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The Identity of Jesus II

On the heels of Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of the Living God, we have this event where three of the disciples actually see the divine glory of the Son of God shining through the humanity of Jesus.  It is one thing to believe that Jesus is divine, it is quite another to see what these men saw that day.  The apostle John refers to this when he says in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  The glory of Christ’s wisdom, healings, exorcisms, and control over nature come to its apex in this visual demonstration of the power of Christ called the Transfiguration.  Let’s look at the passage in Luke 9:28-36.

The True Glory of Jesus

It is somewhat difficult to comprehend exactly what it is to say that Jesus is both human and divine.  Of course the disciples came to the fuller understanding of just who Jesus was over time.  But they clearly proclaimed him as fully man and yet fully God.

What did this exactly look like?  Well in some ways Jesus looked and acted like a normal human.  He walked to places he wanted to get to.  He got hungry and tired.  He grew up like any other kid from an infant to an adult.  The utter humanity of Jesus made it hard for those who knew him from Nazareth to accept him as Messiah and Son of God.  His humanity was real and it clothed or cloaked the divine being that resided within.  Yet, he did amazing things that could not be explained as human whether then or now.  Jesus healed people on command and not just the trickery of lengthening someone’s leg.  He traveled the country side healing everyone who was brought to him.  He also commanded demons to leave possessed individuals and they came to their right mind.  He showed amazing command over nature, whether in multiplying the bread and the fish to feed the multitudes or commanding the storm to stop and it obeyed.  All of these things begged the question, “What sort of man is this?” 

Yet, this event becomes the apex of events, up to this point, that helped the disciples to see Jesus as more than a man.  Here the glory of Christ as the Son of God is allowed to shine through his humanity.  Our passage today describes several things regarding this glorious event.  First, the face of Jesus is “altered.”  In Matthew and Mark the greek word used is literally “metamorphosed” and means to change form.  Between these two words we see that the face of Jesus changed and yet it remained a face.  It was just different.  Another point is that his robe became brilliant white and actually cast light from Jesus.  If you picture how the mantle of a gas lamp glows you probably have the right picture.

I think it is important to recognize that in this instance Christ does not get rid of his humanity in order for his glory to be seen.  Rather, he allows his true glory to shine through his humanity.  Even today, Christ retains a glorified body that allows his divine glory to shine through.  The only difference is that this glorified body cannot die and does not grow old.  Luke mentions this in relation to the second coming of Christ in chapter 21:27, “They will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”  John glimpsed this again when Jesus appeared to him on Patmos in Revelation 1.  Sometimes we are tempted to think that we will not be glorious until we die and get rid of this body.  The truth is that the human body was designed to allow the glory of Christ to shine through it.  God is saving us both in body and in spirit.  Yes, greater glory lies ahead for us.  But God wants to “shine” through us gloriously today.

Now another component of this episode is that Moses and Elijah appear and speak with Jesus.  Of course the disciples would not know their identity at first and thus they are called men and then identified.  Why?  Some have pointed out that Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets.  Both of which pointed to the coming work of Jesus, the messiah.  Another thought is that Moses represents those who have died and are carried to glory (see Jude).  Whereas, Elijah represents those who are caught up and carried into glory.  Notice that Elijah and Moses are glorious as well.  They are probably shining as well because of their faith in Christ.  He has shared his glory with them.  Now this is a promise that is held out to believers throughout the Bible.  Daniel 12:3 says that, “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.”  Yet, their main reason for being there is to speak with Jesus regarding the work of dying on the cross that Christ still had ahead of him.  Most likely this is an even that is revelatory for the disciples, but encouraging for the humanity of Jesus.  Now at verse 32 we sort of transition to the disciples.  So let’s look at their side of this.

The Disciples Witnessed His Glory

Clearly Jesus intended for these 3 (Peter, James, and John) to witness this spectacular event.  Later John would emphasize this in 1 John 1:2, “the Life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal Life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.”  Of course he is talking about Jesus.

It is interesting that this happens during a time of prayer.  Like the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was betrayed, Jesus asks these three to spend time with him in prayer.  It is clear that they are not used to spending time in prayer as they have trouble staying awake.  Yet, they are awakened by the sudden appearance of the glory of Christ accompanied by two saints.  Now sleep is used in the bible as a metaphor for spiritual sluggishness and lack of alertness.  Thus prayer is continually connected to those who are awake and alert.  Perhaps this is a prophetic picture of Christ’s 2nd Coming.  Christ himself asked the question of whether or not he would find faith when he returned.  If the time was not shortened even the very elect would not be saved.  This idea that even faithful Christians would struggle with sleepiness in the last days leading up to Christ’s 2nd coming, is seen in the parable of the 10 virgins.  Yes, 5 were ready and 5 were not, but all of them were asleep.  It was the sudden announcement of the bridegroom’s presence that awakened them.  I believe that God helps us in the weaknesses of our flesh.  Just as Jesus put up with the disciples weakness in the flesh, so he knows our weakness as well.  Yet, the Spirit of the Lord will always be faithful to wake us up so that we do not miss out on the glory of Christ.

One of the important things about this event is that Jesus had previously told his disciples that some of them would see Him coming in his Kingdom before they died.  Here these 3 disciples are given a glimpse of what it will be like when the Son of Man returns with his holy ones, both angels and saints.  This glimpse is so powerful that Peter thinks it is happening for good.  But it wasn’t time yet for the Kingdom of God to be fully instituted here on earth.  I say not fully, because Jesus did start the Kingdom of God here on earth.  However, it is a spiritual kingdom in which Christ rules by his Spirit in the hearts of believers.  It is not a kingdom that is run by men and rules over the peoples of the earth.  Yet, the day is coming that Christ will return and complete the Kingdom of God on earth.  Peter’s desire to build three shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, demonstrates what he thinks is happening.  They are here to stay and Jesus is ready to reveal his true glory to all the world.  Yet, the physical kingdom is to be delayed.  A time of spiritual harvest must happen first; a time where people are called by the Spirit of God to embrace the spiritual leadership of Jesus Christ in their lives.   As Peter is in the middle of announcing his plan for Jesus and the others, an ominous cloud not only comes over them, but is low enough that they “enter it.”  I believe that this is intended to be connected to the pillar of cloud that led Israel in the desert.  It only settled on the tabernacle and represented the presence of God.  A change is being seen here as Christ allows his disciples to enter into the cloud of God’s presence with him.  The voice of the Father once again announces to those who have ears to hear that Jesus is His beloved son and that they are to listen to him!  I am sure that Peter meant well, but these words are too cutting to miss.  Our flesh is always quick to try and jump in and do for God what we think He needs.  However, God instructs us to knock it off and just listen to Jesus.  He is the commander and the One with the plan.  We are to follow him and not what we envision for him.   Today, there are too many great leaders that are jumping in and telling the group what they need to do for Jesus without first asking the question, “What is Jesus telling us to do?”  It is easy to point to the general instructions of the Lord and then say that the details are up to us.  There is some truth in this.  However, like Joshua sending troops against Ai, we ought to stop from time to time and ask God if there is something that we are missing before we rush ahead.  Peter had a good intention, but rotten timing.  Satan is looking for such people who have good intentions but are not submitted to the leadership of Jesus.  They are easily received by others and easily manipulated by him.

Let me close by encouraging us to quit looking at our failures and weakness in the flesh and using that as an excuse for hanging back.  You were designed to shine forth the glory of Christ.  In this flesh we are not going to glow physically (unless it serves God’s purposes to do so).  But the glory of who Christ is and his wisdom can be seen in us if we will daily lay our flesh at his feet and ask for his help.  God is not surprised that we are weak and fleshly.  Christ came precisely because of this.  Thus let us throw off the excuses and fears and choose to follow him in every area of our life.  Instead of second guessing Jesus and his apostles, let us throw off those things that are hindering us and make the choice to surrender to his leadership.  It is he who is the cornerstone and it is he who set the apostles about him as a foundation for us today.  Quit these false distinctions that try to distinguish between things Paul said and what Jesus said.  These apostles were speaking at the direction of Christ and the Spirit of Christ.  When we reject them we are ultimately rejecting the Christ who commissioned and sent them.  Don’t be deceived.  God is not mocked.  He will not receive those who through clever sophistry develop arguments to redefine their sin as righteousness.  That is not the path of glory, but rather the path of destruction.  Let the glory of Christ shine through you today!

Identity Jesus II audio