“When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus” (Matt 17:8)
A temptation we all face is to see Jesus as just one among many great men of history, like the heroes of a book I read recently titled, “Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness” (Eric Metaxes). Although Jesus was a real, flesh-and-blood man, He was much more than a carpenter, healer, preacher and leader who died a martyr’s death in first century Palestine.
He is more than a good example, a good influence, a lawgiver, a role model and a great prophet who reveals the secret to greatness. Jesus, the only Son of God, is in a class of his own: He made us; became human and lived among us; then died on our behalf. But He is now seated on his throne in heaven as the King of glory. He has no rivals. This is something we are apt to forget.
But if you’ve been to a traditional church school or been brought up in a Christian family, it’s easy to trivialize Jesus and imagine him as a character in a Sunday school picture book, sitting in a fishing boat with his friends, handing out favours to the sick and needy, smiling benignly at the Last supper.
It’s equally easy to romanticize Jesus and picture him as a baby in a manger or a bloody martyr on a cross. But Matthew’s account of the transfiguration (Matthew 17) and John’s vision of the glorified Son of man (Revelation 1) demolish any glib pictures of Jesus we may have in our heads. They paint a stunning picture of the glorified Jesus that is beyond our imagination.
Can you imagine being James, John and Peter on the day that Jesus was transformed on the mountain? They had lived with Jesus for three years and knew him as a Galilean preacher and miracle worker, but then they caught a glimpse of Him as the glorified Son of God.
Christ’s face and clothes became so bright in appearance that He was difficult to look at: “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matt 17:2). The closest I’ve come to a shining face is someone who is badly sunburnt or has rubbed vaseline all over their skin! It’s nothing like Christ’s transformed body.
Then suddenly, as if a clock rocketed 1400 and 900 years back in time, two Old testament heroes appeared and spoke with Jesus. Amazingly, Moses and Elijah were interested in hearing what the Son of God was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Luke records that they spoke about Jesus’s ‘departure’ (exodus) “which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). It’s difficult to imagine the exact words of their gospel conversation!
Awkwardly, Peter offered to put up tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. I can relate to this silly impulsive thing Peter did, as I’m prone to do similar things. Perhaps he was thinking to himself, “Please don’t let this moment of glory end! Let’s just forget this nasty idea of suffering, being rejected and crucified. Let’s rather build some cozy tents up here on the mountain, so we can live with this heavenly Jesus forever!” That’s just how I sometimes feel when I’m having a precious time with my family before we scatter in different directions. I long to pitch some tents and make the beautiful moment last forever.
Moreover, Peter had a totally wrong mental picture of Jesus. He wanted to elevate Jesus to the stature of the great lawgiver, Moses and the greatest Old Testament prophet, Elijah. Perhaps he imagined Jesus as a political hero like David or Samson, who would rescue his people from the Romans.
But Jesus embodied everything that the law and prophets illustrated to the Jewish people. Moses and Elijah’s achievements could not compare to the real Lamb of God, who would soon die to give permanent access to His heavenly Father. Jesus fulfilled, satisfied and perfected every element of the Old covenant.
As if to put the record straight, the Father’s voice, which was part of a terrifying display of nature, boomed from heaven, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matt 17:5)
It’s no wonder that John and Peter were dumbstruck with fear. This was a theophany if ever they saw one! “They fell facedown to the ground, terrified.” (Matt 17:6). And Jesus responded to their reverent worship with reassurance, “Get up! Do not be afraid.” (Matt 17:7). There was both authority and kindness in his voice.
Then Matthew records one of the most poignant verses of the Bible: “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” (Matt 17:8) What a beautiful picture of Christ alone– sola Christus!
The three disciples had just witnessed one of the rare and terrifying moments when Jesus revealed his divine glory as the God of all creation. Another occasion was at his arrest when Jesus said, “I am.” The soldiers “drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6).
No one but Jesus.
Jesus permits no rivals. Everything we love about noble, brave historical heroes points to Him. He is the world’s one and only Saviour. Those who fall at his feet in surrender are those who finally realise there is no one else who is worthy. From the moment of our spiritual awakening, we, like the disciples, must look and listen to Jesus only.
Although the Creator of the world took on flesh and became one of us, at the transfiguration the three disciples became “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). They glimpsed Christ as the King of glory and it aroused awestruck worship.
During the Transfiguration, the disciples were assured that Jesus was the real Messiah, even though He would soon be arrested and crucified as a common criminal. Spurgeon lays out the practical implication of this stunning revelation for believers in every age:
“Let us follow Jesus, and follow him with other men only so far as we perceive they follow Christ.”
The first and the last.
The mighty Son of God appeared a second time to John when he was a much older man. This time the resurrected Jesus revealed His glory to reassure John and all future believers of who He was, and is, and always will be. Once again, Christ touched the stunned disciple and reminded him not to be afraid. “I am the First and the Last.” John’s awesome vision is recorded for us in Revelation 1:12-18.
“I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was 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. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Do not be afraid.
While the Lord of glory never forces our submission nor calls for violent overthrow of other gods, He tolerates no rivals. He is the First and the Last. Yet, it’s inconceivable that this is the same glorified Jesus to whom we have access today, by faith!
Christ’s white hair symbolizes His infinite wisdom and divine nature. He is God himself.
His feet of burnished bronze and blazing eyes remind us that he is the sacrifice on the altar and the ultimate Judge of all evil in the world.
His roaring voice epitomizes a mighty warrior shouting aloud against his enemies.
The sword in Jesus’s mouth demonstrates the power and force of his gospel message.
And the golden sash around his chest identify Jesus is the High priest who goes into God’s presence to obtain forgiveness on behalf of those who trust Him.
Just as Jesus reassured his disciples, He still touches sinful, broken people today, instructing us not to be afraid. After all, what is there to fear if the Son of God has forgiven us and is clutching the keys to death and judgment in his hand? Our only apt response is to trust and focus Him, as John, Peter and James did. “They saw no one but Jesus.”
All who trust in Christ will be raised to eternal life with Him. We will see Him face-to-face and will resemble him, “shining like the sun in all its brilliance” (1 John 3:2). Who can imagine swopping these broken old bodies for new glorified ones?!
Jesus is far more wonderful than our heroes of history or the ancestors that some venerate, who have no power over life, death or judgment. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and He alone can calm our legitimate fears (Heb 13:8). We bow to Him today as Creator and Saviour–or as our Judge in eternity.
Two glimpses of glory.
These two New Testament glimpses of glory remind us that Christ doesn’t expect his followers to placate him out of fear. Instead, our fear should lead us to a proper understanding of who Christ is, in order that we can respond to Him in trust and obedience.
The transfiguration and John’s vision challenge our mental picture of Christ. Yes, the Son of God became a man and died a shameful death. But if we dwell on his humanity, yet ignore or trivialize the Lord of glory who is seated at the right hand of God, we are believing a delusion. We are robbing ourselves of the strength, courage, hope and peace we need to face trials and suffering in this world.
It’s because of John’s robust, 3-dimensional mental picture of Jesus, that he could reassure all future believers with these comforting words that are so apt in our times:
“You dear children, are from God and have overcome the spirit of the antichrist in the world, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Father, thank you that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus Christ as Lord, to your glory. Forgive us for creating pathetic images of your Son and failing to see Him as the King who is reigning and ruling even now. We worship you, Lord Jesus, because you have disarmed every power and authority on the cross. Since we have been raised with you, set our minds above, where you are seated in majesty and glory. Thank you that our lives are hidden with you and that when you come back, we shall also appear with you in glory. We can only imagine how awesome that day will be. In the meantime, keep us fearless, focussed and faithful. Amen.