The Transfiguration: A Preview of the Second Coming of Christ
April 30th, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
A PREVIEW OF THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-30-67 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message, and I have turned them around. The message that I had prepared for tonight, I am going to preach now – the morning service. And the one I prepared for the morning service, I am going to preach tonight. So tonight, the message will be The Brazen Serpent. And this morning, the message will be The Transfiguration: A Preview of the Second Coming of Christ. The reading of the passage is the last verse in the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and then reading the first eight verses of the seventeenth chapter:
Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart –
and was metamorphosized –
And was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light.
And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with Him.
Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, one for Moses, one for Elijah.
While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, which said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.
And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were sore afraid.
And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
Now the text of the passage, "Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" [Matthew 16:28].
Some while ago I wrote a book entitled Expository Notes on the Gospel of Matthew, and right after it was published there were some who came to me and said, "You have nothing at all to say about this passage, this text, this verse." And to my disappointment, I found that they were correct. And since that time, several have come to me and said, "We are disappointed that in that book you did not discuss this verse."
I cannot tell you why I did not discuss it. I suppose I was so bound up in writing about this incident with Simon Peter at Caesarea Philippi in the sixteenth chapter [Matthew 16:13-20], and then bound up with this discussion of the transfiguration in the seventeenth chapter, that I didn’t take time to look closely at this last verse. Or maybe at that time, I didn’t know what it meant, so just overlooked it, ignored it. If you don’t know anything, the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut; that is always true. I don’t know what happened, but since that time it has been on my mind and I have thought of it, and thought of it, and thought of it, and studied it, and read about it, and the time is come for me to speak concerning it. "Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" [Matthew 16:28].
It could refer to several things. It could refer to these disciples, these who were standing there in His presence, who would see the glory of God in the ensuing ministry of our Lord, such as in His raising of Lazarus from the dead [John 11:43-44]. It could mean something like that. They were going to see the power and majesty of the Lord in the glorious ministry of our Savior.
It could mean that they would see the Lord Jesus in His glory, coming in His kingdom, when He triumphed over sin and death and broke the bonds of the grave, when He was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-6] and ascended to heaven [Acts 1:9] and was seated on the right hand of God [Colossians 3:1]. It could mean that. There were some standing there who would not taste of death till they saw the Lord gloriously resurrected and triumphant over the principals and powers of darkness in death and the grave" [Matthew 28:1-6]. Could mean that.
It could refer to Pentecost, that ushered in this day and this dispensation of grace [Acts 2:1-42]. There were some standing there that would not die until they saw the Holy Spirit of God poured out into the earth, and the great marks of the witnessing church began and continues until He comes. It could mean that.
They are many, many fine discerning scholars who think it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the onward march of Christianity after the destruction of the Jewish state. They base that on the fact that Jesus says, "Verily, I say unto you, there be some standing here who shall not taste of death" [Matthew 16:28]. And the idea, of course, fits. There were some of them who would still be alive when they saw the great judgment of God as witnessed in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, which, according to the twenty-fourth chapter of this Gospel of Matthew, is a preview of the ultimate judgment upon this world [Matthew 24:1-35]. Well, they have a point there. It could mean that.
But one of the things that it also can mean, it can refer to what immediately followed, which is a preview, an anticipation, a miniature, a presentation of the second coming of Christ.
Now, there are several things that point in that direction. And certainly, what happened is a fulfillment of it, which is the sermon this morning. The thing that points in that direction is the ninth chapter of Mark, that tells this same story, puts this verse with the transfiguration. When Matthew wrote this Gospel there were no chapter headings in it. So here in the Bible, well, you have this verse up here by itself [Matthew 16:28], then you have a chapter heading as though what followed is something different. Mark, when they made the chapter heading, didn’t divide it that way. He put that verse [Mark 9:1], his text I’ve read, with the story of the transfiguration [Mark 9:2-8].
Now the ninth chapter of Luke tells this story, and he puts it with this verse right in the middle of the ninth chapter of the Book of Luke [Luke 9:27]. So when I pick up this Bible and I read that text, I notice that the next verse says, "And verily, I say unto you, there be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom [Matthew 16:28]; "and" [Matthew 17:1], as though it’s a continuation of the same thing.
But the decisive interpretation to me is found in what Simon Peter wrote about this incident in the first chapter of his second epistle, where he says that, "When we made known unto you the power and parousia of our Lord Jesus Christ, and were witnesses of His majesty" [2 Peter 1:16]. And he describes this scene, this transfiguration on the holy mount, and he refers to that scene as the parousia [2 Peter 1:17]. And in the New Testament the parousia – and we’ve taken that word into the English language – the parousia is the coming of the Lord. It is a New Testament word that refers to the second coming of Christ, the advent of our Savior. Taking, therefore, Simon Peter’s interpretation of what this meant and looking at it as it is written in the Bible, I know, whatever else it may mean, I know that this incident that happened, this transfiguration of our Lord, is a fulfillment of that word of our Savior [Matthew 16:28] and is a preview, a miniature, of the second coming of Christ [Matthew 25:31].
So let’s look at it: first, the place that it happened. Up there in the north of Palestine was a place called Dan. And that’s where the expression came from, "from Dan to Beersheba" [2 Samuel 17:11], down in the extreme, southern parts of the Negev. In the days of the Roman Empire, they changed the name of that place Dan to Caesarea Philippi – Philip, one of the Herodian princes who dedicated it to Caesar – Caesarea Philippi, it’s at the head waters of the Jordan River. It’s at the base of the tremendous Mt. Hermon, covered with snow, and that melting snow is the source of the Jordan River. The Jordan doesn’t run because of the rains, it’s too dry, but it comes out of that mountain. And at the base of that mountain is Caesarea Philippi.
And Jesus was there with His disciples. And that’s where He turned to Simon Peter, and said, "Thou art a rock, a petros, and upon this petra," that great ledge, "I will build My church; and the gates of Hades," the powers of death, "shall not hold it down" [Matthew 16:18]. The only thing that shall live in this world is the church, the resurrected body of Christ. All other relationships in this world will perish. Death dissolves them; whether they are political, or economic, or marital, or social, all of them are dissolved in this world, except the relationship we have in Christ. Now He is at Caesarea Philippi, and that’s where that incident happened [Matthew 17:1-8].
Now while they were there – and this is about seven months before His crucifixion – they apparently went up on the top of that mountain, or near the top of it, for an all-night prayer meeting because in the ninth chapter of the Book of Luke, as he describes this, He says that "their eyes were heavy with sleep" [Luke 9:32]. And he says, "The next day they came down from the mountain" [Luke 9:37]. So they’re up there on Mt. Hermon, that great ten-thousand-foot peak, that’s the source of the Jordan River and they are apparently gathered, Jesus, Peter, James, and John; the four of them, for an all-night prayer meeting.
Now the witnesses to this incident that happened were those three disciples: Peter, James, and John. We do not have a record of it from James, John’s brother, the son of Zebedee, because Herod cut off his head [Acts 12:1-2]. Herod beheaded him, described in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Acts; Herod Agrippa slew James, and you don’t have a record from James. But you have a meticulous record from Simon Peter, for he wrote in the first chapter of his second book:
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and parousia 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 Excellent 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.
[2 Peter 1:16-18]
Simon Peter writes of this incident years and years later. The other witness who lived was the apostle John. And he wrote of it like this in John 1:14, "And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, the glory of the Son of God."
What happened was, while they were up there on that mount and praying, the disciples were sleeping and apparently fell asleep. And while they were there in that all-night prayer meeting and the disciples eyes heavy with slumber [Luke 9:32], they were suddenly awakened. And Luke makes a very decided point of that. "And when they were awake, they saw His glory, and the two men that stood with Him" [Luke 9:32]. "When they were awake"; this is no vision, this is no dream. This is something they saw and heard; they were awake!
There came a luminous cloud, a brilliant cloud [Matthew 17:5]. And the face of Jesus became bright like the sun, and His garments were white as the light [Matthew 17:2]. He was transfigured, He was metamorphosized; the Greek word is metamorphoō. The Greek word for "form, shape," is morphē, morphē; "outward appearance; form, shape." Metamorphoō means to change the shape, a metamorphosis. This is the exact word in our language. Jesus was transfigured [Matthew 17:2]. He was metamorphosized. The deity of our Lord shown through His humanity.
Now, what does that mean? And what does this incident refer to? I take my key from what the Lord said, "Truly I say unto you, There be some standing here who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" [Matthew 16:28]. So we have here a miniature, a preview, an earnest, an anticipatory scene of what it shall be at the consummation of the age. Well, what shall it be?
First, I speak of this bright cloud, nephēlē phōteinē, brilliant, luminous, phōteinē, filled with light [Matthew 17:5]. And whenever you read of the presence of God you will learn that the "robes of the Lord" is the shekinah. Oh, how many times do you see that in the Bible? "Behold," writes John in the Revelation, which is the text of the Apocalypse, Revelation 1:7, "Behold, He cometh with clouds; every eye shall see
Him . . . Behold, He cometh with clouds," the garments of God! Do you ever think, "Where did Jesus go when He ascended into heaven?" And as the disciples looked and the Lord was parting from them, a cloud received Him out of their sight [Acts 1:9]. He put on again the garments of deity, a cloud received Him, enveloped Him: the shekinah of God. In the Exodus wanderings, when the Israelites saw it in the daytime it looked like a cloud, and when the Israelites looked upon it in the nighttime it looked like a flaming fire [Exodus 13:21].
When Solomon built his temple, the priests could not enter it for the "garments of God filled it" [2 Chronicles 7:1-2]. In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, he says, "I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple, and His glory filled the earth" [Isaiah 6:1, 3]. And Isaiah thought it looked like smoke, and the house was filled with smoke [Isaiah 6:4]. Above the mercy seat, there burned that shekinah, the glory of God [Isaiah 6:1, Ezekiel 1:4]. That’s what the cloud means; it’s not a mist or a vapor, like rain falls from it, but it is the glory of God [Matthew 17:5]. It’s the iridescence of God. They are the garments of the Lord [Matthew 17:2]. And when the Lord comes, He will come in the glory of that luminous, burning, brilliant, iridescent light, the cloud – a nephelē phōteinē – a luminous, brilliant, burning; the garments of God. And when Jesus comes that’s how you will see Him, "Behold, He cometh with clouds" [Revelation 1:7], the garments of the Lord.
All right, the next thing, "And He is metamorphosized, He is transfigured before them" [Matthew 17:2]. And John wrote of it like this, "And we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of God; the glory of the Father" [John 1:14]. The glory, what is the glory of Jesus?
In the New Testament, it always refers to the second coming of Christ. For when He came the first time He came in humiliation [Acts 8:33]; He came in lowliness; He came to be despised and rejected, and not esteemed [Isaiah 53:3]. He came to be bruised and to be hurt [Genesis 3:15]; He came to suffer and to die [John 12:27; Hebrews 10:5-14]. The first time the Lord came He came as a servant, as a slave, and humbled Himself unto death [Philippians 2:6-8], in the dust of the ground, and they laid Him in the heart of the earth [Matthew 27:57-61].
But the second time He shall come, He shall come in His glory [Matthew 25:31]. And when John says, "And we beheld His glory, the glory as of God Himself" [John 1:14], describing this incident, he is describing the Lord Jesus in His second coming. This is a little preview, a harbinger, an earnest, of how it shall be when the Lord shall come again.
Now that is never deviated from in the Bible. For example, in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Matthew, the Lord says:
When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him,
then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory,
and before Him shall be gathered all the nations.
So this is a preview of what the Lord will look like when He comes the second time in His glory. His face will be bright like the sun, and His clothing will be white like the light [Matthew 17:2], and His train will be like a burning and luminous cloud when He comes in His glory [Matthew 17:5]. As Mark 8:38 says, the last verse in the eighth chapter of Mark:
Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and My words before this evil and sinful generation;
of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed,
when He comes in the glory of His Father, with [all] the holy angels.
The transfiguration of Christ is a preview of the glory of Jesus, when we see Him again, the second time [Matthew 17:3].
All right, look again, "And there appeared unto Him, Moses, and Elijah, talking with Him." Now, what could that be? Ah, very, very plain! Moses died and was buried [Deuteronomy 34:5-6]. Elijah was immortalized; he was translated. He was glorified, having not seen death, and he was taken up by a whirlwind into heaven – the chariot of fire and the horses of fire came for Elijah – and he went up into glory, immortalized [2 Kings 2:11]. This is a preview of how it shall be when the Lord shall come in His glory.
First, Moses: Moses died, and was buried [Deuteronomy 34:5-6] and is resurrected. He is the earnest and the type of those who shall fall into the dust of the ground in death, and who shall be spoken by the word of the Lord into life, into resurrection of glory [1 Thessalonians 4:16]. In the ninth verse of the Book of Jude, you read that Michael the archangel, disputing with Satan, contended about the body of Moses [Jude 9]. What did the devil want with the body of Moses when Michael the archangel and Satan disputed about the body of Moses? Well possibly, the devil wanted to use it – the body of Moses – as an instrument of idolatry, to lead Israel into idolatry. Because the nation revered Moses, that if Satan had his body, he could lead them away into an idolatrous worship of the body of the great lawgiver. Possibly, that’s right.
But this to me is more likely: the body, that house you live in, the body, your mortal body is precious in the sight of God. Even though it is buried in the heart of the earth and the roots of a great tree suck its substance and strength, or even though it is buried in the depths of the sea, there is a dust, there are atoms, there are molecules that are marked by the Lord God. And the heart of the Christian faith, the heart of the Christian faith is the resurrection from the dead [Acts 23:6].
Any Egyptian believed in immortality. Look at all of those Books of the Dead they put with the mummies. And that’s the reason they mummified their dead; all of the Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul. The Romans believed in the immortality of the soul. There’s not any people that do not believe in the immortality of the soul, except the few atheists and infidels; but the great mass of humanity believed in the immortality of the soul, that’s not the point. The great, new message of the Christian faith was that the body should be raised from the dead [Acts 17:18]. The body in which you live shall be raised from the dead. And you see that expressed in the catacombs in Rome.
The Romans burned the body, like this astronaut, cosmonaut, of the Russians. They don’t believe in God. They don’t believe in Christ. They don’t believe in the resurrection from the dead. And they burned that cosmonaut, and put his ashes there in the Kremlin wall. That’s what the pagan Romans did.
What did the Christians do with their beloved dead? They went down into the heart of the earth where nobody could see, and nobody would know. And miles and miles, and hundreds and hundreds of miles and miles and miles, they carved those great caverns called catacombs underneath the foundation of Rome, and there they laid their beloved dead away because they believed that Christ would raise them from the dead some glorious and final day.
To me, cremation is pagan in the extreme. But to embalm the body and carefully to lay our beloved dead away is of all things Christian. That’s where you got that word "cemetery." There was no word "cemetery," koimētērion, the Greek sleeping place – when you take the Greek in the English language, it comes out "cemetery" – there was no such place as a "sleeping place," until Christianity was preached.
It is a marking of God when one of His missionaries falls on a foreign field. God marks the place. When a soldier lad is unknown, and he lies in an unknown grave on some foreign field, God marks the place. That is a part of the infinitude of the omniscience of God: He sees. And in this dust, there is a finer dust concealed. We shall be raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. This is at the very heart of the Christian faith.
I would not have you without knowledge, my brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that you sorrow not, as these pagans and heathens, who have no hope.
For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.
But we say unto you by the word of the Lord,
That the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first.
[1 Thessalonians 4:13-16]
The first order of events when Jesus comes is the resurrection from the dead. That’s the sign you can tell that the Lord is come. When somebody says, "The Lord is come, the Messiah is here," go out to the koimētērion, the Christian sleeping place, see whether the dead have arisen. The first event in the glorious return of our Lord is the resurrection from the dead, "and the dead in Christ shall rise first" [1 Thessalonians 4:16].
And that little preview, that little harbinger, that earnest, is the resurrected Moses talking to Jesus [Matthew 17:3]. When was Moses resurrected? Well, either this is a spiritualization or Moses was raised when that little band of firstfruits was raised at the resurrection of Jesus; when some of the saints were raised from the dead at the resurrection of Jesus [Matthew 27:52], a little band were raised, a little firstfruits [1 Corinthians 15:23]. And Moses could’ve been raised then, I don’t know. This was before that time. I can’t put it together, it’s a mystery beyond what I can say; but he represents these that are raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16].
Now the other, Elijah: "And there appeared unto Him Moses and Elijah" [Matthew 17:3]. Elijah represents us who are going to be alive when the Lord comes [1 Corinthians 15:51-52]. There shall be a generation that shall never taste of death. "Then we who are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord" [1 Thessalonians 4:17].
Or, as the triumphant word in the glorious fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is written, "This I say, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" [1 Corinthians 15:50]. As long as you are in this flesh, you are shut out from the presence of the Lord. You are shut out from heaven. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and corruption cannot inherit incorruption. But I show you a mustērion, " a secret kept in the heart of God until the Lord revealed it to His holy apostles, "But I show you a mustērion, We shall not all sleep," we are not all going to die, "but we are all going to be changed" [1 Corinthians 15:50-51], metamorphosized, immortalized, glorified; but we’re not all going to die.
"In a moment, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" [1 Corinthians 15:52]. I wish we could sing that this morning, don’t you have a song like that? "In a moment, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, in a moment, in a moment." What is the twinkling of an eye? Now when you say that, "the twinkling of an eye," you think of the blinking of an eye, blinking of an eye. That’s long compared to what this means. The blinking of an eye is a long time compared to what this means, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." That word translated here, "the twinkling of an eye," means that light of recognition when you see somebody you know. You know, just like that. You look at them, just like that. Oh, you could – a blink is a long time compared to that recognition in your eye, in the twinkling of an eye, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump." For that’s when the dead shall be raised first, and then we shall all be changed; all of us [1 Corinthians 15:52] – all of us, all of us – and Elijah is that harbinger, that earnest in this preview of the second coming of Christ. Moses raised from the dead [Matthew 17:3]; Elijah translated, like Enoch [Genesis 5:24], that he should not see death. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, all of us change [1 Corinthians 15:51-52].
Oh! I don’t want to quit. I’ve got two more things I want to say. It’s one thing to be an infidel, to be a pagan, to be a heathen. It’s an altogether different thing to be a Christian. And one of those differences lies in the attitude toward this human body, "Brethren, if the earthly house of our tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" [2 Corinthians 5:1], this house, this house.
Our song is going to be 269, "Blessed Assurance." And while we sing it, somebody you, give himself to Jesus. A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church, a couple you, or one somebody you, as God shall open the door, shall say the word, come. We’re late this morning; I preached far too long. When you stand up, stand up coming. On the first note of the first stanza, come. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.