Matthew 17:1-13 Part 7

 What we’re going to hear this morning is the confirmation that Jesus is the Christ – the Anointed One of God; that He is the radical “fullness” of the Law and the Prophets; that He is the “Re-creator” of Heaven and Earth; and that He is the “revealer” to men of the “mystery of God.”

In complete contradiction to the eschatological expectations of the leadership of Israel – and the disciples, Jesus said that He was going into Jerusalem to suffer many things at the hands of the elders and priests and scribes, and to be killed and on the third day to be raised.  Because of their false expectations of the Messiah, the disciples had objected strenuously to that purpose, telling Jesus that that was not going to happen!

Then Jesus takes them to a “high mountain” – figurative of His world dominion – and He is “transformed” before them in a manifestation of His true Divine purpose – that He was, indeed the Reality of the coming “Day of the Lord”; that He was King of the nations and Lord of creation.

But, even then, Peter mixes his false expectations with the Reality of what he saw!  That’s why Peter, in his second letter to the Churches, says that the Scriptures are a “more sure Word of Prophecy” than what he saw on that “high mountain”!  What he saw did not change his false expectations!

At the point of being shown “Moses and Elijah conferring with Jesus about His Exodus”, Peter (and James and John) misinterpreted the entire corpus of the Prophetic Word with regard to the Messiah of God was the fullness of the old tabernacle with its priesthood and its ceremonies and its sacrifices and the holy of holies.  They did not understand that Christ, Himself, was the New Tabernacle; and that He was the Priesthood, and the Offerer, and the Sacrifice ,and the Holy of Holies; and that He would dwell with men in the New Israel!  They did not yet understand that the “old” had to pass away in the conflagration of the wrath of God – in order for the “new” to be established!  The temple, with its holy of holies and its mercy seat, had to be destroyed – and the Glory Cloud and Cherubim (the Presence of God) had to depart – in order that Christ might dwell with men!  The shadows and analogies had to disappear, because the Reality was here!

There is a remarkable story in the writings of Josephus, who, as you may remember, was not only a writer of history but was also a commander in the armies of Israel.  This man was inside the walls of Jerusalem at the beginning of the siege in 66 AD (and managed to escape before the end came).  He later wrote down much of what happened during that time (all, of course, from the position of observer and participant, and not as an inspired theologian).

And it is recorded (and all of this happened, to the very day, exactly thirty-six years after Pentecost – 30 AD), it is recorded that, as the priests were readying the temple for the festivities of the day, there was a “violent commotion and din” followed by “a voice as of a host, crying ‘We are departing from here!’”

Josephus writes that many Christians believed that, at this point, God finally abandoned the sanctuary; that the temple was no longer the dwelling of God; and that the Deity had fled the holy places (a rushing sound)!  And it is even recorded (again, not inspired Revelation) that the Shekinah Glory of God then hovered over the Mount of Olives for the next three and a half years until the final siege and destruction of Jerusalem.

Now, although, as I said, these recorded historical events are not to be held in high esteem as are the inspired Scriptures, they do fit very well with that which is recorded – in the Revelation of St. John – and with that which is recorded by the prophets of the Older Scriptures!

Consider, for example, the prophecy of Ezekiel, the bulk of whose inspired writings dealt with the temple itself.  In chapters ten and eleven, Ezekiel was caused to see the Glory Cloud depart from the temple and travel east – i.e. to the Mount of Olives!  Then later, in his vision of the New Jerusalem (chapter forty-three), he sees the Glory Cloud returning to dwell in the New Temple – the prophecy of the Church!

And as the apostle John records in the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation, which has to do with the New Jerusalem: 


“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high Mountain, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the Glory of God….”  (same as what Ezekiel saw)


Now, it is impossible for us, as Christians, to hear/read all these things and not make the connection between them and that which we read in Matthew’s text! 


“During his speaking, lo, a radiant cloud (the Glory Cloud – the Shekinah Glory of God) did over-shadow them; and, lo, a voice out of the cloud saying, ‘This is My Son the Beloved, in Whom I did delight!  Hear Him.’”


And in addition to the obvious connections we also notice the two-fold use of Matthew’s little word “lo”, which, as we’ve already seen a number of times, carries with it the signal of an event of profound and ineffable significance!  Both of these statements of Matthew are punctuated with it; and the occurrence itself – the Ontological Presence of God the Father – was so dreadful and awesome that these three men were struck down as dead men with great fear.

So what we have to do this morning is to look, with fear and trembling, into the Glory Cloud, and the Voice out of the Cloud – as Matthew says.  And then we can make some conclusions about this occurrence at the Transformation of Jesus Christ on the “high mountain”.  And then, lastly, we will try to determine the meaning of the Words spoken from the Cloud.

First I would like to read for you a small portion of Psalm eighteen which is a prayer by king David when he was in deep distress.  Remember that David was a foreshadowing of Christ Himself: and, on many occasions, his words are the very words of Christ!  The thing to listen for in this Psalm is the response of God to the Words of His great king:


“In my distress I called upon Jahveh, and unto my God did I cry; He heard my call out of His temple, and my cry before Him came into His ears.  The earth shook and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains trembled, and they swung to and fro, for He was wroth.  There went up a smoke in His nostrils, and fire out of His mouth devoured, coals were kindled by it.  Then He bowed the heavens and came down, and thick darkness was under His feet, and He rode upon a cherub and did fly, and moved upon the wings of the wind; He made darkness His covering, His canopy round about Him darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.  Out of the brightness before Him there broke through His clouds, Hail-stones and coals of fire.  Then Yahveh thundered in the heavens, and the Highest made His voice to sound forth.  And He sent forth His arrows and scattered them, and lightnings in abundance and discomfited them, and the channels of the waters became visible, and the foundations of the earth were laid bare, at Thy threatenings, Jahveh, at the snorting of the breath of Thy wrath.”


Now, these phenomena are accompaniments of the Glory Cloud – just as we have seen in other parts of the Scriptures.  For example, listen to Moses as he writes about his experience on Mt. Sinai:


“So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound….  Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.”  (Exodus nineteen, sixteen and eighteen)


And, when read correctly, these are the same sights and sounds that Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden after they had sinned!  God did not come walking in the cool breeze of the day – what they heard was the explosive thundering and trumpeting of God blasting through the Garden – and they were so terrified that they hid themselves from the One with Whom they had had perfect fellowship and communion!

Now, of the many occurrences of the sights and sounds of the Glory Cloud let me take you to Ezekiel chapter one.  This is a little more lengthy passage, but your interest level will be very high.  This is the Revelation of the Glory Cloud to the prophet as he was being called of God:  Ezekiel says:


“And I looked, and, lo, a tempestuous wind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire rolled together like a ball, and the brightness of light round about it; and out of its midst, as the appearance of glowing metal from the midst of the fire.  And out of its midst there prominently appeared a figure consisting of four creatures, and this was their appearance….”


For the sake of brevity, I’ll refrain from reading the whole of the description of these creatures.  But Ezekiel describes their faces and their feet and their wings in great detail.  Their appearance was like coals of fire, and from the fire came forth lightning.  These creatures had height and terribleness (great immensity), and they had wheels beside them with eyes; and the wheels moved with the creatures.  And now we pick up with verse twenty-two:


“And over the heads of the creature there appeared an expanse (a firmament) like the appearance of a terrible crystal….”


This is a glittering mass of expanse – a canopy of fear-inspiring sights assured to produce great fear, for it wasn’t often that man was shown the very throne of God in the Glory Cloud!

Ezekiel continues:


“And under the expanse were their wings, extended straight one towards another; each had two wings, covering to these, and each had two covering their bodies.  And I heard the sound of their wings, as the sound of many waters, like the voice of the Almighty, as they went; a loud rushing like the clamour of a camp; And there came a voice from above the expanse….  Over the expanse above their heads was to be seen, like a sapphire, the figure resembling a man above it.  And I saw like the appearance of glowing brass, like the appearance of fire within it round about… and a shining light was round about it.  Like the appearance of the bow, which is in the clouds in the day of rain, was the appearance of the shining light round about.  This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahveh.”


And then, after Yahveh spoke to Ezekiel, the prophet then records this:


“…then the Spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, ‘Blessed the glory of the Lord from His place.’  I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing.”  (description of the phenomena – sights tandsounds of the Glory Cloud – the presence of Yahveh.)


Now, we know that the Glory Cloud had inhabited the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem; and that the fire of whole burnt offering outside the tabernacle was the fire that came down from the Glory Cloud of God; and that the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle was made with hands to be a replica of the one which we just read about – that Ezekiel saw!

In other words, the Glory-Cloud of God filled the room which was constructed to look just like the Throne-room of God which we just read about in Ezekiel!

Once annually, the priest had to enter the “pattern” (the replica) of the Throne-room of God, which had been built to God’s specifications by Moses – and again by Solomon.  But Hebrews chapter nine says,


“It was therefore necessary that the “pattern” (the figure of; the replica) those things in the heavens be purified with (the blood of animals), but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these!  For Christ is not entered into the Holy Places that were made with hands (which are only figures of the true), but into the heavens itself to appear in the Presence of God for us….”


In other words, Christ has now ascended with the Glory Cloud – into the very Throne room of God – the same one Ezekiel saw – and there is no more need for the earthly pattern, or figure!

And this is the same Glory-Cloud, with all its radiance and brightness, and sights and sounds; its pealing thunder and lightning and trumpeting voice of God, its sounds of mighty rushing waters (the wings and wheels of the Cherubim), which has overshadowed (hovered over) the mount of Jesus’ transformation!  And Peter and James and John were absolutely terrified, and became as dead men – just like what happened to Ezekiel.

But we are made even more aware of the meaning and significance of the Glory Cloud and the Voice from it by reading the Revelation of St. John; because in the Revelation the Lord Jesus Christ has already ascended in the Cloud to the Throne-room, and He is proceeding to destroy the nation of Israel and establish and protect His people in the New Israel!

And in chapter one we find the announcement of the theme of the Revelation, verse seven, where John says, “Behold, He is coming with the clouds….”  This isn’t the second coming of Christ, but rather the coming of Christ in judgment upon Israel!  It is the Glory Cloud, God’s heavenly chariot and Throne-room, by which God comes in judgment to destroy the wicked and by which He comes to tabernacle with His people!

In chapter four John hears a voice like the sound of a trumpet telling him to come up, and he describes what he saw:


“…and behold, a Throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting – like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the Throne, like an emerald in appearance….  And from the Throne proceeded flashes of lightning and voices and peals of thunder…. And before the Throne there was, as it were, a sea of glass like crystal; and in the middle of the Throne and around it were four living creatures… each one of them having six wings… full of eyes around and within.”


The apostle John was caught up into the Glory Cloud and witnessed the same things that happened on Mt. Sinai, and also the same things Ezekiel saw!  He saw the reality of the things that the tabernacle and temple only figured!

Then in chapter seven, the apostle John sees a remarkable thing.  It is the multitudes of the families and nations of the world, clothed in white robes, and worshipping before the Throne!  And an elder explains to John, verse sixteen, “He Who sits on the Throne shall spread His Tabernacle over them.”

In Psalm eighteen, which we read earlier, the Cloud/Canopy of God’s presence is also called a covering, which is the same word used to describe the position of the Cherubim in the holy of holies, and it is the same word translated “tents” or “booths” or “tabernacles”.  In other words the “covering” is the Glory Cloud.  It is the place where the Cherubim are, under the Throne of God.  It is the Tabernacle, or Throne-room of God which was figured by the holy of holies in the temple!

The elder says to John that the One Who sits on the Throne will spread His Glory Cloud (covering, canopy) over His people and tabernacle with them.  This is the signal of the salvation of the nations and the tabernacling of Christ with them in the very Glory Cloud of God!

Then we see, with John, the witness of Jesus Christ Himself to the creation of the New Heavens and the New Earth.  He comes down “clothed with a cloud” – the Glory Cloud; He has a rainbow on His head – the same one we heard about in Ezekiel chapter one; His Countenance (Person) was like the sun – exactly the words we see here in our Matthew seventeen text; and His legs like pillars of fire, one on the land and one on the sea.  (And it is interesting to note that the “legs of God” were incorporated into the architecture of the Temple; and so the Ark of the Covenant itself, located beneath the enthroned Glory, is called the “footstool” of God!)

And standing on Israel and the nations, He cries out with a loud voice as when a lion roars – and the seven peals of thunder respond.  He then lifted His right hand and swore an oath that there shall be no more delay in accomplishing the Mystery of God.  He thereby ratifies the covenant with the New Heavens and the New Earth.  He will tabernacle with them and He will be their God and they will be His people.

And then, in chapter fifteen, the Tabernacle in Heaven was opened to release the angels of the wrath of God.  And the living creature we saw in Ezekiel chapter one gives the angels seven bowls of the wrath of God in order to bring an end to Babylon the Great.

There is so much more to say, but so little time.  Let’s conclude the preaching of the Glory Cloud with Revelation chapter twenty-one and verse three:


“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God.’”


That is a quote from Moses in Leviticus, that the Holy God will dwell with a holy people.  That is to say that the Shekinah glory of God – the visible glory of God, the heavenly tabernacle seen by Ezekiel and John, dwells with us and shelters us and covers us.  The figures and symbols and foreshadowings are all gone – the Presence and Glory of God dwells with – tabernacles with – us.  It’s no longer in figures, but in reality!

And as Paul says, all those in the New Jerusalem are to reflect the Light and Presence and Brightness of Christ – bearing the image of the glorified Christ.  “We all,” he says, “with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the Glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

We all serve Him in the Glory Cloud – covering – of His Tabernacle; and we take on His image; we bear His Mark; and we wear His Name; and we reflect His Glory in our lives, and in our speech, and in our worship, and in our work.

The Glory Cloud at Jesus’ Transformation said all these things.  (It was a prophetic image of what was about to occur.  It was a confirmation of who Jesus was.)  And it was the Voice from the Cloud trumpeting the prophecies of the Scriptures concerning His coming!  He was coming in judgment to terminate the old; and He was coming to tabernacle with His people in the New.

So is this not enough?

Isn’t it enough that the very Throne-room of God, the inner Holy of Holies, The Tabernacle, the Glory Cloud of the Presence of God, is now with us?  Isn’t it enough that we are to reflect the very Glory Cloud of God?  Isn’t it sufficient to know that, when others look in, they are to see the sanctuary where exists the Glory of the Presence of Christ?  Ezekiel saw it, and he became like a dead man.  Peter and James and John saw it, and they became as dead men.  And yet – that very Tabernacle is with us.  Among us.  Covering us.  Sheltering us.  Immanuel – God with us.

Isn’t that enough for us to put away our sin?

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says this regarding these things:


So, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering, (for He is faithful Who promised), And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works; not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.  (the end of the last days)  For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins….  But let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith; Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is sat down at the right hand of the Throne of God.”


May the Lord be pleased to open our eyes and our ears – that His Word might not return unto Him void.