Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE TRANSFIGURATION”

 

Who is Jesus of Nazareth? What is Jesus of Nazareth? Was He a man? Was He really a man? Was He only a man? Is He God? Is He only God?

The Bible teaches, and therefore I believe, that the man who was referred to as Jesus of Nazareth was a real person in history, who was really born, who really lived, who really died, who was raised from the dead after three days and nights, appeared to hundreds of people on numerous occasions after His resurrection, and then ascended in front of many witnesses to heaven, where He now sits at God the Father’s right hand.

Was He a man? Yes, He really was a man. He was born to a virgin, He grew, He hungered and tired, He ate and slept, He angered and rejoiced, He wept and He sorrowed, yet He did all that without ever committing a single sin. He is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.”[1]

How so? Though He is a man, He is not only a man. He is also God. To declare that someone is both man and God is a jarring statement. It can offend the sensibilities if you are not careful to honor God while making such a claim. It certainly struck the Jews of Jesus’ days as a blasphemous notion, and it is a concept that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims the world over find offensive to this day.

However, Christians have asserted that our Savior is both God and man for two thousand years, without either dishonoring God or wrongly exalting man. You see, our Bible both predicted that God would become a man in human history, as well as recorded that God fulfilled those predictions and actually became a man in human history.

As we approach the Christmas season, the details of what is called the incarnation, that miraculous event whereby God clothed Himself with human flesh and became a man so that He might live among men as a man will be referred to repeatedly. Suffice it to say here that God did become a man, and that He was known among us as Jesus.

He lived most of His life on earth in the Galilean village of Nazareth, though He had been born in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy in Bethlehem, about thirteen miles south of Jerusalem. Then, when He was about thirty years of age, His public ministry of preaching, working miracles, training disciples, began when John the Baptist baptized him. A bit over three years later He was in short order crucified, buried, raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven to His Father’s right hand.

It was just about midway through the Lord Jesus Christ’s public ministry that a truly astonishing event took place referred to by Christians as the transfiguration. Though it was a truly breathtaking miracle, only three of the Lord’s disciples witnessed it. Strangely, those witnesses did not refer to the miracle until after the Lord’s resurrection.

Of those people who find it so difficult to accept that Jesus is both God and man, the miracle of the transfiguration seems among the most difficult of all miracles to accept as true. However, to those of us who embrace Jesus as the only begotten Son of God, it is a miracle that wonderfully reveals the majesty and glory of our Savior.

My plan is to treat this event called the transfiguration under four headings, that I trust will enhance your appreciation of what happened so long ago, and will perhaps whet the Christian’s appetite for “the glory which shall be revealed in us,” Romans 8.11.

 

First, THE PREDICTION OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

 

It used to be that skeptics pooh-poohed the prophetical portions of the Old Testament, because they assumed that even if there is a God, He certainly is not involved in His creation, and therefore the predicting of future events by prophets simply could not have happened. Thus, they speculated with dogmatic confidence that such prophecies as we will now look at could not have been written when a book of the Bible claims it was written, but had to have been written after an event with the pretense of having been written before the event to convince the naive readers that it was a predictive prophecy when in fact it was not.

One of the main targets of the skeptics, of course, was the book of Isaiah, which they claimed was not a single book, but two books, with the second half containing many prophesies written after the predictions were fulfilled. However, with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, and in particular the discovery of the complete Isaiah scroll, the skeptics were proven to be wrong. Isaiah was written some seven centuries before the birth of Christ, and the predictions in Isaiah really are before-the-event predictions.

That said, turn to Isaiah 40.5: “And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” What we have here is a prediction concerning the future millennial kingdom, when the “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” That this is a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ is confirmed by verse 3, which John the Baptist identified himself as fulfilling: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”[2]

This is a prediction that the Lord Jesus Christ’s glory will someday be revealed. However, notice that the complete fulfillment of this prediction will only occur when all flesh shall see it together, something that did not occur at the transfiguration, which was witnessed by only three men. Therefore, the transfiguration is rightly understood to be a partial fulfillment of this predictive prophecy, a glimpse if you will of Christ’s glory as a foretaste of glory divine when Christ’s glory will be seen by all flesh.

 

Next, THE DESCRIPTION OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

 

Matthew 17.1-2:   1      And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,

2      And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.

 

Mark 9.2-3:  2      And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.

3      And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.

 

In Matthew 17.2 and Mark 9.2, we are told that Jesus was transfigured. The word metemorfow, is used four times in the Greek New Testament, once in each of these passages I have just read, and twice in reference to Christians. In connection with Christians, such as in Romans 12.2, the word refers to the process of sanctification whereby a Christian’s personality is transformed into Christ likeness. Here, however, the word is used to describe a sudden miraculous event, whereby the Lord Jesus was instantaneously transformed, changed before their eyes, before returning to His former appearance.[3]

Matthew also informs us that “his face did shine as the sun.” Thus, the transfiguration of Christ resulted in Him shining with a blinding brightness, which had to require that Peter, James, and John shield their eyes from the brightness of His glory.

Though Matthew comments about His clothes being “white as the light,” Mark’s gospel details are more descriptive. “Shining” translates a Greek word normally used to describe polished or bright surfaces. A fuller is a man who bleaches wool to whiten it.[4] Therefore, Mark’s description is of clothing that is dazzling white and shiny in its appearance.

Is it not obvious, that in describing our Lord’s face as bright as the sun, and His clothes white as no fuller on earth can white them, that we have described to us an unnatural event, a non-natural event, a supernatural event? This, my friends, is the eyewitness account of a miracle.

 

Third, THEIR REMEMBRANCE OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

 

Keeping in mind that the transfiguration was an event told to no one until after the resurrection, because the Lord Jesus Christ ordered the three disciples not to speak of it until then, notice their comments decades later, after they had time to reflect on what they had seen on the mountain.[5]

The Apostle John refers to the transfiguration in John 1.14. Turn to that verse, please: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” There is much truth in this verse, however, we will confine ourselves to the parenthetical remark: “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” Keeping in mind that John was a Jewish man, raised in the traditions and under the laws of Judaism and the Hebrew scriptures, do not forget for a moment that John knew full well what Jehovah said through the prophet Isaiah, in both Isaiah 42.8 and Isaiah 48.11: “My glory will I not give to another.” “I will not give my glory unto another.” Knowing that, the Apostle John still wrote, “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” In other words, to paraphrase, “We saw Christ’s glory, and it was glory just like the only begotten of the Father.” The implications of John’s comment in John 1.14 are truly staggering.

The Apostle Peter’s comment about the transfiguration is found in Second Peter 1.16-18:

 

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.

 

Peter declares that they were “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” What a thing for a Jewish man to say, in light of majesty used as an appellation only of God in the Psalms and in Isaiah. Whereas the Apostle John writes, “we beheld his glory,” Peter writes, “we . . . were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” In neither account could the writers be accused by anyone of overstating what they observed, or of exaggerating anything. They employ sublime understatement, knowing what weight of evidence supports their record of the event.

As for the third witness, James, the brother of John, Herod the king, Acts 12.2-3, to the great delight of the Jews, martyred him.

 

Finally, THE EXPLANATION OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

 

It is obvious that an explanation of the transfiguration is called for, in light of the fact that an assertion that God has a Son is an affront to Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, and Muslim sensibilities, and in light of the fact that credible witnesses testify to having seen glory and majesty that only God possesses bursting forth in a dazzling radiance from the face and the raiment of Jesus of Nazareth. The Jewish man, the Jehovah’s Witness man, and the Muslim man can become indignant when it is claimed by the Christian that God has a Son, and that God’s Son is equal to God in every way. Yet, on the other side of the spectrum, you have those who question the supernatural and who doubt the miraculous. How are they to explain the eyewitness testimony of extremely credible witnesses who clearly state that the glory and majesty of deity burst forth from the body of a man they were intimately acquainted with, and who they claimed was the Son of God risen from the dead?

The transfiguration speaks to both types of men. The transfiguration demands that one’s understanding of things be revised. Do you have strong views about the nature of God? Do you have strong views about the possibility of miraculous events? Not a problem, as long as your views correctly grasp the transfiguration without twisting the facts to fit your views. Views are supposed to adapt to fit facts, not the other way around.

In an exchange that took place the day before His crucifixion, just hours before the Last Supper and the Garden of Gethsemane, the Apostle John explains the unbelief of the Jews, in John 12.37-42:

 

37     But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him:

38     That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?

39     Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again,

40     He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

41     These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.

42     Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue:

 

Writing some decades after the events in this account actually occurred, John points out their unbelief, despite Christ’s miracles, verse 37, though some among the chief rulers believed without openly confessing Christ, for fear of the consequences, verse 42. In verses 38 and 40, he makes specific reference to Isaiah’s prophecies. However, most important for us to note this morning is verse 41, where the Apostle John makes comments on Isaiah’s vision of the Lord, high and lifted up, in Isaiah chapter 6. What is of great significance is that the Apostle John claims that what Isaiah actually saw was Christ’s glory, and that Isaiah was actually speaking in his prophecy of Christ.

Turn to Isaiah 6.1-5:

 

1      In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.

2      Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

3      And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

4      And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

5      Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

 

Verse 1 is one of those passages in Isaiah that fixes the date of its writing, which was doubted by so many skeptics, but which has been verified by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The year that king Uzziah died is a fixed historical reference point, some seven centuries before Christ was born. Whom did the prophet see in this vision? Verse 2 says it is the Lord, the Hebrew word being Adonai. Verses 3 and 5 find the Hebrew word for Jehovah used, the very name of God, with verse 3 making reference to God’s glory. However, the Apostle John tells us that in this vision, the only one of its kind in the book of Isaiah, the prophet actually saw Christ’s glory. Thus, we can only conclude from this evidence presented to us that Jesus Christ is “the King, the LORD of hosts,” the God of Israel.

 

Who is Jesus of Nazareth? What is Jesus of Nazareth? Was He a man? Was He really a man? Was He only a man? Is He God? Is He only God?

Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus of Nazareth is a man who was born in Bethlehem to a virgin named Mary, and who grew up in Nazareth before beginning His public ministry when He was baptized by John, culminating in His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, where He is now.

What is Jesus of Nazareth? Was He a man? Was He really a man? Was He only a man? Jesus is a man. He is a real man. However, He is not only a man. He is also and at the same time the eternal Son of the living God, Who left heaven’s glory to take upon Himself the nature of a man, though without sin.

Is He God? Is He only God? Yes, He really is God, but He is not only God. He is at one and the same time both God and man. Incredible to the skeptic, this truth certainly seems outrageous to the Jews, to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Muslims. This, however, is where the transfiguration comes into play.

It was predicted centuries before He was born that Jesus Christ’s glory would some day fill the whole earth, showing Him to be the majestic Son of God and the glorious King of kings. That has not yet happened, though the transfiguration gave to three men a glimpse of that prophecy’s future fulfillment, when His glory burst forth through His body of flesh.

It was no accident. It was not anything like a leak, whereby His skin simply could not hold it in any longer, as some writers foolishly suggest. As evidenced by the presence of Moses and Elijah on that mountain, along with the Father’s words, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him,” this was a planned event whereby three men were given the astonishing privilege of just a glimpse of what every Christian shall someday see, our Savior’s glory.[6]

Why were the Apostles directed to remain silent about the transfiguration until after Christ’s resurrection? The transfiguration would have been a distraction from the more important matter of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. However, later on, it proves helpful to our overall understanding of our glorious Savior.

Colossians 2.9 tells us in these words: “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” The description of the transfiguration, along with John’s and Peter’s memory of later on in their lives, helps us to close our eyes and build a mental image of what it must have been like.

What mental image does your mind construct at the thought of Jesus? A gentle man with a soft voice? A tender and compassionate friend? That is perfectly fine, for He was those things and more. However, do not forget that He is the king of glory. Do not forget that His glory is such that the angels in heaven must shield their eyes and cover their feet in His presence.

Man? Yes. God? Also, yes. He is the God man, and establishing once and for all that, yes, God has a son, and His name is Jesus. How does this affect you? How should this affect you? If you are facing the prospect of death, as each of us are, or if you have a loved one who is at death’s door, as many of us do, there is something wonderfully encouraging about the transfiguration.

Standing with the Lord Jesus Christ on that mount of transfiguration were two men who had been born many centuries earlier. Yet they were alive in the presence of Christ on that occasion, discussing His impending crucifixion with Him. Does this not show you that this same Jesus, Who left heaven’s glory to become a man, is one of such power and glory that he conquers even death?

Jesus Christ left heaven’s glory to become a man so that He might die for our sins. However, His plan was never to die and remain dead. His plan all along was to die and to then conquer death, as His transfiguration hints to us by His conversation with a living Moses and a living Elijah. Therefore, as death did not conquer Him, so death does not conquer those who are His.

Oh, my friend, will you not consider the Savior? Will you not prepare for death? Will you not prepare for Judgment Day? Will you not prepare for eternity? Such preparations can only be made by coming to Christ.



[1] Hebrews 7.26

[2] Cp. John 1.23

[3] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 50.

[4] Rienecker, page 112.

[5] Matthew 17.9; Mark 9.9

[6] Matthew 17.5



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org