The Transfiguration of Jesus: The Power and Coming of Jesus
Daniel Rogers – firstname.lastname@example.org – March 2018
The transfiguration of Jesus is one of the more fascinating events in Scripture because it confirms the deity of Jesus, and, as Peter said, it is a picture of the power and coming of Jesus.
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased” – and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18)
The apostles could be sure of the message that they preached concerning the power and coming of Jesus because the transfiguration served as a clarification, a confirmation, and a picture of what Jesus had previously taught the disciples about His coming. This means that if one studies the transfiguration considering Jesus’ teachings on His coming, then he will gain more knowledge about His coming.
There are three passages in the Synoptic Gospels recalling the events of the transfiguration of Jesus: Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36. The focus of this study will be on Matthew’s account, but there is a detail from Luke’s letter that needs to be included. Below is the entirety of Matthew’s account with Luke’s extra detail included in italics.
Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him concerning His departure [lit. Exodus – DR] which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:1-13; Luke 9:31).
Four observations, at the least, that could be made from this passage concerning the coming of the Lord are as follows: (1) Jesus’ does not appear in physical form, but in a glorified form, (2) Jesus, Moses, and Elijah abide together for a time, (3) Elijah and Moses fade away while Jesus remains, and (4) John the Baptist’ appearance as Elijah meant that the coming of Jesus was to be soon.
Point (4) is particularly interesting because it is based on the popular teaching of the scribes that “Elijah is coming and will restore all things.” In other words, the coming of Elijah would be to prepare the people for the coming of the Lord that would follow. This is not a teaching without foundations; the Old Testament teaches plainly that the day of the Lord would follow the coming of Elijah. After I present material on this point, the other three will be covered.
John the Baptist as Elijah
In the various accounts of John the Baptist’s birth and teaching, several Old Testament prophecies are referred to. Among those are Malachi 3:1 and Malachi 4:5. These passages deal with the subjects of judgement, the day of the Lord, and the coming of Christ. Many Christians I am familiar with think of John as the herald for Jesus’ first coming, and John’s role in announcing the second coming is often overlooked. Jesus said, “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:14). This is connected to that very famous eschatological (i.e. dealing with the end times events) warning for the seven churches in Revelation, “He who has ears to hear, let Him hear.”
Prophecies of John’s Role as Elijah
Why was it so hard to accept that John was Elijah? Because it meant that the great and dreadful day of the Lord was at hand. The two prophecies mention above explain that perfectly.
“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap…” (Malachi 3:1-2)
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch… Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD…” (Malachi 4:1, 5).
In the Old Testament, there is no apparent distinction between the first coming of Christ and the second Coming. This explains why there is so much confusion among the first century Jews – believers and non-believers – about Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah. As the suffering servant proclaiming a spiritual kingdom, Jesus did not match the Jews perception of what the Messiah would do. Malachi is clear, however, that the day of the Lord would follow the teaching of John. Thus far, it has been 2000 years since John preached. Was Malachi wrong?
If John’s purpose was to warn the people about the day of the Lord, then one should find some evidence of that in John’s teachings. According to Matthew, John had a lot to say about this event. The focus that many Christians that I know put on John’s ministry involve his “at hand” statements concerning the kingdom and his proclamation that Jesus is the lamb of God (Matthew 3:2; John 1:29). While these are great points to bring up, his warning concerning the looming day of the Lord is intriguing as well.
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT! [emphasis in the original denoting the quotation of prophecy]'” Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. “The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:1-12).
The following are points that are worthy of consideration:
- The soon coming of the kingdom meant that the people needed to repent. The reason for this is that the coming of the kingdom is almost – if not always – associated with judgement (e.g. Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:26-27; Matthew 16:27-28; Luke 21:25-32; 2 Timothy 4:1; etc.).
- The people were being baptized to “flee from the wrath to come.” In other words, this was something that would affect them.
- The axe had already begun to work indicating that the falling of the tree (i.e. judgement) was near.
- The winnowing fork, which was the final tool used in the harvest to separate the wheat from the chaff, was already in Jesus’ hand. Again, judgement was near.
- At this judgement, the righteous would be gathered into the barn, but the wicked would be destroyed.
If one were to work through the New Testament chronologically, one would find no reason to believe in a judgement that is both future to John and outside of the lives of the ones that he preached to. In Jesus’ ministry as well, He stressed that the kingdom (therefore, judgement) would come before those to whom He spoke died and that His coming would be within that generation (Matthew 16:27-28; 24:29-34). Paul followed the same pattern by boldly claiming that some of those to whom he wrote would be alive at the coming of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:51). He argued this throughout His ministry (1 Thessalonians 4:17; Romans 13:11-14; 16:20). Even the other New Testament writers agreed with John (James 5:8-9; 1 Peter 4:7; Jude 1:1-19; Revelation 1:1, 3).
Jesus’ acknowledgement of John as Elijah is no less than Him acknowledging a soon-to-come day of the Lord. In doing so, He lets the reader know that the restoration of Israel was underway as well. These are both critical points that many have missed due to isolating verses from their context. When the evidence is taken together, the power of this point alone cannot be missed – though many will try their hardest.
 I included this detail to point out the significance of Jesus’ death in the fulfillment of the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Jesus’ death is a turning point in redemptive history because His death and resurrection mark the beginning of the Exodus out of the world of the flesh and into the world of the Spirit (e.g. a prophet like Moses, the allegory of Galatians 4, “all their lifetime were subject to bondage,” etc.).
 As a side note, this warning can be found in other parts of Jesus’ ministry as well as Paul’s. The source of this seems to be Isaiah 6:8-11. Verse 11 shows that the fate of those wouldn’t hear would be complete desolation of their cities.
I will post the rest of Daniel’s excellent article on the Transfiguration of Jesus later. In the meantime, get a copy of my book, Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory, for an in-depth discussion of that glorious event! There is not another book like it!