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“But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God. And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw His glory and the two men that stood with Him. And it came to pass, as they departed from Him, Peter said unto 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: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud saying, This is My beloved Son: hear Him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen”—Luke 9:27-36.
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Jesus is speaking here. He has been putting before the disciples the cost of following Him. He made it clear that to be His follower often costs a great deal. Then to encourage their hearts, He said, “But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.” By the term “the kingdom of God” we are to understand the authority of God as established over this earth, and necessarily, therefore, in the hearts of men and women. In the Old Testament it was predicted that the kingdom of God should be fully manifested in due time. This has not yet taken place. Satan is still the prince of the power of the air and of the god of this age. The world is in its present evil condition because it has rejected God’s King; He alone can bring in the age of righteousness.
In Luke 2 we read, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” He came to bring peace to the earth, to manifest God’s good will toward men. But they rejected the Prince of peace; and so before the Lord Jesus went away He said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” God has not changed His plans because men were not ready to receive the kingdom; His kingdom is yet to be set up in this world. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, “But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.” We are told in the next verse how this came to pass: “About an eight day after these sayings, He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.” This was probably Mount Hermon. When the Lord ascended that mountain with the disciples it was that they might have a picture of the kingdom which was to come. We know that, because Peter tells us (2 Peter 1:16), “For 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 honor 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.” Peter tells us here that what took place on the mount of transfiguration was really a vision of the coming glory, the kingdom of God in minature.
So with this before us, we look somewhat carefully at what is recorded concerning it. When we ponder Luke’s account we find our Lord in prayer as on many other occasions. Sometimes people are perplexed about this, and ask, “How could He be God, and yet feel the need of prayer?” They forget that though He was God from all eternity, yet He chose to become Man, and as Man, He was dependent upon the Father. Prayer was to Him the expression of sweetest communion with the Father; it was the acknowledging of His manhood looking up to heaven for the strength to do the Father’s will.
“And as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment was white and glistering.” We may know something of this in our own lives, for as we pray we are transformed. Oh, how many times we have known people who are sinful, wicked, crude, uncultured, and uncouth, who came to know the Lord and trusted Him as their Saviour; and then as they communed with Him, even while they prayed, the fashion of their countenance was altered! Many people who were once so unruly and dishonorable have made the most devoted witnesses. As Christians, we cannot afford to neglect prayer. One reason many of us make so little progress in our Christian life is that we do not pray enough. We pray in the time of distress, but when all goes well we do not take time to wait on God and have blessed communion with Him. If we would do this, we would become more like Him, and manifest more of His grace and tenderness and compassion for sinners. We would be less likely to criticize and be unkind to other people if we would pray more. We become more like Christ as we spend time in fellowship with Him. In John’s Gospel we read, “The Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us… full of grace and truth.” The body of our Lord Jesus Christ is there likened to the tabernacle which Moses set up in the wilderness. In the Holiest, God’s presence was manifested as the Shekinah shining between the cherubim. In the blessed body of our Lord Jesus Christ was hidden the glory of His deity, for “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself.” That glory shone forth in the things that He did; it was manifested in His restoring grace to those who had wandered. Here in a very special way it was seen as He communed with God on the mount, “His raiment was white and glistering.” The glory from within shone out, and He appeared as we shall yet see Him when He comes the second time in the glory of His Father and His own glory and in the glory of the angels.
“And, behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias.” Moses, the lawgiver, was the representative of the saints of the legal dispensation. Elias was the one sent from God to restore the people to God. These two Old Testament characters appeared with Jesus in the mount and talked with Him. Of what did they speak? What was the theme? Oh, the wonder of it! They were speaking with Him of that which will be our theme all through eternity as we recall what He did for us—suffering and dying for us. “Who appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” They had come from God in heaven to spend that little time up there on the mount with the Lord Jesus, to talk with Him of what He would do on the cross of Calvary. It must have been a wonder indeed to the angels and to the saints in heaven, when He came from the throne of glory down to the manger in Bethlehem. They must have asked themselves why He did it. They watched His life on earth, and must have listened earnestly to His words when He said, “The Son of Man… must be slain and be raised on the third day.” These two men were interested in Him, and they were talking about His death so soon to take place. We speak of it yet, and we should. If He had not done this for us, we would long since have been cast into eternal perdition. His death for us is the most important event of which we read in the Word of God. Listen to the redeemed in heaven as they bow before the throne and sing, “Thou art worthy… and Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God.” That is what they sing up there. That is the theme that thrills their hearts. Oh, my friends, I must pause here and ask: Does it mean anything to you—the death of Christ? Has it ever spoken to your heart? Does it mean anything to you that Christ laid down His life for you? I may be speaking today to many who have scarcely given a thought to the death of Christ on the cross. Have you never reflected over this solemn and glorious thing, and said, “The death He died was for me; the agony He suffered was for me, that I might enjoy the blessedness of being with Him forever?”
But we turn again to consider this transfiguration scene. Our Lord Jesus intimated that it was a picture of the coming kingdom. The kingdoms of this world will never become the kingdom of our God and His Christ until the Lord returns again to this earth. He is not coming again as He came before. He will not come in lowliness and poverty; He is coming the second time in power and great glory. Then we read that all the earth shall wail because of Him. All shall bow before His feet.
We have a little picture of the glory which will be His when He comes again. Notice again the two men who appear with Him in His glory. How significant it is that it should be these particular two! First, there was Moses, the man who had died 1500 years before, and whose body God had hidden away so that Satan the corrupter could not touch it. We read that God “buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” Moses appeared in a physical body shining with the same glory as Jesus Christ. That reminds us that when the Lord comes to set up His kingdom, He will bring those who have died in Him. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.”
Then consider the other man, Elias—the man who had never died at all, the man who, in his discouragement, prayed that he might die. He cried, “Lord, let me die.” The Lord, as it were, said, “No, Elias; I am not going to answer that prayer; I am going to take you to Myself without dying.” So Elias was caught up into glory, and centuries later he appears as we read in these verses. He represents another group—that one of which the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Thess. 4:17, “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Then He will bring in the kingdom, and our Lord will reign. Oh, how this world needs the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our hearts join in the prayer, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
This is the picture then of the coming King. “But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw His glory, and the two men that stood with Him.” Sometimes when the Lord has the most wonderful things to reveal to us, we are not in condition to receive them. The apostles might have heard more of that conversation between the Lord and Moses and Elias, but they went off to sleep. When they awoke they saw His glory and the two men that stood with Him. Then Peter exclaimed, “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: not knowing what he said.” Poor Peter! He was always speaking out of turn because he felt he had to say something. Sometimes it is better just to look on and say nothing; but Peter, moved by what he had seen and heard, proposed that booths should be erected in honor of the three who were seen in glory—Jesus, Moses, and Elias. “While he thus spake, there came a cloud and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.” They dreaded the next experience, as we often do. But there was nothing to fear. “There came a voice out of the cloud saying, This is My beloved Son: hear Him.” God will not have anyone put on the same level with His Son, Jesus Christ. If people would bow before Moses, Moses must go. The same for Elias. Peter never forgot this voice. When he wrote his second epistle just before he died, he was still thinking of it. “And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.” The reason for that was the leaders and the people had definitely put themselves on record as rejecting the Saviour, and had refused to accept Him as their Messiah; and this was revealed only to His disciples for their encouragement in the days to come. Now it can all be told.
Jesus takes the highest station, and His people bow before Him and acknowledge Him in praise and adoration. Soon He will return and the kingdom will come in all its splendor, when He shall reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.