Jesus’ Earthly Ministry 2 and Transfiguration
When God opens the heavens,
He shows us what He is doing.
He shows us our world as He sees it.
When Jesus was born, God opened the heavens.
He sent us a special star to announce that
the magnificent, transcendent God was
now living among us.
The star drew worshipers from
a far-away land and
a different religion.
They were the first sign that the One who had come was
the Light of all the nations and
the King of all Kings.
When Jesus was baptized, God opened the heavens.
As Jesus’ ministry began, His first act was to publicly
take all our sins upon Himself.
The Sinless One lined up with the sinners and
symbolically died beneath Jordan’s waters,
bearing the sins of the whole world.
At this crucial moment.
the Father spoke and
the Spirit appeared.
Together they testified that
this was indeed the pure and perfect Son of God.
When Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration,
God opened the heavens.
As Jesus approached His death,
the Father gave three disciples a fleeting glimpse of
the Christ as He truly was,
in His eternal splendor,
human yet heavenly.
The law and the prophets visibly testified to Him.
On all three occasions, God opened the heavens to show us
that His own Son had come to us,
the Light of the World.
He had taken on our flesh and blood
to bear away all our sin.
He had come so that every one of us might
share fully and forever in Him.
As I study the gospels, I repeatedly encounter events that appear small from a human perspective but loom large from God’s perspective.
(Matthew 16:28 – 17:9)
Jesus referred to the Transfiguration as “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:28, NASB) and “the kingdom of God…come with power” (Mark 9:1, NASB). That’s quite a build-up. And to be sure, the transfiguration provided a spectacular glimpse of the true glory of Christ, in the face of His coming humiliation and suffering. But only three disciples experienced it, and apparently only for a few fleeting moments. How is that the powerful coming of Jesus in His Kingdom?
John the Baptist and Elijah
The appearance of Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration caused the disciples to ask about Elijah. Prophecy had promised that he would return and prepare the people for the “great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5, NASB; read vv.5-6). Jesus said that Elijah would “restore all things” (Matthew 17:11, NASB) and that John the Baptist was this returned Elijah. But John the Baptist’s ministry was relatively short, and his acceptance was limited. Herod silenced him, bringing his life to a premature and brutal end. To say that John restored all things seems a wild overstatement.
The Triumphal Entry
Throughout His ministry, Jesus had consistently discouraged any open proclamation of His being Messiah. But then He arranged His own parade, encouraging Jerusalem to welcome Him as their Messiah. When the Jewish leaders protested, Jesus emphasized the absolute necessity and inevitability of such praise, saying that if His followers were silent, the very stones would cry out. But on a human level, all this seems a false promise. In this very city, within the week the civil and religious leaders would arrest, humiliate, execute, and bury this Messiah as a pretender and a criminal.
Cleansing the Temple
After triumphantly entering Jerusalem as a conqueror, Jesus went to the temple and cleared it of commercial interests. He did this in fulfillment of Malachi 3:1-3, which foretold that the Lord would come suddenly to His temple and purify it completely. Jesus also connected His actions to Isaiah 56:3-8, where God promised to make His house a house of prayer for all nations, a place where outsiders would be welcomed and blessed. Yet it is unlikely that Jesus’ cleansing of the temple had any lasting effect. It doesn’t seem to measure up to the dramatic promises of Malachi and Isaiah.
We Christians make much of the resurrection of Jesus. But apparently the risen Christ appeared only to His followers, not to anyone else. Forty days later He was gone. Meanwhile, this whole world suffers on in the iron grip of death. Every one of us continues to die.
So why did Jesus and why does Scripture make so much of these events? To human eyes, they seem so partial and passing.
But indeed, the changes begun by each of these events are dramatic, deep, and very real:
The Kingdom of God has come to us in Jesus Christ! It is growing in and among us through His Spirit. And in Him, it will soon come in all its power and glory.
Jesus’ life is a promise of all that soon will be for each and all of His people.
“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure [literally, His exodus] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, 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 he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.
(Luke 9:27-36, NIV)
Jesus had just drawn from His disciples a confession that He was indeed the Messiah. Immediately He began to explain to them what this would mean: He would have to suffer, be rejected, and be killed, then rise again after three days; and if they wanted to be His disciples, they would have to deny themselves, take up their own crosses daily, and follow Him.
What a bombshell for these disciples! It definitely wasn’t what they were expecting, either for Jesus or for themselves.
So to cement this crucial new revelation about Jesus, three of the disciples were given a glimpse of who He really was. Normally an ordinary-looking Hebrew peasant, for a few fleeting moments three disciples saw a glimmer of His natural glory. He physically shone with the radiance of heaven, and there in person were the law and the prophets, Moses and Elijah, testifying to Him. What a stunning sight!
Decades later, as an old man, Peter would still be talking about it as the day of his own martyrdom drew near:
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 honor 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 Peter 1:16-18, NIV)
This was the One who would soon suffer humiliation and a seemingly-final death. This was the One calling them to lay down their lives and follow Him.
And for all of us who follow after, the truth about who Jesus is still brings us assurance and stability. Who Jesus is fills our uncertainty with a settled peace. It points us beyond suffering to eternal glory. We must never forget Whom we are following. We must never forget Who spoke the wisdom and the promises by which we live.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ!