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Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
When we look at the sequence and flow of events leading up to Jesus’ transfiguration on Mount Hermon, we can begin to see the underlying prophetic pattern. The most obvious revelation is that of the two works of Christ—the death work, followed by the living work. This pattern, of course, was prophesied in the law. The two birds in Leviticus 14 and the two goats in Leviticus 16 each pictures the two works of Christ in its own way.
So in Luke 9:22 Jesus first reveals His death work to the disciples, and then in Luke 9:28, 29 they go up Mount Hermon for the revelation of the second work of Christ, which leads to the manifestation of the Sons of God.
28 And some eight days after these sayings, it came about that He took along Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray.
Luke says this event took place “eight days after these sayings.” Matthew 17:1 says that this event took place “after six days,” but does not tell us specifically the starting point for the six-day countdown. It is clear, however, that Jesus and the disciples remained in Caesarea Philippi for about a week before going up the mountain. No doubt He ministered to many people and perhaps even taught groups of people.
There must have been a notable event that took place after they had been in the city for about two days, and this became Matthew’s starting point. I suggest that Jesus and the disciples remained at the Grotto of Pan for two days discussing the revelation about Jesus’ death at the hands of the elders and priests. The “eight days” dated from the revelation itself; the “six days” dated from the end of the discussion, when perhaps they left that area and went to minister in the nearby city itself.
Luke 9:29 tells us what happened on the mount,
29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.
Matthew 17:2 says “He was transfigured.” The Greek word is metamorphoo, that is, He went through a metamorphosis, being changed into another form. Modern science uses the term to describe the change from a worm to a butterfly. Prophetically speaking, He demonstrated the change prophesied by the feast of Tabernacles, when the Sons of God are manifested to the world. This is the essence and goal of Sonship.
The Garment Theme of Sonship
Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4 that we have garments reserved for us in heaven, which represent the glorified body. We know from the law regarding priestly garments that spiritual beings must minister to men on earth in other garments (Ezekiel 44:17). In other words, they are not allowed to do actual ministry on earth while dressed in their “linen” garments—that is, in spiritual robes. They must put on wool in order to appear as “sheep” like the rest of the people. And so this extraordinary manifestation occurred in private and on the mount. In fact, only three disciples were His witnesses.
The mount in this case represents the heavenly realm, where it is not only appropriate but mandatory to be dressed in those glorious garments. During that brief manifestation, He did not attempt to minister to men on earth, but was attended only by Moses and Elijah, as we will see shortly. The three disciples in the story represent the leaders among them, Peter, James, and John, and as such they picture the overcomers in the church.
In Numbers 10:4 the leaders, or rulers, were those called by the blowing of the single silver trumpet. This pictures the mustering of the overcomers that is prophesied to occur when “the trumpet of God” sounds (1 Thessalonians 4:17). When both trumpets sounded, the whole church (kahal) was to gather before God.
Therefore, there will be a second mustering, this time including the whole church, when both trumpets sound a thousand years after the first resurrection (Revelation 20:6). These trumpets will call the church to appear before the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:12). The first resurrection (mustering the people) is described in Revelation 20:4-6, and the second in verses 11, and 12. The great Sabbath millennium divides the two resurrections.
The first resurrection occurs about 6,000 years from Adam, on account of his sentence to hard labor as the result of sin (Exodus 21:2). This is the “six days” in Matthew 17:1. Luke speaks of “eight days,” because the general resurrection of the rest of the dead (including the majority of the church) will occur at the beginning of the eighth “day” (millennium). At this second mustering, the church (non-overcomers) will appear before the Great White Throne along with the unbelievers.
They will not all receive the same reward or sentence, of course, but all will be judged according to their works (Revelation 20:12). The judgment on the believers will be brief. It is pictured in Luke 12:46-48 in terms of a flogging of no more than forty stripes, according to the law in Deuteronomy 25:2, 3. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:14, 15 that the believers’ works will be tried by fire to see if they have faith-value. Yet in the end, after a brief judgment, these believers “shall be saved, yet so as through fire.”
This agrees with Jesus’ statement in John 5:28, 29,
28 Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, 29 and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
This speaks of the second resurrection of “all who are in the tombs,” both believers and unbelievers, good and evil, who will be judged on the same occasion. To the believers it will be “a resurrection of life,” but to the unbelievers, it will be “a resurrection of judgment.”
The important truth in all of this is that there are two resurrections. The first involves a limited number of people, all of whom are believers (Revelation 20:5, 6). The second involves a greater number of believers, along with all of the unbelievers, each of whom are judged according to their works. The believers will be held accountable for their works and then they will be given “life,” or immortality. The unbelievers will not be given life at that time, but will be held accountable by law and “sold” into the hands of the overcomers, who will rule over them until the Creation Jubilee sets all creation free.
Getting back to our main focus, we see how the so-called discrepancy between the “six days” of Matthew and the “eight days” of Luke actually prophesy of two distinct resurrections. The first occurs after six “days”; the second occurs at the start of the eighth “day.” On each occasion “Sons of God” will be brought to birth and into transfiguration.
Moses and Elijah
Next, Luke and Matthew both speak of the witness of Moses and Elijah, who represent the law and the prophets. Luke 9:30, 31 says,
30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Matthew 17:3 does not tell us their topic of conversation, nor does Mark 9:4. But Luke 9:31 tells us that they “were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” In other words, they were discussing His death on the cross. Perhaps they were giving Jesus a more complete revelation from the law and the prophets about this first Messianic mission.
Luke would have learned this directly from Peter, James, or John, but because these disciples were sleeping through most of the conversation, they would have heard only a small portion of what was discussed. Luke 9:32 says,
32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him.
At first, they were awe-struck, not daring to interrupt the conversation. But then Moses and Elijah departed, and Luke 9:33 says,
33 And it came about as these were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles [skene, “booth or tent used as a shrine”]; one for You and one Moses, and one for Elijah”—not realizing what he was saying.
In his own way of thinking, Peter only wanted to honor the three of them. Who, after all, would not want to honor Moses and Elijah and Jesus? But there is only one God whom we are to worship. Good intentions do not justify idolatry. To build shrines or temples to other good men—even saints in heaven—is to be like Peter who did not realize that he was idolizing men and worshiping them equally with Christ.
Many Christians have followed in Peter’s footsteps to this day and have made the same mistake inadvertently. The answer from heaven is recorded in Luke 9:34, 35,
34 And while he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow 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!”
Here Peter received divine revelation that his idea was not a good one. Many years later, when he wrote his second epistle, he wrote in 2 Peter 1:16-18,
16 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. 17 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”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
Notice that Peter makes no mention of Moses and Elijah, for he did not want to convey the slightest impression that they (or any other saints) should be honored with shrines and thereby be made equal to the Chosen One.
Hearing God Directly and Indirectly
It is worth noting that the heavenly voice did not give Peter any specific instructions other than to hear and obey the Chosen One through whom the mind of God was being revealed. The broader principle set forth in this incident shows the place of men in the calling and revelation of God. We are not to hear men themselves, but, when He speaks, to have the ability to hear the voice of God through men.
The main difficulty in the church (as with Israel of old) is that only a few develop the ability to hear the voice of God. And so they neither hear God speak to them directly, nor do they have the spiritual discernment to recognize the voice of God through human agents. And because faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17), their faith remains near the basic minimum requirement to be called a believer.
The three great disciples were greatly frightened by the divine admonition (Matthew 17:6, 7). After all, when the Creator of the Universe expresses displeasure or disapproval, His word carries a lot of weight. Luke 9:36 ends this story, saying,
36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.
They dared not say anything “in those days,” but felt free to tell the world only after His resurrection. Luke says that “they kept silent,” but Matthew 17:9 lets us know that Jesus specifically told them, “Tell the vision to no man until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”
Hence, we see that the revelation that Jesus was going to die and be raised from the dead was fully clarified to the disciples. But the revelation of transfiguration was not to be taught openly until after His resurrection. There is a time for every revelation. In this case, the transfiguration was a revelation that concerned the second work of Christ. So it was not to be revealed to the general public until His first work had been completed.
Note: This blog post is part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.