Some meetings are worth noting (most are not). You may remember the famous picture of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin as they met at the Yalta Conference regarding Adolf Hitler. It was a significant meeting not simply because three guys met but because of who and what these three men represented (three of the most powerful countries and militaries in the world) that made the meeting significant. This meeting showed the leaders of the alliance who stood against Hitler’s aggression.
During the time of President Carter there was a historic meeting with President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel at Camp David. The agreement reached there was called the Camp David accord because it was a first step of peace in the Middle East.
When the heads of the auto industry get together it is significant, when players union representatives and team owners meet it is a significant meeting, when the leaders of countries gather for a World Economic Summit it is significant. When significant people get together people note what takes place.
We are going to see one of the most extraordinary meetings that has ever taken place as we look at Luke 9:28-36. In this meeting Jesus meets with Moses and Elijah. It was a very significant meeting.
An Incredible Event
As you compare Matthew, Mark and Luke it is clear that the meeting took place about a week after Peter’s confession and Jesus’ explanation of the true nature of discipleship.
We are told that Jesus took Peter, James and John to go up on a mountain to pray. I don’t know why Jesus only took these three guys but it is obvious that Jesus had chosen these men to be the leaders of the disciples. Perhaps Jesus was trying to teach them about the importance of prayer. If the Son of God needed to pray for strength to resist temptation and guidance for serving the Father then we should too.
In verse 32 we read that Peter and his companions were very sleepy. It’s likely that this time of prayer was in the evening after a long day of ministry. Later when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the disciples also fell asleep. Alistair Begg points out that this should be a word of encouragement for many in the church who doze off during the sermon! I suppose they can claim that they are simply following the example of the Apostles. (Let me remind you that Jesus never commended this action but asked why they could not watch with Him).
Sometime while Jesus was praying and the men were sleeping we are told
And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Note the details. First, Jesus was transfigured. We may not be familiar with the term “transfigured” but we are familiar with the phrase dis-figured. It means to diminish or ruin the appearance of something. To be transfigured is just the opposite: to argument or enhance the appearance of something. Jesus was physically changed in an incredibly enhancing way. His face was different and his clothes became whiter than any bleach could make them. They were not just white . . . they were dazzling white. . . like a flash of lightning.
Next we are told that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and they “appeared in glory”. The picture here is that all three of these men stood out in some kind of supernatural sense but Jesus was the obvious center of attention. The disciples were being given a glimpse of the true glory of Christ . . . the glory we will all see at His second coming. Imagine how this picture encouraged them in the days, weeks, months and years to come.
The text tells us somewhat matter-of-factly that Moses and Elijah met with Jesus. Elijah had been dead for 900 years and Moses had been dead for nearly 1500 years! The disciples didn’t know what these men looked like. They hadn’t seen their pictures in a magazine or seen some memorial erected to them. How did they know it was Moses and Elijah?
Perhaps Jesus introduced them. Imagine that introduction! “Moses, Elijah, I’d like to introduce you to Peter, James and John.” “Guys, meet Moses and Elijah”. These guys weren’t sleeping now! I suspect they were almost paralyzed with wonder and fear.
Perhaps their identity was revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. It is possible that they figured out who they were from the things they were saying to Jesus. The bottom line is that we really don’t know how they knew it was these men of old.
The two men talked to Jesus about His coming departure which “he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (31) It is very interesting that the word they use that is translated departure is the word “exodus”. It would have been an especially poignant word for Moses who led the children of Israel in their Exodus out of Egypt. This freedom march came after the first Passover when the lambs were killed by the Jews and all the firstborn sons of the Egyptians died.
I have to think these men talked about how the death of Christ was the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. The time and the One whom these men had pointed to was now on the scene. Their work was fulfilled in the person of Christ. Moses represented the Law (since the Law was given to Him on Mount Sinai) and Elijah represented the prophets (as probably the most dramatic of the prophets). As they talked it became a wonderful picture of the unity of God’s plan to save us from sin. The coming of Jesus was in God’s mind even back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). Everything in the Bible pointed to His coming. The work of Moses and Elijah was fulfilled in Jesus.
Don’t you wish this was recorded on a DVD? I would have loved to have heard what these men said. I would love to see what they all really looked like. I am sure it was overwhelming and glorious.
An Understandable Response
There two different responses in the text. First we are told Peter offered to put up three shelters – one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. If you have ever met a teacher, athlete, musician, or actor that you admire greatly, there is a good chance that in your desire to say something profound, you said something incoherent or foolish. We are so overwhelmed by the situation that we often find ourselves speaking nonsense. That’s what happened to Peter. Obviously this was no weekend camping trip.
The second response of the disciples was one of fear. We are told that as they were standing there a cloud descended upon the mountain. We read “they were afraid as they entered the cloud”. The “they“ could refer only to Jesus, Moses, and Elijah but I think it makes the most sense if we understand that the cloud descended upon them all. I’m pretty sure this would have frightened me.
While in the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen, listen to Him.” The Gospel of Matthew tells us,
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. [Matthew 17:6-8]
The disciples were petrified. They fell to the ground not because they were chicken but because they were smart. They knew that when you are in the presence of the Almighty you had better hit the dirt. This is the common response of anyone who is in the presence of the Lord. Perhaps it is the power in His voice, maybe it is the way God’s presence exposes our own sinfulness. Everyone who comes close to God has the same reaction.
When the disciples looked up Moses and Elijah were gone. We are told they kept all this to themselves. The best thing to do in a holy moment is to “be still and know that He is God”. I still have questions. I’d like to know what happened on the way down from the mountain (we will find out what happened after they came down the mountain in the next section). Did the disciples remain absolutely silent? Did they pepper Jesus with questions? Did they ask about the meaning of the appearance? Did they ask if what they saw actually happened or if it was a dream? We just don’t know.
There are some moments that are so holy that you cannot even speak of them. You don’t talk about them because words would diminish the event. Even the Apostle Paul talked about a time when he was raised to the third Heaven (whatever that is). He gives no details.
As the next weeks unfolded and Jesus went on to the cross I suspect Peter, James and John may have returned often in their minds to that mountain top experience. Maybe they even became more confused about what it all meant as they watched Jesus die. However, I suspect it came into much clearer focus after the resurrection.
It was a great meeting. It was a holy moment. However, we are left with a question: Why did all of this happen? What was the meaning of the meeting on the mountain? Let’s draw some possible applications.
First, We see a testimony to the Superiority of Jesus. Two of the most prominent men in the history of Israel, Moses and Elijah came to talk with Jesus! God declared boldly, “This is my son, whom I have chosen.” He didn’t say that about Moses or Elijah. God underscored the significance of Jesus on that mountain.
As we live in the world there are many people who proclaim that they have the answers to our problems. Some sell drugs, other are selling exercise equipment, others are selling information on how to make money. (Many of them have infomercials late at night and on the weekends.) All f these people have other people who endorse them and their product. There are many religions in the world and every one of those religions has adherents who tell you that the belief system has “changed their life”.
What we read today is that the way of Christ has the endorsement of Moses and Elijah and even more important, it has the endorsement of God! Jesus is superior to all the other voices. Jesus is God’s answer to our problems. He is the One who alone is worth following and serving.
Second, we see the Unity of Scripture. You may not see this at first. The very fact that it is Moses (the one who received the Law of God) and Elijah the prophet (representing all the other prophets) shows us the consistency and purpose of Scripture. The Law and the Prophets (in other words, the Old Testament) is fulfilled in the coming of Christ.
The Old Testament is kind of like reading a mystery. It is an engaging story that carries the question, “Who?” In this case it is not “Who did it?” or “How was it done?” but the question is “Who is this one who is to come?” And just like a good mystery when we reach Jesus we are able to say, “Aha!” Jesus is the One toward whom the entire story has been pointing. One of the greatest arguments for the inspiration of the Bible is its consistent message even though it was written across many centuries.
- Jesus was the descendent promised to Abraham and David
- The Passover at the time of the Exodus was a picture of what the death of Christ would do for those who believe.
- The Old Testament Law exposed our sinful hearts and our need for a Savior.
- The Sacrificial system showed that the payment of sin required the death of a perfect substitute
- The prophecies of a coming Messiah pointed to Jesus
The Old Testament can only be understood fully when we see Jesus in its pages.
We see the Reality of Human Experience. The disciples were on a roller coaster. They were exhausted and fell asleep. Then they were wider awake. They were eager to preserve the experience (by setting up tents) and they were terrified. They were stunned. They came down off the mountain and immediately confronted the harsh realities and demands of life.
We’ve all had mountaintop experiences: it may have been a week of camp, a moving time of worship; a time of service that was especially gratifying; a special time of prayer; the first time you held your new baby; or an unspeakably holy moment with God. In these moments we want to freeze time. We’d like to linger in that moment forever. In fact we often retell the stories of those times in order to regain some of the experience.
However, though we would like to set up tents and stay on the mountaintop, this is not God’s plan. The mountaintop experiences are meant to be a glimpse of Heaven to spur us on as we live on earth. We must not spend our lives chasing the rainbows. We should welcome and cherish the “God-moments” and continue to live faithfully even when those moments pass.
We Are Encouraged in our Hope for Heaven. It must have been an incredible thing to see Jesus resplendent in glory standing with Moses and Elijah. What a powerful reminder that we live even though we die. Both men had been dead for centuries yet were fully in tune with what was going on. They had departed the earth but they continued to live. They eagerly awaited the resurrection of Jesus when they would gain entrance into the very courts of Heaven!
How wonderful it must have been to see Jesus. But how much more incredible it will be when we see Him with ten thousand upon ten thousand angels!
How incredible it will be when He offers to bring us to the place He has prepared for us. How unspeakably wonderful to have the veil lifted! How incredible to know His love without the pollution of sin. How glorious to reach the gates of Heaven and know that there is no turning back. The mundane will be past, the glory, joy, and celebration will begin. Someday we will see Him as He is and that day will be unlike anything we have ever experienced.
One more thing. In this text we learn the best way to respond to Jesus. The answer is so simple “listen to Him!”
God is not simply telling us to hear words . . . He is telling us to pay attention. We are to listen as the lay person who is getting instructions from a 911 operator on how to do CPR or how to deliver a baby. They listen carefully and then we do what they are told.
This is true discipleship: we proclaim Christ as Lord and we obey Him. He is not truly our Lord and Savior until we bend our lives, our hearts, and our desires to His commands.
Maybe you face some haunting problem(s) in your life. Perhaps you regularly pray: “Lord, help me!” Let me be direct. Most of the time we actually know what God wants us to do. We know what the Bible tells us . . . we just don’t want to do it. To each of us God speaks the same words: “Listen to Him”.
If you are in that situation today I encourage you to try doing it His way
- Submit to that one in authority over you
- End that relationship that goes against God’s commands
- Change your viewing, reading or browsing habits
- Swallow your pride and get help for that problem that’s out of control
- Stop excusing your sin (hidden or apparent) and repent.
- Make the first move toward reconciliation with an enemy
- Realign your priorities so God is first in your life
The challenge is to take up the Word of God and read it not simply for information but for solid instruction. When you go to the Doctor because you are sick you take the prescription, you get it filled by the Pharmacist, and then you start taking the medicine in the manner instructed. We should have the same attitude toward the Word of God which is God’s prescription for spiritual, emotional, and even physical health.
That meeting on the mountain was quite an event. I’m sure it encouraged Jesus to face what was before Him and I’m sure it changed the lives of Peter, James and John forever. This Jesus still has the power to change lives. The One who talked to Moses and Elijah is the same One who calls you to come to Him. The One who pulled together the strands of history can also pull together the pieces of your life.
Wise men still listen to Him. Those who listen to Him and embrace Him find true life. Someday, all of us who have placed our trust in Him will see Jesus resplendent with a glory that will make the garments of the Transfiguration seem dingy by comparison. On that Day all of creation will stand before the throne and cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” It will be a cry of deep worship and the most profound gratitude. It will be the most significant meeting of all.