RPM, Volume 17, Number 47, November 15 to November 21, 2015


Luke 9:28-36

By D. Marion Clark


We have had a time or more in which we are filled with great joy and inspiration. We call that a mountaintop experience. Our text today takes us to the original mountaintop experience, the time in which Jesus was transfigured and his disciples surrounded by the glory of God. It was an excitement that terrified the three followers of Jesus.


Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.

Verse 28 provides the setting. Jesus has gone up a mountain to pray, which is a pattern for him: ministry, then prayer; ministry, then prayer. This time he takes with him Peter, James, and John, who seem to be an inner circle of sorts, as a couple of other times they are set apart to be with Jesus.

It is the phrase "after these sayings" that give us the clue to explain what follows. What were these sayings? They were about suffering and death, both for Jesus and for his disciples.

And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, 22 saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

23 And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God" (9:21-27).

Yes, there will be suffering: "The Son of Man must suffer many things…"; "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily…"

There will be death: "and be killed"; "whoever loses his life."

There will also be life and glory: "on the third day be raised"'; "when he comes in his glory"; "whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

Suffering and death is soon to come. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. As Luke will say later in the chapter, "he set his face to go to Jerusalem" (v. 51). It is there that he will suffer and be killed shamefully. It will appear that he is disgraced and that his mission has failed. It will appear that he is not who he claimed to be. Now, let's read the story.

29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.

Verse 29 presents the change in Jesus. "The appearance of his face was altered." Matthew and Mark use the Greek term "metemorphotho," the term for our English word metamorphosis, and which is translated as "transfigured." What happens to his clothing indicates what the change in appearance involved: "and his clothing became dazzling white." Jesus' face was transfigured, in that his glory which had been veiled was manifested. Matthew describes the change clearly: "his face shone like the sun" (Matthew 17:2). "We were eyewitnesses of his majesty," Peter would later attest (2 Peter 1:16). "We have seen his glory," John would also affirm.

Verses 30-31 add an intriguing element – a conversation with two men.

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.

Consider the men. Why Moses and Elijah? None of the gospel writers explain, but a common phrase used in the New Testament and among the Jews indicate their symbolic meaning. It is the phrase "the Law and the Prophets." Here is one example of the use from the Gospel of John: "Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph'" (John 1:45). The phrase "Law and the Prophets" was another word for the Scriptures. Moses is always the representative of the Law, and Elijah here is representing the Prophets.

Luke speaks of their appearance – "who appeared in glory." What he likely is speaking of is the glory that is reflected from being in the presence of God. Consider the example of Moses from his earthly life. "When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God" (Exodus 34:29).

What are the three discussing? "his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." It is the same subject that Jesus had been presenting to his disciples – that in Jerusalem he would suffer, be killed, and then rise again. There is a difference. With the disciples Jesus is preparing them for what they do not understand and do not expect and don't want to hear about. They don't like this suffering and dying talk. It does not square with their understanding of the Law and the Prophets. They are looking for that mighty Messiah who will conquer their enemies and set up his kingdom. With Moses and Elijah, he is likely discussing the details of how Jesus will fulfill the prophecies made about him.

And then enters Peter…

32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah"—not knowing what he said.

That last comment is an understatement and could very well have been attached to many of Peter's statements. Here it is particularly embarrassing. Not knowing what the meeting on the mountain was about; not knowing how to respond to the shining of Jesus in glory; he blurts out his ridiculous statement, another case study to prove the point that if you don't know what to say, then don't say it.

34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!" 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

The cloud is what theologians call a theophany. "Theo" is Greek for "god" and "phanein" means "to show." The cloud is a manifestation of God; it depicts his presence. You have come across it before. Such a cloud led the Israelites through the wilderness. It covered the top of Mt. Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments and when Moses asked to see God. When the tabernacle was first set up, the cloud descended upon it and rested over the Mercy Seat. When Solomon built the Temple and brought the ark into it, the cloud again descended.

The presence of God has descended on this mountain, engulfing the disciples, and they should very well be afraid. It is that same fear we have spoken of before – the fear that the mariners felt before Jonah's God after they had tossed him overboard and the sea grew silent; the same fear that the disciples felt after Jesus had calmed the sea. In those instances the men felt a holy fear after witnessing a miracle. They did not see God; Jesus looked the same; it was still by faith that they felt the presence of a holy God. Here God descends upon them in the form of the cloud. They are overwhelmed with his presence, and they fall prostrate in trembling, terrifying fear as any sinner should before the holy God. If Peter could speak, he would this time speak the words of Isaiah, "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips!"

This time it is God who does the talking. "This is my Son, my Chosen one." We think of Jesus as God the Son, and so he is. But it is also the title for the Messiah, as is the reference to "Chosen one." The Jews knew their scriptures – the Law and the Prophets. They knew Psalm 2 that spoke of the "Anointed" (Messiah) and in which God says, "You are my Son." They knew Isaiah 42:1: "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights."

And then "Listen to him!" Listen to what he is teaching you about himself and about his mission. This experience would have such an impact that not even Peter would speak of it until after Jesus' resurrection.


1. Listen!

This passage is filled with practical lessons for us, and the very first one is the application that God the Father gave to the three disciples: "Listen to him!" Listen to Jesus. Listen to the words that he spoke. We have them in the gospels. That is where we turn to listen to what he has to say.

Consider how profitable it would be to read each day a word spoke by your Lord. But if you do so, be sure to read every word. Our preference is to choose what word to hear, and that will always be what makes us feel good. Jesus spoke many words of encouragement and of comfort, and we certainly need to listen to them. But he also spoke words of conviction and of admonishment. He spoke words hard to understand, that require deep concentration and study. Listen to all of his words, if you wish to profit from them and if you wish to honor him.

Are there other ways to listen to Jesus apart from Scripture? What about listening to Jesus in prayer? Surely we should listen to God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – in prayer. Surely, as we read Scripture, we should do so in a prayerful manner so that we will benefit from personal application. We are wrestling with a difficult decision to make; as we are reading Scripture a particular verse jumps out at us that, though it may be speaking to another context, we sense that God is speaking to us.

One woman told me that she had read Isaiah 43:5-6 for her morning devotion:

Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth.

She claimed that passage as God's sign to her that he would bring her straying daughters back to faith.

There are also times that all of us have felt God's presence in a special way or sensed his leading. His Spirit is in us and surely can "speak" to us in the sense of raising our thoughts to be in tune with his leading and with his presence.

The danger comes when we move from inner impressions to inner revelation; when we move from saying, "I think God is saying to me…" to "God told me; Jesus told me." It was just such a shift that took place in George Fox, the founder of the Quaker Movement. He had felt dry and was not feeling spiritually fed by the preachers of his day. It was then he heard an inner voice:

"There is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to thy condition." That sounds proper. The application at this moment is to listen to Jesus. But Fox took it further: "people had no need of any teacher but the Light that was in all men and women" (the anointing they had received); if people would be silent, waiting on God, the Light would teach them how to conduct their lives, teach them about Christ, and so on. 1

It is of no surprise that Scripture eventually took a lower seat and the so-called "inner light" led its adherents to believing whatever seems right. There is but one clear, one assured revelation of the words of Jesus Christ, and it is found only in Scripture. Only from those sacred texts can we say, "Thus saith the Lord," or "Here are the words of Jesus."

With that in mind, I caution the reading of the very popular devotional, Jesus Calling. It is one thing to share from one's devotional life; it is another for an author to claim that she has received messages from Jesus. It is good to be quiet before the Lord as a listener; it is another to take the thoughts that come to one's mind and receive them as though they are the direct words of Jesus. I have read the revised preface to the book, which presents an orthodox explanation of what the devotions are meant to be – "gleanings" from her quiet moments. But her original preface speaks of the "messages" that she received in the same manner as the anonymous women received in a 1930s book, God Calling, and which is a favorite of the New Age Movement. Be careful. The author and the publisher have made revisions – good revisions – even in the "messages" of Jesus, so as to be in keeping with Scripture, but they are having to do all this because readers (as likely as is the author) are taking these devotions as the very words of Jesus. Probably most of the book is in line with Scripture and certainly is comforting, but whenever we read a book that purports to convey direct messages from Jesus and speaks in his voice, we are shifting to dangerous ground.

2. Trust Scripture

We are to listen to Jesus; we are to trust the Scriptures. Many years after this mountaintop experience, the Apostle Peter would hark back to it in the second letter bearing his name. He knows that his time on earth is drawing to a close, and in his exhortation to his readers to stay the course in living godly lives, he assures them that their faith rests on truth that they can depend upon. He writes:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Peter is saying that he and his fellow apostles can be trusted. In particular, he and John (James is dead) were eyewitnesses of that mountaintop transfiguration, which revealed the glory of Jesus Christ and confirmed him as God's Son who carried out the Father's will. He carried out God's will as prophesied in Scripture. This is the essential point. It was the lesson for the disciples. The cross was not a failure; it was fulfillment of, not divergence from, prophecy – prophecy which comes from men speaking from God. The prophecy of Scripture is revelation. It needs no revision to fit in later with Jesus' actions.

Peter and James and John were granted this glorious vision, but as wonderful as it was, we don't need it. We don't need the experience to know the truth of the gospel glory. We have Scripture, a word "more fully confirmed," a word to which we would "do well to pay attention." Experiences come and go; feelings go up and down, but the Word of the Lord stands firm forever. That is the lesson that Peter took away from his mountaintop experience. And he needed such a lesson, for Peter would be the one to deny the Lord that he beheld in glory. Peter would be the one, who after courageously preaching the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, would another time cowardly refrain from eating with his Gentile brethren. If all Peter had to depend on for faith is continually experiencing the presence of the Lord, he must have been a miserable wretch. But it is the revealed Word of God found in the Law and the Prophets and the Gospels and the Epistles – in all of Scripture that our faith is founded upon and which must remain the anchor of our faith.

3. Hope in Glory

If we do so – if we read and believe the words of Scripture – we can be assured of the hope that is delivered to us. Hear it from the truly Spirit-inspired words of Peter in his first epistle:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7).

Do you understand that last line? What awaits us is "praise and glory and honor." There will come a day when we ourselves will be transfigured. We shall have the mountaintop experience of all mountaintop experiences – one that never ends, whose glory never fades. We can count on it, because it is written in the Word of God.


  1. Information taken from http://quaker.wikia.com/wiki/Inner_light
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