Matthew 17:1-13 Part 3

This morning we continue to learn about the transformation of our Lord as a prophetic image of that which was shortly to take place.  “And (the disciples) beheld His glory – the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

It was only a very short time before the Lord would walk into Jerusalem and place Himself in the hands of the elders of Israel – to suffer and to be killed; and to be raised again on the third day.  Then He would ascend into the glory cloud to receive His reward – dominion and a Kingdom.  And this event on the “high mountain” gives us a quick – but penetrating – glimpse into the glory of the soon-to-be-ascended Lord Jesus Christ.

But before we come to Matthew’s description of Jesus’ transformation, I want to address the issue of why this event is here and why we have to hear it and what is the value of all this high and lofty Theology!

And the very first answer, of course, is the fact that God did reveal the glory of the ascended Christ to men.  And if there were no other apparent reason for searching out the height and depth and breadth of it all, then that would be enough!  God revealed it!  We’re all aware of the shallow and “frothy” Christianity being heard by the modern Church; and we know that almost all of the books in Christian bookstores could be loaded into dumpsters and never be missed; and we know that the “practical Theology” department in the seminaries of the Church receives all the emphasis; and we know that the Church is in sharp decline because of these things!  The Church isn’t dealing with the Revelation of God!

And the only conclusion we can come to, is that what’s being done isn’t practical!  The “morality preaching” and the “how-to-do-it” books and the seminary “psychology” departments have left the whole Church in a useless and anemic condition!  And the answers being given to the questions about it are:  “Let’s do much more of the same!”  “We need much more practical moralizing, more practical illustration, much more ‘how-to-do-it’ writing, and much more practical psychology!  That will solve the problem of a declining and demoralized and anemic Church!”

Well, where did that conclusion come from?  Why is it the case that “more of the same” is the answer when what we’ve got now has left the Church in serious decline?

I remember my seminary days, and my professors; and I even remember the individual classes – many of them.  And I often recall some of the specific discussions we had in class – and who said what.  And, as I look back on it, it is a fact that many of those lectures and discussions were well attended and interesting.  And I remember that those that generated the most excitement and controversy and theologizing were those that had to do with issues that were applicable to men – expedient things, pragmatic things; imminent things!  Interesting things – things having to do with us.  Or me.

But I also remember the least attended and the least exciting – those classes which generated the least discussion and controversy!  And those were the ones having to do with the doctrine of Christ.  And I remember asking myself, “What is it?  What’s wrong here?  Why is it that tremendous excitement is generated over the imminent issues – those having to do with us, such as original sin, conversion, what happens to us at final judgment, the nature of man – but when we come to an examination of the doctrine of Christ and His Person and His glory, then neither the professors nor the students were that interested!”

And thinking back over those classes, all I can remember about the transcendant glory of Christ and his Kingdom was one lecture in systematics about the difference between the Church and the Kingdom.  And it was poor.  I can remember that I was dismayed about the systematic, “matter of fact” treatment of the Person of the Lord Jesus and the lack of interest in Him; and now that I look back on it I’m shocked about it – vexed.

And now that we’ve seen the sharp decline of the seminary – and of the Church as a whole – I’m making the connection between what I remember then and what’s there now.  There has been a more complete transition, now, from the Revelation of Jesus Christ in the Scriptures to a man-oriented institution.  Instead of graduating men who are steeped in Biblical doctrine, instead of graduating men with a working knowledge of systematics, instead of graduating men who know the languages – and know the history – and know how to do exegesis, (and here’s the most important one) and instead of filling the Churches with men who are full of the knowledge of and a sense of, the glory of Jesus Christ the Lord, the seminary is manufacturing pastor/psychologists!  They’re filling them with things they consider “practical”!!!

And here’s the reasoning:  The Church, they say, doesn’t need theologians; the Church needs the practical facility of a compassionate pastor who can meet the needs of a troubled and hurting generation!  And again here’s the analysis of that reasoning:  the Church is in gross spiritual and moral decline due to the lack of preaching of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom and due to the focus of the seminaries on practical theology and psychology.  And the direction which is being taken to turn the Church back around is to produce more pastor/psychologists!  More morality preaching; more frothy how-to-do-it books; and more guidance counseling!

Woe is me!  I’ve been under the impression all these years that preaching the Word of God turned men’s hearts toward the glory of Christ the Lord!  And that He was the great physician who leads depraved and troubled people beside still waters and restores their souls!  And that He makes them to lie down in green pastures and sets a table before them!  And that He salves their wounds and bruises and causes them to walk through the valley of death without fear!  I’ve just been unaware that it’s pastor/psychologists who meet the needs of troubled and hurting people!  How could I have missed it!

Well, the troubled and anemic Church will not be turned from its decline by pastor/counselors!  The Church will turn from its spiritual “purgatory” when it is transformed, with Christ, into His glory!  When its eyes are taken off of its own psychology and placed on the glory of Christ!  The Church will be revivified when the Spirit of Christ turns men’s eyes to a knowledge of, and a deep sense of, the glorified Person of Christ.  And as far as the seminaries are concerned – they will not be of any assistance in this whatever until they begin producing men (not women, not counselors, not psychologists, but men) who have a deep knowledge of and an awareness of His glorious Person!

The original question was, “What’s the value of all this high and lofty Theology?”  And the initial answer was, “God did reveal the glory of the ascended Christ to men!”  That question itself (What’s the value of all this…) admits to unhappiness with the subject matter; it admits to a disinterest – just like the seminary classes fifteen or sixteen years ago – in the Person of Christ.  It admits to the fact that there is no knowledge of and sense of the glory of Christ.  And it admits to the fact that men are focused on imminent things – exciting things – things having to do with themselves.  We’d rather sleep, or be restless, or get angry, or think about something else than to get involved with the uninteresting doctrines of the glorified and transcendant Christ!

The second, and subsidiary, answer to the question, “Why all this high and difficult theology?” was – “What’s being done now isn’t practical!”  If the bubbly preaching and the how-to-do-it books and the pastor/psychologist/counselors have left the Church in a declining, anemic and useless condition, then it isn’t working!  It isn’t practical!  And the seminaries want to do more of that which isn’t practical!

When men will preach the glory of Christ, and when congregations will hear the glory of Christ, then the Church will end its decline!  That’s practical!  That’s pragmatic!  That’s what works!  If I don’t preach it, the Church remains useless.  If you won’t hear it, the Church remains useless.  If the congregation will not turn its attention to the exalted Christ – if families won’t turn their attentions to the exalted Christ – if individual men, women and children won’t turn their attentions to the exalted and glorified Christ, then we’ll remain bound to our own troubles and continue the decline into pernicious spiritual anemia!  What works is to know Him.  What is practical is to live with a sense of His glory!  Let’s get our heads out of the smoke and dimness and dullness and darkness, and let’s turn ourselves to practical reality!

If you will hear, you will be revitalized and energized with His fullness.  If the seminaries will turn back to reality, men will gain the knowledge of the Glorified Savior.  And if the congregations will hear them, even though they may suffer, they will gain the reality of the Risen and Exalted Christ!  That’s the value of all this high and lofty Theology!  God revealed it.  And it is the “end” of man to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever!  The high and lofty Theology is practical!  What’s being called “practical” today is a miserable failure.

We learned last Lord’s Day that Jesus was “transformed” before His disciples.  He was changed from the “form” of man to the “form” of glory of which He had “emptied” Himself in order to become man.  This was a “sign” – and a prophetic image of what would occur, after His resurrection from the realm of the dead, when He would come with the glory cloud into the presence of His Father.

And the apostle Matthew gives us, in the language of prophetic imagery, a description of what happened.  And that language not only describes the particulars of the event, but it also provides us with the meaning of the event!  You see, Matthew didn’t just grab for words out of a thesaurus to give a suitable eyewitness account.  The language he used is the language of prophetic Scripture.  The words themselves divulge the “meaning” of the occurrence rather than just describing what happened!

Matthew has chosen the words very carefully, for this wasn’t just a passing “happening” in the life of Christ in order to show the disciples that He was the Messiah.  This was the Revelation of God concerning the glorification of His Son, which, in itself, is the “filling up” of the Law and the Prophets.  So in order that we might “know” Him, and have a sense of His glory, and be filled with the fullness of His glorious Person, we must know why Matthew used these words.  And we have to know what they mean – and know why they are the description of the glory of Christ!

Matthew says,


“and His countenance shone as the sun, and His garments became white as the light….”


That’s a description of His glory, you see.  The apostle Peter, later on, writes to the refugees in dispersion: 


“for we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His GLORY!” 


Matthew is describing the glory of the Second Person of the Triune Godhead – God the Son!

Now, considering the “high mountain” Theology and the “change of form” from the form of man to the form of glory, we need to know the meaning of Matthew’s word – countenance. 


“…and His countenance shone as the sun…” he says.


One of the most familiar places in the Bible using this word is Numbers chapter six and verses twenty-two through twenty-seven.  This is the passage having to do with the setting apart unto God of the high priesthood – and remember that Christ is our perfect High Priest:


“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, ‘Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, ‘On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.’”


The “lifting of His countenance” upon man.  The Scriptures indicate that on some occasions the lifting up of His countenance provides wondrous benefits.  On other occasions the lifting up of His countenance against law-breakers is in penal wrath!

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews, chapter nine, verse twenty-four, says this:


“…For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands (which are but the figures of the true), but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.”


The “presence” of God is our word countenance.

On Mount Sinai, Exodus chapter thirty-four, Moses spoke with God.  And the very countenance of God caused Moses’ face to shine with its glory.  And Moses covered it up so the people of Israel could not see it!  And the apostle Paul, when commenting on that event to the Church at Corinth (Second Corinthians three, fifteen) says,


“But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart (speaking of Israel).  Nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.”


The glory of the presence of God in the face of Moses was hidden from the people of Israel.  And it is still there.  They can’t see the glory of God.  Jesus Christ was the express image of God the Father, and they did not know Him!  But Christ has entered the heavenly holy of holies as our High Priest – for us.  And we can now see with uncovered faces – from glory unto glory! 


“And we beheld His glory – the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth!”


Matthew’s use of the word “countenance” in our text brings forward the whole corpus of Scripture with reference to the “Presence” of God.  The glory of God has been veiled form Israel until this time of the transformation of Christ.  And at the “end of the age” He unveils His glory to His disciples as a sign of that which is shortly to come.  His countenance is to be lifted upon all men in the New Age – except the veil will remain over the faces of the Jews until such time as they turn unto Christ.

Now, we won’t have anywhere near enough time to complete a discussion of His countenance having “shone as the sun”.  So what I’m going to do, for the next couple of minutes of the remaining time, is to pursue the Scriptures a little further with regard to the countenance of God.

And to do that I want to read a passage of Scripture in the Prophecy of Zechariah.  Chapter eight beginning at verse twenty-one.  This is the prophecy of the restoration of Jerusalem – the New Jerusalem – after its destruction, and the peoples of the world coming into it for worship.  Listen:


“And the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts:  I will go also.  Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.’  Thus saith the Lord of Hosts:  ‘In those days it shall come to pass that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, ‘We will go with you:  for we have heard that God is with you.’”


The issue here is the “presence” of God.  Where is His countenance found?  Where does one go to seek out His glory – and to pray – and to worship?  In the time of Zechariah and the rest of the prophets, God was to be found in temple worship.  He filled the temple with His glory.  And all the ceremonies of worship foretold the coming of the Messiah – God with us – the image of the Father.

In the prophetic terms of the Old Testament, all the old shadows would pass away when He came.  And “Jerusalem” would be restored under its New King.  Zechariah says that tongues and nations would flow into the New Jerusalem to seek God and worship Him.  And just as men assembled at the temple in the countenance of God, so we, in Christ, assemble in the Ekklesia to witness His glory and seek Him and worship Him.  The Ekklesia is the New Jerusalem.

The transformation of the Son of Man into glory is the sign that that has indeed occurred.  And the glory of the transcendant Christ is to be witnessed in the God-ordained worship of His people.  For we now see Him “from glory into glory.”  The High Priest has entered into the Holy of Holies, and we in Him.  And we behold the very Presence of God as we appear before Him, in Christ, for worship.

It is in the Church where Christ is normally to be found.  It is in the Church that He turns His countenance toward His people.  It is in the Church where men are unveiled – so they can see.  It is in the Church where His glory is manifested among His people.  And truly it is in the Church that God is with us – Immanuel.