The Transfiguration; Chapter 16:21-17:12
I can’t spend a whole lot of time on review because 47 lessons have gone before, so it would be very unprofitable to spend all our time reviewing 47 lessons. One thing that is good about having Bible study tapes is that those who would like to catch up certainly can if you have the time. That’s the first thing I want to accomplish: to get us back into the great message of Matthew. The second thing I want to accomplish is this, I want to give you a little bit of assurance, those who haven’t been with us for forty seven lessons, or only a few in the past, I want you to know that each lesson is independent of itself. It’s true they are built upon one another, but you are not going to miss anything because you come in the middle, because all of our studies are designed to be Christ centered and turn your eyes unto the Lord, and since that’s true, every study stands on its own feet, even though it is built upon that which is behind it. It’s our prayer that you’ll see Him, that you won’t feel left behind, and in seeing Him, you’ll embrace Him, and in embracing Him you’ll know Him and walk in union with Him. That’s our prayer. I feel if God would accomplish this, then it’s enough.
Let me restate for you again the great theme of Matthew, and try to pick up where we left off when we left off last time. We called Matthew 10:24&25 our key verses for the book, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they call the head of the house Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household.” The book of Matthew presents Jesus as the rejected Savior-King. If you follow the great movements in Matthew you can trace the path of the rejected Savior-King, and remember that the disciple is not above his master. Those who analyze Matthew, almost all of them even though they have different words, would divide Matthew up into four parts, because literally it falls that way. Chapters 1-4, 5-16:20, 16:21-25, and then 26 to the end chapter 28 – those four sections. Though there are four big sections, there are really only three movement. What I mean by movement, if you want to follow the movement of the Lord – I call it sometimes the spotlight of the Holy Spirit – just read an entire book in one sitting, and try to follow the Holy Spirit. What is He saying? What does He repeat over and over again? What are the reccurring emphasis? Try to get into the flow of what God is trying to say.
You can just sit back and analyze the book and outline it and get key verses, and all of that, and miss the point of the book. There is a spirit of the book, and we don’t want to miss that. In Matthew there are three great movements of the Holy Spirit, and I believe if you read it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you’ll pick that up. The first movement we’ve just illustrated by the arrow pointing down, and we call it the path of rejection. The more you go through Matthew, the rejection deepens. As you go through each section, more and more He’s being rejected and He’s being hated. It starts off with Herod right when He’s born, and all the slaughter of those innocent babies in Bethlehem. It begins with hatred and then moves toward the cross. As you go through the book you’ll pick that up; tremendous rejection.
The second movement we’ve illustrated by the arrow pointing up. If the first illustration is rejection, then the second would illustrate acceptance. As you go through the book, you not only feel that Christ is more and more being rejected, but on the heavenly side you get the opposite. He’s being approved by God, and being accepted. He lives for the pleasure of His Father, and three times God breaks the silence and says, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” He’s being rejected by men, but the opposite is true by God. He’s being approved of God and He lives for the pleasure of God. His heart is to do the will of His Father in heaven. He calls it “His food, His meat, His drink.” It was His whole life. He lived in order to minister to the heart of God. He came to obey God and He came to do the will of God, the pleasure of God. He delighted in the will of God.
Then there is a third movement, and we just illustrated it by the arrow pointing forward. If you want a word to describe it, we use the word “missions” or “soul winning” or “world redemption” or “witnessing”. You get the idea; the book of Matthew, as movement, takes the gospel from the hands of the Jews, from God’s channel, Israel, and by the end of the book He gives it to all the ends of the earth and the islands of the sea. He gives it to the gentiles. What started off in the hands of the Jew, as you go through Matthew, you see the gentiles coming in on every side, and finally he says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” It ends in world redemption and missions. As you read Matthew you get these great movements; the path of rejection, the path of acceptance, and all of that leads to world redemption and soul winning.
Back to our key verse, “A disciple is not above His teacher, a servant is not above his master. It’s enough that he’s like his master.” I like to word the theme of the book this way, “The path of the King is the path of the King’s servant.” How did He do it? That’s how we’re to do it. The same path He walked is the path that we’re going to walk. It’s enough to be like Him. You don’t have to be a Bible seminary graduate to open your eyes and see that many Christians have not gotten past Matthew. It’s the first message of the New Testament. They haven’t begun to see the first message of the New Testament. People are always over here, “I want to see souls saved, and I want to see people get saved, and I want missions and soul winning and evangelism. Let’s bring the gospel out and may God raise up laborers to go out into His harvest.” But the question is, “How?”
How do we end up here, with people coming to Christ? Matthew tells us and it’s not by great programs, and not by fancy gimmicks, trying to get people in, so we can weave Christ in on the side of some great social program, or something like that. It’s not by high pressure, and not by canvassing, and not by saturating an area with literature, and not by filling the air waves with the gospel songs and messages and TV and radio, and all of that. I’m not saying there is no place for that, but I’m saying that’s not how the King got the gospel to the end of the earth. He didn’t hold great crusades and revivals and tent meetings and evangelistic meetings and retreats and conferences, and all of that. He never offered a tape. He didn’t do it that way. Of course, they weren’t around then.
We need to end up here, but not by having great Bible schools and seminaries. How do we do it? The answer is that it’s the same way the King did it. You find a man, you find a woman, you find a body, a group, a corporate assembly of God’s people who are living this way, unto God, just for His pleasure, just to minister to Him, just to do the will of God, an individual whose whole heart and life and direction is set on pleasing Him, and you’ll find the person who will be rejected in the world, but who will produce such a life, that He will create a hunger and a thirst, and those who are seeking reality will seek out that person, that group, and it will produce world redemption. It always does, and it never fails. That’s God’s method. That’s the foundation of the New Testament and that’s why God started there. Then later on He takes all the epistles and explains this great message. But this is the beginning of everything, the foundation of it all; living unto God, and God alone. You’ll certainly be rejected by man and live outside the camp, but living this way as the King did it, will produce world redemption and souls will be saved. The path of the King is the path of the King’s servant, and we’re to go the same way He went. May God increase that number.
So much for the theme. When we finished up last summer, we had completed about one half of the book of Matthew. I told you that commentators divide it in four parts. We finished two parts, so we begin 16:21 through chapter 25, which you’ll see pretty much as the core of the book of Matthew. Chapters 1-4 we call “the preparation for the kingdom”. Chapters 5-16:20 we call “the power for the kingdom”, which we found to be the Spirit of God. Now we come to the third section, 16:21 – 25, and we call this “the nature of the true kingdom”. The whole book of Matthew deals with the kingdom of heaven. What’s the nature of the true kingdom? Well, we’ll see that it’s a spiritual kingdom, and not a physical kingdom. That’s what this section is all about. It’s a kingdom of the inside. It’s internal, and not external. It has to do with the heart, and not just some kind of a outward works and form, and all of that kind of thing.
In order to enter into the heart and message of this section, let me give you a simple outline that describes the whole section, and then let’s begin with just the first part. Let’s try to give an analysis of the whole thing. It’s good sometimes to get a panorama, and then go back and look at the individual sections.
What is this section about that begins on the Mount of Transfiguration, and ends on the Mount of Olives in that great Olivet Discourse? This section gives the essential nature of the true King. Of course, it’s so easy to fill in the words. We can all say, “What’s the nature of the kingdom?” And everybody answers, “It’s spiritual.” We all know that. It’s easy to say. It’s not physical and it’s not external, and it’s not rules and regulations and forms. It’s not the letter, and it’s not the shell, and it’s not flesh and blood. It’s heart. It’s invisible. It’s spiritual. It’s internal. It’s eternal. It’s God. It’s easy to say that, and if you say it you’re right. That’s what this section is about.
But, oh, if God would make us alive to that, we’d never be the same! If God could quicken our hearts to see with the eyes of our heart what it means to be spiritual, and to live in that realm, not on the level of earth, but to live the nature of the kingdom. This whole section is about that, and it’s about nothing else but that. If only God would set us on fire with that truth! In the Old Testament the word “precious” was used for “rare”. Today the word “precious” means “it’s very desirable”, like I call my wife “precious”. I don’t think she’s rare (but she’s rare, too). But in Samuel it says, “The word of God was precious in those days.” That didn’t mean that they held it dear to their hearts. It meant that the word of God was rare in those days. God could hardly ever speak because their hearts were hardly ever right. The truth of this section is very precious. It’s precious because it’s dear, but it’s precious because it’s so rare in these days. May God give us eyes to see it!
I’ll divide this section in two parts and then we’ll look at the first part of the first part, and that’s as far as we’ll get tonight. Chapter 16:21 through chapter 17 is the first part, and then 18-25 is the second part. I think it will help us to get it in our mind, if we divide it up something like this. 16:21 – chapter 17 gives us the heart and the core of what it means to be spiritual. If you want to study what it means to be spiritual and you want it in picture form… Of course, if you want it in fully developed form you have to go to the epistles. The Old Testament gives it in seed. The gospels give it in the bud, and then in the epistles it’s in fully developed form. So, here we have it in the bud. If you want to know what it means to be spiritual you’ve got to study this section. That’s where you find out what it means to be spiritual.
Then chapters 18-25 describe in many, many stories, eight or nine stories, and each story gives a great principle. If I really embrace this, what will my life be like? This will tell you; I’ll have this and this and this and this, and it describes, and is the outworking of a spiritual life. It describes in all the great stories and God fossilizes great principles under these stories. The facts pass away, but the word of God abides forever; the great principles are age abiding. I think if we divide it that way it will help us when we enter into it.
How may I enter the spiritual? I don’t want to live by forms and rules and I don’t want to generate my own life. I want it to be real, and I want it to be vital. I want there to be a relationship. Well, that’s the first part, the essence of the spiritual life. How may I have it, and then how do I know that I have it; the tests? That’s enough overview. Let’s begin with tonight’s lesson.
What is the essence of spiritual living? There are really three answers to that, because there are three stories in that section. There’s the story of the transfiguration. That’s the one we’ll look at this evening. Then there is the story of casting out that demon, and then there’s the story of the miracle of the coin that’s lodged in the fish’s gill. Those three stories each contain one great principle; many principles, as you’ll see, but one great truth which gives us the essence of spirituality. The nature of the real kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. This, this, and this, if I embrace that, this will be true. We’ll begin with number one. We won’t get beyond that this evening. I hope we can finish all of that.
Famous story; the Transfiguration. I’ll begin reading at Matthew 16:21, and we’ll go through 17:13. The Son of Man has risen from the dead. Let me state for you the principle of the transfiguration, and then I’ll try, as God gives grace, to unfold the spiritual significance of this marvelous chapter. What is the essence of spiritual living? What is the nature of the kingdom? There’s many ways to word it, but I think the summary of this story can be expressed in these words, and each word is necessary, “Seeing Jesus glorified.” Don’t leave out any word. It’s not just seeing Jesus; “Seeing Jesus glorified.” Do you realize this, if you are not seeing Jesus glorified, you are not spiritual. That’s the heart and core of this message and story. It’s a marvelous story of the Lord Jesus Christ breaking out in His glory. He’s enshrined in glory, but if He’s not transfigured, and He’s not transformed, then we’ll only see the outside, just the man. This is the story of Jesus glorified.
I’m about to give an interpretation of this chapter, and let me start off by saying that I am 100%, not 99%, but 100% certain that I’m accurate in interpreting this in this way. How can I be so sure? I know because God Himself has given an inspired interpretation in 2 Peter 1. This was too big to let us guess at it. He didn’t want to take any chances that we might miss it. So, in 1 Peter 1 He actually tells us thirty years later when Peter wrote 2 Peter, what the spiritual meaning is of this transfiguration was.
The essence of spiritual life is seeing Jesus glorified. Try to picture this in your mind’s eye. Let me pool all the records, Matthew, Mark and Luke together (each one gives a few other details), just to tell you the story, and then we’ll look at it. It’s a Sabbath evening and Luke tells us why He went to the mountain in the first place. He went there to pray. No one knows which mountain it is. About the fourth century all the commentaries jumped on Mount Tabor, and they said, “That’s the mountain for sure.” Trench and all said that’s what it is. Some say, “No, it’s got to be Mount Hermon,” and then they describe how Mount Hermon rises like a cone. It had to be Mount Hermon.” Alfred Edersheim and some like that hold that to be the case. Some others say that it’s the Mount of Olives. The point is this, nobody knows what mountain it was, and it’s not important to know.
It was a high mountain, and it was a very spiritual experience for Peter, James and John. Let me back off one second and remind you about Peter. Peter had just crossed the line from physical to spiritual. Remember in chapter 16 he had just given his great confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And it excited Christ, because those disciples were rather dull. The Lord Jesus was excited and said, “That’s right, Peter, and flesh and blood didn’t reveal that to you. My Father in heaven revealed it. You’ve finally got it, Peter. It’s not by what you do. It’s what God does, and God gives it to you.” Of course, he didn’t hang onto the spiritual very long. In the next breath Jesus had to say, “Get behind me, Satan, because you’re not having your mind on God’s interest.” He went back to the physical. But at least he saw the spiritual.
Now the Lord Jesus is about to take these disciples, these three, in a graduate course on revelation. Do you want to know what it means to have revelation and light from above, getting beyond the letter and getting beyond the form and beyond the shell? Jesus said, “I’ll show you.” So, according to the Greek here, we read “transformed” or “transfigured”, but the Greek is real strong. It says that he went through a metamorphosis. He was actually changed. This was a day they didn’t expect, and they would never forget, because God was going to write a principle in their life. Thirty years later Peter writes about it, and we’ll look at that in a moment.
Jesus was praying on the mountain, the three became drowsy. The fact is that they fell asleep. A light woke them up. They looked up and they saw the Lord Jesus, and He was transfigured and He was changed. One account says, “The countenance was changed.” According to the Greek His “raiment was glistening white.” Mark says, “shining exceeding white, white as snow, as no fuller on earth can whiten them.” Matthew’s says, “His face shone like the sun.” It must have been quite an experience. With this glorified Jesus, they looked up and saw Moses and Elijah talking with the Lord. Peter responds for everybody, “Lord, if you will, I’ll make three tabernacles.” Luke says that he didn’t know what he was saying. Try to picture this. Just then, for the first time in seven hundred years, for the first time since Ezekiel 11 when the Shekinah glory cloud left the earth, the Shekinah glory came back. Unless you take the star of Bethlehem as the Shekinah glory cloud, this is the first time it returned. This Tremendous Shekinah glory cloud came down on the mountain, and engulfed Jesus and Elijah and Moses, and the disciples became afraid and terrified, and the cloud became lower and lower, and overshadowed them; first the shadow and then the cloud. Before long the three were inside the glory cloud, covered up with the Shekinah glory of the Lord. Then, to add to that experience, a voice came out of the cloud saying, “This is My Beloved son; hear Him.” And upon hearing that, they all fell on their faces like dead men. They were so frightened they couldn’t look up. Finally, the vision ended with a hand upon their shoulder, and they looked up and it was the Lord Jesus and He said, “Don’t be afraid.” They looked up and they saw only Jesus. The cloud was gone, Moses was gone, Elijah was gone, and the voice was gone; they only saw the Lord Jesus. So full of instruction.
Let me take the principles that issue from the facts of this story, and show you why seeing Jesus glorified is the heart and core of spiritual living, and if you are not seeing Jesus glorified, you are not and cannot be spiritual. It’s not possible. The first principle comes from the setting, the background of the story. Look at Matthew 16:28. Many get confused by that. “There are some standing here who shall not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His glory.” They say, “Is that true? Some alive at that time that wouldn’t die until they saw the Son of Man coming in the glory of His kingdom?” Someone says, “Are they still around and still alive?” Or they ask the other side, “Did Jesus come and we missed something?” What does it mean? Other commentators try to explain it. One says that they were just representative of the people of God and what He was really saying is, “There will be a group of disciples alive when Jesus comes.” Well, that’s true. We learned that in Thessalonians. Another says, “No, He wasn’t saying that. He was talking about what would take place forty years down the road from where they were when Jerusalem would be destroyed by Titus, the Roman emperor. Some would actually stay alive to see the awful horror, the judgment that God would send upon those Christ rejecting Jews.” That was also true and some were alive and did witness that and record what they saw. Other say, “No, what He’s really saying is that the Lord Jesus is going to come in glory someday, and it’s going to be a tremendous appearing, His second coming, and the transfiguration is a snapshot of what is coming down the road. When you see this transfiguration, you have a pledge and a promise, an earnest in your hand, a foretaste, a miniature of what is coming down the road. So, they try to explain it and say, “God buried Moses. The dead in Christ shall rise first. Elijah never died, and we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with him in the air, and meet the Lord in the air. The apostles represented the believing Jews, and beneath them were the gentiles, and so you have the whole picture of what it will be like. Christ in His glory, the Lamb in the center, the glorified saints in their new bodies. It’s all just a picture of what is going to come down the road.” And all of that is probably accurate, but there’s also, and this is what my heart is always after, a present tense spiritual principle that God intends, and that God has recorded, so that we don’t to wait for some appearing in glory down the road.
Glance at Matthew 16:22&23, Peter was recoiling from the cross. He loved the Lord Jesus so much that he couldn’t bear to see Him die. That was part of it. He was recoiling against Christ’s cross, but he was also thinking on the level of earth, and he said, “Lord, I want to follow you, but there’s no place for a cross, not in your life, and not in my life.” Peter was also recoiling from Peter’s cross. Peter didn’t want to die to himself. Peter loved Peter. There’s a problem of death. In Matthew 16:24&25 the Lord Jesus comes back and lays down that principle as very necessary and dispensable, if you are going to understand the Christian life. You’ve got to die and you’ve got to take up the cross, and you’ve got to deny yourself. If you seek to save your life, you lose it. And if you lose your life, you’ll save it. And if you err concerning the cross in your life, you err concerning everything in your life.
Usually verse 26 is interpreted to mean “the unsaved”; “What would it profit to gain the whole world, and lose your soul; forfeit your soul.” In other words, what good would it be to have everything in this life, and then die and go to hell, and be forever separated from God? That’s true, but that’s not what He’s saying here. He’s not talking about dying a nd going to hell. He’s talking to Peter. He’s laying down the awful possibility that a Christian can forfeit his soul by gaining this world. It’s the physical and the spiritual. It’s one side and the other side, and that’s what He’s talking about. Now watch, and may God give us light as we look at this!
Matthew 16:28, When the Lord Jesus said, “There are some standing here that shall not face death,” you’ve got to take the context. All of a sudden we think physical death; they are going to stop breathing and their hearts are going to stop, and they’ll have no pulse and they’ll drop over and be buried. I don’t think He’s talking about that kind of death. He’s talking about the death of self. He’s talking about taking up your cross. He’s talking about denying yourself. He’s talking about losing your life. He’s talking about dying. He’s talking about dying to yourself. Then He says that there are some that won’t taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His glory.
Let me state it as a principle. Let me tell you, this is precious beyond description. If you are anything like I am, you have had your sole struggles with the Lord. Perhaps you’ve gone through some of the experiences I’ve gone through, where I’ve cried out to God. I wanted to die to self, and the more I tried to die to self, the more alive self was. One man put it this way, “If you try to crucify yourself, the best you can ever do is two feet and one hand.” Well, that’s literal and would be true. You can’t crucify yourself. I want to die and I want to surrender, and I want to take up the cross and follow Him. I don’t want to forfeit my soul for this old world. There’s nothing here. I don’t want to miss the spiritual. I’ve yielded myself weary trying to surrender to God and dedicate to God, and rededicate to the Lord. How can we lay it down? Matthew 16:28 he gives a great principle, a principle for many, not all, I know for me. Let me word it this way and say that in my life I can’t taste death (spiritual death), do you see where I’m heading, until I see Jesus glorified. For years I had it backwards. I tried to die in order that I might see Jesus, but the teaching is that I must see Jesus in order that I may die. Boy, that’s not just terms. That’s a different direction. That’s another whole ballgame.
I thought the more I surrendered, the more I’d see God. The opposite is true. The more you see the Lord, the more you’ll surrender. Surrender is an outworking of seeing Him, and some will never taste that until they see Jesus. You don’t surrender to see Christ. You see Christ in order that you might surrender. I used to try to follow the Lord in order that I might have visions of God. Not anymore. Now I have visions of God in order that I might follow the Lord. It’s not the same thing at all. Until you see Christ by God’s light, by the revelation of the Spirit in your soul, all of your surrenders and all of your dedications and all of your rededications, and all of your yielding will come up short.
Let me put it this way and try to be very practical. Don’t work on surrender in your life. That’s a great big bondage, and the more you work on surrender, the bigger the bondage is. Brothers and sisters in Christ, I don’t clear my throat anymore when I say things like this. Don’t try to die to self. The very act of trying to act to die to self is self. You can’t die to self. Don’t try to die to self. Don’t work on cross-bearing. You won’t taste death until you see the glory of the Son of Man. When you see Him, then you’ll taste death. The more you see Him, the more deeply you’ll enter into that life which He calls the crucified life. That’s the essence of spiritual living. You see Jesus, and the rest will follow.
Hold that a moment. There’s another principle here. Not only am I able to surrender by seeing the Lord, but it’s only in the glory cloud, as I’m in the glory cloud, as I’m seeing Christ glorified, that I really hear the voice of God. It was when the glory cloud came over the disciples, then He spoke, and they heard the word of God. We always quote, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them and they follow Me.” Don’t play games. We’re not talking about dreams and visions and signs in the sky. We’re talking about inward heart, and do you know the voice of God? Does He speak to you? Don’t play games. Does He? Until you see Christ glorified, you may learn the Bible, but you’ll not hear the voice of God.
I’m going to ask you, because the Holy Spirit interpreted this for us, to turn to 2 Peter 1 just for a moment, where God Himself gives us the interpretation. 2 Peter 1:16, this is thirty years down the road now, and Peter is looking back and remembering the Mount of Transfiguration, “We did not follow cleverly devised tales, when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye witnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the majestic glory, ‘This is My Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.’ We, ourselves, heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”
See, he goes back to that Mount of Transfiguration. He remembers it all, and then he say, “And so we have a prophetic word made more sure, to which you would do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arise in your heart.” What is he saying? He goes back to the Mount of Transfiguration and he says, “Let me tell you what it means. We have here a prophetic word.” He’s talking about the Bible. You can see that from verse 20&21, :But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” He’s talking about scripture. It’s called “the prophetic word”. That’s what the Bible is. He says this, “It’s not enough to have a prophetic word and it’s not enough to have the Bible. It’s not enough to have theology. We have the prophetic word made more sure.” How do you have the prophetic word made more sure?
You see, the same way they had Christ, and then they had Christ glorified, they had the prophetic word made more sure by a present revelation of Christ. When they saw Christ, they said, “Now we have the word more sure.” Christ said, “I’m coming again.” They had that as a theology, “I’m coming again.” But then they saw the transfiguration and they said, “He’s coming again,” because they had the revelation of Christ. It was the revelation of Christ that gave meat to this and put fire in their hearts, when they saw Him. So, He says, “You may have just the prophetic word, just doctrine, just theology, just Bible verses, just memory verses, just commands, just promises, just outlines, just key text, and you can have your theology and prophetic word, but it’s cold, dead and detached. There’s no life, and no heart. It’s dry and it’s boring and it’s dull.” But He says, “There’ll come a day…” He calls the Bible in that passage “a lamp shining in a dark place”. What does He tell you to do to the “lamp shining in a dark place”? He says to pay attention to the “lamp shining in a dark place” until… Until what? Until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your heart; until you have a present revelation of Jesus Christ. It’s not enough to have a lamp in a dark place. It’s not enough to have a prophetic word. He said, “I learned on the Mount of Transfiguration that it’s not enough to have the letter. I need the Spirit. It’s not enough to have Christ. I need Christ glorified. It’s not enough to have a lamp. I need a morning star rising in my heart.” So he says, “The essence of spiritual living is to see Jesus glorifies. If you see Christ, you’ll see how to surrender. You’ll taste that. If you see Christ you’ll get a new body. The word of God will become alive and the Day Star will rise in your heart, shedding a flood of light on in this land, and you’ll hear the voice of God as you dwell in the glory cloud.
Seven years of my Christian life, born again, going to heaven, forgiven of my sins, and I never heard the voice of God. All I knew was that Christ was the Lamb of God and He died for me, but I never understood Christ glorified, which is the heart and core and the essence, and the very foundation of spiritual living. I was not spiritual. I didn’t know, and I didn’t begin to know what it was to know Him, and to walk with Him, and to enjoy Him. He lays it down here; back to Matthew. When you see Jesus glorified, He says, “Then you will hear the voice of God.”
There’s a third thing. Seeing Christ glorified did something else for these disciples. It took them deep into the finished work of Christ. Or to put it into words that we probably understand, they entered into victory. Notice verse 3 of chapter 17, “Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.” What? I wonder what they talked about on that Mount of Transfiguration. Well, again you don’t have to wonder. Luke 9:31 tells us. This is the last recorded statement of Moses in the Bible. “They spoke of the departure which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The departure is the same word you have for the second book of your Bible: Exodus. It spoke about the Exodus. They spoke about His death. They spoke about the cross which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Moses was connected with the mountain. They could have talked about Mount Sinai. Elijah was connected with a mountain and they could have talked about Mount Carmel. But they talked about Mount Calvary that day. And it wasn’t an ordinary death they were talking about. It was a victorious death; a glorious death, because it said they talked about the death that He would accomplish.
You don’t use the word “accomplish” when you talk about death. I don’t think you do. If somebody died that you know, a friend of yours or a member of your family, would you say, “So and so just accomplished death last week.” You would say that they accomplished death. You would say that they succumbed to death. Jesus didn’t succumb to death. He accomplished death. He accomplished it because it was a finished work. They could have talked about a lot of things on that mountain. Moses finally made it into the land. This mountain was in the Promised Land. He couldn’t get in the land, but he finally got in, finally. They could have talked about that. They could have talked about heaven, and about human tabernacles, or about the great glory that was imposing from His skin. They could have talked about that, or about His holy life, or about His miracles, or about the needs of the earth, or about the church, or about anything, but they talked about His death.
The transfiguration was six months before His death. In six months He was to die upon the cross. Matthew 16:21 is the first time Jesus made clear to His disciples that He was going to die. That’s the first record of it you have in your Bible. Now they understood, and from that time He began to talk about the cross. The last six months He talked about the cross more and more. The more we see Jesus glorified, the more we’re going to enter into the death that He accomplished, the more we’re going to enter into His victory. The fact is that there will be no victory and no rest, and no peace in your heart, and no deliverance apart from His accomplishment on the cross.
As wonderful as this Mount of Transfiguration was, I think it was more wonderful that He came down and went to the cross. He left that place of glory in order to die. When I see Him transformed and glorified, then I’ll know what it is to surrender. When I see Him glorified, then I’ll know what it is to understand the Bible, and not until then. When I see Him glorified, then I’ll begin to taste victory in my life. I’ll begin to know His accomplishments, what He did on the cross, and not until then.
Verse 4; there’s another aspect, and I’ll try to give these as principles and make them practical. When we see Jesus glorified, we’re going to experience what they experienced. Peter offers to make three tabernacles; one for the Lord Jesus, one for Elijah, and one for Moses. There are all kinds of speculations for why he said that. Some think he just wanted to delay the experience. In other words, he was having a great time up there, and he didn’t want to leave, “Let’s set up a tent, and let’s stay here for a while. I don’t want this thing to end.” In Mark it says, “Elijah and Moses had already begun to fade, and when Peter saw them fading out of the picture, he said, ‘Hey, I’ll make you a tabernacle if you’ll say.’” He didn’t want them to go. Some say that he just wanted to mark the spot; just wanted to leave an edifice there, a memorial. He wanted to set up a tabernacle in order to remember this great spiritual experience.
Well, the Bible comes right out and is smarter again than the commentators, because the Bible says, “He doesn’t know why he said it. He didn’t know what he was saying. He just said it, because he figured he had to say something.” But God’s answer lets us in on what he intended in his heart by building those three tabernacles.
Peter wanted to do something. We have a great experience, and God does so much for you, and you say, “Wow, I see the glory; I’m going to do something for you.” No matter how you express it, you want to do something. I want to build a tabernacle or build Him something and serve Him in some way, and give Him something for all the benefits He’s done. Peter offers to build a tent. That’s tabernacle; a tent. Jesus came and tabernacled among us. It just means to dwell over. So, God answers it; a marvelous answer. It will scare the tar out of you, but it’s a marvelous answer. “God, I’ll tell you what. I’ll build you a tent, and you can come in my tent.” And he looks up and sees the glory cloud coming down. “I’ll build you a tent, Lord, and you can live in my tent,” and the glory cloud comes down. Before long they are on their faces and they are enveloped. Guess what the word is? They are “tabernacled”, they are “tented”, they are overshadowed with the glory cloud. Do you see what God is saying? He’s saying, “My purpose is this; not that you build something for me, but that you dwell in Thee, and that I become your dwelling place, and that I become your tent, and that I become your tabernacle, and that you live in Me.” That was God’s purpose.
You don’t begin to understand Christian service, and begin to understand ministry for Him, until you start seeing Jesus. Once you see Jesus, you’ll be on your face, and you’ll be worshipping and praising God, and you’ll be understanding and learning what it means to dwell in Him, and to abide in the tabernacle of the most high. Seeing Christ is the essence of being spiritual. I can’t surrender until I see Christ. I can’t understand my Bible until I see Christ glorified. I can’t begin to enter into His accomplishments and victory until I start seeing Christ glorified. I can’t understand ministry. I think I’m supposed to do something for Him and work for Him, and get busy for Him, and get involved for Him, and build Him a tabernacle. I can’t begin to see the other side until my heart is turned in simple childlike faith, and then I’ll begin seeing Him. This is the heart and core of spiritual living. Thousands and thousands of Christians are trying to be spiritual, and they have never learned to see Jesus glorified.
What a Christless struggle; I’ve tasted of it! It’s full of bondage and bitterness and utter frustration to try to be spiritual without seeing Christ glorified. You can’t do it. It’s only bondage. You try and try and try and say, “Lord, I’m just going to work harder at it.” You can’t die to self. Self is there all the time, and God doesn’t speak to you, so you keep memorizing verses instead. You have to have something, so you memorize scripture and pretend that it’s a word from God, when your soul knows the difference between green and straw. The Bible, which is supposed to be sweeter than a honeycomb is dry. Until you see Jesus it will stay dry, and you’ll have no victory over sin whatsoever, no deliverance, always busy building Him tabernacles, never understanding what it is to abide in Him, and let Him tabernacle you. It’s heart rending to see so many of God’s people so badly burned.
Let me give you one more, and then we’re done. Seeing Christ glorified also enables me to enter into the unity of the body. Let me tell you what I mean by that. Everything that is pictured here in the transfiguration, this story unites the believers of every age. There are three great ages of Bible history. Moses, of course, represents the law, and Elijah represents the prophets, and the apostles represent the church, and Moses and Elijah together represent those who have already died and gone to be with the Lord in glory. Every age is represented here on the mountain. They are all doing one thing. They are all beholding the Lamb in His glory; no splits, not cliques, no divisions, no fighting and fussing among each other, no terrible business meetings; just seeing Jesus together, enjoying one another. Why is it that there are so many splits and cliques and sects and denominations among the people of God? I don’t know the full answer, but I know the simple answer. God’s people are not seeing Jesus, because if God’s people were seeing Jesus they’d be one.
You find all over the earth the person whose heart is set on seeing Jesus, and you have instantaneous fellowship with that person. I don’t care if he knows your language or doesn’t know your language. I don’t care if his skin is gold or purple or what color it is, if he’s looking to Christ and you’re looking to Christ, you have perfect fellowship together. God’s people need to see Christ, and there’s unity. There’s an awful lot of struggle going on in the church where people are trying to get along with one another, and trying to create unity. It’s a waste of time, and it’s a byproduct of seeing Jesus. You get God’s people beginning to see Christ glorified, and you won’t be able to pull them apart with teams of mules. May God give us sight to see the Lord Jesus!
These disciples learned not to look to men in an unhealthy way. So many sects and denominations are built on personalities. Someone has a good personality, or someone is a good preacher or good teacher, someone is dramatic, or something like that. Thirty years later when Peter was writing about this, he didn’t write down, “And when we were in the holy land we say Moses and Elijah and Christ.” He didn’t say that. He said, “We saw Him.” He didn’t even mention Moses or Elijah. Do you know the most important thing about the appearance of Moses and Elijah in this chapter? The most important thing about the appearance of Moses and Elijah is the disappearance of Moses and Elijah. They disappeared and they saw no one except Jesus, and Him only. If you are going to be a man or woman of God, you are going to have to learn how to disappear, so people just see Jesus only. It’s a great check on the true servant of the Lord. Be real careful about any individual or group that tries to build something around itself. Just look away to Christ and just see Him; that’s the heart and core of spiritual living.
When they were all done, the Lord Jesus in verse 9 says, “Have you seen Me; have you seen Me glorified? Well, then you’ll know how to surrender, and then you’ll know how to hear the voice of God, and then you’ll know how to enter into My accomplishments and finished work, and then you’ll know what it is to be tabernacled in the very presence of God. Then you’ll know what it is to be one with all Christians everywhere. Don’t tell anyone. Say What? Don’t tell anyone? Can you imagine coming down from the mountain with this experience, having seen Christ light up like the noonday sun? Remember; this was after midnight; bright as the sun. He says, “Don’t tell anyone.” Well, they didn’t tell anyone until after the resurrection.
Can you see the other disciples down the mountain when these three come down? “Have a good time up there?” “Oh, yeah, I guess so.” “Tell us about it.” “Oh, not much.” This transfiguration was designed to encourage these disciples and to prepare them for the terrible days that were ahead. When they came down they were full of faith, and full of encouragement. They had seen great things of God. There was no way you couldn’t tell in their lives that they had seen Christ transfigured. Do you know what He was saying? The principles are the same. When you are really seeing Jesus, you don’t have to tell anybody, because the resurrected Christ will radiate Himself in your life in order that the whole world will know. Seeing Jesus is the heart and the core of spiritual living.
We’re all at different stages. The fact is, sometimes it’s spiritual to pray for darkness rather than light. Let me tell you what I mean by that. The Bible says that the glory cloud, which was all lit up, that’s light, overshadowed that and turned to darkness. Remember in the Old Testament when Moses asked to see the glory of the Lord. He said, “Show me I pray Thee Thy glory.” His heart was saying, “I want light. Show me light.” But he wasn’t ready for light, so God gave him darkness, and put His hand over it and veiled it and covered it up and made it dark. God knows where we are, and He knows how much light we can take, and sometimes…. You say that darkness is a hiding place. You can hide things in the darkness. You can also hide things in the light. If the light is bright enough you can’t see anything. Light is a great concealer, even more so than darkness. If something is in light, and you want to see it, you need a little darkness. Darkness helps to see what is in the light.
Sometimes, and God knows where we are, you need to see Jesus. If you don’t see Christ glorified you aren’t spiritual. You need that. But how He’s going to show Himself to you, I can’t tell you, and no one can predict it. You just keep paying attention to this lamp until the Day Star rises in your heart. He might start off by giving you a little darkness and grace, that you might see Him. As you go on in Christ you’ll never need step two. You’ll only need step one; you need to see Jesus. “Well, after I see Christ what do I need?” You need to see Him again. “What about after that?” You need to see Him again, and again, and again. And the Christian life is never harder than seeing Jesus. It’s never more than seeing Jesus, trusting God to give the light or the darkness, and whatever you need in order to see Him. But if you are not seeing Christ, you are playing games; a little religious game, and your heart knows it’s not real and it doesn’t work, and it’s very, very bitter and disappointing. Only this is real.
And that is only the first step of the essence of Christianity. There’s two more of those, and then eight or nine out workings in your life. I trust God will begin to really make these things clear in our heart. This is all clear as pea soup, right?
Our Father we do thank You for Matthew 17, and not our understanding of it, but all that You know it means. Lord, You’ve saved us in order that we might know You. We struggle so with Bible truths. We pray that You would burn the simplicity of seeing Jesus glorified into our hearts. Thank You that You are doing it now and You are going to continue to do it because we claim it in the all prevailing name of Jesus. Amen