Alfred Place Baptist Church

9:2-13 The Transfiguration. (1)

Mark 9:2-13 “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant. And they asked him, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done with him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.'”

At the centre of Mark’s gospel, at the very heart of this revelation of the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, we see the fierce light of glory shining forth. We meet a glorified Christ. Eight chapters of Mark’s narrative have passed and eight more are left. The Lord Jesus has reached a pivotal point in his ministry. He has taken the disciples out of Jewish Galilee into the villages around Caesarea Philippi, one of the headquarters of the cult of emperor worship, a city which also had a large temple for the worship of the god Pan. There, on the borders of the pagan world with which they will soon be locked in combat, the Lord questions them concerning their own personal faith in him, and Peter makes his great confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus blesses him for that. Then the Lord begins to tell them more clearly than ever before what lies before him, that he must suffer many things, and be rejected by the whole Jewish leadership. The Messiah must be killed, but after three days he will rise again. Then our Lord spells out for them the conditions of being one of his disciples, self-denial, cross-bearing and following the same path that he has taken. “Unless you lose your lives for me and for the gospel you’ll never save them.” Then Jesus tells them that though he must die he will come again in his Father’s glory with the holy angels, and they themselves are going to see the kingdom of God coming with power.

The whole gospel of Mark is now redirected. It has, as it were, gone over the watershed of its development, and from this moment on the narrative drives towards Golgotha and resurrection. It is at this point that the Lord Jesus takes his disciples aside. He selects three of them, Peter, James and John, and he takes them with him up a high mountain with absolutely no one else about. It is Luke who tells us that Jesus has gone here to pray, and it was as he was praying, “he was transfigured before them” (v.2). His face shines with an unearthly glory, the glory he had with his Father before the earth was, and “his clothes become dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.”

We are told that when Peter saw and heard all this, “he did not know what to say.” Fools rush in where Peter feared to tread. Who knows what to say about the transfiguration? We are being told here of an occasion when the veil between heaven and earth was lifted and heaven appeared on earth. Think of it! When the mortal body of Jesus was transfigured, when the spirits of just men made perfect appeared and talked with Christ, and when the voice of our great Creator God was heard declaring the Lord Jesus to be God’s own beloved Son. Think of it! This scene is too high for us. Its grandeur gives us a sense of oppression. Its mystery surpasses our comprehension. Its glory is ineffable.

Yet this incident has been read to you from the Scriptures, and I am a man who is under authority from this same Jesus to bear witness to such events as these. That is why God has inspired them, and to teach men to obey everything that he has commanded us. This narrative in Mark 9 comes to us accompanied by those ringing words which George Frederick Handel took up and put into his ‘Messiah’, the cry of the prophet Isaiah to the church, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” (Isa. 60:1). Handel scores that as a great aria, and then the whole choir rises to respond, “And the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” What Isaiah predicted has here been fulfilled, and it is time for the church to heed the prophet’s words, to arise, to shake off dull sloth, to remove our lights from under their bushels, and lift them high. We have the grandeur of Christ to show to mankind; God’s own glory has been revealed in this world. Behold your glorious Lord!

The world has nothing in which to glory; fading is the worldling’s treasure, all his boasting, pomp and show. Here is lasting glory, and we Christians must be the first one to be blinded by it, if the world is ever going to get a glimpse of it. We need to rise up as men of God, seeing afresh how utterly glorious is Jesus Christ glorious – for our own individual lives’ sakes we must. What a plodding life, never to survey the beauties of the Son of God. Who do you think you are serving? Some guru? A wise teacher? A wonderful example? Far more than all of that: Jesus Christ is the doxa, the glory of God. We need to see this for the ministry of evangelism in our age. It is not enough to have friendship evangelism, indispensable though it is; the age demands glory evangelism. Peter did not speak about himself and the wonderful mountain-top experience he had. If men asked him to tell them what it was like to be on the mountain with Jesus, how did it feel, he would say, “I was so afraid; I didn’t know what to say. But let me tell you about Jesus Christ. He is the glory of God.” We need to understand that once, 2000 years ago, in the midst of this created world, the glorious Creator revealed himself to men in his glorious Son Jesus Christ. Philip Doddridge sings of this evangelistic motif:

“Perish each thought of human pride,
Let God alone be glorified;
His glory let the heavens resound,
Shouted from earth’s remotest bound.”

We are often tempted to give up serving Christ because it is unrewarding and frustrating. There are so few of us, and our message is constantly rejected, and if we push too hard we end up in trouble. Apathy and cynicism are all around us. Beautiful Christian people are removed from us by death and we are left desolate. All these things are very trying to the flesh. Little wonder that the faith of believers languishes, and our heads droop, and we seem to go through the motions of worship – without power, and without the Holy Spirit or much assurance. The sight that the gospel writers give to us here of Jesus’ transfiguration is a great remedy for such despair; it is a ‘divine cordial.’ This scene on the mountain top is God’s gracious pledge to us of what lies in store for us: “When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Cols. 3:4). The top woman cyclist in Wales is Nicole Cooke, and one day she felt so weary, battling it out mile after mile up and down the mountain roads of Wales, pumping her legs round and round relentlessly in a pack of road racers, aching and gasping for breath, trying to handle that stitch in her side. Then she saw a sign written on the side of the road and it lifted her spirits. It said, “Pain is temporary: Glory is everlasting.”

Don’t you all want everlasting glory, glory that never wearies or cloys, but grows more enthralling as time goes by? Don’t you honestly, in your heart of heart, behind all that bravado of just wanting non-existence? Come on! Be real! Being snuffed out? Surely your ambition in life can’t be annihilation – so that you . . . cease . . . to . . . be? “I . . . . shall . . . be . . .nothing!” What horror! Nothing at all! Not that goal – surely that can’t be your hope? No, not that, but glory! There must be some longing for that in your heart? “Well, if it exists,” you say grudgingly, “of course I would want it.” Would you? I want to assure you that it does exist, because we have received the divine pledge. It is this incident which we’ve read. It is not a cleverly invented story. It happened on this planet, in calendar time, and in space – where a degree of latitude cross a degree of longitude. Three men saw it. If one man should say to you, “I’ve seen a ghost,” you would look at him for a long time. We would all be properly sceptical, but if three fishermen down at the harbour, in dead earnest, with a look of fear about them, all said to you in deep seriousness that they had seen a ghost, then you would know that they had seen something.

Let me read to you what one of those three men, Peter, later recorded in his second letter, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain” (2 Pet.1:16-18). Peter was an eyewitness. He was there at the time, and both Matthew and Luke report the same incident in their gospels just as Mark does here. Three times it is recorded in the New Testament, and, unusually, it is also one of the few incidents in the life of Jesus which is referred to in an epistle. The biblical writers are all uncomplicated men, hardly the kind who could build up a whole tissue of lies that would obfuscate thousands of people. These were men who would lay down their very lives for the facticity of these things that the apostles had seen and heard. Remember that James, one of these three eyewitnesses, was to be killed by Herod in a few years’ time for preaching Jesus the Son of God. Do you think he was party to deception on the grandest of all scales and then let himself be brutally killed for a lie’s sake?

You don’t need me to remind you of the importance of eyewitness testimony in deciding the truthfulness or falsity of cases coming up to judgment. Our own faith as Christians and our gospel is based upon history, upon witnesses who were sensible people observing what happened. It is Tom Wright in his commentary who draws our attention to the words of Peter to Christ in verses five and six after the transfiguration of Jesus is over, when Moses and Elijah have disappeared again: “‘Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)” (vv. 5&6). Tom Wright says, “The sheer oddity of his bumbling suggestion is itself strong evidence of the story’s basic truth. Nobody inventing a tale like this would make up such a comic moment, lowering the tone of the occasion in such a manner” (Tom Wright, “Mark for Everyone,” SPCK, London, 2001, p.114). What you have read actually happened, and so all of life changes. We are saying to you this, that men on this earth have actually seen the glory of heaven.

This is what John later wrote, “And we beheld his glory, as the glory of the only-begotten Son of God” (Jn. 1:14). We are affirming that it was not necessary for Peter, James and John to die to discover what lies after death. They had become eyewitnesses of heaven’s glory as young men. After this event they had no temptation to believe in reincarnation did they? Here was Moses who had breathed his last 1400 years earlier. He is still Moses. He has not metamorphosed many times over the centuries in a cycle of deaths and rebirths into many different people or even animals, while Elijah is still Elijah almost 700 years later. Peter saw them and he saw Christ transfigured by the glories of heaven. That is what lies before us all – a meeting with this Christ. This one who was seen by Peter we proclaim to you today in the good news. We are saying to you that this is true truth, and so it is ultimate reality; this is what life is all about, glorifying and enjoying God. Peter said that it was good for them to be there (Luke 9:33) – there in the presence of a God who speaks to men.

The only alternative is to find something inside your own life. That is the attitude of the film star Melanie Griffith, as anyone can read in her letter to herself on her website: “Dear Inner Self, if it is your will, please reveal to me in a dream the secret of my success in order to become closer to you. With love and respect – Melanie.” How sad. It confirms one’s own thoughts that the definition of a ‘star’ is monstrous self-belief. Why do modestly talented entertainers say such overblown, pretentious things? Has no one said to Ms. Griffith, “Don’t say that; it’s seriously silly.” You cannot find an explanation for life if you simply go in and in and in and explore the caverns of your own souls. The only map to them is the Bible. If you try to make that journey without Scripture you simply arrive at the origin of your question – “What’s it all about?” Please don’t give the impression that you want to be taken seriously, because right, deep down you are spiritual and profound. There are no answers inside you as a singer or actress, any more than inside a taxi-driver or a plumber. Come here to the mountain! We must all become like children, recognise our vulnerability, and look to places outside our own little circle for answers. The world must come here first of all, to the mount of transfiguration; there you will find your deepest questions answered. God is light and in him is no darkness at all, and his Son Jesus Christ manifests his own bright glory to the world.

1. JESUS WAS TRANSFIGURED BEFORE MEN.

Mark tells us that Jesus was “transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (vv. 2&3). It was as he prayed, Luke tells us, that this happened. That is, he was in the presence of God, in communion and fellowship with his Father. It was not while he was eating or sleeping or at a wedding reception that this event occurred. Such activities were lawful for the Son of Man, as they are for us, but there was no transfiguration in them. It was as Jesus drew apart from the world, and went into a quiet and secret place – Mark tells us “they were all alone” (v.2) – that there, while in prayer, this glory came upon him. Now Mark does not tell us what Jesus was praying about, but there is the old adage, “If you desire to understand what follows, remember what went before.” In other words, look back and see that Christ had been telling these three men and the apostles in Caesarea Philippi that he must go to Jerusalem, and he must be rejected and killed. The shadow of the cross came over him. We are told that “he spoke plainly about this” (Mk. 8:32), but the disciples did not appreciate or understand his words. They rejected his plan for the future.

Jesus then goes for a season of prayer to his Father with these same themes on his heart, and the transfiguration is God’s answer. God confers this honour and glory upon him in this unique way. The same pattern is to occur later in the garden of Gethsemane. The cup of death was present there as it is here. The cross was visible to Jesus’ spiritual eye and he prayed for resolve to take what was God’s will for him, for courage to drain the cup to the dregs. The same three disciples were present with him in Gethsemane as they are here on the mountain. He didn’t want to be absolutely destitute of company when in that lonely place with that burden on his heart. When he has prayed God sends an angel to comfort him. So the transfiguration is God answering prayer in a remarkable way, “Yes. Carry on your redemptive mission.” He is giving to Jesus special strength and patience, coming to our meek and lowly Saviour and pouring the glories of heaven all over him, and then bringing the greatest inhabitants of heaven to speak to him. Finally speaking himself, God repeats aloud so that the three men can hear him what he said at Jesus’ baptism, “You are my Son and I love you so much. Now you listen to what my Son says.”

So how was the Lord Jesus transfigured? What happened was this, as we understand it, that there was a glorious alteration in the appearance and qualities of Jesus’ body. There was no substantial change, that is, in the substance of his body – his breathing, his brain, his internal organs didn’t change. His particular likeness didn’t change – the disciples still recognised him as Jesus of Nazareth. That is still, and eternally will be, who was there on the mountain with them, the man Christ Jesus. He didn’t cease being a true human being, but this occurred: in the outward form of the body there was a divinely wrought change, giving it a glory or a majesty than it had not had throughout Jesus’ entire life until that moment. In other words, the change was not in Peter, James and John’s perception of Christ, that now they better understood how glorious he’d always been. No. There was little change in them as Peter’s subsequent response indicates. The change was uniquely in him. The change was not in the imagination of men, it was a metamorphosis in Christ. When King Herod Agrippa once sat in garments made out of a cloth of silver, and the sun shone upon them (so Josephus records), and he made a speech to a vast crowd then that Rentamob cried in response – so Luke tells us – “The voice of a god and not of a man” (Acts 12:21-23). That was all stage-managed pantomime, the sort of behaviour orchestrated by every infamous dictator to the present day.

It was not like that with Jesus. His very appearance changed beyond description. The apostle John, who had been on the mountain top, was to be given another sight of this glorious Christ many years later when he was an old man on the flat prison island of Patmos. There on one Lord’s Day the glorified reigning Christ came to him there. He can only describe the glorified Christ by one simile after another: “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters . . . His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Rev. 1:14-16). The sight was such that John fell at his feet as though dead. That is something of how Jesus appeared to John on the mountain top. Let us notice three things about the change that took place in the Lord Jesus:

i] Jesus’ face changed. Luke in particular remarks on this fact that “the appearance of his face changed” (Lk. 9:29). Other men in the Bible who were moved with great zeal for God have also had a change of countenance. Moses’ face was so bright after meeting with God that the people were terrified to look at him and he needed to put a veil over his face. Stephen was speaking to the Jewish council and we are told, “All that sat in the council, looking steadfastly upon him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). Knowing God can affect the very appearance of men and women, like knowing sin hardens and degrades a person’s face. We are told by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 8:1 that “Wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance.” Haven’t we seen what conversion can do to the whole mien of a man? There is no one more careful than Iain Murray in talking of physical phenomena, who hesitates about exaggerating and giving the outward a special significance. We all know that those are the easiest things for the devil to counterfeit. But Iain Murray kept visiting Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones up to the last month of his life and he said quietly, in my hearing, that there was an illumination or a glow that seemed to light up the Doctor’s face at that time. He was being changed from one degree of glory to another, and that was registering in his very appearance. Such changes may happen more often than we are aware. There was a change in Jesus’ face.

ii] Jesus’ whole being was changed. With our Lord it was not his face alone, he himself was transfigured before them. It was the Son of Man himself who was being glorified. Whatever phenomenon was this, or whatever the three men actually saw as they looked and looked at the transfigurated Jesus, it is important for us to grasp that this description is not talking about a shaft of light that shone on Jesus from the outside. Mark is talking about a light that shone from within Jesus. This was no stage-managed spectacle with bright lights and carefully directed spotlights directed upon him. This illumination came from within Jesus. This was a display of the eternal and essential glory of the Son of God, which he had had with the Father before the creation of the world.

Again, let us also see this, that this transfiguration was not a statement about what Jesus was about to become. It wasn’t a declaration about the exaltation that awaited him, although it is certainly no less than that. Pre-eminently it is a statement about the glory that had always belonged to him. A glory that is inherently and natively his as the eternal Son of God who is very God of very God. So that before this holy one, and before no other, we can bow the knee and we can say of him, “The Lord of glory! My Lord and my God!”

iii] Notice also this, that Jesus’ “clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (v.3). There was no man or woman in the whole world who could produce clean clothes which shone as Jesus’ clothes did there. This reference to his clothes is important. The New Testament pays some attention to the clothes Jesus wore. In his infancy he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and put to sleep in a manger. On the cross he was stripped of all his clothes and they gambled for the robe. In the tomb he wore grave clothes. You will remember that the narrative of the Fall of man also draws our attention to clothes, to the fact that God clothed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. One of the effects of the Fall was not only that they had become conscious of their nakedness but they were ashamed and embarrassed by it. They had been conscious of being naked before this time, but they were not fazed by having no clothes. Then the Fall had this immediate affect of distorting the whole psychology of Adam and Eve so that they were ashamed of themselves and their nakedness. They couldn’t handle this development. God’s provision of clothing for them was through his own great grace. Even in the words of judgment, when he had to drive them out of the Garden, responding in his own holy rectitude to their rebellion and their breaking of the covenant, God was yet gracious to them and he clothed them.

Isn’t it a remarkable thing that in the New Testament we meet a divine Saviour who is clothed? Why does he need to be clothed? He has taken a human body and human nature and a reasonable soul. He is here in the world of men and he is identifying with sinners, yet he’s not sinning. He is not capable of sinning, and he is not ashamed of who or what he is. Jesus is not ashamed of his own nakedness. He perfectly accepts his own body, and loves it and thanks God for it as it is. There is in him no shame at all. The Lord Jesus was not like that exhibitionist naked rambler who to his shame recently walked naked from Land’s End to John O’Groats being arrested and fined many times on the journey – as the press has told us. How pathetic and utterly misguided and slimy it all seems. The Son of God was clothed, and part of the reason he was clothed was because he identified himself with sinners. He stood in solidarity with sinful men and women. But the very clothes that he wore – covering a body that had been prepared and given to him by God – are a reminder to us of the fact that when he came into this world the divine glory that belonged to him was eclipsed. He is God the Son, eternal, infinite and unchangeable in all he is and does. When he became man and took a true body and a reasonable soul, he didn’t lay aside his glory. However, he did veil it; he was eclipsing his glory.

Let us be accurate on that point. Jesus laid aside nothing, and yet he veiled everything. He became man, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient to death even the accursed death of the cross, and yet the full deity was there – eclipsed – all the time. Here in our text we see him on a mountain top with three men watching him. Here he is, the seed of the woman. He is a man among men, and yet here he is transfigured man, his glory bursts out, and this phenomenal transformation affects the very clothes he has put on. His glory shines through the form that he has taken in incarnation.

So the events of the mount of transfiguration occur to encou
rage our Lord; he is given there a foretaste of the glory that awaited him. This great reward for his agony and bloody sweat, his obedience to death, is his. God lifts him up to heaven, and his face shines like the sun. “This suffering will soon be past, Be of good cheer. Soon you’ll enter an eternal joy which is set before you.” So Jesus was transfigured in the sight of the three men.

2. ELIJAH AND MOSES APPEARED, TALKING TO JESUS.

“And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus” (v.4). Why did they of all people come from heaven to meet with him? There are a number of reasons:

i] That the Lord might know that the mystery of his death on the cross was understood and appreciated in heaven. Peter and James and John, his own apostles, might loathe the thought of it. He could get no sympathy from his own closest friends. The most warm-hearted and loyal disciples considered his commitment to dying incomprehensible, but the church in heaven knew why he was setting his face steadfastly to Jerusalem. When Moses and Elijah, those who were amongst the nearest to the throne in glory, were allowed to come there to this mountain their presence was expressing such sentiments as these, “When you left heaven and came here thirty years ago we never realised all that lay before you. Then we were just so grateful for what you set out to do. Now we are lost in wonder, love and praise to consider all that you’ve done. Now we can appreciate something of the sacrifice and death that yet lies ahead of you. All the saints in glory are filled with adoration at what you’ve achieved and what you’re going to do.” In other words, when there wasn’t a single person on earth who could understand what Jesus was doing the glorified spirits in heaven were all behind him. That is one reason why Elijah and Moses are there.

ii] They appeared in order to show that there is a total unity between the Old Testament and the New Testament concerning redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ. All that Moses and the prophets wrote found its consummation in him. Jesus was no revolutionary; no radical; he was no troubler of Israel. Moses and the prophets were the men who made the promise and Jesus was the fulfilment of their promise. They had longed to see his day and now they had seen it and were glad. They were validating Jesus’ ministry. They came to set their seal on his claims and his actions and words. They were attesting to it as to its absolute integrity and total credibility. In his stern criticisms of the religious leadership of his day, his moral stringency and uncompromising theological statements, he was standing exactly where they stood when they confronted the defiant hardhearted people of God. Jesus preached the same message as they had preached. There was nothing in his words they condemned. There was nothing in its spirit or letter that is ever to be deemed by a Jew as being in contradiction to what Moses, Elijah and the prophets have said. There are people today who want to drive a wedge between the whole position of Moses and the stance of the Son of God. “Not the Old Testament,” they say, “not its moral stringency, and its righteousness, and its awesomeness, and the fearfulness of Jehovah God found there. It is Jesus we want.” “They have no right to do that,” says Moses and Elijah and Jesus with one voice. Christ will speak no word of disavowal of those Scriptures, and these men are sent by God to confirm their unity.

iii] Both Moses and Elijah were prophets. God talked with Moses. We are told that in the Old Testament God spoke to Moses face to face in a way that was extraordinary, as a man talks with his friend. God said to Moses in Deuteronomy 18 that he would raise up a prophet that would be like Moses, who would come of the sons of Moses. There is a sense in which Moses as prophet prophesies the coming of the great prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Saviour is the last prophet who was to come into the world, the one of whom Moses spoke. Elijah is the first of the great classical prophets of the Old Testament, and in many ways the forerunner of Jesus, paralleling the ministry of John the Baptist who heralded the Lord Jesus. The Saviour says of him after he and the apostles walk down from the mount of transfiguration that “Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it was written about him” (v.13). So Moses and Elijah are the messengers of Jehovah God who speaks and is not silent. They represent the whole ministry of prophets by whom God in different ways and at different times has made himself known to us creatures. Now that same living and true God is speaking to us by his Son, who is the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person.

iv] In the Old Testament Moses and Elijah were the only two men who spoke to God on the mountain. God invited Moses to come up to the mountain and there Moses spoke to God face to face, and his face shone, and he prayed, “Show me your glory,” and in the cleft of the rock, protected from the burning glory of God, Moses saw that glory in a measure. Elijah, after that great victory on Mount Carmel, ran as far away as he could to Beersheba in the south, in a depression because Jezebel threatened to kill him. In the wilderness, under a juniper tree, he says, “There’s nothing more I can do.” He is lonely, cut off, hungry, and weary. He has witnessed the slaughter of 850 prophets of Baal and seen the place awash with blood. Now he is under the juniper tree saying to God, “That’s it. I am absolutely exhausted. I am the only one left. I am the only true believer in the place.” He is suicidal. He tells God that he might just as well take away his life. It is very interesting that Elijah is one of only two people in the Old Testament who did not die, but who asked to die.

God did not answer his prayer. He took Elijah to Horeb to the mount of God, and the Bible says that God said to him to go to a cave, in fact the Hebrew says to go to the cave. Is that a throwback to Exodus to the narrative where Moses on the same mountain saw the glory of God? Elijah saw the glory too, after the earthquake, wind and fire, God spoke to Elijah in the still small voice, on the mountain. So when we come to the transfiguration passage and ask why Moses and Elijah were sent here from heaven there is a clear link between this event and the fact that these were the two men in the Old Testament to whom God spoke on the mountain, at Horeb, at Mount Sinai. So all these strands of biblical prophecy have brought us here, and the same two men on this mountain are now speaking to the one who is God incarnate. The same glory which they saw when they were on this earth Peter, James and John are seeing now in the face of Jesus Christ.

Look at the mount of transfiguration and see Jesus Christ standing between the prophets and the apostles, the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Testament. Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John – what a beautiful picture of biblical revelation. Has a more auspicious group of inspired men ever assembled? Moses, the lawgiver, Elijah the prophet. Peter, the Pentecost preacher. James, the apostle and martyr. John, the gospel writer and revelator. The Bible’s first and final authors in one place and the Bible’s subject, too, there at their heart. Moses and Elijah spoke of Jesus. The Saviour himself says that; “Moses wrote of me.” Moses, like Abraham, had rejoiced to see Christ’s day and he saw it and was glad. Moses and Elijah and the prophets looked forward to Jesus Christ because they prophesied through the Spirit of Christ that was in them, in Moses and in the prophets as they testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. When the Lord was on the road to Emmaus he began with Moses and then went on to all the prophets and expounded to Cleopas and his companion all the things concerning himself that Moses had written.

Peter, James and John have all the things Jesus taught them brought to their remembrance by the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. The Lord Jesus Christ is there in the centre; Jesus through the Spirit speaking through Moses and Elijah: Jesus through the Spirit speaking through Peter, James and John. Jesus with the prophets and apostles speaking to us the Word. Today we have the inspired word of God, recorded by apostles and prophets, given by our Saviour, the one who said that not a jot or a tittle would pass away until all were fulfilled.

What kind of structure do you want for your own faith? Is your faith going to be a response to what the one true and living God says? Do you say, “Well, if the veil between this world and the world to come would part just for a moment, if I could just see heaven, the glorified bodies of the saints, and if I could catch a glimpse of the glory of God then I would believe.” Well, if you want to see men coming back from heaven men have come back from heaven. Jesus Christ also returned from heaven. If you want to see heaven’s glory then it has been revealed. If you want to hear a voice from heaven there has been a voice from heaven and that voice said, “Hear my Son Jesus Christ. Listen to him.” One command about one beloved Son, and we must hear him. Faith is hearing what Jesus said and doing it. His words give us a structure for our faith.

Hear Christ as he says, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Hear him as he says, “Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Do good to them that despitefully use you that you may be the sons of your Father which is in heaven.” Hear Christ as he warns us, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mk. 8:37&38). There is absolute authority in the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the authority of the final prophet, of the God-man, of the Son of God who took the words that were given to him by the Father and he gives them to us. When he said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life,” then he speaks the very words of God

Oh that the Holy Spirit would do what I cannot do, which my heart would yearn to do, but which I am utterly unable to do, to speak to your heart and understanding now and summon you effectually to come to him. In this dirty and dark world there is a glory to be found. It shines in the face of Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Arise, shine, for the light of the world has come! Come to the light and walk in the light all your days and then enter this light and glorious place for ever!

15th February 2004 GEOFF THOMAS