Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
The ordinary people realised there was something special about Jesus, he wasn't just a teacher. But the disciples realised that he was the Christ, the Messiah. But even then they did not fully understand the implications of that, and when he went on to speak of his death, it didn't fit with their idea of what a Messiah would do.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord. This shall never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."
Now that they had found the Messiah, Peter was not going to let anyone kill him or take him away. Jesus was angry, not just because Peter was being hot-headed again, but because it was a temptation to Jesus. Just as Satan had tempted him in the wilderness to use his power for his own good, Peter was tempting him in the same way. It would have been so easy to avoid his arrest and death. This marks a turning point – from now on Jesus turns towards Jerusalem. To prepare himself for what was to come, and to give the chief disciples a glimpse of what being the Messiah truly means, Jesus took them up the mountain and was transfigured before them.
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
We need to have our priorities right. If we belong to Jesus, how can we better follow him? With the disciples, we are about to see Jesus in his true form, in his glory. How does knowing that Jesus is God help you?
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Before their very eyes, the Jesus they knew changed. In Philippians 2:6 Paul tells us that Jesus took upon himself the form of a man, a servant. But here he took upon himself the form of deity. He was accompanied by Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets - Jesus fulfilled the Law and superseded the Prophets. We don't know what was said, but I think they were there to remind him of his purpose and to strengthen him for what was to come.
Peter as usual, not sure what to do and say, says something inappropriate. He is interrupted by the cloud and the voice of God. Here we have the same words as at Jesus' baptism (Matt.3:17), but now God says, "listen to him." This reflects the promise given to Moses – "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers - it is to him you shall listen." (Deut.18:15). We don't need to know what Moses or Elijah said. We just have to listen to Jesus. He must have the glory.
And the disciples asked him, "Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?" He answered, "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
When it was over and they came down the mountain, Jesus told them, "Elijah has come, but been killed, and the same will happen to me." But the disciples, especially Peter, fail to understand. With hindsight, it all became clear. We have the benefit of the evidence and the disciples' gradual coming to understand the amazing truth about Jesus.
Heaven and earth come together in Jesus. The transfiguration confirms that God will save the world through Jesus' death on the cross. It is a glimpse of Jesus' glory. Our bodies are fading away, but we will be glorified as he was glorified.
[Based on a sermon and Bible study by Pastor Pete Orphan]
Other posts in this series:
Jesus as Leader
Jesus as Divine
Jesus the Man
Jesus as Teacher
Jesus and Us
Jesus as Messiah
Jesus as Saviour
Jesus as Lord
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