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III.—The Glory (xvii. 1-8).

"After six days"—the interval is manifestly of importance, for the three Evangelists who record the event all lay stress on it. St. Luke says "about an eight days," which indicates that the six days referred to by the others were days of interval between that on which the conversation at Cæsarea Philippi took place and the morning of the transfiguration. It follows that we may regard this important epoch in the life of our Lord as covering a week; and may we not speak of it as His passion week in the north? The shadow of the cross was on Him all His life through; but it must have been much darker during this week than ever before. At the beginning of it He had been obliged for the first time to let that shadow fall upon His loved disciples, and the days which followed seem to have been given to thought and prayer, and quiet, unrecorded conversation. Beyond all question their thoughts would be fixed on the new subject of contemplation which had just been brought before them, and whatever conversation they 234 had with one another and with the Master would have this for its centre. It cannot but have been a very sad and trying week. The first tidings of the approach of some impending disaster is often harder to bear than is the stroke itself when afterwards it falls. To the disciples the whole horizon of the future would be filled with darkest clouds of mystery; for though they had been told also of the rising again and the glory that should follow, they could as yet get little cheer from what lay so far in the dim distance, and was, moreover, so little understood, that even after the vision on the mount, the favoured three questioned with each other what the rising from the dead might mean (Mark ix. 10). To the Master the awful prospect must have been much more definite and real; yet even to His human soul it could not have been free from that namelessness of mystery that must have made the anticipation in some respects as bad as the reality, rendering the week to Him a passion week indeed.

No wonder that at the end of it He has a great longing heavenward, and that He should ask the three most advanced of His disciples, who had been with Him in the chamber of death and were afterwards to be witnesses of His agony in the Garden, to go with Him to a high mountain apart. The wisdom of His taking only these three was afterwards fully apparent, when it proved that the experience awaiting them on the mountain-top was almost too much for even them to bear. It is of no importance to identify the mountain; probably it was one of the spurs of the Hermon range, at the base of which they had spent the intervening week. We can perfectly understand the sacred instinct which led the Saviour to seek the highest point which could be readily reached, so as to 235 feel Himself for the time as far away from earth and as near to heaven as possible. When we think of this, what pathos is there in the reference to the height of the mountain and the loneliness of the spot: He "bringeth them up into a high mountain apart"!

We are told by St. Luke that they went up "to pray." It seems most natural to accept this statement as not only correct, but as a sufficient statement of the object our Saviour had in view. The thought of transfiguration may not have been in His mind at all. Here, as always, He was guided by the will of His Father in heaven; and it is not necessary to suppose that to His human mind that will was made known earlier than the occasion required. We are not told that He went up to be transfigured: we are told that He went up to pray.

It seems probable that the idea was to spend the night in prayer. We know that this was a not infrequent custom with Him; and if ever there seemed a call for it, it must have been now, when about to begin that sorrowful journey which led to Calvary. With this thought agree all the indications which suggest that it was evening when they ascended, night while they remained on the top, and morning when they came down. This, too, will account in the most natural manner for the drowsiness of the apostles; and the fact that their Lord felt none of it only proved how much more vivid was his realisation of the awfulness of the crisis than theirs was. We are to think of the four, then, as slowly and thoughtfully climbing the hill at eventide, carrying their abbas, or rugs, on which they would kneel for prayer, and which, if they needed rest, they would wrap around them, as is the Oriental custom. By the time they reached the 236 top, night would have cast its veil of mystery on the grandeur of the mountains round about them; while snowy Hermon in the gloom would rise like a mighty giant to heaven, its summit "visited all night by troops of stars." Never before nor since has there been such a prayer meeting on this earth of ours.

A careful reading of all the records leads us to think of the following as the order of events. Having gone up to pray, they would doubtless all kneel down together. As the night wore on, the three disciples, being exhausted, would wrap themselves in their cloaks and go to sleep; while the Master, to whom sleep at such a time was unnatural, if not impossible, would continue in prayer. Can we suppose that that time of pleading was free from agony? His soul had been stirred within Him when Peter had tempted Him to turn aside from the path of the Cross; and may we not with reverence suppose that on that lonely hilltop, as later in the Garden, there might be in His heart the cry, "Father, if it be possible"? If only the way upward were open now! Has not the kingdom of God been preached in Judæa, in Samaria, in Galilee, away to the very borderlands? and has not the Church been founded? and has not authority been given to the apostles? Is it, then, absolutely necessary to go back, back to Jerusalem, not to gain a triumph, but to accept the last humiliation and defeat? There cannot but have been a great conflict of feeling; and with all the determination to be obedient even unto death, there must have been a shrinking from the way of the cross, and a great longing for heaven and home and the Father's welcome. The longing cannot be gratified: it is not possible for the cup to pass from Him; but just as later in Gethsemane there came an angel from 237 heaven strengthening him, so now His longing for heaven and home and the smile of His Father is gratified in the gladdening and strengthening experience which followed His prayer—a foretaste of the heavenly glory, so vivid, so satisfying, that He will thenceforth be strong, for the joy that is set before Him, to endure the Cross, despising the shame. For behold, as He prays, His face becomes radiant, the glory within shining through the veil of His mortal flesh. We all know that this flesh of ours is more or less transparent, and that in moments of exaltation the faces of even ordinary men will shine as with a heavenly lustre. We need not wonder, then, that it should have been so with our Lord, only in an immeasurably higher degree: that His face should have shone even "as the sun"; and that, though He could not yet ascend to heaven, heaven's brightness should have descended on Him and wrapped Him round, so that even "His raiment was white as the light." And not only heavenly light is round, but heavenly company; for "behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with Him."

The disciples could not sleep through all this. "When they were fully awake, they saw His glory, and the two men that stood with Him" (Luke ix. 32, R.V.). How they recognised them we are not told. It may have been through their conversation, which in part at least they understood; for the substance of it has been preserved in St. Luke's Gospel, where we read that they "spake of His decease (literally, exodus) which He should accomplish at Jerusalem." The human soul of Jesus no doubt longed for an exodus here and now, from this very height of Hermon into the presence of God; but He knows this cannot be: His exodus 238 must be accomplished in a very different way, and at Jerusalem. This Moses and Elijah knew; and their words must have brought Him encouragement and strength, and given steadiness and assurance to the wavering hearts of Peter, James and John.

That the conversation was intended for their benefit as well, seems indicated by the way in which Peter's intervention is recorded: "Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus." What he said is quite characteristic of the impulsive disciple, so ready to speak without thinking. On this occasion he blunders in a very natural and pardonable way. He feels as if he ought to say something; and, as nothing more to the purpose occurs to him, he blurts out his thoughtless proposal to make three tabernacles for their abode. Besides the thoughtlessness of this speech, which is manifest enough, there seems to lurk in it a sign of his falling back into the very error which a week ago he had renounced—the error of putting his Master in the same class as Moses and Elias, reckoning Him thus, as the people of Galilee had done, simply as "one of the prophets." If so, his mistake is at once corrected; for behold a bright luminous cloud—fit symbol of the Divine presence: the cloud suggesting mystery, and the brightness, glory—wraps all from sight, and out of the cloud there comes a voice: "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him."

We now see how appropriate it was that just these two should be the heavenly messengers to wait upon the Son of man on this occasion. The one represented the law, the other the prophets. "The law and the prophets were until John;" but both are now merged in the gospel of Jesus, Who is all and in all. Moses and Elijah have long had audience of the people of God; 239 but behold a greater than Moses or Elijah is here, and they must withdraw; and accordingly, when the Voice is silent and the cloud has cleared away, Jesus is left alone. No one remains to divide His authority, and none to share His sorrow. He must tread the winepress alone. Moses and Elijah return to the world of spirits—Jesus, God's beloved Son, to the world of men. And all His human sympathies were fresh and quick as ever; for, finding His three disciples fallen on their faces for fear, He came and touched them, saying, "Arise, and be not afraid." They no doubt thought their Lord had laid aside His human body, and left them all alone upon the mountain; but with His human hand He touched them, and with His human voice He called them as of old, and with His human heart He welcomed them again. Reassured, they lifted up their eyes, and saw their Lord—the man Christ Jesus as before—and no one else. All is over; and as the world is unprepared for it, the vision is sealed until the Son of man be risen from the dead.

Why were their lips sealed? The more we think of it, the more we shall see the wisdom of this seal of secrecy, even from the other nine; for had they been prepared to receive the revelation, they would have been privileged to witness it. The transfiguration was no mere wonder; it was no sign granted to incredulity: it was one of those sacred experiences for rare spirits in rare hours, which nature itself forbids men to parade, or even so much as mention, unless constrained to it by duty.

It is one of the innumerable notes of truth found, wherever aught that is marvellous is recorded in these Gospels, that the glory on the mount is not appealed to, to confirm the faith of any but the three who 240 witnessed it. Upon them it did produce a deep and abiding impression. One of them, indeed, died a martyr's death so very early that we have nothing from his pen (Acts xii. 2); but both the others have left us words written late in their after life, which show how ineffaceable was the impression produced upon them by what they saw that memorable night. John evidently has it in mind, both in the beginning of his Epistle and of his Gospel, as where he says: "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father;" and Peter thus conveys the assurance which the experience of that night left with him to the end: "We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but 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." But while the impression made upon the three who witnessed it was so deep and abiding, it could not be expected to have any direct evidential value to others; accordingly it remained unused in their dealings with others until their Master's work had been crowned by His resurrection from the dead, which was to be the sign, as He had again and again said to those who kept asking Him for a sign from heaven. The transfiguration was indeed a sign from heaven; but it was no sign for a faithless generation: it was only for those who by the strength of their faith and the purity of their devotion were prepared to receive it. Signs fitted to satisfy the doubting heart had been wrought in great 241 abundance (xi. 4, 5); and the crowning sign was to be certified by many infallible proofs, after which it would be time to speak of the experience of that sacred night upon the holy mount.

How fitly the transfiguration closes this memorable week! As we linger with the Lord and His disciples at the sources of the Jordan, we realise that we have reached what we may call the water-shed of doctrine in His training of the Twelve. Slowly have they been rising in their thoughts of Christ, until at last they recognise His true divinity, and make a clear and full confession of it. But no sooner have they reached that height of truth than they are constrained to look down into the dark valley before them, at the bottom of which they dimly see the dreadful cross; and then, to comfort and reassure, there is this vision of the glory that shall follow. Thus we have, in succession, the three great doctrines of the faith: Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection. There is first the glory of Christ as the Son of God; then His shame as Bearer of our sin; then the vision of the glory that shall follow, the glory given to Him as His reward. For may we not regard that company upon the mount as a miniature of the Church in heaven and on earth? There was the great and glorified Head of the Church, and round Him five representative members: two from the family in heaven, three from the family on earth—those from the Church triumphant, these from the Church still militant—those from among the saints of the old covenant, these the firstfruits of the new. Could there have been a better representation of "the whole family in heaven and on earth"? How appropriate that the passion week of the north, which began with the founding of the Church in the laying of its first stone, 242 should end with a vision of it as completed, which must to some extent have been a fulfilment of the promise, "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied"!

Observe, too, in quick succession, the great key-words of the new age: The Christ (xvi. 16), The Church (ver. 18), The Cross (ver. 24), The Glory (ver. 27): the latter, as still in the future, made real by the glory on the holy mount. The mediæval interpreters, always on the watch for the symbolism of numbers, especially the number three, regarded Peter as the apostle of faith, James of hope, and John of love. And though we may set this aside as a touch of fancy, we cannot fail to observe that just as the mind, in its grasp of truth, is led from the incarnation to the atonement, and thence to the resurrection and the glory that shall follow; so the cardinal graces of the Christian life are called out in quick succession: first faith with its rock-foundation; then love with its self-sacrificing devotion; and finally hope with its vision of heavenly glory. The whole gospel of Christ, the whole life of the Christian, is found in this brief passage of the first Evangelist, ending with the suggestive words, "Jesus only."

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