Matthew 17:1-2. And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
Were these “six days” a week’s quiet interval, in which our Lord prepared himself for the singular transaction upon the “mountain apart”? Did the little company of three know from one Sabbath to another that such an amazing joy awaited them? The three were elect out of the elect, and favored to see what none else in all the world might behold. Doubt—less our Lord had reasons for his choice, as he has for every choice he makes; but he does not unveil them to us. The same three beheld the agony in the garden; perhaps the first sight was necessary to sustain their faith under the second. The name of the “high mountain” can never be known; for those who knew the locality have left no information. Tabor, if you please; Hermen, if you prefer it. No one can decide. It was a lone and lofty hill. While in prayer, the splendor of the Lord shone out. His face, lit up with its own inner glory, became a sun; and all his dress, like clouds irradiated by that sun, became white as the light itself. “He was transfigured before them;” he alone was the center of what they saw. It was a marvellous unveiling of the hidden nature of the Lord Jesus. Then was, in one way, fulfilled the word of John: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.” The transfiguration occurred but once: special views of the glory of Christ are not enjoyed every day. Our highest joy on earth is to see Jesus. There can be no greater bliss in heaven; but we shall be better able to endure the exceeding bliss when we have laid aside the burden of this flesh.
Matthew 17:3. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
Thus the Law and the Prophets, “Moses and Elias,” communed with our Lord, “talking with him,” and entering into familiar conversation with their Lord. Saints long departed still live; live in their personality; are known by their names; and enjoy near access to Christ. It is a great joy to holy ones to be with Jesus: they find it heaven to be where they can talk with him. The heads of former dispensations conversed with the Lord as to his decease, by which a new economy would be ushered in. After condescending so long to his ignorant followers, it must have been a great relief to the human soul of Jesus to talk with two master-minds like those of Moses and Elijah. What a sight for the apostles, this glorious trio! They “appeared unto them,” but they “talked with him;” the object of the two holy ones was not to converse with apostles, but with their Master.
Although saints are seen of men, their fellowship is with Jesus
Matthew 17:4. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here; if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
The sight spoke to the three beholders, and they felt bound to answer to it. Peter must speak: “Then answered Peter.” That which is upper—most comes out: “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” Everybody was of his opinion. Who would not have, been? Because it was so good, he would fain stay in this beatific state, and get still more good from it. But he has not lost his reverence, and therefore he would have the great ones sheltered suitably. He submits the proposal to Jesus: “If thou wilt.” He offers that, with his brethren, he will plan and build shrines for the three holy ones: “Let us make here three tabernacles.” He does not propose to build for himself, and James, and John; but he says, “One for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” His talk sounds rather like that of a bewildered child. He wanders a little; yet his expression is a most natural one. Who would not wish to abide in such society as this? Moses, and Elias, and Jesus: what company! But yet how unpractical is Peter! How selfish the one thought, “It is good for us”! What was to be done for the rest of the twelve, and for the other disciples, and for the wide, wide world? A sip of such bliss might be good for the three, but to continue to drink thereof might not have been really good even for them. Peter knew not what he said. The like might be said of many another excited utterance of enthusiastic saints.
Matthew 17:5. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
“While he yet spake.” Such wild talk might well be interrupted. What a blessed interruption! We may often thank the Lord for stopping our babbling. “A bright cloud overshadowed them.” It was bright, and cast a shadow. They felt that they were entering it, and feared as they did so. It was a singular experience; yet we have had it repeated in our own cases. Do we not know what it is to get shadow out of brightness, and “a voice out of the cloud”? This is after the frequent manner of the Lord in dealing with his favored ones. The voice was clear and distinct. First came the divine attestation of the Sonship of our Lord, “This is my beloved Son,” and the Father’s declaration of delight in him, “in whom I am well pleased.” What happiness for us that Jehovah is well pleased in Christ, and with all who are in him! Then followed the consequent divine requirement, “Hear ye him.” It is better to hear the Son of God than to see saints, or to build tabernacles. This will please the Father more than all else that love can suggest. The good pleasure of the Father in the Lord Jesus is a conspicuous part of his glory. The voice conveyed to the ear a greater glory than the luster of light could communicate through the eye. The audible part of the transfiguration was as wonderful as the visible.
Matthew 17:1. And after six days —
Luke says, “about an eight days after these sayings;” but I suppose he counted the day before and the day after. “After six days,” — and the first day was, probably, the first day of the week, so he was now coming to another Lord’s day. One of the high Christian festivals of the life of Christ was about to be celebrated. Jesus was not yet dead, therefore it was not the resurrection that was celebrated on that day, but the transfiguration. “After six days,” — six days’ teaching concerning the cross before he revealed his glory. Dear brethren, there are many in these days who delight to speak almost exclusively about the glory of the second advent. Now, God forbid that we should be silent concerning that great theme! But I think our teaching concerning it must be given after six days’ consideration of the sufferings of Christ. Let those who will say, “We preach Christ glorified;” I mean still to say, with Paul, “But we preach Christ crucified.” When I have had my six days for that topic, then am I right glad to have another day to speak concerning Christ’s glory. We must never forget his death; all our immortal hopes are centered in the death of our great Substitute. “After six days” —
Matthew 17:1-2. Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up unto an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
“White and glistering,” says Luke; “exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them,” says Mark.
Matthew 17:3. And, behold, —
As if this was a great wonder. The transfiguration of Christ could scarcely be called miraculous, for it is according to the nature of Christ that his face should shine, and his very raiment become glorious.
Matthew 17:3. There appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
Moses, the great representative of the law, and Elias, the chief of the prophets, — one who had died, and one who had entered heaven without dying, — thus representing both the quick and the dead.
Matthew 17:4. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
If Peter had known that hymn by Dr. Watts, —
“My willing soul would stay In such a frame as this,
And sit and sing herself away To everlasting bliss;” —
he would have thought it appropriate to sing at that moment; and whenever we get up on the mount, we have no desire to go down again. Our one thought is, “Oh, that this happy experience would last! Oh, that we might keep in this blessed company for ever!” Yet our highest religious excitements cannot continue, even as the sea is not always at flood tide. The talk between those three — Jesus, and Moses, and Elias, — must have been well worth hearing. I would like to have been one of the three untransfigured, unglorified apostles, to listen to the conversation of the three glorified ones. We know what they talked about, for Luke tells us that they “spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem;” and it is very singular that the Greek word which he used to describe Christ’s decease is the word “exodus.” They “spake of his exodus which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” Moses knew all about the exodus out of Egypt; and what a type that was of Christ’s departure out of this world; —the death of the lamb, — the sprinkling of the blood, — the slaying of the firstborn among the Egyptians, even as Christ smote sin, death, and hell; —the triumphant coming out of Israel, with silver and gold, setting forth Christ’s ascension to his Father with all his precious treasures captured from the hand of the enemy. How changed must the feelings of Elias have been since the day when he said, “I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away;” for now he was seeing the King in his glory, and talking with him about his approaching departure. How did Peter, and James, and John know that these two men were Moses and Elias? They had never seen them in the flesh, yet they evidently recognized them; so, as they knew people whom they had not known on earth, I am sure that I shall know in heaven those whom I did know here; I shall have the advantage of them in that respect. I suppose they said to one another, as soon as they saw these men, “That is Moses, and that is Elijah;” yet they had never seen them; and shall not we, when we meet our dear kindred and friends, say at once, “That is So-and-so, with whom I took sweet counsel on earth when we walked to the house of God in company”? Surely, the mutual recognition of the saints hardly needs a better support than this passage supplies.
Matthew 17:5. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them:
The Shekinah cloud, which was the type of the divine presence in the wilderness, — bright, yet a cloud, softening the excessive glory of the face of Jesus with its overshadowing, yet casting no dimness upon it: “a bright cloud overshadowed them:”
Matthew 17:5-6. And behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
We cannot bear for God to come too near us; for we are such frail earthen vessels that, if he reveals his glory too much within us, we are ready to break.
Matthew 17:7. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
Ay, it was Jesus only who could give them comfort; and I have to say, —
“Till God in human flesh I see,
My thoughts no comfort find;
The holy, just, and sacred
Three Are terrors to my mind.
“But if Immanuel’s face appear,
My hope, my joy, begins;
His name forbids my slavish fear,
His grace removes my sins.”
The hand of a man touched the apostles, and the voice of a man said to them, “Arise, and be not afraid.”
Matthew 17:8. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
And they did not want any other man “save Jesus only.” Let Moses, and Elijah, and all others go, so long as Christ remains. There will be the most blessed company for us so long as he abides with us.
Matthew 17:9-10. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, staying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
“May we not tell the story, of what has happened on this mountain? Elias has come. If we publish this news, it may convince even the scribes that thou art the Messiah.”
Matthew 17:11-12. And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
How he comes back to that point! Evidently the chief thought in our Saviour’s mind was concerning his suffering. On another occasion, he said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” As the magnetic needle ever points to the pole, so did the heart of Jesus ever point to the cross.
Matthew 17:13. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
John had indeed come “in the spirit and power of Elias,” yet Herod had put him to death, as other wicked men would deal with his Lord and Master whose way he so gloriously prepared.