Following the last post, the ground work was laid to bring us the second portion of Jesus’ interaction with the disciples following His declaration of, “upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Consider that it was Peter who had declared the identity of Jesus Christ and yet, as a later incident will reveal, was the same individual who voiced the earnest desire to make three tabernacles as Jesus stood transfigured between Moses and Elijah. Let’s take a closer look:
Luke 9:28-35 (KJV)
28 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. 29 And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. 30 And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: 31 Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.
33 And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said.34 While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. 35 And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.
To the casual reader, nothing is really amiss as one reads this event in the Gospel of Luke. However, if one were to scrutinize what is actually happening, the implications are incredible!
Standing on the mountain with Jesus are both Elijah and Moses. Consider how that Moses is the figurehead of the Old Testament Law and that Elijah is the figurehead of the prophets of old. Not only that, but what exactly are they discussing with Jesus? It tells us that they “spake of his [Jesus’] decease which he [Jesus] should accomplish at Jerusalem.”
Here, the culminating representation of the Old Covenant, captured by the Law and the Prophets (see Luke 24:44), is being revealed in this dramatic conversation on the Mount of Transfiguration. The schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24-25) has been moving toward this very Jesus who would make a “surety of a better testament” (Heb. 7:22). What an incredible moment to witness! Standing before Peter, James, and John was the very fulfillment of the law and the prophets!
Yet, the very same man who had declared, “thou art the Christ, the son of the living God”(Matt. 16:16), fails to recognize the implications of what he is being allowed to glimpse at this very moment. Furthermore, scripture reveals that the disciples glimpse of this incredible event only comes after they awaken from a heavy sleep. With blurry eyes they see the glory that is on Christ and the two men Christ is speaking with and suddenly Peter declares, “Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias!”
It is important to note the subtle statement that follows this declaration of Peter: “not knowing what he said.” Why does Luke add this addendum to the declaration of Peter, especially after ensuring that we know that the disciples are still clearing their minds from the heavy sleep? Because Peter is clearly out of order by suggesting that three tabernacles be made; one for Christ, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. I know that some suggest that Peter thought this encounter implied the arrival of the anticipated kingdom (cf. Zech. 14:16-21), but I do not believe this is the error that Peter makes.
Essentially, this error will mirror another error that Peter made when he suggested that Jesus is out of his mind for speaking about going to Jerusalem to die, at which point Jesus rebukes Peter by saying, “get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (Mark 8:33). Consider how similar the instance is in Mark 8 with this instance on the mountain. In both, Jesus is having a conversation about dying in Jerusalem (cf. Mark 8:31; Luke 9:31), only on the mountain Peter slept through that important conversation!
How can one go from the incident in Matthew 16:16 where Peter proclaims the revelatory identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of the Living God and then turn-around and proclaim an iniative that placed Jesus Christ on the same level as the lesser ministries of Moses and Elijah? Yet, before Peter can further embarrass himself, a cloud appears and the disciples are enveloped within, thus provoking fear and a voice proclaims: “this is my beloved son, hear him!” (Matthew 17:5 adds the well-known statement, “in whom I am well pleased”). Of course we have heard these words before as they were expressed over Jesus during His baptism (Luke 3:22), yet now, these words are clearly directed at Peter, James, and John.
The cloud and the voice summon the reader backward to the Old Testament manifestation of God’s glory behind the thickness of a cloud and immediately cause us to consider several key points. First, one must remember the petition of Moses when he asked God to “shew me thy glory” (Ex. 33:18). If one pays careful attention to the unfolding narrative of Exodus, then one comes to understand that God had already revealed His glory to the nation of Israel (cf. Ex. 16:10). However, the glory of God was always obscured from within the divine cloud. Essentially, Moses was asking God to see the glory without the veil/obscurity of the cloud (this is covered further in my recent commentary available on Amazon).
Though we know that God denied Moses this opportunity, instead allowing Moses to view the residual afterglow of God’s glory without the cloud, I doubt Moses could have ever envisioned the day that he would stand on the mountain with Jesus Christ who, according to scripture, was the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9). This is further brought to an exciting reality when you consider John’s discourse on the Word made flesh that was tabernacled among us and, “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).
A second point to consider, hinging on the last point, is that the disciples saw His glory after coming out of their heavy sleep. Remember, while they slept Jesus prayed and, while Jesus was praying, “the fashion of his countenance was altered” (Luke 9:29). Both Matthew and Luke indicate that Jesus’ face shown like the sun! Sound familiar? This is what happens to Moses’ face after seeing the residue of God’s glory on the mountain (cf. Ex. 34:29). However, in this instance the shining is something that progresses from the “inside-out”; going as far as to alter the clothing that Jesus wore. The actual Greek word used here is metamorphoo , a word that signifies something changing from one form into another. In this instance, the “form of a servant”(cf. Phil. 2:7) takes on the form of Jesus’ true identity; revealed by the manifestation of a brilliant, effulgent glory (cf. Heb. 1:3; Acts 26:13).
Thus, when Peter fails to recognize the the true identity of the figure before him, who is also standing with the iconic figures that encapsulate the law and the prophets, God reverts back to a cloud and a voice and must declare to Peter, James, and John: “this is my beloved Son: hear him” Just as the dove and the voice were a sign to John the Baptist (John 1:32-33), now it would seem the cloud and the voice are for the sake of the disciples, serving to establish the identity of Jesus Christ. Peter, while later writing the epistle that bears his name, would recount to his audience this specific event.
2 Peter 1:16-18 (KJV) 16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.
Why did Jesus allow for this instance to occur on the mountain with three of his closest disciples? Why the theatrical event involving Moses, Elijah, the cloud, and a voice? The answer to this, I believe, is found after the cloud dissipates and the final reberveration of God’s voice ceases. What happens? Scripture tells us that “Jesus was found alone and they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen” (Luke 9:36).
It is important to note that, based on the other Gospel records, that it was Jesus that charged the disicples to tell no man of the events on the Mount of Transfiguration (cf. Mk. 9:9; Matt. 17:9). Once again, the correlation between this event and the prior event surrounding the identity of Jesus Christ brings to light very strong connections.
Luke 9:18-22 (KJV) 18 And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am? 19 They answering said, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again. 20 He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God. 21 And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing; 22 Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.
It was only six days after this instance where Peter declared the identity of Jesus Christ that they ascended to the mountain where Jesus would undergo His transfiguration. Only six days after the divine revelation proclaimed by Peter they would see Christ shining in effulgent glory, along with Moses and Elijah. So what else is happening on this mountain that goes beyond their failure to grasp the vision before them? Simple, Peter, James, and John fail to grasp the relationship between Jesus’ identity and the events that would soon happen in Jerusalem. In Peter’s mind, staring at Elijah and Moses, it screams to him of the return! For Peter, the long-anticipated restoration has begun! Why? Because Elijah is here and the prophets had pointed toward restoration occuring when Elijah returned.
Malachi 4:5-6 (KJV)
5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: 6 And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
It is at this point that we will take the next portion of this subject into a third post…until then, take your time to read through the 1st-Century Jewish expectation of restoration and the dreadful day of the Lord as it will further serve as the foundation for the next article.