11 Dec 2020

The Transfiguration

The Lord Jesus took Peter, John and James up on the mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. And Mose and Elijah appeared in their glorified forms and conversed with Him regarding His departure (HIs Exodus in Greek text) to be accomplished at Jerusalem. The three disciples saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.

In this episode, we see the identity and mission of Jesus ‘crystallised’. The three disciples were given the privilege to have a glimpse of their Master in His glorified form (a form which He will take on after His resurrection, and continue to be in even after His ascension to the right hand of the Father). They saw Jesus in His heavenly glory – it was something dramatic and one which they could not forget. Years later, when Peter and John wrote in their epistles that they were witnesses of who Jesus is, the scene at the transfiguration must have been recalled by both of them.

The scene of Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus has definite implications. The Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament are represented by Moses and Elijah (Luke 24:27, 32). They were discussing the ‘Exodus’ of Jesus which was to take place in Jerusalem – the exodus was the Old Testament event when God saved His people from slavery in Egypt, by means of a sacrificial Lamb that would carry God’s judgement in the place of the eldest son in each Israelite family. The ‘Exodus of Jesus’ concerns His mission to save His people as the ultimate sacrificial Lamb. He will die and rise again to life – the Old Testament Scriptures are shown to be the key to understand the mission of Jesus. The Law and the Prophets point towards the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises that One would come to save His people – the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13-14) was to be delivered to death and to complete His Exodus at Jerusalem. As the Son of Man He will accomplish everything that the Exodus pointed towards – He will do this through His suffering and His sin-bearing death.

Going back to the Mount, a cloud came and overshadowed them and they (the disciples) were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to Him!” On only two other occasions in the Gospels is God’s voice heard directly – at Jesus’ baptism (Luke 3:21-22) and in John 12:28. Here God confirms Jesus’ identity – He is the Son of the Father, the chosen One , the Messiah King. God is adding His audible voice to His written Word through Moses (representing the Law) and through Elijah (representing the Prophets).

And as Moses and Elijah were parting, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” – not knowing what he said. Immediately, after this the voice of God was heard and we must not ignore the last part of what the Father said, “Listen to Him”.

For one thing, Peter was so excited by this vision and experience that he wanted to ‘preserve’ it and the way he knew how was to build three tents so that Jesus, Moses and Elijah may continue to remain at the mountain with the disciples. In a sense, Peter did not want to come down from the mountain top; he wanted to savour this remarkable experience by ensuring that the three important persons remain with him at the mountain. Peter was not fully aware that the Son of Man had to come down and fulfil HIs mission at Jerusalem. He had to go to the cross to be our substitute, to suffer and to die, and HIs closest disciples would soon find out that following Him would also mean carrying their cross, denying themselves and subsequently to suffer and die for the mission that the Son of Man will entrust to them. This speaks of how we are so preoccupied with ‘vision’, ‘experience’ and ‘spiritual highs’ that we forget that following Jesus means being servants, being prepared to suffer for Him and with Him, and to pay the cost of discipleship. We are ever so keen to ‘preserve’ our ‘mountain top experience’ that we forget that there is a mission entrusted to us by our Master.

Often, we forget that Jesus’ mission continues even after His resurrection and ascension. He entrusted His mission to His apostles and to subsequent followers of HIs (which include us). He continues to intercede for us at HIs Father’s right hand and He sent the Holy Spirit to continue His work in our lives and in the life of the church. His mission would only end at His second coming. The transfiguration tells us who He really is; we must not be too ‘over familiar’ with Him that we forget that He is God – HIs heavenly glory must not be easily forgotten in our lives. We must also not forget that HIs mission continues in us and in the church. Let us not just be satisfied to relish the experience at the mountain top – there is a mission to be accomplished and it might entail being servants, carrying our cross and even being martyrs for some of us.

At this time when christians remember the birth of Christ on Christmas day (although 25th December is not the actual date of HIs birth and christians have adopted this date to commemorate His birth), we must have a fresh view of who He really is (His identity) and what He came to accomplish and continue to fulfil (His mission) through us and through His church.

Christmas is not “X-mas”; the world sees christmas as a time to exchange presents and to feel ‘good’ and for children to be ‘good’ so that Santa would bring them the presents they desire. Christmas hails the coming of the Messiah, the Saviour of the World, the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Chosen One who came to fulfil what the Old Testament promises point to. He would come again to bring His people home and to judge the world! Until then, let us remember the true meaning and message of Christmas.