A Glimpse of Glory
July 7, 2019
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” 
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Prayer for Illumination:
Holy God, you revealed to the disciples the everlasting glory of Jesus Christ. Grant us, who have not seen and yet believe, the gift of your Holy Spirit, that we may boldly live the gospel and shine with your transforming glory as people changed and changing through the redeeming presence of our Savior. Amen.
Caterpillars are fascinating creatures. They’re not exactly pretty. A lot of caterpillars are fuzzy and hairy. Not something you want to look at. But then something happens. They form a cocoon. The caterpillar spins silk around itself and the cocoon forms. For a few weeks, it stays in its cocoon. And when it eventually comes out, a butterfly emerges. A beautiful butterfly breaks through the barrier and begins flying. The butterfly reveals the glory of the caterpillar.
In this passage, we get a glimpse of Jesus’ true glory. We see the glory that is hidden by the incarnation. As we examine this passage, we’ll see what this glory tells us about Jesus, that we should listen to Jesus because of his glory, and how he ultimately reveals that glory.
The Glory of Jesus
It has been a few days since Peter professed Jesus is the Christ. During that time, Jesus has had some private time with his disciples. He has been teaching them. Six days after Peter’s profession, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John off for a little day trip. Peter, James, and John form an inner-circle within the twelve. It seems that these three men were the ones closest with Jesus.
And Jesus takes them up a “high mountain”. We’re not sure what mountain this is. Tradition holds that it is Mt. Tabor. But Mt. Tabor isn’t exactly a high mountain and it’s located near the Sea of Galilee. That is about 30 miles from Caesarea Philippi where Jesus took the disciples only a few days ago. It doesn’t seem all that likely. Some think that it was Mt. Hermon. Mt. Hermon is about 2,000 feet above sea level, so it’s a high mountain. And it’s not that far from Caesarea Philippi. But Mark doesn’t tell us what mountain Jesus took Peter, James, and John up. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day.
Once they reach the top, Jesus “was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them”. The Greek word for “transfigured” is metamorphe. It implies that his form drastically changed. Mark says that his “clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them”. Matthew adds that Jesus’ “face shone like the sun” (Matt. 17:2). They’re trying to describe something that language can’t quite fully describe. Language is inadequate to fully describe what Peter, James, and John were seeing.
A few years ago there was an eclipse. I think many of us remember that. That was the day you extended the call for me to be pastor of this church. I remember being at Starbucks that day, finishing my shift. And everyone who was coming in was talking about the eclipse. They were trying their very best to describe what they were seeing. But their language was inadequate to fully describe the beauty and majesty of the eclipse. They would say things like, “it looks like there is this ring of fire around this black circle”. That was the best they could do. But their language couldn’t fully describe what they were seeing.
The same is true here. Mark is trying to describe what Peter, James, and John saw but human language can’t convey the beauty and majesty that they saw as Jesus transfigured before their very eyes.
Now we see something similar in the Old Testament. In Exodus 33, God tells Moses to lead Israel into the Promised Land but God will not go with them. Israel had just committed idolatry by making the golden calf. God tells Moses to take Israel into the Promised Land so that God would fulfill the promise he made to Abraham but he wouldn’t go with them. Moses proceeds to intercede for Israel so that God would go with Israel. And God says he will go with Israel.
Then Moses asks to see God’s presence. He wants assurance. He wants to know for certain that God will go with Israel. God says that he will indeed show Moses his goodness and glory but Moses will only be able to see the backside of him. And when Moses eventually came down from the mountain after seeing God’s glory, his face shone. God’s glory affected Moses in such a way that he began to radiate God’s glory.
Several centuries later, Israel was in exile for their sin and rebellion against God. Five years into the exile, Ezekiel has a vision of God. He sees this massive, otherworldly throne that he can’t fully describe because human language is inadequate. On top of the throne, Ezekiel sees something that has the likeness and appearance of a human. This human looked like “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. 28 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.” 
Ezekiel sees God. And the glory that surrounds and encompasses God is described as fire and brightness. Very similar to how Mark describes Jesus’ transfiguration.
What does that tell us? What does this mean? It means that Jesus is divine. Jesus is fully divine and has this majesty and glory that words cannot fully describe. But the incarnation hides this glory. The Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus humbled himself and took the likeness, morphe, of a servant. And so people didn’t see this glory. They didn’t see the divine majesty and glory through Jesus’ humanity.
This transfiguration is a glimpse of the true glory and majesty of Jesus. This is a glimpse of the glory Jesus has had since before creation. This is a glimpse of the glory that the disciples saw after Jesus’ resurrection. This is a glimpse of the glory that John saw Jesus appeared to him that fateful day on the island of Patmos. This is a glimpse of the glory we will see when Jesus returns.
And the best we’ll be able say on that day is his clothes are whiter than white; his face shines because of his radiant glory. Our words will be inadequate to fully describe the glory we see in Jesus.
The Command to Listen
And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
The three disciples see Jesus in his fully glory and majesty and they don’t know what to do. They see that Elijah and Moses are there talking with Jesus and this seems surreal to them. Dr. Luke mentions that they were sleeping (Luke 9:32). Maybe they think they were dreaming. They see this surreal scene of Jesus radiating glorious light, his clothes whiter than anything they had ever seen, talking with Elijah and Moses.
And because they don’t really understand or know what to do, Peter says something that’s kind of laughable. He says, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”. He doesn’t understand what he’s seeing so he says the first thing that pops into his head. “Let’s build three tents for the three of you”.
And immediately after that comment by Peter, God the Father speaks out of a cloud to them. God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” He commands the disciples to listen to Jesus because he is God’s beloved Son. Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God. And as a result we should listen to him. This command is probably directed specifically at Jesus’ statements about him suffering and dying.
Remember? Mark 8:31 says, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” That was hard for the disciples to grasp. They weren’t used to the idea of the Christ suffering and dying. That was very much against the cultural understanding of who the Christ is supposed to be.
But God the Father commands Peter, James, and John to listen to Jesus. He commands the disciples to listen in spite of their cultural understanding about who the Christ is supposed to be.
The command to listen to Jesus remains for us today. Listen to Jesus. Listen to Jesus about salvation. Listen to him when he says that the way of salvation is through him. Listen to him when he says that the only way to the Father is through him. Culturally, we don’t like that. Culturally we like the idea that every religion is just another path to God. But Jesus says that he is the way, the truth and the life; that no one can come to Father except through him. Listen to him when he says salvation is through him.
Listen to Jesus about morality. Culturally we don’t want to hear what he says about morality. Culturally, we think “why does morality matter? Why does it matter who I share my bed with? Why does it matter how I treat people? Why does it matter if I drink too much? Why does it matter if I lie?” But Jesus calls us to live lives that reflect our love for him. He calls us to listen to what he says about morality and live moral lives for his glory. This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. We listen to him. We listen even when it goes against cultural understanding of salvation and morality.
We’ve seen what this glimpse of glory tells us about Jesus and that we should listen to him because he is God’s Son. Now we’ll see how Jesus reveals his glory.
How Jesus Reveals that Glory
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”
Peter, James, and John have seen the glory of Jesus, they have heard the command to listen to Jesus, but they still don’t fully understand. They saw Jesus with Elijah and Moses and think, “The end is near. And if the end is near, Elijah must come and prepare the people for the judgment of God. With the return of Elijah, there is no need for the Christ to suffer”.
The disciples are expecting that Elijah will bodily return. See, Elijah was one of two people in the Old Testament to be taken into heaven without dying. And there is also a prophecy in Malachi 4 that says Elijah would come to prepare the way for the Christ. The disciples thought that must be fulfilled in the most literal sense. So they ask “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?”
And Jesus responses, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him”. The disciples had misunderstood the prophecy. They thought it meant that Elijah must literally return. But Jesus is saying that Elijah has already come and they treated him however they pleased.
The prophecy referred to John the Baptist. John was the one who came to prepare the way for the Christ. He called the people to repent of their sins. And the Pharisees and the Herodians killed John for it.
And just as they killed John, they will also kill the Christ. They will treat him with contempt and cause him to suffer many things. They will lie about him, saying that he planned to commit treason. They will beat him with rods and whips. They will crucify him.
And that is ultimately how Jesus will reveal his glory. It is through Jesus’ death and resurrection that he reveals his glory. Jesus willingly concealed and hid his glory by taking on human form. And as the incarnate God, he became obedient to the law. He lived the life you and I never could live. He perfectly kept the law; never once sinning or transgressing the law.
But he was also perfectly obedient to it in bearing the sins of his Church on the cross. The law required that those who did not keep the law died. That is you and I. And yet we haven’t been struck dead because of our sin. Why is that? Because Jesus was obedient to the law’s requirements and died in our place. He bore the wrath of God for the sins of all who would believe. And three days later he rose from the dead showing that sin and death have been defeated in his death. It is at the cross where God reveals his glory by showing grace, mercy, and justice. Grace and mercy to those redeemed because we don’t deserve it. We deserve death and in Christ we get life. That is grace. Justice in that God punishes sin.
Years later, John saw the full glory Jesus again. This time he saw the glory of Jesus at the end of time. He saw a new creation free from the stain of sin. He saw the Church gathered and washed in the new creation. And then he saw “no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
Those in Christ will see his glory in the new creation. We will see his glory and it will shine so bright there will be no need for the sun. The glory that radiated Moses’ face and shone before the disciples will be the light we see by. We will behold Jesus in his full glory. A glory that the disciples only saw a glimpse of on the mount. A glory that was manifest on the cross.