Chapter 19 Our Lord's Transfiguration

Jesus … was transfigured before them (Matthew 17:1, 2).

In ancient times messages were flashed by smoke signal from mountaintops. Some of our Lord’s greatest messages, too, have come to us from mountaintops. It is not certain on which mount He was transfigured—but most likely it was Tabor.

The Setting of the Transfiguration

There was a background of revelation to this event. In the previous chapter there are four cardinal truths attested by our Lord. (1) The revelation that He was “The Christ, the Son of the living God”—spoken by Peter but confirmed by our Lord (Matthew 16:16). (2) The revelation of the church—“I will build My church” (16:18). (3) The revelation of His impending cross—“He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things… and be killed” (16:21). (4) The revelation of His coming again—“For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels” (16:27). After such revealings then came His transfiguration which crowned, capped, and authenticated those four cardinal truths.

There was also a background of persecution. When our Lord went up the mountain it was at a critical point in His ministry. On the human level, things were becoming increasingly difficult—not out of His control but the hostility of the unbelieving Jews was increasing. An evil force was rolling like a tide and the rulers of Israel were taking council how to put Him to death. So the shadows of the cross were beginning to fall and the Lord had spoken to His disciples about His approaching death. The atmosphere was charged with impending crisis. It was at this time that the Lord took His disciples up the mount and was transfigured before them. Peter wrote about this some years later when persecution was upon the church—which he called “the trial of your faith” and “a fiery trial.” He sends them a message, as it were, from a mountaintop, recalling what he had seen of the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration.

The Significance of the Transfiguration

This transfiguration marked the turning point in our Lord’s ministry. He had gone as far north as He was ever to go. Now He was to turn south to Jerusalem and to the cross on which He would die. A very resolute and purposeful decision was made by the Lord to do that. “He stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). The significance of that transfiguration lies in these three things: (1) It was the Father’s testimony to the perfect humanity of our Lord’s life on earth. He was the only Person who was ever so transfigured. Moses’ face shone after being forty days with God in receiving the law. Enoch and Elijah were two men highly favored, and who went to heaven without seeing death. But no man was ever transfigured as was our Lord. It was the Father putting glory on His Son. It was, as it were, the Father’s attestation of His perfect life in these years of testing. Everything in earth and hell had tried to cause a breach in His obedience. But there could be no such thing, and there was no such thing. Thus the Father was able to put glory on His Son as The One Perfect Man.

(2) It was a foretaste of our Lord’s future glorification as King over all the earth. In John 17 He spoke of the glory which He had with the Father before the world was. He was fully conscious of the glory which He had veiled in order to come into our humanity. It was glory which was His inherent right. But every visible manifestation of that glory was laid aside. The glory now bestowed upon Him on the mount was an earned glory as the Son of man. It was a glory which was a preview of what would be His on His return, when He would be crowned King over all the earth.

(3) It was the Holy Spirit’s encouragement for His disciples. The Spirit of God was conveying to their hearts a new kind of strength and courage with which to meet the future. The future would take them through many fiery trials and deep waters. When the Lord first spoke to His disciples about going to Jerusalem to suffer and die, Peter was vehement in his opposition. Death to him spelled failure. But later, when he wrote his epistle, he had the cross in the right focus. He had it round the right way: “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Peter 1:11). And this is how it was to be for all who would believe. There would be a measure of sufferings for His name’s sake they were to make up. But at the end they, too, would be glorified.

The Lord is King! lift up your voice,
O earth, and all ye heavens rejoice!
From world to world the joy shall ring,
“The Lord omnipotent is King.”

The Lord is King! who then shall dare
Resist His will, distrust His care,
Or murmur at His wise decrees,
Or doubt His royal promises?

He reigns! ye saints, exalt your strains;
Your God is King, your Father reigns;
And He is at the Father’s side,
The Man of love, the crucified.

One Lord, one empire, all secures;
He reigns, and life and death are yours;
Through earth and heaven one song shall ring,
“The Lord omnipotent is King.”

—Josiah Conder