the fact that our first Scripture reading in Matthew (see 17:1), as well as the account in Mark’s gospel (9:2), mention a time span of six days, whereas our second Scripture reading in Luke (see 9:28) mentions ‘about eight days’. However, there is actually a very simple way to show that both can be true without there being any contradiction. Matthew and Mark simply excluded the days of the two terminal events (the prophecy and the transfiguration), counting only the days between them. Whereas Luke included both of those days, as well as the six intermediate days. (For more information on this visit: http://www.apologeticspress.org/ApPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=526&article=161 )
The next portion of our first Scripture reading that I would like to mention begins at verse 10 of Matthew 17: “The disciples asked him, ‘Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.” Some folks claim that this is proof of reincarnation. However, they are forgetting that Elijah never died in the first place, but was taken to heaven bodily in a chariot of fire (see 2 Kings 2:11). Besides, the disciples had just seen Elijah standing with Jesus, and recognized him as Elijah – not as John the Baptist who had recently been beheaded. Also, when Gabriel told Zechariah that his soon to be born son was the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah, who would come in “the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:21), and instructed that he be named “John” (vs. 13). And when John the Baptist was directly questioned as to whether or not he was Elijah, he replied “I am not” (John 1:21). So how do you reconcile Jesus’ words in Matthew 17? There is a key phrase in Jesus’ identification of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:14 that must not be overlooked. In that verse He says, ‘If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah.’ In other words, John the Baptist’s identification as Elijah was not predicated upon his being the actual Elijah, but upon people’s response to his role. To those who were willing to believe in Jesus, John the Baptist functioned as Elijah, for they believed in Jesus as Lord. To the religious leaders who rejected Jesus, John the Baptist did not perform this function. (see: https://www.gotquestions.org/John-Baptist-Elijah.html). As an end note to this portion of the message in regards to Elijah, there is a very distinct possibility that Elijah will be one of the two witnesses mentioned in Revelation 11:1-14. But I’ll let you read that one on your own, and perhaps delve into it more in a future message.
The third verse that some have difficulty understanding is when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). At first glance some might say that would refer to Christ’s second coming, and then use that to try and show that His promised return that we are looking forward to isn’t going to happen, because obviously everyone who was alive when Jesus spoke those words has long since died. Peter even warned that people would say this when he wrote, “Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, ‘What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again?’” (2 Peter 3:3-4a). What we must remember is that Jesus’ words were not referring to the millennial earthly kingdom that will be set up at His second coming, but to His kingdom that is not of this world. This kingdom is the Body of Christ, composed of all true believers. Jesus’ soon death and resurrection would allow their spirits to go directly into the presence of God when they pass from this earth, thus never requiring them to ‘taste death’ in the way the Old Testament saints had. This is even confirmed in what the disciples saw on the mountain during the Transfiguration. When Jesus appeared with Moses, who represented the Law, and Elijah, who represented the Prophets, he was revealing Himself as the fulfillment of both – and as the one to establish the new covenant spoken of repeatedly in the Book of Hebrews.
Which brings me to the final controversial part of these passages. Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ prior to his resurrection. And as I had just mentioned, the Old Testament saints at that time were still in the Paradise side of Hades. With Elijah, this is not an issue, because we know that he was taken bodily into heaven, as it says in 2 Kings 2:11, “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind”. But what about Moses? Moses, on the other hand, died in the wilderness before the Israelite people entered into the Promised Land. The story of his death, as recorded in Deuteronomy 34:5-6, reveals something extraordinary. The Bible says that God Himself buried Moses, and that none of the Israelites were ever aware of his gravesite. Not all commentators agree on this, but in Jude 9, we’re told that the archangel Michael contended with Satan over the body of Moses. Therefore, it is quite possible that while Satan claimed Moses as his own, worthy of death just like everyone else, God had other plans. I believe he was resurrected from the dead and has been living in heaven since that time.
(https://www.truthaboutdeath.com/q-and-a/id/1606/if-the-dead-dont-immediately-go-to-heaven-how-did-moses-and-elijah-appear-at-the-transfiguration and Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary at http://biblehub.com/jude/1-9.htm)
Now that I have hopefully shed some light on the more confusing portions of these verses, we can concentrate on why it happened, and what we can learn from it. Why was this event so important that its account is found in Matthew (17:1-11), Mark (9:1-12), and Luke (Luke 9:28-36); plus John mentions it in John 1:14, as well as Peter in our third Scripture reading (2 Peter 1:16-21)?
First of all, it confirmed Jesus’ divinity. If the disciples at all doubted when they heard the Father’s voice at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17), He utters the same words again at His transfiguration, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” - this time adding, “Listen to him!" (Matthew 17:5). It also provided proof of life after death, something the Sadducees of that time did not believe in. And, of course, the obvious physical transformation which revealed his glorified body, was further confirmation that Jesus’ was indeed “the light of the world” (John 1:4, 3:19, 8:12, 9:5, 12:35-36), the light that came into this world so we would not remain in darkness.
Now remember, Jesus also told us to be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). And while others might not see our literal transfiguration as the disciples did that of Jesus on the mountain, they should be able to see our spiritual transfiguration if we have truly received Jesus as our Savior and Lord, and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Webster defines the word ‘transfigure’ as to “transform into something more beautiful or elevated”. Has your spirit been transformed into something more beautiful? Do others see the light of Christ in you? Do they feel His love emanate from you? Has your spirit been lifted up from the depths of sin and despair? If not, then allow Jesus’ to transfigure you today! Amen.
Transfigure is a very big word,
To describe a wonderful change,
When Jesus went up on the mountain,
Something happened that seemed a bit strange,
Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared,
And Jesus turned bright as the sun.
The disciples heard the voice of His Father,
And were amazed had what God had done.