Luke begins this story with a time reference. He wrote that this event occurred about 8 days after “these sayings”. He refers to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ (20), Jesus’ foretelling this death and resurrection (22) and his giving the requirements for following him (23).
Jesus went up onto the mountain to pray. He only took three of the disciples with him: Peter, James and John. They became an inner circle of disciples. This event appears to happen at night, as the three disciples fell asleep while Jesus prayed. (32) Also, they came down the from the mountain on the next day. (37)
Luke recorded Jesus praying before beginning each new phase of his ministry. From this point on, he will “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. (51)
As Jesus prayed, his face began to change and his clothing became dazzling white, literally as white as lightning. (29) Matthew actually used the word “transfigured”. He wrote: “And he was transfigured before them and his face shoe like the sun, and his clothes became white as light”. (Matthew 17:2) Jesus was illuminated with visible glory.
The disciples saw something of the glory Jesus had with the Father before the world began. (John 17:5) They had seen Jesus in his humility as a man. Here they saw him in his majesty as God the Son, the second person of the Trinity.
But the disciples not only saw something of the past, they saw something of the present that they had never seen. They saw what exists but is invisible to us in this present age. They saw something of the supernatural realm, the reality of glory that is hidden from us. They would never doubt from that moment that there is another world. It is the place in which God the Father dwells and in which Jesus now dwells in glory.
Finally, the disciples saw something of the future. Jesus had told them he would die. But after death, he would rise from the grave. (22) He would have a resurrection body in which he would ascend to heaven. There he sits on a throne at the right hand of the Father with glory. He also told of the more distant future, that of his second coming. Then he will come in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (26) That is a sight I would love to see.
After Jesus became gloriously radiant, Moses and Elijah appeared also. They appeared “in glory”, indicating they came from heaven to be with Jesus. They had been gone for a centuries, but were alive. It may not be the point of this event, but it shows us there is life after death. In this life after death, we will have a relationship with God and with each other. In some way, Moses and Elijah shared in Jesus’ glory. So will we.
Of all the people in heaven, why were Moses and Elijah sent? Moses stood for the law. He received the law from God and gave it to Israel. Elijah, who was a prophet, stands for the prophets. “The Law and the Prophets” was one way the Jews referred to the whole Old Testament. Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 5:17) They point to him. He is the culmination of the Old Testament story.
Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about his departure. (31) Since Luke says he would accomplish his departure in Jerusalem, he meant Jesus’ death and resurrection. The use of the word “accomplish” affirms for us that Jesus did not die by accident or against his will. He went to die because it was part of his mission to die for us. He knew it would happen. He intended for it to happen. It was the Father’s will that it happen.
Jesus said “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I received from my father.” (John 10:18)
Peter, preaching to the crowd at Pentecost, said that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”. (Acts 2:23)
So, what happened here?
Jesus revealed his glory to these three disciples. Luke wrote that they “saw his glory”. (32) Although Jesus had demonstrated his deity by his miracles, here he allows them to actually see it. Now they know that he is God, that he is divine.
John referred to this event is the prologue to his gospel as he explained the deity of Jesus. He wrote “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Peter wrote: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”, we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven for we were with him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)
The Bible shows us that all whom experience God’s glory are stunned. The disciples here are stunned also. James and John sit there in stunned silence. Peter, however, began to babble about building shelters and staying there with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Luke wrote that Peter did not know what he was saying. (33)
Peter was wrong to place Moses and Elijah on the same level as Jesus. They were great prophets, but Jesus is supreme as Savior and Lord. He is God; they are not. Christ deserves honor and worship. They do not.
Peter was also wrong to try and keep Jesus on the mountain. Jesus had already said he must go and die. Peter was wrong to interfere with God’s plan for salvation.
But God the Father did not stop at showing Christ’s glory. Not only did Jesus reveal his glory, the Father affirmed it. Just as Peter began to talk, a cloud overshadowed them. (34) It was no ordinary cloud, though, and the disciples became afraid as it covered them. It was the cloud of God’s presence, of his glory. It was an even greater manifestation of God’s glory than the transfigured Jesus.
We have seen this cloud before in the Bible. When God came down to Mount Sinai to give the law to Moses, a thick cloud came onto the mountain and God was in the cloud. (Exodus 19 & 24) And God spoke to Moses from within the cloud. The cloud descended on the tabernacle while Moses watched. (Exodus 40:34-35)
Solomon saw the cloud when God’s presence filled the temple. (2 Chronicles 7:1-3) Ezekiel saw it leave the temple. (Ezekiel 10)
God spoke to the three disciples from the cloud on this occasion. He said “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (35) The Father confirmed that Jesus was the divine second person of the Trinity when he called him “my Son”. The Father\Son relationship is how God chose to reveal to us the nature of their relationship within the Trinity.
The Father’s words “my Son” relate to Psalm 2:7, where David wrote “I will tell of the decree: the LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you”. That verse related to 2 Samuel 7:14, where God said he would take David’s heir as his son. When the Father said Jesus is his son, it is giving him a royal title. This indicates that Jesus fulfilled that promise. He is the King.
He also confirmed that Jesus was the one chosen to accomplish the work of redemption. The Father’s statement that Jesus is his Chosen One refers back to Isaiah 42:1-4, where the Father said “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my should delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” Isaiah 42 is the first of the four “Servant Songs”. Jesus fulfills this passage also, as he is the servant and Chosen One of God to accomplish salvation for God’s people. Isaiah wrote about the servant offering his life as a sacrifice for God’s people. (Isaiah 52-53) The Father confirmed what Jesus said about his rejection and death by calling him his servant.
When the Father commanded the disciples to listen to Jesus, he referred back to Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses declared “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers-it is to him you shall listen…” The Jews came to understand this prophet to be the Messiah. That is why they asked Jesus if he was the prophet.
Following the confirmations, the Father issued a command: “Listen to him”. Peter was not to babble about things he knew nothing about. Rather he, and the other disciples, were to listen to Jesus, to pay attention to his words.
The disciples got the message. They quit talking. Verse 36 says they kept silent and told no one during those days, during the remainder of Jesus’ earthly life, what they had seen.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, they did talk and write about it. John wrote a prologue to his gospel to explain that Jesus was God. He wrote:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from he Father, full of grace and truth.”
Peter also wrote about it. 2 Peter 1:16-18 says:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made know to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’, we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”
It is common for Christians to desire to stay where they experience the Lord. But that is not the Lord’s desire. He desires us to go and tell about him. He would soon send out 70 disciples on another preaching trip. He would also commission the church to go into the world and teach his words to others.
But we have a personal duty to listen to Jesus also. We must listen when he says to trust him, and only him, for eternal life. We must listen to the cost of following him and be willing to pay it. We must listen to him say he will be with us forever. That is our assurance.