Devotional: Matthew 17:1-13
From Holly: This section of Scripture involves what we call the “transfiguration” of Jesus. This word means to “change into another form”. Interestingly, this is the same word that Paul uses in Romans 12:2, when he tells his readers to “be transformed”. This word is a compound where the first part (meta) implies change and the second part (morphe) means “form”, stressing an inward change. Paul uses this same word again in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory—just as from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” When Paul speaks of his readers being “transformed”, he is referring to our inward change that begins with the rebirth by the Holy Spirit. I believe that when this word is used by Matthew, it is still referring to an inward change, but it is that of the inward glory of the Godhead (remember, Jesus was equally man and God) changing from being “hidden” from view to shining forth for all to see.
We can get a little more information about this event from reading Luke’s account of it in Luke 9. This took place about a week after Jesus had predicted His death and resurrection (Matthew 16:21, Luke 9:21), and also told the Disciples that some of them would “not taste death until they saw the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:28, and Luke 9:27). This may explain the subject of erecting “booths” or “tents”. One commentary I read suggested that Peter was referring to the “sukkot” that the Jews build for themselves during the Feast of Tabernacles. This represents to the Jewish people not only (looking back) to the time that their ancestors spent in the wilderness, but also (looking forward) to the coming Kingdom of God on earth. John speaks of the Word coming to “Tabernacle among us” (John 1:14), applying it to His first advent. I think that it is very appropriate to also apply that phrase to His Second Coming. The same commentary suggested that when in Luke 9:28-36 we read that Peter spoke, “not realizing what he was saying”, Luke doesn’t mean that he was just babbling because he was so overwhelmed by the sight. Instead, it suggests that Luke is pointing out that while Peter recognized the Kingdom significance of this event, he had momentarily forgotten that Jesus had also told them that He must suffer prior to the Kingdom coming.
In any case, I think that the most important thing we can take away from this scene is what is said in verse 5 in Matthew’s account (verse 35, in Luke’s account), “ While He was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice from out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!’” I believe that Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets. As good Jews, the Disciples would have held both the Law and the Prophets in high esteem. However, both of them point to Messiah (Christ) Jesus. He is the fulfillment of all Scripture, superior to both the Law and the Prophets (Hebrews chapters 1-3 and 8-10). Therefore, God Himself reminds Peter, James and John that it is Messiah Jesus that they should be listening to from this point on. I think that in this case, the meaning of “listening” or “hearing” is not just physically hearing via the ear, but also denotes “understanding” what is being heard. It is like God is saying to the Disciples (and to us), “Pay attention to what My beloved Son says. Obey Him.”
And what was the first thing He said? “Arise.” After looking up this word, it seems to me it has the idea of “pull yourself together and get up”. The second thing He said was “Don’t be afraid”. It is interesting to me that the first response to hearing God speak was fear. Exodus 19 and 20 record this event. Exodus 20:18-19 tell us that the Israelites were so frightened that they told Moses that they didn’t want God to speak to them anymore, but that they wanted Moses to speak for God. Here in Matthew, we see that Peter, James and John, who had been with Jesus 24/7 are suddenly overcome with fear in the presence of His glorified state. How often do we tend to forget just Who it is we are in relationship with? Truly, Messiah Jesus is not Someone to trifle with or become complacent about.
As I mentioned when we were studying Malachi 3:1, I believe that the coming of “Elijah” prior to the appearing of Messiah Jesus is multiple-layered. That is why here in Matthew, Jesus is recorded as saying both that he “is coming” and that he “already came”. John the Baptist had come prior to Jesus earthly ministry, preparing the Jewish people to receive Him. Now, here prior to Jesus crucifixion, Elijah had shows up, spurring Peter to recognize the “imminence” of the Kingdom. I wonder if it is because it is through trusting in the atoning sacrifice of Christ for our sin(s) and His resurrection that we become citizens of His kingdom? Then, adding one more layer, as I mentioned before, I believe that Elijah will be one of the two witnesses that will preach during the Tribulation, once again preceding the advent of Messiah Jesus’ coming to reign in His Kingdom on earth.
One final comment, this event that Peter witnessed had a big impact on his life. In his second letter (2 Peter 1:16-19), he mentions being an eyewitness to Christ’s majesty and glory, and “ear witness” to God’s testifying regarding His Son. Verse 19 makes it clear that seeing and hearing Messiah Jesus glorified in this way made him more certain of the prophecies contained in Scripture. It is interesting that we have Peter’s report of what he saw and experienced of this transfiguration event included in Scripture so that we (who trust Him even though we have not seen Him—1 Peter 1:8-9) can also be more certain of the Truth and trustworthiness of God’s written Word.
Devotional reading to be shared on July 29: 1 Peter 3:1-22