Transition and Transfiguration
And six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” And when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were much afraid. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus Himself alone.
Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John, hence we call this event, “The Transfiguration.” One may have many questions concerning the Transfiguration, such as, why did Jesus bring only three disciples, James, Peter and John? I don’t know why he chose the three of them, nor do I know why he didn’t bring the twelve. But what I do know for certain is that Jesus had three reliable witnesses to the Transfiguration. As the law of Moses states, “by two or three witnesses shall everything be confirmed.” Other than that, I am sorry, the Bible is silent and I will be as well. Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers have speculated as to why it was Peter, James and John. But that’s all it is, speculation. Would you rather have conjecture or truth? The truth is, we don’t know. On many occasions Jesus only took with him, Peter James and John but we don’t know and can’t know why. Don’t lose your joy over the unanswered question, notice, rather, the incredible story that is presented. Let it go.
The reason why Peter, James and John were brought to the high mountain pales in comparison to the radiance revealed on that mountain top. “And six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.”
The context is specific, it was 6 days after Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” It is also specific that he brought three of his disciples, Peter, James and John. It is also specific that it was a high mountain, that Jesus was transfigured and that his face shone like the sun while his clothes became white as light. This is not only detailed but incredibly impressive. Maybe not to us, being used to the big screen and the small screen. We see things like this all the time through special effects. Just last week I saw a dinosaur eat a man. But read the context again and image the impossible undertaking it would be to reproduce this scene on the big screen. His face shining like the sun? His clothes so brilliant that they resembled light? And these are merely words used to discribe this sublime sight. We simply don’t have that technology to reproduce this scene. And 2000 years ago, the three disciples saw this in person–it gets better.
“And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.” Two people, namely, Moses and Elijah, the long-dead Moses and the long-raptured (don’t jump to any conclusions) Elijah, appear and speak with Jesus. We don’t read, because we haven’t been told, that of which they speak, according to this context, but they are speaking. Luke gives us a little insight as to the conversation but we’ll get to that.
It’s an impossible undertaking to try and picture the scene as seen by Peter, James and John. Nevertheless, we try. To better understand we use an expository exegesis of examples. Mark chapter nine reads; “And six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus.”
It is recorded in Luke nine as well: “He took along Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray. And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
We now know that Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus concerning his future in Jerusalem. But we also see words used in an attempt to describe the sight of Jesus, Moses and Elijah, in glory, on the earth. What a magnificent sight that must have been.
Yet now, in the context and in an expository exegesis of examples we see the good-old Peter, opening his mouth to say the stupidest of things. “And Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
I hate to be hard on Peter, he is the one who confessed that Jesus was the Christ, but then again, the Father chose to reveal that to him. Make no mistake about it, Peter says some stupid stuff. This is no exception. Luke writes, “And it came about, as these were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not realizing what he was saying.”
Peter, once again, didn’t realize what he was saying. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure that I say more stupid things, more frequently than Peter. Fortunately for me the Bible does not record all the dumb things I say and do. Unfortunately for Peter, some of his slip ups have been penned for posterity. What is wrong with what Peter said? Start with the context of Luke who wrote that Peter didn’t know what he was saying and then consider the context of the Bible.
Peter says a staggering amount of stupid things, like Jesus not dying, but I believe that this one takes the cake. Based upon all the other stupid things he said and the reprimands from Jesus, by this point, he should know better. But then he wouldn’t be Peter, would he?
“Tabernacle;” a temporary tent; a nondescript dwelling; a booth, as in the Feast of Booths. Let’s discuss the Feast of Booths in a moment as it will help us with today’s text. In the CAGED method; context, aspiration of author, genre, examples and divide, we look for examples in the Bible to help understand the current context. We have read that Peter suggested that he build three tabernacles. We need to know what the Bible defines as a tabernacle. Most Christians think of the tabernacle built by Moses which was the precursor to the temple. Great, good, correct–the tabernacle was a precursor to the temple and the temple was a precursor to Christ. Yet the tabernacle was a tabernacle, a temporary tent.
Sukkot, the Feast of Booths or “Tabernacles,” as described in Leviticus; “You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
I placed an emphasis on, so that, so that we can see the reason for the Feast of Booths. The Feast of Booths was inaugurated so that “your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt.” The Israelites that fled from forced labor in Egypt were now forced to dwell in tents or temporary tabernacles.
In the gospel of John, he writes; “And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth.” -Young’s Literal Translation. I use the literal translation in order that we may understand that Jesus in the flesh, was oh so temporary. But notice also that John foreshadows the Transfiguration in this context; “and we beheld his glory;” I find that fascinating.
The Feast of Booths also has its proper place in prophecy, according to the prophet, Zechariah, “Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths.” I am intrigued by the three Feasts, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot and have studied them in a fair amount of detail. Perhaps someday I will devote a missive to mine for gold–the spiritual significance of the three Feasts. But for now our focus is fixed on Sukkot, the Feast of Booths or, Tabernacles. And more importantly, the word, tabernacle. Once again, a tabernacle is a temporary tent. The Feast was used as a reminder that the people who fled Egypt, dwelled in tents or, booths, or tabernacles–including Moses. They were saved from slavery, yet had no permanent dwelling yet. They were heading to the promised land but in the meantime, they wandered, dwelling in temporary tents
I could write for hours on end about the Feast of Booths but for time’s sake, I will not do so. The most important thing to remember, as we read of the Transfiguration, is that a tabernacle is a temporary dwelling, for flesh and blood. Most of us live in houses or apartments that are much more permanent than a tabernacle but compared to glory, they are quite temporary.
Consider what the apostle Paul writes, metaphorically, to the Corinthians, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Tent literally being a tabernacle. Also I find it interesting that Paul was a tent-maker.
Peter saw, along with James and John, Jesus in his glorified body. He also saw the glorified Jesus, speaking with the glorified Moses and Elijah. And Luke let’s us know that they were speaking of the end of the fleshy life of Jesus and his ascent to heaven. Peter’s idiotic utterance is exactly the wrong thing to say. Upon seeing the future Christ in his permanent state, along with Moses and Elijah in their permanent states, Peter suggests that he build them temporary tents.
God blessed Peter, immensely. Peter is the epitome of the fact that God can use anyone. Thank God for Peter. We may never know why the Lord chose to bring James and John to the Transfiguration but maybe we do have a clue as to why he brought Peter–talk about a total transformation through the Transfiguration.
It brings a tear to my eye as I consider this; ultimately, Peter got it. The Lord was not only patient with Peter, he continued to teach him, lovingly and sternly. The Lord never gave up on Peter and we all benefit from the tremendous turnaround in the life of Peter. Read what Peter wrote, concerning the Transfiguration and his own, temporary tent.
“Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. And I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will also be diligent that at any time after my departure you may be able to call these things to mind. For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’— and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”
Peter finally understood, do we? Matthew did and that is clearly his aspiration to his audience. That they, and we, would see how Peter was constantly considering the things of Earth and not of Heaven. But Jesus, kept on teaching him, training him and loving him. Something changes, other than the earthly dwelling of Jesus at the Transfiguration and how could it not? I will give the last words to the Bible but consider what Peter, James and John heard and saw. Unfortunately it is not a perfect path for Peter from here on. Like us, he still has much to learn.
“While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!’ And when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were much afraid. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’ And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus Himself alone.”