The Mountain of Transfiguration
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
5. THE MOUNTAIN OF TRANSFIGURATION
‘And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them’, and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light’, Matt. 17. 1-2.
The story of the transfiguration is told in detail by each of the Synoptic Evangelists and should be read carefully so as to get a complete picture of what happened on that wonderful occasion which may be regarded as the glory-pinnacle of the Saviour’s ministry upon the earth. How fresh was that scene in Peter’s mind when, as an old man, he wrote, ‘we were with him in the holy mount’ and ‘were eyewitnesses of his majesty’, 2 Pet. 1. 16, 18. Those last two words, ‘his majesty’, will form the key thought of this brief meditation on an inexhaustible subject. We will consider the majesty of His spotless humanity, of His perfect ministry, of His absolute devotion to God’s will, and, finally, the majesty of his Kingdom.
The Majesty of Spotless Humanity
There was one title that the Lord loved to use of Himself and that was ‘the Son of man’. His ‘delights were with the sons of men’, Prov. 8. 31.
Thou wouldst like sinful man be made
In everything but sin.
As we read of the wonderful events in the region of Caesarea Philippi from Matthew 16. 13 to 17. 12, we find that He used this title no less than five times:
- ‘Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?’, 16. 13.
- ‘the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father’, 16. 27.
- ‘.. . till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom’, 16. 28.
- ‘. . . until the Son of man be risen again’, 17. 9.
- ‘Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer’, 17. 12.
These verses give the key to the Transfiguration. Here we see Jesus, made a little lower than the angels, crowned with the glory and honour of a spotless perfect manhood.
“God’s humanity has blossomed once in the course of the ages, and that transfigured Man upon the Holy Mount, flashing in the splendour of a light like the sun, glistering with a glory of a whiteness like that of the snow, and flaming with the magnificent beauty of the lightning which flashes its radiance upon the darkness, that was God’s perfect Man. That was the realization of the thought that was in the mind of God when He said, ‘Let us make man in our image’.” (Campbell Morgan). For the first time God could look upon a man with absolute complacency for He was spotless within and without.
The Majesty of His Perfect Ministry
The voice of God was heard on three occasions in the life of our Lord and each occasion marks a definite period. The first was at the baptism, the second on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the third in Jerusalem just before the crucifixion when God said of His name, ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again’, John 12. 28.
When our Lord was baptised He was about thirty years old, and His life had been spent in the obscurity of Nazareth. God owned the perfection of those quiet years saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’, Matt. 3. 17.
The Mount of Transfiguration marks the pinnacle of Christ’s ministry. Henceforth, as we shall see, it was a rapid descent into the valley of humiliation and of death. For three years, His life had been spent in the greatest public activity. The blind had received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, the dead had been raised, and the poor had had the gospel preached to them. There had been long journeys, long days of toil in preaching and healing; there had been opposition, hardness of heart, moments of great popularity, and times of desertion; lonely nights had been spent on the hillsides, and loving welcomes had been given by faithful ones. In all this intense activity, with all the vicissitudes of life, the Saviour had carried out His ministry perfectly. He had said, ‘Lo, I come: ... I delight to do thy will, O my God’, Ps. 40. 8. Each step that was taken, each word spoken, each act performed, in fact, every detail of that ministry had been in accord with that will. It was a perfect ministry, so majestic that the voice of God says from the excellent glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him’. Matt. 17. 5.
The Majesty of His Perfect Devotion
We see the Heavenly Man in His spotless humanity, with the years of perfect ministry completed, in the glory of that mount. Surely in company with Moses and Elijah He would then ascend into the hill of the Lord, for He had clean hands and a pure heart, Ps. 24. 3-4. But, no! The dark valley, Gethsemane and Calvary are before Him. Peter said, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here’, but he had not yet learned the lesson of the road to Caesarea Philippi. The Cross must come before the Crown, the sufferings before the glory. It has been noted that a marked change took place in the words of the Lord at this period. Now He speaks of death and He deliberately goes to Jerusalem, knowing that the gravest danger lurks there. He goes deliberately to die! We listen to the conversation on that mount and we learn that the subject is His decease at Jerusalem - His exodus, Luke 9. 31. The antitypical passover lamb was to be slain. By His blood, redemption was to be accomplished for enslaved mankind, and, rising from the dead. He would lead many sons to the glory of God, Himself the wondrous firstfruits of resurrection. In the glory of the Mount the topic of conversation was the mighty work of the Cross viewed in the light of the resurrection. It still is. ‘The Lamb is all the glory, of Immanuel’s land’.
In virtue of His spotless humanity and perfect obedience in ministry. He could have ascended the hill of the Lord without suffering or death, but He would have abode alone. So ‘being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’, Phil. 2. 8.
His face which did shine as the sun would be ‘marred more than any man’. His raiment that became white as the light would be gambled for by a drunken soldiery. His form which was clothed in the bright cloud of glory from which came the voice of God would be enshrouded in the blackness from which came that mysterious, appalling cry of the lonely sufferer, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’, Matt. 27. 46. The distance from the glory of God to the Cross of Calvary is the measure of the perfect devotion of Him who came to do God’s will.
The Majesty of His Kingdom
‘There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom,’ Matt. 16. 28. Peter writes of this, ‘we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’, 2 Pet. 1. 16. Moses the lawgiver was there; Elijah too, the great representative of the prophets. Type and prediction spoke of the Coming One, God’s Chosen, God’s King. This is He, the fulfilment of every type, the answer to every prediction. Moses and Elijah withdraw; Christ is seen alone in His grandeur - God’s beloved Son. Would He thus set up His Kingdom? Would He divest Himself of the robes of humility and strike awe into the hearts of His enemies by the majesty of His Person? Evidently the disciples thought so. On the occasion of the entry into Jerusalem they thought the Kingdom of God should immediately appear. After His resurrection they enquired if He would then restore the kingdom to Israel, Acts 1. 6. Their minds were full of the majesty of the Kingdom of the Messiah foretold by the prophets.
No vision of glory has startled our wondering gaze. Yet His rule still increases. Multitudes own the sway of the Man of Calvary, the King of Glory. Yet still He has not come. We have not followed cunningly devised fables. We have a light shining in a dark place, the prophetic word. We do well to take heed to it, and while we wait for His coming and for the manifestation of His glory, may it be ours by faith to feel the touch of His hand - to hear His voice -to look up and see Jesus only.