Luke 9:27-36 “‘I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’ About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no-one at that time what they had seen.”
We have seen the setting of this event, and the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now we want to consider the men who appeared and spoke to him there.
1. ELIJAH AND MOSES APPEARED, TALKING TO JESUS.
“Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus” (vv. 30&31). Why did they, of all the spirits of just men made perfect who are now in the presence of God, come from heaven to meet with Christ? There are a number of reasons:
i] That the Lord might know that the mystery of his death on the cross was understood and appreciated in heaven. Peter and James and John, his own apostles, might loathe the thought of Christ being killed. He could get no sympathy from his own closest friends. The most warm-hearted and loyal of disciples considered his commitment to dying incomprehensible, but the church in heaven knew more of why he was setting his face steadfastly to Jerusalem. When Moses and Elijah, those who were amongst the nearest to the throne in glory, were allowed to come to this mountain their presence was expressing such sentiments as these, “When you left heaven and came here thirty years ago we never realised all that lay before you. Then we were just so grateful for what you set out to do. Now we are lost in wonder, love and praise to consider all that you’ve done. Now we can appreciate something of the sacrifice and death that yet lies ahead of you. All the saints in glory are filled with adoration at what you’ve achieved and what you’re going to do.” In other words, while there wasn’t a single person on earth who could understand what Jesus was doing, there wasn’t a single glorified spirit in heaven or one amongst the innumerable company of angels who wasn’t supporting his redemptive mission. That is one reason why Elijah and Moses were there.
ii] They appeared in order to show that there is a total unity between the Old Testament and the New Testament concerning redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ. All that Moses and the prophets wrote found its consummation in him. Jesus was no revolutionary; no radical; he was no troubler of Israel. Moses and the prophets were the men who made the promise of the Seed of the woman coming and bruising the serpent’s head, and Jesus was the fulfilment of their promise. They had longed to see his day and now they had seen it and were glad. They were there on the mount validating Jesus’ ministry. They came to set their seal on his claims and his actions and words. They were attesting to it as to its absolute integrity and total credibility. In his stern criticisms of the religious leadership of his day, his moral stringency and uncompromising theological statements, he was standing exactly where they stood when they confronted the defiant hardhearted people of God. Jesus preached the same message as they’d preached. There was nothing in his words they condemned. There was nothing in its spirit or letter that is ever to be deemed by a Jew as being in contradiction to what Moses, Elijah and the prophets have said. There are people today who want to drive a wedge between the whole position of Moses and the stance of the Son of God. “Not the Old Testament,” they say, “not its moral unyieldingness, and its righteousness, and its awesomeness, and the fearfulness of Jehovah God found there. It is Jesus we want.” “They have no right to do that,” says Moses and Elijah and Jesus with one voice. Christ will speak no word of disavowal of those Scriptures, and these men are sent by God to confirm their unity.
iii] Both Moses and Elijah were prophets. God talked with Moses. We are told that in the Old Testament God spoke to Moses face to face in a way that was extraordinary, as a man talks with his friend. God said to Moses in Deuteronomy 18 that he would raise up a prophet that would be like Moses, who would come of the sons of Moses. There is a sense in which Moses as prophet prophesies the coming of the great prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Saviour is the last prophet who was to come into the world, the one of whom Moses spoke. Elijah is the first of the great classical prophets of the Old Testament, and in many ways the forerunner of Jesus, paralleling the ministry of John the Baptist who heralded the Lord Jesus. The Saviour says of him after he and the apostles walk down from the mount of transfiguration that “Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it was written about him” (Mk. 9:13). So Moses and Elijah are the messengers of Jehovah God who speaks and is not silent. They represent the whole ministry of prophets by whom God in different ways and at different times has made himself known to us creatures. Now that same living and true God is speaking to us by his Son, who is the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person.
iv] In the Old Testament Moses and Elijah were the only two men who spoke to God on the mountain. God invited Moses to come up to the mountain and there Moses spoke to God face to face, and his face shone, and he prayed, “Show me your glory,” and in the cleft of the rock, protected from the burning glory of God, Moses saw that glory in a measure. Elijah, after that great victory on Mount Carmel, ran as far away as he could to Beersheba in the south, in a depression because Jezebel threatened to kill him. In the wilderness, under a juniper tree, he says, “There’s nothing more I can do.” He is lonely, cut off, hungry, and weary. He has witnessed the slaughter of 850 prophets of Baal and seen the place awash with blood. Now he is under the juniper tree saying to God, “That’s it. I am absolutely exhausted. I am the only one left. I am the only true believer in the place.” He is suicidal. He tells God that he might just as well take away his life. It is very interesting that Elijah is one of only two people in the Old Testament who did not die, but who asked to die.
God did not answer his prayer. He took Elijah to Horeb to the mount of God, and the Bible says that God said to him to go to a cave, in fact the Hebrew says to go to the cave. Is that a throwback to Exodus to the narrative where Moses on the same mountain saw the glory of God? Elijah saw the glory too, after the earthquake, wind and fire, God spoke to Elijah in the still, small voice, on the mountain. So when we come to the transfiguration passage and ask why Moses and Elijah were sent here from heaven there is a clear link between this event and the fact that these were the two men in the Old Testament to whom God spoke on the mountain, at Horeb, at Mount Sinai. So all these strands of biblical prophecy have brought us here, and the same two men on this mountain are now speaking to the one who is God incarnate. The same glory which the two saw when they were on this earth they, with Peter, James and John, are seeing now in the face of Jesus Christ.
Look at the mount of transfiguration and see Jesus Christ standing between the prophets and the apostles, the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament. Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John – what a beautiful picture of biblical revelation. Has a more auspicious group of inspired men ever assembled? Moses, the lawgiver, Elijah the prophet. Peter, the Pentecost preacher. James, the apostle and martyr. John, the gospel writer and revelator. The Bible’s first and final authors in one place, its alpha and omega, and the Bible’s subject, too, there at their heart. Moses and Elijah spoke of Jesus. The Saviour himself says that; “Moses wrote of me.” Moses, like Abraham, had rejoiced to see Christ’s day and he saw it and was glad. Moses and Elijah and the prophets looked forward to Jesus Christ because they prophesied through the Spirit of Christ that was in them, in Moses and in the prophets as they testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. When the Lord was on the road to Emmaus he began with Moses and then went on to all the prophets and expounded to Cleopas and his companion all the things concerning himself that were written there.
Peter, James and John have all the things Jesus taught them brought to their remembrance by the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. The Lord Jesus Christ is there in the centre; Jesus through the Spirit speaking through Moses and Elijah: Jesus through the Spirit speaking through Peter, James and John. Jesus with the prophets and apostles preaching to us the Word. Today we have the inspired word of God, recorded by apostles and prophets, given by our Saviour, the one who said that not a jot or a tittle would pass away until all were fulfilled.
What kind of structure do you want for your own faith? Is your faith going to be a response to what the one true and living God says? Do you say, “Well, if the veil between this world and the world to come would part just for a moment, if I could just see heaven, the glorified bodies of the saints, and if I could catch a glimpse of the glory of God then I would believe.” Well, if you want to see men coming back from heaven men have come back from heaven. Jesus Christ also returned from heaven. If you want to see heaven’s glory then it has been revealed. If you want to hear a voice from heaven there has been a voice from heaven and that voice said, “Hear my Son Jesus Christ. Listen to him.” One command about one beloved Son, and we must hear him. Faith is hearing what Jesus said and doing it. His words give us a structure for our faith.
Hear Christ as he says, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Hear him as he says, “Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to them that despitefully use you that you may be the sons of your Father which is in heaven.” Hear Christ as he warns us, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” There is absolute authority in the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the authority of the final prophet, of the God-man, of the Son of God who took the words that were given to him by the Father and he gives them to us. When he said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life,” then he speaks the very words of God
Oh that the Holy Spirit would do what I cannot do, which my heart would yearn to do, but which I am utterly unable to do, to speak to your heart and understanding now and summon you effectually to come to him. In our shadowlands there’s a glory to be found. It shines in the face of Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Arise, shine, for the light of the world has come! Come to the light and walk in the light all your days and then enter this light and glorious place for ever!
2. WHAT MOSES AND ELIJAH AND JESUS TALKED ABOUT.
We are told what they actually talked about, “his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem” (v. 31). In other words, they were talking about his death, and the exodus from the world which he was about to fulfil. As we hear that word ‘exodus’, all those Old Testament bells begin to ring. We are reminded of how Moses led the children of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt in a departure to the promised land. We are here meeting not only the God who speaks, but also the one who went and rescued his people. When the rock was smitten in the wilderness, that rock was Christ. Jehovah Jesus had been there all the time leading them, but the deliverance from Egypt and the entry into the land was also a sign of what the Redeemer God would one day do for the world. It pointed forward to a greater departure which the living Lord Christ would lead, taking all God’s people out of slavery to sin and death and into the glory land which he’s promised them. The events of the Exodus pointed to the Messiah who would be the passover lamb taking away the sin of the world. He will pass through the red waters of death in his great baptism on Golgotha. He will emerge from them when he rises triumphant over the grave. Then in glory he will lead the worship of God in singing the Song of Moses on the other side of the sea, but that song has become the Song of Moses and the Lamb. That is the great exodus of Jesus that he will bring to fulfilment as our sacrifice and sin-bearer and Saviour.
You know there was an occasion when Moses offered himself to become the sacrifice. Some of you remember that dramatic time recorded in Exodus 32 when the people had sinned against God so desperately at the very bottom of Mount Sinai, worshipping a cow made out of gold. Then the wrath of God hung over this evil people as a great black cloud about to break, and then Moses pleaded for them, crying out desperately and brokenly, “Oh what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin – but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Ex. 32:31&32). What a prayer! Moses pleads for their forgiveness, and if God is reluctant to forgive them then Moses will offer himself. “Lord, blot me out! I don’t want to be in your book unless the people can be redeemed.” But even if God had blotted out Moses’ name from the book of life what good would that have done for Israel?
Consider Elijah in his despair, feeling a total failure, no better than any of his fathers who had all failed to bring the people back to the living God. All he wanted was to die: “It is enough,” he says, “now take away my life!” What good would that have been for Elijah or for Israel if he had died by the hand of a just God? Would that have saved one person in Israel – the blood of Elijah? The blood of Moses? Not one. They themselves were both men who needed to be redeemed. But here is One who has come, the promised Redeemer, Jehovah Jesus, the Lamb of God, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and higher than the heavens. He as the eternal Son of God can bear the weight of divine condemnation for the world. He, as the blameless Jesus, has no sins of his own for which to make atonement. He alone is the Lamb of God.
When Moses and Elijah meet with the Son of God on this mountain top they talk about the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Moses could have questioned him, “Lord, all those sacrifices and all those offerings in the book of Leviticus, you gave them to me to record. Lord there was so much blood shed. Why was that?” The Lord could say to him, “You know, Moses, that they were all teaching about me. They were symbols pointing forward to my imminent death in Jerusalem which will be once and for all.” Jesus could have told Moses, “You know that I must die and shed my blood so that full atonement can be made. I won’t enter heaven bearing the blood of goats and calves and the ashes of a heifer but with my own blood. Through the eternal Spirit I will offer myself to God, once and for all, at the end of the ages, to do away with sin by the sacrifice of myself.” The Lord Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration explains to Moses and Elijah the nature of his death. There is no more important subject to learn about and understand than this, that the Son of God died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that we might be delivered from the bondage of sin. There must be atonement, and Christ’s death alone is that atonement.
So these two men didn’t say, “How glorious you look today, Lord” Their discussion was about something in the future. Their eyes were directed to a far more glorious place. Jesus left that holy mountain and walked a long and lonely road to a shabby little hill near the rubbish dump outside the walls of Jerusalem. That hill was shaped like a skull and it was called Golgotha. There was no radiance there, but in its thick darkness the Lord Jesus did the greatest thing God has ever done. There he was nailed to a cross and he poured out his precious blood. One drop of that is worth more than the world. There he laid down his life so that Moses, and Elijah, and Peter, and James, and John and vast numbers of men and women like them might be forgiven and live with him in glory for ever.
The Son of God didn’t have to do this. Jesus could have made himself immune from death, just as easily as he entered into heavenly glory on the mountain. He could have remained in the divine splendour and returned directly to the throne, but if he had done that we would never have entered that glory. He had to lay down his life for us. He walked to Golgotha from the Mount of Transfiguration to endure God’s wrath there. He walked from his Father’s pleasure to his Father’s punishment. He walked from his Father’s delight to his own lonely death in order to make us God’s beloved children, to be with him for ever. He took no one with him there, and no voice spoke to him. When he cried, “My God, my God, why?” then there was no answering voice. The only reply is this, that there can be no light of glory for us unless there was the darkness of abandonment for him. God spared not God. The Father smote his Son, and he received the blows lovingly! God took his Son, his only Son whom he loved, and he made him a burnt-offering for sinners who hated him. O love beyond degree! So the voices of Jesus, Moses and Elijah are heard on the mountain.
3. THE VOICE OF GOD WAS HEARD ON THE MOUNT.
“A cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’” (vv. 34&35). The great prophet has come, the one that God would raise up, whom he had promised to Moses, who would be like Moses but much greater. “This,” says God the Father pointing to Jesus, one who was actually with Moses there and then, “This is my Son, whom I love.” He draws their attention away from the law and the prophets. “This is he of whom I speak to you.” It is a word of demonstration and distinction which marks out Jesus Christ. There have been many religious leaders in the world but there is one alone who is the only begotten Son of God. Unto which of the angels said he at any time, “You are my Son. I am your Father”? Not one. God is the father of Jesus Christ, and so all that the Father is the Son has to be all that too. A sculptor carves a perfect likeness of his son out of marble, two similar figures of the same size are there, but he is the father of the boy alone, not the sculpture. God made the earth but he is not the earth’s father, but he is the eternal Father of the eternal Son. The Son counts it not robbery to be equal with the Father. He that honours the Father must give equal honour to the Son. A son bears his father’s likeness and this Son is the brightness of the Father’s glory and express image of his person. “I and my Father are one,” says the Son.
Does the Father say about Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love”? Yes he does. Then what a Saviour he must be! How confidently you and I must trust him. If he were an ordinary man, a good teacher and nothing less might we then not doubt his status as One to give forgiveness of sins? He would be one of us, with our needs and weaknesses, but Jesus Christ is God’s only-begotten Son. It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell. However black our sin and deep our despair there is salvation to be found in him. God loves him because he is nearest to his Father. He loves him because in all things he is like his Father. He loves him because he always does the will of his Father. He loves every hair on Jesus’ head!
It is of this One, his own Son, on this mount of transfiguration, that God speaks. Him alone, not Moses, and not Elijah. When God speaks here he doesn’t give ten commandments as once he had in the hearing of the people. Just one command is given to the church. “Listen to him!” God says. In other words, remember what Jesus says; endeavour to understand it; accept it eagerly and believe it; confidently trust in these words and cheerfully obey them all your lives. You see the authority that is given to Jesus Christ by the personal-infinite God. Imagine how impressed and awestruck these disciples must have been to be seeing Moses and Elijah. That must have been the dream of every one of their friends. Don’t we say to one another in half jest, “If only I could have visited John Bunyan in prison, or seen George Whitefield preach in the fields it would have been brilliant”? Yet, consider what men like Moses and Elijah are to the whole nation of Israel even to our own day. But God was here interrupting any such train of thought and saying to these three young Jewish men, “Don’t be so impressed by those two men who are talking to Jesus. The meek and lowly Messiah is far greater than them. He is my Son. Hear him!”
They were great servants, but he is the Son! They were heralds speaking in the name of the King, but he is the King who sent them, the final Judge of all people. They were the men who once promised; he is the fulfillment of those promises. They were the first rays of dawn; but from him the sun is shining in noon-day splendour. The light which glimmered in Old Testament heroes is absorbed and outshone by the dazzling radiance of Christ and his gospel.
“The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.” And the voice of the Lord says, “Hear my Son!” Not Moses. “Hear Jesus!” Not Elijah – yes, we long for a burning word from the greatest of the prophets, but God didn’t say, “Hear Elijah!” Hear Christ! The gospel so commands every one of you to listen to the Lord Jesus. When people came to Pharaoh for corn Pharaoh said to them all, “Go to Joseph.” This very day God says to men, “Don’t come to me first. Go to my Son.” No man comes to the Father but by his Son Jesus Christ. “I will speak with you when you hear what my Son says to you.”
God’s Son is the one the Father has loved from all eternity. There was never a more loved Son. There was never a more loving Father. Jesus Christ is the channel through which God’s love flows to others. Everyone else on the mountain and throughout the earth is loved only as they are joined to Christ. It is only through the delight God takes in his Son that his favour overflows to all who belong to Christ. God’s Son is the final word to us, and so, in order to know God’s truth and to know the way of salvation, we must listen to Jesus; “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Peter hadn’t been hearing him a week earlier when he told Peter that he must go to Jerusalem, and must be betrayed and crucified and buried and the third day rise again. “No, Jesus, not a cross, never!” Peter had said. God says, “Peter! Hear my Son!” The pulpit must always stand beside the cross. Never forsake the pulpit! Never ignore its admonitions! Never think you’ve heard all God has to say about Golgotha. Hear him!
This is going to be your life as a Christian and my life. It is going to be very simple. I am not going give my ears in devotion and submission to politics; there is no redemption there. I’m going to listen to Jesus. I am not going to open my heart and soul to science; there is no redemption there. I’m going to listen to Jesus. I am not going to listen to philosophers, I’m going to listen to Jesus. I am not going to listen to my friends if they have rejected the Bible. I’m going to listen to Jesus. I am not going to listen to experts, I’m going to listen to Jesus. And everyone in the world is going to say to me, “Pathetic obscurantist! Fundamentalist! Escapist! Monk! Nun! You are running away from life. You are burying your head in the sand like an ostrich.” No, I’m going to respect and honour and pray for the politician, and the scientist, and the philosopher, and the expert, and my friends, and ostriches too. I’ll get what help I can from them, but I am going to listen so very carefully to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, and once I have understood them I am going to obey them, and love, and adore. That is going to be my life.
Are you listening? Why do you go to church? “I go for the music,” says one. “I go for the ritual,” says another. “I go for the glow that I get,” says another. Do you hear the voice from the cloud? Hear him! Who will say, “I go to church to hear God speak.” Blessed art thou! You must hasten to the Word! See that you refuse not him that speaks, for if they did not escape who refused him that spoke on earth then much more shall you not escape if you turn away from him that speaks from heaven. How intently must I hear him? Bring every thought into the obedience of Christ, says the apostle.
Thomas Manton the great Puritan minister has a series of sermons on the Transfiguration of Christ, and when he comes to his conclusion on this point he asks seven pointed questions to make sure that his congregation know what is involved in listening to the Son of God:
i] Do you seriously come to Christ that you may have pardon and life?
ii] Do you respect the word of the gospel, receive it with reverence and delight as the voice of God’s great prophet to you?
iii] Do you mix it with faith when you hear it so that it profits you and does you good?
iv] Do you receive it as the word of God?
v] Does it come to you not in word only but with power as the word of God’s great Mediator?
vi] Do you hear him on whatever the Lord chooses to speak to you?
vii] Do you hear him so that you prefer him to everything this world has to offer you?
When we preach the gospel week after week we can’t wait to tell you of Jesus only. When you apply for baptism or church membership then our great questions to you gently probe your understanding of Jesus only, your love for him, your dependence on his shed blood and righteousness. Are you satisfied with Jesus? We must decrease but he must increase. That is our one great purpose for the future.
Peter stand on that mountain and do you notice what he says to the Lord? He does not say, “Wow!” He does not say that that was thrilling or exciting. In fact he says, “It is good for us to be here.” He talks of this tangible quality of moral goodness, so rare in the world but found where the glory of Jesus shines. Do you say when you are in the pub and the music is thumping away, “It is good for us to be here?” Do you say it in the nightclub, or when you are sniffing a line of cocaine, or when you are in the brothel in the embrace of a harlot, “It is good for us to be here.” Isn’t there in your heart a longing for sheer pure life-enhancing and enriching goodness? Maybe you knew it once in the love of a grandparent or mother. Maybe you once knew it in the love of a wife you treated in so dastardly a fashion. You once knew goodness and you spurned it. You can know it again! Do not despair. You are not destined to live in that murky mixture of good and bad for the rest of your days. Come to the only One totally and utterly good, through and through. See that goodness bursting through in his glory on the mount of transfiguration. He will receive you and pardon you and come into your life and change you. He died that we might be forgive; he died to make us good. The go to him! It is movement of your heart instructed and encouraged by the word and strengthened by the Spirit of God. Begin to have dealings with our good and glorious Lord from this moment on.
22 November 2009 GEOFF THOMAS