Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Transfiguration of Christ

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss reminds you of the hope of the Resurrection.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Ladies, don’t spend too much time trying to figure out how to change the shape of your external body. God is going to transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Whew! I like that!

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, March 10, 2015.

The gospels tell of an incident on a mountain. The clothing of Jesus began to shine, and His glory was revealed. Why was that moment so significant? We’ll explore that question continuing in the series "The Incomparable Christ."

Nancy: Over these last several sessions, we’ve been looking at the person and the nature of Christ. We’ve been through some heavy doctrinal ground here. I hope that it’s making Christ more real and more precious to you and you’re getting a greater sense of the wonder of who He is and why He came to this earth.

Today we’re going to look at an amazing scene in the life of Christ—what we often call The Transfiguration of Jesus. If you’re following along in your Bible, let me ask you to turn to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16.

Now the account of the Transfiguration actually occurs in Matthew 17, but I want to give you some background and context that will help us see the back drop for this scene, the Transfiguration of Christ.

As we come to chapter 16, people are confused about who Jesus is, and so Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” There are various answers given, but then you remember that amazing confession that Peter makes: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Peter’s right. He’s got it. Of course, Jesus says, “This has been revealed to you by My Father in Heaven. You couldn’t know this on your own” (see v. 17).

Let me just remind you, all the things we’ve been talking about in this series about the deity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, the two-fold nature of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, there’s no way you can get that unless the Holy Spirit reveals it to you as He did to Peter.

Then, still in Matthew 16, Jesus explains to His disciples, now that they realize who He is, He explains to them what lies ahead. In light of the fact that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, they’re saying, “You are God. You are the Messiah.” Jesus’ description of what is about to happen hits them like a ton of bricks. The problem is, we’ve read this so many times, we don’t get the impact of how they felt the first time they heard this.

Look at verse 21 of Matthew 16. Jesus says, before there can be exaltation, there has got to be humiliation. He talks in verses 21 through 26 about His humiliation. Let me just read a portion of that. From the time they realized who He was, the Messiah . . . Remember, Jews in that day had an expectation that the Messiah would come and throw off all their oppressors and make everything right. They saw this man coming in on a white horse and taking over.

Jesus says, "You're right. I'm the Messiah. But . . . before that scene happens, there is something else that has to happen."

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things [suffer? yes, suffer many things] from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, [and that’s all they heard; they didn’t hear this next part] and on the third day be raised.

They got stuck on the suffering and killed, and they’re going, “What?!” Look at verse 22:

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (vv. 22–23).

So, before there can be exaltation, there must be humiliation—not just for the Master, as we’ve just read, but also for His servants. Look at verse 24:

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (vv. 24–25).

I can imagine the disciples saying, "Whoa! We're heading the wrong direction here." You are talking about crosses—the most hideous, heinous, excruciating form of death ever developed by mankind. Cross. Death. Suffer. "I thought you were the Messiah, and we're following You. We're looking for victory and overcoming and hope."

Jesus says, "That's coming, but after the cross."

So, first the humiliation, and then the vindication—the return of Christ in glory and in final judgment. Look at verse 27:

The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (vv. 27–28).

So there's the suffering, the death, the cross—for the Master and for His servants. Then there is the vindication, the glory, the kingdom. We want the latter without the former. The disciples wanted Jesus to be this great, conquering Messiah without going through the excruciating pain, suffering, and death of the cross. But it could not be. First the humiliation, then the vindication.

Now, that’s the context, the back drop for the Transfiguration of Jesus, the Mount of Transfiguration that we read about starting in Matthew chapter 17, verse 1.

And after six days [a week after this whole conversation] Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light (vv. 1–2).

Now, we’re going to walk through this passage, and I want us to see several things about the transfiguration.

First, it points to the glory of Christ.

This scene appears to have taken place at night. We read in Luke’s account that the disciples were heavy with sleep (9:32). It was nighttime. It was darkness. But here is everything bright and light and white.

Now, get the picture here. This is not like a spotlight shining on Jesus. This is the glory of God from within Christ shining out through the form of a human, a servant that He had taken on. Remember, He is the God/man. Here’s the God-ness shining out through the human veil—the glory of God from within.

Luke’s account says that “his clothing became dazzling and white” (9:29). That word dazzling, in some of your older translations is glistering. It’s a word that means “to emit flashes of light.” It’s like flashes of lightning. That’s what was happening. So we have this blazing light and this dazzling whiteness.

Now, as you ponder this passage, it brings to mind descriptions of the Old Testament where the glory and presence of God were manifested. What was it like? The manifestation of God in the Old Testament was often accompanied by light, by fire, by brightness.

Think about how God first appeared to Moses. How did He appear? In a burning bush.

Think about the Children of Israel in the wilderness. How did God lead them? With a pillar of fire at night and a bright, shining cloud by day.

As I was pondering this late last night, my mind went to Ezekiel chapter 1. I won’t ask you to turn there, but there’s a vision in Ezekiel 1 of the pre-incarnate glory of Christ. Before Christ came to this earth, this is the description. Listen to what it says:

And seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness with a human appearance. And upward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were gleaming metal, like the appearance of fire enclosed all around. And downward from what had the appearance of his waist I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness around him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around (vv. 26–28).

You get the picture here that words fail. There was this bright, magnificent, splendorous vision of the pre-incarnate Christ. And Ezekiel says:

Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking (Ezek. 1:26–28).

Ezekiel was given this vision, this glimpse of Christ in His glory in heaven, but now Christ has come to the earth. He’s walking in Palestine. He goes up to this mountain and takes three of His closest disciples with him. The disciples are given this glimpse of the fullness of the glory of God, a glimpse of the incarnate Christ in His glory.

This is one time during His earthly life that the veil is lifted, the veil of His humanity, and they’re given a glimpse of the glory that He had before He came to earth, and the glory that would be Christ’s for all of eternity.

John 1 describes it this way: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (v. 14).

The man who wrote that was there on the Mount of Transfiguration. They’ve seen His glory with their own eyes.

Another one of the men who was an eyewitness wrote in 2 Peter 1: “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty . . . for we were with him on the holy mountain” (vv.16–18).

One commentator said something about this that I thought was helpful. He said, “Essentially, this was not a new miracle, but the temporary cessation of an ongoing one. The real miracle was that Jesus, most of the time, could keep from displaying this glory.”

So here’s Jesus—He is God—but He veils it; He covers it in human flesh during all the thirty-three years that He lived and walked on this earth except for this moment on the mount where the veil comes off and we have this temporary cessation of that ongoing miracle.

So the Transfiguration points to the glory of Christ. It also points to His return in glory.

Jesus gave His disciples a foretaste of what was to come. This is the glory they’d been hoping for. This is the glory that they’d expected of the Messiah. This is what they thought Jesus would come to earth to do. Jesus had told them there was going to be suffering, there’s going to be a cross, there’s going to be betrayal, there’s going to be death . . . but after that, the Son of Man will return in glory. He’d already told them that. Now He’s giving them a glimpse of what they can expect after the cross.

And then this Transfiguration points in a powerful way to the cross, to the passion, the death of Christ. Verse 3 tells us, “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him”—talking with Jesus.

Now, you might wonder what they were talking about. Moses and Elijah and Jesus. We could do a whole series on this scene, but I’m just giving you the condensed, the nutshell version of it today. I want to focus on the incomparable Christ. What were they talking about?

Luke’s account of this instance tells us what they were talking about. It says they “spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31). Now Jesus had just told His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem. And what would happen there? He would suffer, and He would be killed.

The Scripture now says that at his Transfiguration, Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah about His departure that He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. What were they talking about? His death.

Some of your older translations, instead of the word “departure,” say they were talking about his “decease.” Sometimes we talk about people who died as being deceased. They have departed; they have left.

The Greek word translated decease is the word exodus—“to depart.” Now think about that. 1400 years earlier when the Children of Israel were in slavery, in bondage to cruel Egyptian taskmasters, God had raised up a deliverer. What was his name? Moses—to lead the Children of Israel out of slavery. What was that called? The Exodus.

Now, here is Moses, the deliverer, the one who presided over the exodus, as far as humans go, talking with Jesus about His coming exodus—the death of Christ—through which God would bring liberation to people who all their lives had been slaves, in bondage to sin. You see, the Old Testament exodus just pointed to the New Testament exodus. The death of Christ, His departure makes it possible for us to be liberated from our slavery to sin.

You see here the centrality of the cross in God’s story. That’s what they were talking about—the death of Christ, which would prove to be our exodus, our deliverance from sin. That cross is the pivotal point in all of human history.

Look at verse 4:

And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah."

We go, "Oh, Peter." In fact, Luke's gospel tells us that he didn't know what he was saying. How many times do we talk, not knowing what we are saying?

But I kind of relate to Peter's desire here. You've had those moments where you experience the sweetest fellowship, worship, blessing. Your problems are left behind—maybe a day like today in a recording session. This is a precious day, and who wants to leave? Because you think of what you will face back home.

You go back to your work environment, your stress-filled family, the pain, the unbelief. I can understand Peter wanting to stay right where they were up on the mountain, in company with Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Remember what they were facing when they got down below? Misery. Unbelief. A man with a demon-possessed son.

Who wouldn't rather be up on the mountain. Wouldn't you rather be here than Jerusalem where Jesus says He's going to suffer and die? But God's plan was the cross. And Christ gladly chose to go to Jerusalem to die. He said, "I must go to Jerusalem." He chose to do that rather than to stay where he was on that mountaintop, or to just at that moment ascend back to His Father in heaven. Verse 5 says,

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; [Have we heard that somewhere before? At the baptism of Jesus.] listen to him" (Matt. 17:4–5).

While Peter was still speaking, God said, “Shut up!” (Laughter) And I don’t mean that irreverently. It was, “Stop talking! Listen to Jesus. Listen to Him. This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Now, we know that not only was God pleased with His Son, the sinless, spotless Son of God, but I think He’s also saying that He’s well pleased with the sacrifice that Jesus was getting ready to offer—the sacrifice of His own life for the sins of mankind.

God was saying, “I’m pleased with that sacrifice. It’s acceptable to Me. I will accept the sacrifice of Your life in the place of every single sinful human being who has ever lived on this planet. Jesus, what You’re going to do in giving Your life is enough. It will satisfy Me. It will satisfy My righteous wrath against sin. I’m pleased. I accept this sacrifice.”

You often read in the Old Testament about sacrifices that were a sweet-smelling savor, acceptable to God. They pointed to Jesus. And God says, “I’m pleased with My Son. I’m pleased with His sacrifice.”

When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified [no doubt]. But Jesus came [I love this . . . He came] and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear" (vv. 6–7).

You see the mercy and the kindness of Christ? They weren’t consumed by the holiness and the glory of God. Why? They were sinful. But in anticipation of the sacrifice that Jesus was going to make for their sin, Jesus touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid.”

Listen, if it weren’t for Jesus, you and I would have to tremble in fear of a righteous, holy God every day of our lives and for all of eternity. But we can rise and have no fear because Christ has made that sacrifice.

And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead" (vv. 8–9).

So we see in this scene the submission and the sacrifice of Christ, a glimpse into what He laid aside to come to earth. When we see His glory, we see what it cost Him to take on humanity. It strikes me that at that moment, with the veil of humanity pulled back just enough for us to see the glory that was there all along, that Jesus could have just opted to go back to heaven at that point. But instead (and aren’t you grateful), He chose to go back down that mountain, to deal with human need, demonic forces, sin, death, sickness, and the cross.

All of this points not only to the glory of Christ, but to the cross of Christ . . . but there’s more. The Transfiguration points to our transformation into the likeness of Christ. How so?

The Scripture says he was “transfigured” before them. That’s not a word we use in everyday language. The original language, the Greek here, the transliteration of that word is that He was metamorphosed. There was a metamorphosis that took place. It’s a word that means "He totally changed His whole appearance." They could still recognize Him as Jesus, but He looked totally different. The glory was so great. The implication is that the glory of God in us is what will change us and make us different.

It’s a word that is used only in this account—of the Transfiguration—and in two other places in the New Testament. One is Romans 12 that says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed [transfigured, changed from inside out] by the renewal of your mind” (v. 2). Become a whole, new, and different person. Don’t let the world press you into its mold, but you become a new person, transfigured, metamorphosed.

The second use is in 2 Corinthians 3, verse 18. It says,

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, [as the disciples did that day] are being transformed [there’s that word—transfigured, metamorphosed, changed—both internally and externally—we’re being transformed] into the same image from one degree of glory to another.

Wow! What a process! As we behold the transfigured Christ, as we behold His glory, we’re being transfigured into His likeness, transformed. That transformation is an invisible process that takes place in the lives of believers during their life here on earth. It’s preparing us for eternity in heaven, where that fullness of our humanity, redeemed, will be restored, that sinlessness. We’ll be free from that sin nature, conformed to the image of Christ. Wow!

One more thing . . . wait, there’s more! Not only does it point to our transformation to His likeness, but it points to our future glory and the ultimate transformation of our physical bodies.

Moses and Elijah, who had died (or been translated, in Elijah’s case) hundreds of years earlier, were still in existence. This was a mighty statement to many of the Jews in Jesus’ day who didn’t believe in life after death. They were still alive. It speaks of the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body.

But then you look at the glorious resurrection body of Christ that we see for just a moment there on the Mount of Transfiguration—radiant clothes, radiant countenance. It’s a picture of what God has in store for us because of what He has accomplished for us by His exodus. So we read in Philippians 3:

Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform [It’s a little different word but similar. He will transform. It’s a word that means “to change the external shape of”] our lowly body [Anybody glad for that?] to be like his glorious body (vv. 20–21).

Ladies, don’t spend too much time trying to change the shape of your external body. (Laughter) Because for one thing, the older you get, the more impossible it is, and for another thing, God is going to transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. Whew! I like that!

At the end of time, that outward, physical transformation of our bodies will take place. but keep in mind that transformation, that transfiguration, that metamorphosis is something that is taking place right now within us, an internal change, not just of appearance but of actual essence. Who we are is being changed into His likeness as we behold the glory of Christ. I like that.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing you why the Transfiguration of Jesus matters so much to you and me. I think that message is going to give a lot of women a lot of hope today.

When women are struck by God’s Word, it makes a huge difference in their homes, emotions, and relationships. Nancy’s here with an example.

Nancy: Revive Our Hearts is all about connecting women to God’s Word.

Not long ago a listener wrote from Minnesota to tell us that’s what’s happening in her life. She said, “I grew up in church but not in the Word. I was only listening but never seeking God’s Word for myself.”

But God has used the ministry of Revive Our Hearts to connect this woman to His Word. Now she’s digging into the Scripture for herself. She wrote, “Thank you for your radio program. It’s been a blessing in my life.”

Those kinds of connections represent a group effort. Those who support this ministry financially play a key role in helping us speak to listeners like that one. So if you appreciate what God is doing through Revive Our Hearts, would you consider what you can give to help make this ministry possible?

When you donate any amount this week, we want to say “thanks” by sending you a really special book by my very good friend, Elyse Fitzpatrick. Her book is called Comforts from the Cross. It’s a series of thirty-one short daily readings that will help you better understand what Jesus did for you on the cross. It will help you understand how His sacrifice applies to your life every day.

I love the way that Elyse writes in such a personal, practical style while pointing us to deep truths that we celebrate during this Easter season. We’ll send you Elyse’s book, Comforts from the Cross, when you send a donation of any amount.

You can make your donation online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or give us a call at 1–800–569–5959.

When you contact us, make sure and let us know the call letters of the station where you catch Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: Have you ever heard Jesus referred to as a prophet? When you get into the mindset of the people of Jesus’ day, you’ll understand why His role as a prophet was such a huge deal. Nancy will talk about it tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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