The combined awareness of the Lord’s grace and His majesty, His love and His justice, His friendship and His lordship should cause a kind of spiritual tension in every believer. On the one hand he rejoices in his loving fellowship with the Lord because of His gracious kindness, and on the other hand he has reverential fear as he contemplates His awesome holiness and righteousness. As the believer walks in obedience to God, he experiences the comfort of His presence. But as he walks in disobedience, he should feel the terror of that same presence.
As far as the record is concerned, Matthew 17 is the only time Jesus revealed His glory in this way while He was on the earth. The word translated transfigured gives us our English word “metamorphosis.” A metamorphosis is a change on the outside that comes from the inside. When a caterpillar builds a cocoon and later emerges as a butterfly, it is due to the process of metamorphosis. Our Lord’s glory was not reflected but radiated from within. There was a change on the outside that came from within as He allowed His essential glory to shine forth (He.1.3).
Certainly this event would strengthen the faith of the disciples, particularly Peter who had so recently confessed Jesus to be the Son of God. Had Peter made his confession after the Transfiguration, it would not have been so meaningful. Peter believed, confessed his faith, and then received assurance.
Many years later, John recalled this event as the Spirit guided him to write: “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” In his Gospel, John emphasized the deity of Christ and the glory of His person.
Jesus Christ laid aside His glory when He came to earth. Because of His finished work on the cross, He has received back His glory and now shares it with us. However, we do not have to wait for heaven to share in this “transfiguration glory.” When we surrender ourselves to God, He will “transfigure” our minds. As we yield to the Spirit of God, He changes (transfigures) us “from glory to glory.” As we look into the Word of God, we see the Son of God and are transfigured by the Spirit of God into the glory of God.
“Listen to him.” That is what the voice from the cloud said to Peter and the others. That was all right for them, of course. But how are we to do that, since Jesus is not on earth with us, as He was with the disciples? It is no great mystery. The way we listen to Jesus today is by hearing what He has already said to us in the Bible.
“But that is so commonplace, so dull,” you might say. “It is not much of a mountain-top experience. I want to see the bright light, be enveloped by the cloud, and hear the rolling thunder of God’s voice. I want a personal revelation.”
If that is what you are thinking, let me remind you of Peter’s wise observations on this incident. Peter is the only one of the three disciples who has left a written record. He claimed that he was an “eyewitness … of his majesty” and that he heard the voice that came to Jesus “from the Majestic Glory.” He heard God say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (II Pe.1.16-17). But do you know what Peter wrote next? Immediately after this he wrote, “And we have the word of the prophets more fully confirmed [made more certain], and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (II Pe.1.19).
This means that Peter’s experience on the mountain was an important one; he bears testimony to it. But he adds that there is something “more certain” even than this: the testimony of Scripture to which we must pay the most deliberate and intentional attention. He is saying that the Bible is more certain even than a voice from heaven, which, in this case, they did not doubt even for a moment was God’s.
I do not know any truth of the Bible that is more relevant for believers in our day, since we live in an age when people appeal to their experience as the only sure measure of anything, not realizing that our experiences can be wrong or misleading.
We hear people justifying all types of unbiblical teaching or behavior by words such as, “God told me this is all right” or “I feel at peace with what I’m doing.” But here is Peter – a prominent apostle of the Lord, a man who had a visual experience of Christ’s transfiguration as well as having heard an audible word of God from heaven, experiences confirmed as true by the other apostles who were with him at the time – speaking of God’s revelation in the Bible as being “more certain” even than his exceptional experience. He does it to remind us that we must evaluate our experiences by the Bible’s teaching, rather than the other way around.
Do you do that? Or are you still longing for experiences that are being reserved for that future day when you are with the Lord in heaven? That day will come. You can be encouraged by it. But for now your duty is to read, mark, learn, and digest the words of God we have been given. If you do so and do so faithfully, carefully obeying what you read and understand, God will teach you all you need to live for Him and serve Him in this life until you die.
Pastor Steve can be reached at PastorSteve@MaranathaBibleChurch.org