Matthew 17:1-13 Part 1

“…He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world did not know Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to be the sons of God – to them that believe on His Name – who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.”  (John one)


“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 majestic 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….”  (Second Peter one)


James, the Son of Zebedee, did not leave an eyewitness account of this remarkable day (or night, according to Luke – since he says that they came down from the mountain the following day); he was martyred in about 44 AD.  Deuteronomy chapter seventeen, verse six says that at the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses shall a thing be established;  And Jesus took three witnesses with Him up into a high mountain – two of whom leave us inspired accounts of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

He took them into a high mountain in order that they might behold His glory – that of which He had emptied Himself in order to take on the form of man, to suffer many things at the hands of the elders and scribes and priests, and to be killed, and on the third day to be raised; and to ascend into the cloud of glory to receive power and dominion and a Kingdom.

So long as Christ remained in the world, bearing the form of a servant, and so long as His majesty was concealed under the weakness of the flesh, nothing had been taken from Him, for it was of His Own accord that He emptied Himself; but now His resurrection has drawn aside that veil by which His power had been concealed for a time.  There were three witnesses to the fact that Jesus was not dragged unwillingly to death, but that He came forward of His Own accord, to offer to the Father the sacrifice of obedience.  He was here briefly clothed with heavenly glory to bear witness to that fact.

But, strangely enough, it is the Biblical imagery of the “high mountain” which sets us free to a fuller understanding of this awesome event.  (God’s mind, His views, His understanding; His rocks, his rain, His clouds…)  So one of our primary purposes this morning is to examine some of the “high mountain” texts of Scripture.  It is God’s intent that His elect people turn their eyes toward His exalted Son – for our living, and our obedience, and our worship, and the meaning of our existence depend on our adoration of the One and Only Savior of mankind.  How can one live without a sense of His exalted nature?  What’s the purpose of doing well – what value is there in right behavior – what sense is there in purity and holiness and love and justice (or any other virtue) unless there is an intimate knowledge of, and an adoring understanding of, and a deep sense of the exalted Christ.  He is the Beginning and the End, and He is the fullness of all things, and He is the fullness in which all things consist!  And people must comprehend Him in order for life and virtue (or any other thing) to have any meaning!

While thinking these things through I am reminded of how incensed I was upon reading that a Jewish rabbi was invited to lead a prayer breakfast at Green Acres Baptist Church to kick off an alliance of people to help the area poor.  In the name of ecumenicity, for the purpose of helping the disadvantaged, with a view of doing good – anti-Christ Judaism was invited to lead Christ’s Church in prayer to God!

In my ensuing letter to the Green Acres Church, the Pastor and deaconate were called to public confession and repentance.  Where is the understanding of the resurrected and exalted Christ?  Where is the sense of the One and Only Savior of mankind and the fullness in which all things consist?  Where are the minds of men when they replace the exaltation of God’s Beloved Son with a coalition of men – for whatever purpose?  (no matter how altruistic that purpose!)

Well, what compensation is there for a man’s life?  Is it the public acclaim of a city?  Does Green Acres Church receive full compensation for blaspheming the Name of Christ?  Where is the piercing insight into the Person of Jesus Christ?  Where is the glory of the Son of Man?  Where is the sense of His exalted Person?

As I said, it is God’s intent that His elect people turn their eyes toward His glorious Son, for the very meaning of our living depends on our adoration of Him!  Life itself – how we live, what we do, how we respond to situations, how we react, the decisions we make, the directions we take – all flow out of our apprehension of, and comprehension of, the Person of Christ. 

This is what I spend a vast majority of my teaching on – the knowledge of the Christ.  For Theology is application, isn’t it?  To know Him, to perceive His person and His glory, will manifest a holy life-style.

There are no illustrations, no stories, no self-help books, no motivational messages, no systematic teaching, that is worth anything without the acquiring of the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – without a comprehensive, intimate understanding of the glory of His Person, “that I may know Him,” Paul says, “… and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death….”

Without a knowledge of Him and the power of His resurrection, there will be a kinship with anti-Christ Judaism; Without a knowledge of Him and the power of His resurrection, there will be a fraternity with the world order; without knowledge of Him and the power of His resurrection there will be an affiliation with the way men think – a connection of agreement.  Without a knowledge of Him and the power of His resurrection there will be compromise, in thought and deed (for whatever purpose).

Without a knowledge of Him and the power of His resurrection there seems to be, in every case, an inexorable series of compromises and decisions – always for some concept of a “higher good” – that lead to a debasement of the glory of Christ!

But, again, God means for His elect people to adore the exalted Messiah – to know Him intimately, in the Biblical sense; and, therefore, to live in the fullness of that knowledge; and to know that that is life and “being” itself. 


“For you are dead,” says Paul, “…and your life is hid with Christ in God.”  “… that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.’


And it is to this end that we now turn to the “high mountain” theology of Scripture; to know Him, for


“after six days Jesus takes Peter and James and John his brother with Him, and leads them up into a high mountain privately.”


After a week of being in the area of Caesarea Philippi, the city of Paneus, (and presumably it comes to be another Sabbath) Jesus takes Peter and the two sons of Zebedee – James and John – and leads them up into a high mountain.  And we assume, since there’s no evidence to the contrary, that this mountain was in that same area.  There are some very high ones in the upper regions of Philip’s Tetrarchy; in fact, this is the same range from which rises the peak of Mount Herman – so often mentioned in Scripture, and from which snow evaporates and covers Israel many evenings with dew.

Now, needless to say, the “mountain” imagery is very, very prevalent in God’s Revelation – prominence, dominion, kingdoms.  And, first, I would like you to see just a few of the many incidents where a mountain is the place of redemptive activity.  For example, in Genesis chapter twenty-two God says to Abraham,


“Take now your son, your only son Isaac whom you love, and get into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of.”


And, in connection with that, Second Chronicles three, one (one thousand years later) says,


“Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem in Mount Moriah.”


Now the name “Moriah” has the Name “Jah” in it, and it means the place where God is seen.  And the translators of the Septuagint have used the term “high” as a translation of the word Moriah!  So Abraham was to take his son to a “high mountain” – the same place where Solomon was, a thousand years later, to build the temple of God! – redemptive activity.

In addition to those two examples, one other which you’re very familiar with – the redemptive activity at the high mountain of Sinai.  Listen:


“…and it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people in the camp trembled.  And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the foot of the mount.  And Mount Sinai was altogether in a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire:  and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.”


And, as you know, this is the event of the giving of the Law.  The Law – given by God – proceeded from a high mountain, a place of glory and dominion.

Now, I won’t read any more of those instances of redemptive activity on a high mountain; just suffice it to say that the mountain in Jerusalem is the same one which, on many occasions, is also called Mt. Zion – the high mountain of God’s glory which was commanded to be the place of salvation and dominion for God’s people.

But in the prophecies of the Old Testament, the mountain itself has taken on the nature of the covenant-breaking nation of Israel.  In other words, Israel, which was to be the Garden of God, but which became the harlot of the world, was to be burned and destroyed!  For example, Revelation eight, eight says:


“and the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea….” 


That very vision was prophesied by Jeremiah in chapter fifty-one; and here it is, verse twenty-five:


“Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord, which destroyest all the earth:  and I will stretch out mine hand upon you, and roll you down from the rocks, and will make you a burned mountain.”


The place of glory and dominion was to be burned and cast into the sea!

The same thing was prophesied by Ezekiel, in chapter twenty-eight:


“You had been in Eden the Garden of God – every brilliant stone was your covering!  You were the anointed cherub that covers; and I set you so.  You were upon the holy mountain of God; you walked up and down in the midst of the brilliant stones.  You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, until iniquity was found in you.  By the multitude of your possessions they filled the midst of you with violence, and you have sinned.  Therefore I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God.  And I will destroy you from the midst of the brilliant stones.  Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty, you were corrupted in your wisdom because of your brightness.  I will cast you to the ground, I will lay you before kings, that they may see you… therefore I will bring forth a fire from the midst of you, it shall devour you, I will bring you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that see you.  You shall be a terror, and you shall never be any more.”


So the mountain of God, the Garden of Eden, the nation of Israel, was to be burned and thrown into the sea – nevermore to be.  This is very important as we proceed in chapter seventeen.

But God isn’t through with the mountain imagery, is He?  Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the stone cut out of that mountain which crushed the four great kingdoms of earth:

“… and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth….  In the days of these kings shall the God heaven set up a kingdom (mountain equals kingdom), which shall never be destroyed; and the Kingdom shall not be left to others, but it shall break-in-pieces-and-consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever….  God has made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter; and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.”


The stone, in the king’s dream, became a vast mountain which filled the whole earth and crushed the dominion of the four great kingdoms of the earth!  Christ’s great Kingdom becomes a mountain over all other mountains!

And listen to the mountain imagery of Isaiah as God reveals to him the coming Kingdom of Christ – chapter two:


“And it shall come to pass in the last days, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.  And many people shall go and say, ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths’:  for out of Zion shall go forth the Law, the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks:  nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”


And there are other passages of the restoration of Eden and the lifting up of the mountain above all other mountains.  As Isaiah says in chapter eleven,


“they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”


But the Psalmist prophesied the coming of the King into His glory in Psalm two when God says,


“But as for Me, I have installed My King upon Zion, My holy mountain.”


And that brings us to the Divine Revelation of St. John in Revelation fourteen, verse one:


“And I looked and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His Name and the Name of His Father written on their foreheads….”


In opposition to the beasts rising up from the sea (the Gentiles) and the land (Israel), the Lamb is standing on Mount Zion, already enthroned as King of Kings, the ruler of the nations!  And the mountain imagery of these passages clearly refers to the original Holy Mountain, the location of the Garden of Eden – as we heard from Ezekiel twenty-eight.

And the prophetic promises of the restoration of the Mountain to the earth, as we heard from Isaiah two and Daniel two, as well as the numerous redemptive activities on the mountains, as we heard from Genesis twenty-two, Exodus nineteen, and Second Chronicles three, signified the fulfillment and consummation of Paradise through the Messiah’s atonement, when God’s Kingdom would fill the earth (Isaiah eleven, nine).

The Lamb’s standing on the Mountain is the image of Christ’s victory over all His enemies, with His people restored to Eden and fellowship with God the Father.  And you see that the Mountain that He’s standing on is Mount Zion!  Zion is the holy mountain of Jerusalem, the symbol of God’s presence with His people and His victorious reign over the earth when all Kingdoms are gathered together to serve Him in the New Covenant. 


“Rejoice, you daughter of Zion… for He shall speak peace unto the nations; and His dominion is from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”  (Zechariah chapter nine, verses nine and ten)


Now.  When Matthew states that Jesus leads Peter and James and John up into a “high mountain”, the whole flood of Biblical imagery ought to wash into your mind.  “After six days Jesus leads them into a high mountain….”  The Sabbath and consummation always go together, don’t they?  Matthew lets us know right away that it is the Sabbath; and he brings into account the entire corpus of Old Testament prophecy with the “high mountain”.

In addition to all the evidences of His divine Sonship which the disciples had already received, Jesus will now reveal Himself to them – not only as the One Who will go into Jerusalem and suffer, and be killed, and on the third day to be raised – but as the One Who will stand on the High Mountain of Zion in all His victorious glory.

The “high mountain” theology in God’s Revelation allows us to see an image of the now exalted Christ – the One to Whom our eyes need to be turned.  For God has exalted Him and given Him a Name above every Name, that every being in the heavens and on earth and under the earth should bow the knee, and every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Now we have the entire Old Testament and New Testament background from which we can understand Matthew’s Gospel concerning the exalted Christ.  May God have mercy on us as we seek to apprehend and comprehend the One in Whom we live and breathe and have our very being.

Next Lord’s Day – the sign of the coming exaltation of Christ, when He shall come with the cloud of glory to receive power and dominion and a Kingdom – the sign of the glorified Christ standing at the top of the high mountain of Zion with His chosen people.