(Mt 16.27-17.13; Mk 8.38-9.13; Lk 9.26-36; 2 Pet 1.16-19)
The kingdom of God, the sphere of Gods rule, is a key theme throughout Scripture, occupying both biblical history and prophecy. It broadly divides into two main phases, universal and mediatorial, "the first referring to the extent of the rule, the latter to the method of rule."1 Gods kingdom is "everlasting" (Ps 145.13), having neither beginning nor end, and "over all" (Ps 103.19), without boundary this is the universal aspect. In contrast, the mediatorial stage will have its administrative centre in Jerusalem (Is 24.23), commence at a definite point in time (Dan 2.44), and be governed by Gods Son (Ps 2.6,7). When the Lord Jesus announced, "That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power" (Mk 9.1), He referred to the mediatorial aspect of Gods kingdom. The short period of one week until the transfiguration indisputably linked the two. The transfiguration was therefore a temporary, miniature preview of the glory and splendour of Messiahs kingdom. Having just taught the disciples about the inevitability of His death (Mt 16.21), and the high cost of discipleship (Mt 16.24-26), through this visualization of the future kingdom the Saviour reassured them that it would yet be established, and they themselves would never lose their rewards.
Since "Son of man" was a Messianic title that emphasised His humanity and was closely associated with His receiving the kingdom (Dan 7.13,14), the Lord appropriately applied it to Himself in the context of predicting that kingdom. Although He first came to save, He will come again to judge. The angels who will accompany Him to the throne "shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Mt 13.49,50). Their holiness, together with that of the mount itself (2 Pet 1.18), anticipated the holiness that will dominate every aspect of the future kingdom (Zech 14.20,21).
Gods universal supremacy as King over all the earth has always been closely linked to power and glory (1 Chr 29.11). The future mediatorial kingdom is no exception. It too will be characterised by the combined glory of Father and Son (Mt 16.27; Lk 9.26), and exhibitions of divine power (Mk 9.1). This power will transform the earths climate and agricultural capacity (Is 30.23-26; Ezek 47.1-12; Joel 2.21-26; Zech 14.8), bring about geographical changes (Is 2.1,2), annihilate all insurrection (Ps 2.9), generate international peace between nations (Is 2.3,4), and among the animal kingdom (Is 11.6-9), eradicate illness (Is 35.5,6), and in so doing extend the average life-span (Is 65.20-22). Many of the Lords miracles anticipated the kingdoms power those who witnessed them tasted "the powers of the world to come" (Heb 6.5) and so verified His Messianic claims (Mt 11.1-6).
Peter, James and John formed a select audience on three occasions: the mount of transfiguration (Mt 17.1), the garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26.37), and the house where the young damsel was raised to life (Mk 5.37). Each instance saw them alone with the Lord in different settings, teaching us that quiet times with Christ (for prayer and Bible reading) are possible anywhere, and certainly essential for Christian development. Spiritual growth also requires obedience. "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (Jn 14.21).
The Lords outward appearance was "transfigured" (metamorphoo "[changed] into another form"2 - Mt 17.2; Mk 9.2), and "altered" (heteros "become other"3 Lk 9.29). In an attempt to explain the dazzling splendour of Christs glory the Gospel writers used five similes:
Whereas Moses reflected divine glory (Ex 34.29-35), the Lords radiance was the outshining of His intrinsic excellences. Such a vision, seen by Paul on the Damascus road (Acts 26.13), and John on the isle of Patmos (Rev 1.14-16), will be displayed throughout the millennium and beyond into the eternal state: "And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof" (Rev 21.23).
Moses participated in Israels national birth, while Elijahs future ministry "before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal 4.5,6) will witness her rebirth (Is 66.8). Since they jointly represented her entire national history from beginning to end, their appearance on the mountain implied that Israel would hold a prominent position in the kingdom. The two prophets also stood for all Old Testament Scripture, the Law and the prophets, and through their discussion (Lk 9.31) highlighted its central theme: Christs suffering and glory (Lk 24.26 27). Their appearance in glory not only bolsters our confidence that all saints will enter "into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1.11), but also dispels any doubts concerning the feasibility of prophecy involving these two prophets being literally fulfilled (Mal 4.5,6), both are alive and available. Gods grace was also magnified, for although Moses was forbidden in life from entering Canaan (Deut 32.50-52), God finally answered his prayer: "I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon" (Deut 3.25). Moses on the mount of transfiguration was at last in the Promised Land.
The disciples reaction to the glorious vision was inconsistent. On the one hand their sleep suggested a failure to grasp the importance of the event (Lk 9.32); while their confession, "It is good for us to be here" (Mt 17.4), implied a sense of immense privilege. Although spokesman Peter inadvertently placed the Lord Jesus on an equal footing with Moses and Elijah, "Let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah" (Mt 17.4), to connect the Feast of Tabernacles with the kingdom was correct (Zech 14.16-21); and his "if thou wilt" (Mt 17.4) showed wonderful submission. They were "aghast by dread" (Mk 9.7, Wycliffe) at the unveiling of deity; a fitting response. Even though the three disciples misunderstood "what the rising from the dead should mean" (Mk 9.10), they obediently "told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen" (Lk 9.36). May the Lord help us to appreciate our spiritual privileges, value the Lord Jesus above all others, exhibit a submissive God-fearing spirit, and obey even in the face of limited understanding.
God the Fathers voice came "out of the cloud" (Lk 9.35), "from heaven" (2 Pet 1.18), and "by the excellent glory" (2 Pet 1.17, JND), "a reverential paraphrase for God."6 The "bright cloud" which curiously "overshadowed them" (Mt 17.5) therefore signified the presence of God. The Father declared Christ to be His unique Son, "in whom [He was] well pleased" (Mt 17.5), and to whom they should listen. Once the vision had ended, "they saw no man, save Jesus only" (Mt 17.8). This further emphasised His pre-eminence.
The man who has lost the pleasure of asking questions "is already beginning to stiffen" (Robert Lynd). And so the disciples responded appropriately to their vision of the kingdom by asking, "Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?" (Mt 17.10). The Lord Jesus clarified that Elijah will spiritually restore Israel prior to Messiahs coming (Mt 17.11). Had the nation received the Lord Jesus as their Messiah, John the Baptist, who came in Elijahs spirit and power (Lk 1.17), would have fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy concerning him (Mal 4.5,6; Mt 11.14; 17.12), and the kingdom would have been established. Instead, however, Israel mistreated both John and Christ, thus necessitating another forerunner, Elijah himself, and a second coming of the King.
The Reflection (2 Pet 1.16-19)
After many years of reflection, Peter, still convinced that the transfiguration looked forward to the kingdom, explained that his authority for teaching a future, powerful coming of Christ (v.16) was neither mythical, nor "cunningly devised" by human wit, but grounded upon his eye witness experience of the Lords majesty (megaleiotes - "splendour, grandeur, sublimity"7). His greater emphasis on the "more sure word of prophecy" (v.19) reminds us that although glorious visions make a lasting impression, with time they fade from the memory, but the inspired Scripture remains forever.
1 McClain AJ. The Greatness of the Kingdom.
2 Vine WE. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
3 Vine WE. ExpositoryDdictionary of New Testament Words.
4 Vincents Word Studies of the New Testament. Vol.1.
5 Earle R. Word Meanings in the New Testament.
6 Hiebert DE. Second Peter and Jude.
7 Hiebert DE. Second Peter and Jude.