A Glimpse of His Glory Matthew – 17:1-13

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Faith Bible Church, NY

February 27, 1994

A Glimpse of His Glory

Matthew 17:1-13


As we have been studying the book of Matthew, we have needed to remind ourselves periodically the purpose of Matthew in writing his account of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Matthew is trying to accomplish two things as he writes to a Jewish audience. First, he is documenting that Jesus is in fact the promised Messiah. Second, he is presenting Jesus’ program for the kingdom of heaven. The passages we have been studying the last several weeks have focused in on that second purpose. This morning we will once again focus in on the proofs that Jesus is the Messiah.

Recall from the last couple of weeks that we have been looking at Jesus’ revelation to His disciples about God’s plan for the immediate future  (See: Setting Your Interest on the Things of God). Jesus would go to Jerusalem where He would suffer many things at the hands of the Elders, Chief Priests and Scribes. Then He would be murdered and finally He would be raised from the dead. The disciples were shocked. This was not what they had been taught about Messiah. He was supposed to come as a victorious king, not a suffering servant. Peter even goes so far as rebuking Jesus and saying that it would not happen that way. Jesus gives Peter a much deserved stern rebuke and then gives further instruction to His disciples about the nature of His kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is not about man but about God. Man is innately selfish and views everything around him in terms of how it affects him. But God’s kingdom is about His interests, not man’s. The kingdom of God is about being a follower Jesus in a whole hearted sacrificial manner for, as Jesus Himself says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” This is nothing less than considering your own life as dead and your only reason for continued existence is to serve Christ.

That is a radical idea and totally against man’s natural desires, but it is also the only reasonable way to live. Anyone that lives for the present and what they can gain for themselves will find in the end that their life was a waste. Even fame you do not take with you to the grave, for after you are dead, even if you are remembered, it will not make any difference to you. There is nothing in this life that is as valuable as your soul.

Jesus concluded His instruction to His disciples by confirming the promise of a future where their expectations would come to pass, and in so doing set up the scene for what will happen in Matthew 17. But first, look again at Matthew 16:27-28.

The Promise of His Coming (Matthew 16:27,28)

For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then recompense every man according to his deeds. Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Jesus was going to Jerusalem to suffer and be murdered, but then He would be raised from the dead and return one day in the glory that the Old Testament had promised. There are more than 1500 Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of Messiah, but there was little to no understanding among the people that He would come twice. The Jewish interpreters of the Old Testament rationalized and spiritualized away the references to a suffering redeemer. Now Jesus was explaining that there would be two separate comings of the Messiah, and the second time will not be as a humble servant suffering on behalf of sinful man, but as a king coming with His army of angels to conquer and judge.

This is something that each of us needs to keep in mind because the more we focus on the reality of that truth the more we will live our lives for the glory of God and less for our own glory. There becomes not only more striving for holiness ourselves, but we also focus more on seeking to win the lost since we know that they will be judged and their evil deeds will condemn them.

This promise is so certain that Jesus prophesied to His disciples that some of those that were standing there with Him would see the “Son of Man coming in His kingdom” before they would “taste death.”

Many have said that this must refer to Jesus’ second coming, but they are left with a dilemma about the fact that all the disciples have died. Others have said that it refers to His resurrection, but that presents the dilemma of how it can fit with Jesus’ coming in “His kingdom.” In addition, all the disciples except Judas Isacriot saw Jesus after His resurrection. That does not fit very well the fact that only “some” of them would see Him.

What was Jesus referring to? The answer becomes obvious if we keep in mind that Matthew’s goal is to present Jesus as the Messiah. Evidence of that would be to document that Jesus’ prophesy came true. He would not leave it as something obscure. Second, we need to keep in mind that we are reading an English translation of the Scriptures, so we lose some of the nuances of the language. Jesus’ prophecy is fulfilled in the transfiguration of Jesus in the text that immediately follows. (Remember too that the chapter and verse divisions were added more than a thousand years after the Scriptures were written as an aide to study).

Jesus’ prophecy demands that only some of the disciples would be involved and that they would see it before they died. That also tells us that their seeing “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” would not prevent them from dying. Therefore, it could not be the establishment of His kingdom. Add to this that the word translated “kingdom” here can also be translated as “royal majesty“, and you can quickly discern the fulfillment of the prophecy when Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John and gave them a glimpse of His glory. For a brief moment they saw Jesus shining in His royal majesty. The transfiguration fulfills the prophecy and gives further proof that Jesus is the Messiah.

The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1,2)

“And six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.”

Six days passed after Jesus gave His prophecy and then He took some of His disciples, Peter, James and John, up onto a mountain. We are not told which mountain, only that it was a high mountain, which would have been deserted on top since they were there by themselves, and we know that they were near some center of Jewish population because there was a large crowd of Jews waiting for them when they come off the mountain. That eliminates Mount Hermon in the far north as the site of the transfiguration, though that is where Jesus had given His prophecy. Apparently Jesus was already on His way south toward Jerusalem when He turned aside with these three disciples.

Why did Jesus take up with Him Peter, James and John? Jesus wanted eyewitness to what was about to happen, for the Old Testament Law demanded that the truth be established in the mouths of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). Both Peter (2 Peter 1:16,17) and John (John 1:14) give accounts of this event in their writings. James was the first Apostle to be martyred, so we do not have a written record from him. However, the text does not tell us why these particular three were chosen. All we really know is that these three seem to make up an inner circle of men that Jesus often gave more instruction to and who accompanied Jesus to things the others did not, such as the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5) and Jesus’ last hours in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26).

What did they behold? They saw Jesus change in appearance before their eyes and display the glory of His royal majesty. This is an attestation that Jesus is God. His face “shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.” In the Old Testament it is a description of the shikinah glory of God that Moses saw in Exodus 32 that was so great that even though all he saw was the afterglow of God’s glory, it was so great that it caused his own face to shine. It is the description of the shikinah glory that filled the temple when it was dedicated to the Lord in 2 Chronicles 7:2 that none of the priests could enter it because the glory was too great. The glory that Jesus had here was the same that Isaiah saw in Isaiah 6.

The Witness of Moses & Elijah (Matthew 17:3)

The glory of Jesus was not the only evidence of Jesus being the Messiah. There was also the witness of Moses and Elijah in verse 3, “And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.” Luke adds this about them, “. . . Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30).

Moses and Elijah did not appear merely to converse with Jesus. They were discussing with Jesus about His coming “departure” from Jerusalem. “Departure” is the word also translated as “exodus,” and refers to Jesus coming death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Jesus would depart from this life, but He would also “exodus” from the grave lead believers out of the bondage of sin. Moses and Elijah had come to talk with Jesus about what Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. This gave further confirmation that what Jesus had said would come true.

Why Moses and Elijah? Why not some other Old Testament figures such as David, Daniel, Abraham, Samuel? Again we do not find any specific answer in the text, but we do know that Moses stands out as the giver of the Law, and Elijah stands out as the Laws’ greatest defender. Together they are fitting representatives of the Old Testament Law and the Prophets, and their presence with Jesus and talking with Him about the coming events in Jerusalem give further validation that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

Peter & the Tabernacles (Matthew 17:4)

Luke 9 tells us that as Moses and Elijah were leaving Peter begins to respond to what he was seeing. Verse 4 tells us of his response. “And Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'”

No answer is given to Peter about his suggestion. This is because it was a foolish thing to say. Luke adds that Peter spoke, “not realizing what he was saying.” Peter was still responding before thinking. Though Peter had added the words, “if you wish,” his main thought was still setting out to accomplish his own plans rather than the Lord’s.

Why, in the first place, would Peter suggest such an idea? Two reasons may have prompted this idea. The first is that Leviticus 23 called on the people to yearly celebrate the feast of Booths or Tabernacles. This required that everyone build a small booth or tabernacle out of branches and boughs and live in them for seven days as a commemoration of the children of Israel being in the wilderness after they left Egypt. It was a memorial to God’s preserving them through that period of time. The feast of Tabernacles may have been occurring in Jerusalem while they were on the mountain, so Peter’s mind may have already been thinking about that. Second, the prophet Zechariah predicted that during the Millennium when “the Lord will be king over all the earth,” one of the activities that will take place will be the celebration of the Feast of Booths by all nations.

Peter could have easily merged these ideas together and thought this could be the beginning of what he had been hoping for and the kingdom would soon be ushered in. He could think of nothing better than celebrating the feast of Tabernacles there on that Mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But Peter was wrong. The kingdom was coming, but not in the way that he was envisioning it. Moses and Elijah left, and Jesus was still going to Jerusalem to die. Peter’s suggestion was ignored, but his suggestion does show he believed Jesus to be the Messiah.

The Witness of the Father (Matthew 17:5)

“While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying: ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!’ And when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were much afraid.”

In calling Jesus, “His beloved Son,” God the Father declares His relationship of divine love to the one who is of identical nature and essence with Himself. Jesus is the Messiah. He is Immanuel, God in human flesh. There can be no greater witness to this than God the Father Himself, and that is who declares it here.

This was very similar to what occurred when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist when a voice out of heaven said almost identically the same words The bright cloud being reminiscent of God’s presence with the children of Israel during the wilderness wanderings when His presence was demonstrated by a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud by day. Out of that bright cloud the voice of God the Father commended Jesus and called on the disciples there to listen to Him. That was the only answer to Peter’s suggestion, i.e., “Peter, quit talking and listen to Jesus.” If Jesus says He is going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise again, then that is what is going to happen. If He says to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him, then that is what you should do.

That admonition to listen to Jesus applies to us as much as it did to Peter. Last week we talked about denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Jesus. Those that listen to Him will do just that. Those that do not obey the command of God will not. How have you done this past week? Have you consciously thought about considering yourself dead and living only for Christ? Or was the effect of last week’s sermon only a passing thought or emotion? Hopefully the only hope you have for both this life and for eternity is bound up in listening and following what Jesus says.

Jesus’ Command (Matthew 17:6-9)

One of the wonderful things about following Jesus is that He is so considerate of our frailty. Peter, James and John were frightened by all that had just occurred, especially the voice of God coming out of the cloud. They were no different from anyone who finds themselves in the presence of God when His majesty is on display. Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” Daniel described himself as falling with his face to the ground having no strength left in himself and his natural color turning to a deathly pallor. That is the reaction of men when they come into the presence of the glory of God. Peter, James and John were no different. Our text says they “fell on their faces and were much afraid.”

Verse 7 tells us of Jesus’ response to their frailty, “And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’ And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus Himself alone.” There are many things that can frighten us including what we do not understand, things that are more powerful than us, and at times even the presence of God. The good news is both that we do not need to be afraid and that when we are, there is someone there to comfort us: the Lord Jesus Christ who casts out our fear with His perfect love. The disciples were afraid, and Jesus comforted them. We may be afraid of the future, such as where our society is headed and what our children and grandchildren will have to face, but we find our comfort in Jesus who reminds us what life is about and calls on us to follow Him. We do not have to understand everything, we just need to follow the directions that He gives us.

Jesus gives Peter, James and John some direction in verse 9, “And as they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.'” This directive is similar to one that Jesus gave to other people not to tell others about some miracle they saw, except this time He directs when the story of what they saw can be told; after He has risen from the dead. Jesus will not enter Jerusalem for another six months, and He does not want to precipitate events before their time. The people have already tried to force Him to be king once after the feeding of the five thousand. The news of such an event as this could easily set off another movement to try to make Him king. Jesus does not want the story to be told until the right time, and that would not be until after He had fulfilled His purpose in coming to be mankind’s substitute sacrifice for sin and to conquer death. The story would then clarify His purpose. He did not come to conquer Rome, but sin and death.

The Witness of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13)

As they continue down the mountain, the disciples are still perplexed. It is hard to think differently after being taught a mixture of truth and error all your life. While they believed that Jesus was the Messiah, they were struggling to comprehend that He had come to suffer and die. Their confusion was made greater because they could not fit all the pieces together. One of those pieces was the prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah to prepare the way for Messiah. In verse 10 they ask Jesus about it. “And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?'”

The Scribes interpreted Malachi 3:1 & 4:5,6 saying that Elijah the prophet would return to prepare the way for Messiah. If that was true, how could Jesus be the Messiah if Elijah had not yet come and prepared the way? Jesus’ answer is in two parts. The first part is in verse 11. “And He answered and said, ‘Elijah is coming and will restore all things . . . ‘”

Jesus said that the Scribes are correct. Elijah is coming and the prophecy will be fulfilled. Malachi 4:5,6 says that Elijah would come “before the great and terrible day of the LORD.” That day was still in the future for them and for us, and before that day comes, Elijah will come to “restore the hearts of the others to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers . . .” Elijah will come.

But Jesus adds a second point to His answer in verse 12, “but I say to you, that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.”

Jesus uses the occasion to stress again that He would suffer at the hands of the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem the same way John the Baptist had suffered. The disciples should have already understood the answer to their question about Elijah, because Jesus had already told them in Matthew 11 that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of Malachi 3:1. John also fulfill ed the prophecy about him in Luke 1that the angel had told his father, Zacharias, that John would “be filled with the Holy Spirit . . . and go before the [Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” This would fulfill Malachi 4:6.

The transfiguration gives additional testimony to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus shined with the glory of God, and Moses & Elijah gave testimony to it. The voice of God coming out of the bright cloud proclaimed it, and John the Baptist prepared the way for Him in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

We know the event had a lasting effect on Peter and John for they write about it many years later. The fulfillment of this prophecy confirms that the prophecy of His coming again in judgement will also be fulfilled. What effect has Jesus had on you? Are you ready for His coming?

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