Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
You know the old saying: “A picture’s worth a thousand words”? That comes to mind when we come to Luke 9 and the Mount of Transfiguration. In our last time in Luke Jesus confirmed the disciple’s suspicion that He was indeed more than a prophet but was actually the Messiah—God’s Anointed One who would lead Israel for all of eternity. What the disciples failed to fully grasp was what Jesus said after that—that He “must” suffer “many things”, be rejected by the rulers of Israel, then killed.
They were focused on verses like 2 Samuel 13:7 “He will build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
The idea of a suffering Savior was not in their vocabulary for the Messiah they anticipated. So Jesus has to do some re-education. But He isn’t abandoning the idea of the Coming King. In fact, our text today is a demonstration that The Suffering Savior and the Coming King are one and the same in Jesus.
This remarkable incident is highly symbolic of a transfer of power from the old to the new—the Law and the Prophets to Jesus. Jesus told His men that some of them would not die until they saw the Coming King. That’s about to come true:
28 – 29
8 days later—which is interesting that Luke would record this. It suggests something—something I’m not dogmatic about but which is intriguing. What we’re going to see here is the passing of the torch from the Law of Moses to grace and truth in Jesus Christ (John 1:17). So I find it interesting that in the first book of Moses: Genesis, God created the earth in 6 days and rested on the 7th (which became the Sabbath and a strict law for the Jews) so on the 8th day we see something new come about. Just like Jesus rose on Sunday—the first day of the week, or the 8th day after the week of His triumphal entry, betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion. In the Bible, 8 is the number of new beginnings. Jesus represents this new reality of grace and salvation.
The four of them go up on a mountain. Tradition says it was Mount Tabor, near Nazareth at 1,900 feet but the more likely candidate is Mount Hermon, located between Caesarea Philippi and Damascus at 9,000 feet in elevation. After a climb of that magnitude and at that altitude, the disciples would have been tired for sure.
Notice what they’re doing—praying. Remember last time when we talked about the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah came through prayer (Luke 9:18)? So now once again as Jesus and the disciples are seeking the Father in prayer—something happens that is a revelation of Jesus as the Messiah and Coming King.
Luke says two things happened:
- His face “changed”. We don’t know how but we get two clues. One is when Moses used to spend time in God’s presence, his face would shine (Exodus 34:29). The other is the description of Jesus in Revelation 1:13-16 where John depicts Jesus’ face as “shining like the sun at midday”.
So part of the transfer of power goes this way: Moses’ face shown for a time after spending time face to face with God—God’s glow showed on Moses’ face but would fade after a time (2 Corinthians 3:7, 13). But who was the source of that light? It was Jesus. So as Moses was the reflection of the glory of God, Jesus IS the glory of God—like the moon compared with the sun. Moses represents something that is temporary; Jesus something permanent. The Law can only cover sin for a time and is used as a guide to bring us to Jesus who provides cleansing from sin permanently.
- Secondly His “clothes became dazzling white”. The word used there is the Greek for flashing like lightning. Just as you can’t stare into the noonday sun without damaging your eyes, a bolt of lightning is equivalent to 100 million light bulbs—just really short in duration. Another way of looking at it is the amount of volts put out by a lightning strike: about 2.7 x 106 watt-hours, or enough to power 56 households for an entire day.
The idea of lightning is quite symbolic when it comes to the Coming King. Luke 17:24 “For as the lightning flashes from horizon to horizon and lights up the sky, so the Son of Man will be in His day.”
What this all suggests to me is that in the coming age Jesus will preside over, the quality of life is so amped up compared to this dimension that the two aren’t compatible. Imagine every person you meet shines like the sun and puts out 2.7 x 106 power? To be a part of that age and fit in, you need to be glorious like Jesus and everyone who belongs there – as we see next.
30 – 31
All of the sudden “bing” and there are two others who join Jesus. Jesus is now not praying but having a discussion with these two. I guess in a way it’s sort of like what happens in a dream where there can be extreme cuts and scene changes without reason or explanation. Somehow the men know who these two are, though there were no photographs or paintings of either of them, nor statues (that would be idolatry). Again, perhaps like in a dream people can look different, places can look different—but you know who or what they are.
It’s possible that their clothing gives them away. Perhaps Moses has a staff, carrying stone tablets and looking surprisingly like Charlton Heston J. Perhaps Elijah had on a camel-skin coat with a big leather belt.
We don’t know how the men recognized them but what we do know is that they were recognized and also “appeared in glory”. The word is “doxa” and means “something with intrinsic worth” and comes from a Hebrew word meaning: “heavy”. The idea is a reality and worth far beyond what we can imagine. Again, the quality of life in the coming age just can’t be compared with this age, and so people literally glow with God’s life and reality.
So they are recognizable, they glow, and are having a conversation about Jesus’ “death, which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Jewish tradition held that Moses and Elijah would appear before the Messiah (Malachi 4:5), and the two represent the two great pillars of the Jewish Scriptures: The Law and the Prophets. So the Law of Moses and the prophets sent by God agree: Jesus will die (“depart” which is the Greek word “exodus”) in Jerusalem. The city reference makes it clear we’re talking about the crucifixion. This reminds me of what Jesus said to the religious leaders in John 5:39 “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.”
I mentioned dream-like happenings earlier, and this is where I get them:
32 – 33
We don’t know if this was because they were so tired, or because they fell into a trance like Daniel in 8:18 and 10:9. What’s cool is that when they woke up, the literal reality around them mirrored what they’d seen in a vision or dream. Now I don’t know about you, but that’d be pretty mind-bending if it happened to us!
The idea of a dream makes sense if you think of how Paul describes the Law compared to Christ. Col. 2:17 “These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.” All the things that are pictured in the Old Testament—the laws and regulations, the people and events—are mere shadows which point to the reality of it all—the point of it all: Jesus.
I’m also reminded of: 1Cor. 13:12 “For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.” It’s a reminder that even though the presence of God is not crystal clear in this age, He is real—more real in fact than this dimension.
As soon as Peter realizes this is all real, he sees Moses and Elijah leaving. He knows intuitively that the presence of these men and the glory is a good thing—even as there is an intuitive recognition that life in heaven is going to be wonderful and so much better than here. Peter wants to build some pup tents so Moses and Elijah will stay—probably based on the Feast of Tabernacles, which looked forward to the end times and the recalling of God’s provision for His nation (Exodus 23:16, 34:22, Lev 23:34).
There are two strategic errors Peter is making here. 1) you can’t put Moses and Elijah on the same level as Jesus. He is far superior to them and you must worship only the One God. 2) The Law and Prophets are bowing out in favor of Jesus, so he shouldn’t hold onto them.
So the Father then provides the final explanation on the whole affair:
34 – 35
This must have been unlike any cloud they had ever seen. It’s reminiscent of the cloud that enveloped Mount Sanai when the Law was given (Exodus 40:34-35) or smoke in Exodus 19:8. God spoke out of the cloud to Moses and the people (Exodus 19:19). It’s also an echo from when Jesus was baptized in Luke 3:22. There God said: “You are My Son, I take delight in You.” Here He says: “This is My Son, the Chosen One; listen to Him”.
So the Father is saying that of the three, He has chosen Jesus, His Son—and the command is to listen to Him above Moses and Elijah—above the Law and the Prophets.
So then another sudden shift. The cloud, the glory, Moses and Elijah, and the voice—all gone. All that’s left is Jesus, looking like He had before the mountain experience. Though the ultimate reality is incredible glory and honor, until He accomplished His death, Jesus would just appear and walk among them as a normal human. I wonder what kind of conversation they had, if any?
Luke adds that none of them spoke of the events until after the resurrection. Was it that no one would believe them? Or was it in response to Jesus’ warning in verse 21 to tell no one.
- What’s coming is not like what’s here: 1 Corinthians 2:9 “What eye did not see and ear did not hear, and what never entered the human mind—God prepared this for those who love Him.” Don’t hold onto or focus on the things of this age as much as you hold out hope of the age to come.
- Listen to Jesus above the voices of this age, above the voice of legalism, above what your eyes tell you. He’s the real thing—the reality, and our ultimate hope for eternal life.