How do you picture “Majesty”? “Honour”? And “Glory”?
If we have been paying attention to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapters 16 and 17 we will expect a radical cross-shaped quality to those concepts. And that’s exactly what the Transfiguration reveals.
In Matthew 16, Peter has just declared Jesus to be “the Son of the living God” and Jesus responds by declaring Himself to be a human sacrifice! (Matthew 16:16,21) The glorious Christ must be crucified in shame. When Peter objects and tries to steer Jesus out of harm’s way, Jesus identifies it as Satanic (Matthew 16:23). Peter’s love of comfort and reputation is simply “the things of men.” The “things of God” entail a bloody death at the hands of wicked men.
Jesus gives His disciples a week to mull over this revolutionary perspective. Then He will take Peter, as well as James and John, up a mountain. There they will experience “the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). I wonder what those disciples expected to see?
Well when the time came,
“he was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light… 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.” (Matthew 17:2)
Years later Peter described the experience like this:
“We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” (2 Peter 1:16-17)
“Receiving honour and glory” is what the High Priest does in his ordination (Exodus 28:2,40). Furthermore, the Father’s declaration: “Thou art my Son” is His designation of Christ as High Priest (see Hebrews 5:5). So we seem to be dealing with an ordination ceremony here. Jesus is being declared High Priest – the Divine Mediator between heaven and earth.
But if Christ is going to be the Son-of-God-Reconciler-of-the-world, there will be trouble. To make peace between God and man will involve bloody sacrifice. And in fact, every time we read of the Father declaring His Son, it’s associated with suffering.
In Genesis 22, the beloved son will be sacrificed on the mountain. In Psalm 2, the only begotten Son will be “poured out” (literally) on the mountain (Psalm 2:6-7). In Isaiah 42, the chosen one will be the suffering servant who ends up wounded for our transgressions. Whenever the Father declares His love for the Son, the cross looms large. Because the glory of the Firstborn is to reconcile God’s children to their Father. To put the matter at it’s most mind-stretching, Jesus says “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life.” (John 10:17). The Son is the Sacrifice. This is what Jesus has been saying ever since Peter called Him “Son”.
Therefore, when the Father proclaims Him as “Son”, Christ is given two Old Testament giants as comforters, because suffering is intrinsic to the Son’s job description.
“Behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.” (Matthew 17:3)
Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets. More than this, they were men who knew a great mixture of glory and suffering in their lives. For each of these three men, they knew about awesome wonder on mountaintops, but also great humbling on mountaintops. Here they stood together and we know what they spoke of because Luke tells us:
“[they] spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31)
The word translated ‘decease’ is literally the word “exodus”. Jesus has an exodus to accomplish – the saving of a people through judgement. And He’s going to accomplish it at Jerusalem where He would “suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and Scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.” (Matthew 16:21).
From the outside, the Transfiguration might have looked like a display of sheer power. Peter, James and John seemed only to experience brilliant light and a heavenly voice. But listen in to that Voice – it’s publishing Christ’s death sentence. Overhear Moses and Elijah – they are discussing His brutal death. Look at the High Priest – His own blood will bring peace with God.
The brilliance of this sun shines from a furnace of suffering love.