Matthew 17:1-13 Part 2

We have before us this morning perhaps one of the most difficult passages to preach in all of Scripture.  And my anxiety level is incredibly high.  I feel like I need a month – or two months – to prepare each of the coming sermons instead of the abbreviated weeks.  And I need your daily prayer to God our Father that He would give me clarity and understanding – so that we all are given to see the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The difficulty of this event lies in the imagery presented – images of the glory of God the Son, the One Who emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant, Who suffered at the hands of Israel’s leadership, Who was killed, Who descended into the realm of the dead and was raised on the third day; and Who ascended into the glory of which he had emptied Himself!  The Will of the Father was to restore the Paradise which was lost when man sinned in God’s Garden.  And His Son was to be the bloody sacrifice which was the payment for that loss!

But this event on the (so-called) mount of transfiguration was the “sign” of the coming ascent of the victorious Son into the glorious presence of His Father – having accomplished all of His Will.  The ascent of Christ into His glory, accomplished after His Resurrection from the dead, although seldom preached, constitutes the Gospel of God!  Without it there is no King and no Kingdom and no restoration and no paradise!  Without the coming of Christ into the Presence of His Father – to receive glory and dominion and a Kingdom – there is no access to the Father for men; and, therefore, no salvation!  There is no access, for any man, woman or child, except by the glorified Son and our King.  Paradise-communion with God the Father exists for men only in Christ the risen and glorified Savior.

And the restoration of the Paradise/Garden of God by the ascended Christ is a primary topic of the Law and the Prophets.  The entire Old Testament and the Revelation of St. John are just full of the signs and images of the glorified Son of Man and His Kingdom!  And it is with these signs and images that we have to deal in this passage.

We began last Lord’s Day with the “high mountain” theology of Scripture.  And we found, from Old Testament passages, that Israel was seen by God as a Paradise, an Edenic Garden and a “high mountain”.  But because of its harlotry and idolatry it was to be destroyed – never more to be.  But that another great mountain – carved out of the former one – would crush the kingdoms of earth and fill the earth with the knowledge of God as the water covers the sea!  And it is plain in those passages that it is the Kingdom of Christ, the New Heavens and the New Earth, the New Garden of God, that was being described as the great mountain.

So it was with great hope and anticipation that we entered into the preaching of verse one last Lord’s Day; for, on the Sabbath day – the Day of Consummation – Jesus lead Peter and James and John up into a “high mountain”.  With very specific language the inspired Gospel writer, Matthew, causes us to recall all the redemptive language with regard to the “high mountain”; and, immersing our minds in that language, we are now to prepare ourselves for the verses to follow – an event of great redemptive significance, for the Lord is about to reveal to His apostles a sign of His coming into His Kingdom!

And there, upon that high mountain, as Matthew says in verse two,


“and He was transformed before them, and His countenance shone as the sun, and His garments became white as the light….”


Now, before we muster an attempt at preaching what it all means, let me call your attention once again to this little word – “Lo” – which Matthew has used on occasion in His Gospel.  We have seen that, when the apostle uses it, it marks the occasion of an event of great cosmic significance.  But this passage of eight verses or so –signifying the coming Glory of Christ – is set apart from them all with a triple usage of the word “lo”; once in verse three and twice in verse five!

And although the significance of those other events was so great – such as the “shaking” of heaven and earth in chapter eight – this one is multiplied exponentially by the qualitatively perfect “three”!  So we know that the Spirit of God, working through the inspired writer Matthew, has indicated the gravity and weight of this event – which foreshadows and forebodes the Coming of Christ into His glory!

Substantial amounts of preaching and teaching have been spent with regard to the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ – and rightly so.  But equal amounts of preaching and teaching time have not been spent on Jesus’ descent into hades, and His ascent into Glory where He received dominion and a Kingdom from His Father!  And we’ve already seen – and we’ll see much more – that the Scriptures present His glorification with dramatic force!  It is a premier event of the Gospel!

In fact, we can say with complete confidence that with an omission, willful or in ignorance, of the crowning of the King of Glory there is no preaching and teaching of the full Gospel of Christ!

The glorification of Jesus Christ on the top of this high mountain, here in our text this morning, is a Revelatory image – a sign, a preview – of that which was to come.  Just as the “shaking” of heaven and earth in chapter eight was a sign of the quaking destruction of Israel to come, so the transforming of Jesus into glory on the top of the high mountain here in chapter seventeen is an image – a real transformation, yes, but yet an image – of that which would occur when He ascended into the cloud of glory to be given the fullness of all things!

And let me make mention once again, before we go on, that the “coming” of Jesus Christ in glory with the clouds has absolutely nothing to do with the second advent of Christ and final judgment.  As we have already seen – from the prophecy of Daniel and in other places – the “coming” of Christ is not with relation to man and earth!  We are not the center of the universe, and our perspective is not the primary one!  God is the Creator of the universe and He causes it to exist by the Word of His Power.  So existence and history revolve around Him!  So it is with regard to Him that Jesus “comes” into His glory.  He “comes” into the presence of the Father to receive the glory of which He had emptied Himself before in order to take on the form of a servant!

So the transformation here on the top of the high mountain is the revelatory image of the “coming” of Christ into His glory and the establishing of the holy mountain of God which would fill the earth with the Knowledge of Him; and which would restore all things to an Edenic paradise.  Here is the culminating event in the history of the definitive salvation of all creation.

Now, as we come to the text itself, let me say a word about it in advance.  And first, this is very high and lofty; too lofty, I think, for a full understanding of it all.  But we’ll do as much as we can.  And it deserves reverence and great care.  As the entire nation of two and one half million trembled in fear at the presence of God Almighty on Mount Sinai, so these three men – Peter and James and John – fell on their faces in abject terror upon the appearance of the Glory-cloud of God.  And we can do no less than treat this event with reverence and holy fear.

And, secondly, the words that appear in the text – by the inspiration of the Spirit of God – are all interconnected in the context.  This is prophetic fulfillment, and the words must be seen in the light of prophetic imagery.  And since they all rest in the same context, they must all be seen in that light!  For example, we’ve already observed the full meaning of the “high mountain”; and, now, we have to see the rest of the words in the light of that “high mountain” theology.  And vice-versa.  They’re all interconnected and they all lend each other meaning!

And in further example, what was Moses doing with Jesus on the high mountain; and what was Elijah doing with Jesus on the high mountain?  And why were they conferring, as Luke says – and in the hearing of the disciples – about Jesus’ Exodus?  (That word doesn’t mean “death” as the KJV indicates, but means what it says – “Exodus!”)  And the word Exodus has to be understood in the context of the “high mountain” and Jesus’ glorification!  So you can see that the level of difficulty goes far beyond our capabilities to hold it all in our mind’s eye; and, hopefully, you can understand the care we must take in giving it our best effort.



“…and He was transformed before them….” 


The inspired writer Luke gives us the idea that Jesus, having reached some level of height – perhaps several thousand feet – began to pray, as He was want to do.  And the disciples, tired from the climb, fell asleep!  After a period of time they awakened, and Jesus was transformed before them.  This is to be taken in the transitive sense – that it happened to Him right in front of them – on a high mountain, perhaps even Mt. Hermon, somewhere in Caesarea Phillipi.  And as we said last Lord’s Day, there were three eyewitnesses to it – two of whom wrote eye-witness accounts in the inspired books of Scripture!  And we can be sure that these three men told the story many times to others in their preaching and teaching the Gospel after Pentecost.  After all, as we’ve said, this is the Gospel of the Risen and ascended Lord.

The word “transformed” comes from the Greek word “morphe” which means to form.  Paul uses this root word in an excellent example which we find in Galatians chapter four, verse nine:  “My little children, for whom I suffer again in the pangs of birth until Christ be formed in you….”  That refers, of course, to the union of believers in the suffering and death and resurrection and ascension of our Lord.  For Him to be “formed in us” means that His character and virtue should become ours through our union in Him through faith.  Since we are in Him and He in us, then His virtue must become ours.  And the apostle Paul prayed for that for the Christians in Galatia.

And the subject of his prayer was the same as the subject of Jesus’ prayer in John chapter seventeen where He asks His Father this:  “And now, O Father, glorify Me, with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was….”

And then, He goes on to pray that His glory may be the glory of His people in union with Him!  Listen:


“… that they may be one; as You, Father, in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us:  that the world may believe that You have sent Me.  And the glory which You gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are One:  I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made complete in one….”


So Paul prays, as Jesus did, for Christ to be glorified in us, that we might participate in His glory – the glory which Christ had with the Father before the foundation of the world.  And one might say that this was a prayer for the original glory of man in communion with God in Eden – for Christ restores that which was lost in the Garden:  fellowship with God.  In order for that to occur, Christ must be “formed in us.”

Now, that was the verb – to form.  The noun is used in much the same way, an example of which is a verse we’ve already used – last Lord’s Day as a matter fact.  Philippians two, six: 


“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but emptied Himself and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”


And as you can see, this passage has to do, also, with the glory of Christ – for He emptied Himself of the glory which He had with the Father before the world was created; and He did so in order to take on the form of man.  And, having completed the will of His Father, He returned to that glory victorious!

Now, the word which Matthew uses here in verse two of our text comes from that root word “morphe” or “morphao” which we’ve just seen.  But the word is changed a bit with the addition of a prefix – meta.  So the word is “metamorpheo”.  And it means “to change form”.  In this case it’s passive, so the sense is that “His form was changed before them”.  Another example of how this prefix is used is with the word for “mind” – moeo.  When the prefix is applied it becomes metanoeo – to change one’s mind.  And that’s the nature of repentance, isn’t it?  One rejects all that was before, and he receives all that is new; he rejects self and esteems Christ!

And the same is true with this word – it is a complete change of form.  Albeit a temporary one, but nonetheless, a change in form from the form of man – which He took on Himself when He emptied Himself of His glory – and a change to the form of glory which He had with God before the creation of the world and before He emptied Himself.

So this word that Matthew uses indicates a transformation – a complete change in form – from the form of man to the form of future glory!  Not only was Jesus changed in form to that which He was with God before creation, but His transformation was unto that which He would be in the future, wasn’t it?  For He would not ascend unto glory until after His resurrection!  First He was raised from the realm of the dead – Hades – and then He ascended into the glory-cloud of His Father!  He was raised the Son of God with Power; and then He was given glory and dominion and a Kingdom!

Now let’s take this one step further.  There are two passages of Scripture which use this word with reference to men.  And remember as we look at them, that the word Matthew uses here in our text means a transformation – a complete change in form.  A change from the form of man to the form of glory – for it is the hope and anticipation of believers to be transformed into His “likeness”!

Listen to Second Corinthians three, verse eight:


“but we all…” writing to Christians in Corinth, “but we all, having been unveiled, behold the countenance of the Lord’s glory as in a mirror, and are being transformed from glory into glory….”


And Paul also, in Romans twelve, two says,


“…be not conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, into your proving what is the good and well-pleasing and perfect will of God.”


So there is not only a complete transformation of Jesus Christ from the form of man into the form of glory, but there is also a command for us to be transformed – a complete change in form!  The word Paul uses for our transformation is “metamorpheo” – the same word used by Matthew of Jesus’ transformation!

This is not an autonomous, imminent, mystical, magical self-imposed event in the lives of professing Christians; but it is a process – from glory unto glory – by which the eschatological reality of the glorified Christ works determinatively in the lives of believers.  There is a change – a transformation – of existence upon our resurrection to new life in this new age.  But Paul is also certain that the new age has already come with Christ!  And by virtue of the presence of the glorified Christ, the metamorphosis begins already, and the believer is rebirthed (morphe) and reformed (metamorpheo) after the likeness of the Lord by being given to share in His “doxa” – His glory!

You see, the transformation of Christ on this “high mountain” is a sign of the eschatological reality of the New Age about to come into existence!  In the consummation of the “old age” and the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth, there is a re-attainment of the original likeness of man – in Christ – as it was at Creation!

As the apostle John says, “and we beheld His glory – His doxa – the glory of the Only begotten of the Father – full of grace and truth.”  John was there; and he saw the Glory of the transformed Christ which would be accomplished at His ascension to the Father!  And he then knew that by union in Him we not only behold His glory, but we share in His ascended glory!  And that, not only was there to be a rebirth (morphe) but there was also to be a transformation (metamorpheo) take place:  the willing and the thinking must be transformed by repentance from the old to the new.  And that’s why Jesus Christ said:  “deny your self, take up your cross and follow Me.”  And then He proceeded to the high mountain – the sign of the New Garden of Eden – and was transformed into glory.

The New Age has already come – the New Heavens and the New Earth are here.  The Rock carved out of the old mountain of God has grown and covered the earth with the knowledge of God.  The Kingdom is growing into its fullness.  So the final question is – where is the glory of Christ shining in your transformed life?  Where is the union in Him which brings forth His shared glory?

Next Lord’s Day – Matthew’s description of Jesus’ transformation; and, hopefully, the beginning of our understanding of the conference with Moses and Elijah concerning the Exodus of Christ!