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The Transfiguration

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,

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The Transfiguration.

1 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.   2 And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into a high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them.   3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.   4 And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.   5 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.   6 For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.   7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.   8 And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.   9 And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.   10 And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.   11 And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?   12 And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought.   13 But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.

Here is, I. A prediction of Christ's kingdom now near approaching, v. 1. That which is foretold, is, 1. That the kingdom of God would come, and would come so as to be seen: the kingdom of the Messiah shall be set up in the world by the utter destruction of the Jewish polity, which stood in the way of it; this was the restoring of the kingdom of God among men, which had been in a manner lost by the woeful degeneracy both of Jews and Gentiles. 2. That it would come with power, so as to make its own way, and bear down the opposition that was given to it. It came with power, when vengeance was taken on the Jews for crucifying Christ, and when it conquered the idolatry of the Gentile world. 3. That it would come while some now present were alive; There are some standing here, that shall not taste of death, till they see it; this speaks the same with Matt. xxiv. 34, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Those that were standing here with Christ, should see it, when the others could not discern it to be the kingdom of God, for it came not with observation.

II. A specimen of that kingdom in the transfiguration of Christ, six days after Christ spoke that prediction. He had begun to give notice to his disciples of his death and sufferings; and, to prevent their offence at that, he gives them this glimpse of his glory, to show that his sufferings were voluntary, and what a virtue the dignity and glory of his person would put into them, and to prevent the offence of the cross.

1. It was on the top of a high mountain, like the converse Moses had with God, which was on the top of mount Sinai, and his prospect of Canaan from the top of mount Pisgah. Tradition saith, It was on the top of the mount Tabor that Christ was transfigured; and if so, the scripture was fulfilled, Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name, Ps. lxxxix. 12. Dr. Lightfoot, observing that the last place where we find Christ was in the coasts of Cæsarea-Philippi, which was far from mount Tabor, rather thinks it was a high mountain which Josephus speaks of, near Cæsarea.

2. The witnesses of it were Peter, James, and John; these were the three that were to bear record on earth, answering to Moses, Elias, and the voice from heaven, the three that were to bear record from above. Christ did not take all the disciples with him, because the thing was to be kept very private. As there are distinguishing favours which are given to disciples and not to the world, so there are to some disciples and not to others. All the saints are a people near to Christ, but some lie in his bosom. James was the first of all the twelve that died for Christ, and John survived them all, to be the last eyewitness of this glory; he bore record (John i. 14); We saw his glory: and so did Peter, 2 Pet. i. 16-18.

3. The manner of it; He was transfigured before them; he appeared in another manner than he used to do. This was a change of the accidents, the substance remaining the same, and it was a miracle. But transubstantiation, the change of the substance, all the accidents remaining the same, is not a miracle, but a fraud and imposture, such a work as Christ never wrought. See what a great change human bodies are capable of, when God is pleased to put an honour upon them, as he will upon the bodies of the saints, at the resurrection. He was transfigured before them; the change, it is probable, was gradual, from glory to glory, so that the disciples, who had their eye upon him all the while, had the clearest and most certain evidence they could have, that this glorious appearance was no other than the blessed Jesus himself, and there was no illusion in it. John seems to refer to this (1 John i. 1), when he speaks of the word of life, as that which they had seen with their eyes, and looked upon. His raiment became shining; so that, though probably, it was sad-coloured, if not black, yet it was now exceeding white as snow, beyond what the fuller's art could do toward whitening it.

4. His companions in this glory were Moses and Elias (v. 4); They appeared talking with him, not to teach him, but to testify to him, and to be taught by him; by which it appears that there are converse and intercourse between glorified saints, they have ways of talking one with another, which we understand not. Moses and Elias lived at a great distance of time one from another, but that breaks no squares in heaven, where the first shall be last, and the last first, that is, all one in Christ.

5. The great delight that the disciples took in seeing this sight, and hearing this discourse, is expressed by Peter, the mouth of the rest; He said, Master, it is good for us to be here, v. 5. Though Christ was transfigured, and was in discourse with Moses and Elias, yet he gave Peter leave to speak to him, and to be as free with him as he used to be. Note, Our Lord Jesus, in his exaltation and glory, doth not at all abate of his condescending kindness to his people. Many, when they are in their greatness, oblige their friends to keep their distance; but even to the glorified Jesus true believers have access with boldness, and freedom of speech with him. Even in this heavenly discourse there was room for Peter to put in a word; and this is it, "Lord, it is good to be here, it is good for us to be here; here let us make tabernacles; let this be our rest for ever." Note, Gracious souls reckon it good to be in communion with Christ, good to be near him, good to be in the mount with him, though it be a cold and solitary place; it is good to be here retired from the world, and alone with Christ: and if it is good to be with Christ transfigured only upon a mountain with Moses and Elias, how good it will be to be with Christ glorified in heaven with all the saints! But observe, While Peter was for staying here, he forgot what need there was of the presence of Christ, and the preaching of his apostles, among the people. At this very time, the other disciples wanted them greatly, v. 14. Note, When it is well with us, we are apt to be mindless of others, and in the fulness of our enjoyments to forget the necessities of our brethren; it was a weakness in Peter to prefer private communion with God before public usefulness. Paul is willing to abide in the flesh, rather than depart to the mountain of glory (though that be far better), when he sees it needful for the church, Phil. i. 24, 25. Peter talked of making three distinct tabernacles for Moses, Elias, and Christ, which was not well-contrived; for such a perfect harmony there is between the law, the prophets, and the gospel, that one tabernacle will hold them all; they dwell together in unity. But whatever was incongruous in what he said, he may be excused, for they were all sore afraid; and he, for his part, wist not what to say (v. 6), not knowing what would be the end thereof.

6. The voice that came from heaven, was an attestation of Christ's mediatorship, v. 7. There was a cloud that overshadowed them, and was a shelter to them. Peter had talked of making tabernacles for Christ and his friends; but while he yet spoke, see how his project was superseded; this cloud was unto them instead of tabernacles for their shelter (Isa. iv. 5); while he spoke of his tabernacles, God created his tabernacle not made with hands. Now out of this cloud (which was but a shade to the excellent glory Peter speaks of, whence this voice came) it was said, This is my beloved Son, hear him. God owns him, and accepts him, as his beloved Son, and is ready to accept of us in him; we must then own and accept him as our beloved Saviour, and must give up ourselves to be ruled by him.

7. The vision, being designed only to introduce the voice, when that was delivered, disappeared (v. 8); Suddenly when they had looked round about, as men amazed to see where they were, all was gone, they saw no man any more. Elias and Moses were vanished out of sight, and Jesus only remained with them, and he not transfigured, but as he used to be. Note, Christ doth not leave the soul, when extraordinary joys and comforts leave it. Though more sensible and ravishing communications may be withdrawn, Christ's disciples have, and shall have, his ordinary presence with them always, even to the end of the world, and that is it we must depend upon. Let us thank God for daily bread and not expect a continual feast on this side of heaven.

8. We have here the discourse between Christ and his disciples, as they came down from the mount.

(1.) He charged them to keep this matter very private, till he was risen from the dead, which would complete the proof of his divine mission, and then this must be produced with the rest of the evidence, v. 9. And besides, he, being now in a state of humiliation, would have nothing publicly taken notice of, that might be seen disagreeable to such a state; for to that he would in every thing accommodate himself. This enjoining of silence to the disciples, would likewise be of use to them, to prevent their boasting of the intimacy they were admitted to, that they might not be puffed up with the abundance of the revelations. It is a mortification to a man, to be tied up from telling of his advancements, and may help to hide pride from him.

(2.) The disciples were at a loss what the rising from the dead should mean; they could not form any notion of the Messiah's dying (Luke xviii. 34), and therefore were willing to think that the rising he speaks of, was figurative, his rising from his present mean and low estate to the dignity and dominion they were in expectation of. But if so, here is another thing that embarrasses them (v. 11); Why say the Scribes, that before the appearing of the Messiah in his glory, according to the order settled in the prophecies of the Old Testament, Elias must first come? But Elias was gone, and Moses too. Now that which raised this difficulty, was, the scribes taught them to expect the person of Elias, whereas the prophecy intended one in the spirit and power of Elias. Note, The misunderstanding of scripture is a great prejudice to the entertainment of truth.

(3.) Christ gave them a key to the prophecy concerning Elias (v. 12, 13); "It is indeed prophesied that Elias will come, and will restore all things, and set them to rights; and (though you will not understand it) it is also prophesied of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought, must be a reproach of men, and despised of the people: and though the scribes do not tell you so, the scriptures do, and you have as much reason to expect that as the other, and should not make so strange of it; but as to Elias, I tell you he is come; and if you consider a little, you will understand whom I mean, it is one to whom they have done whatsoever they listed;" which was very applicable to the ill usage they had given John Baptist. Many of the ancients, and the Popish writers generally, think, that besides the coming of John Baptist in the spirit of Elias, himself in his own person is to be expected, with Enoch, before the second appearance of Christ, wherein the prophecy of Malachi will have a more full accomplishment than it had in John Baptist. But it is groundless fancy; the true Elias, as well as the true Messiah promised, is come, and we are to look for no other. These words as it is written of him, refer not to their doing to him whatever they listed (that comes in a parenthesis), but only to his coming. He is come, and hath been, and done, according as was written of him.