The Transfiguration of Christ
May 21st, 1967 @ 7:30 PM
THE TRANSFIGURATION OF CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-21-67 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message on The Transfiguration. The last time I spoke in this context, I used the transfiguration as a background, as a harbinger of the glorious return of our Lord. Now the message tonight will be upon the immediate meaning of this glorious metamorphosis. Now we read the first eight verses, the first eight verses of Matthew 17, and all of us reading it out loud together:
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
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, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold 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 exposition of the passage tonight will be its immediate meaning. Last time we spoke of it being an outline, a dramatic foreview of the glorious return of our Lord. "I say unto you," said Jesus, "there be some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" [Matthew 16:28]. And a foreview, a preview, an adumbration, an outline, a dramatic presentation of what we shall see and be when Jesus comes again is in this glorious, glorious transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-8]. Now tonight we shall look at it in its immediate meaning.
Now on the top of that high mountain, either a spur or Mount Hermon itself, up there in Dan, in the north of Palestine, above the Jordan and above the Lake of Galilee, they are there for an all-night prayer meeting. And in the night, when the disciples’ eyes were heavy [Luke 9:32], they were suddenly awakened, and they saw this with their natural eyes, and they heard it with their natural ears. And looking up they saw Jesus metamorphoō, metamorphosized before them. "His face shone like the sun, and His raiment was white as the light" [Matthew 17:2].
A metamorphosis is one of the most interesting phenomena to be observed in nature. It is a marvelous thing to behold. If it is marvelous in nature, think how glorious and incomparable it must be when God touches this human frame, the deity of our Lord shining through. Now to go back to the interesting, the fascinating metamorphoses we find in nature: that is the change of a substance without changing its essential nature. It is the same, but it is altogether different; it is elevated, it is metamorphosized, is it transfigured, it is changed gloriously. You see it everywhere. It is commonplace around us.
For example, charcoal is pure carbon. Charcoal, heated under tremendous pressure, and the same charcoal will become a brilliant, flashing diamond. It is the same; it is carbon. One is charcoal; the other is an iridescent gem. Water: ice, cold ice – raise it in temperature, it is water, flowing water; raise it in temperature, it is steam; raise it in temperature, it is invisible and has infinite power. Sand: melt it, it becomes glass, beautiful glass. Or again, the mud: add a little seed that borrows power from God for a summertime, and the muck and the dirt become gloriously beautiful, beyond what any robes and embellishments that Solomon could command.
Or look again: a bird’s egg; isn’t that an amazing thing? That little bird that hatches, he’s bound to be what was in that egg. It just has to be. There wasn’t anything added, nothing taken away. But that little bird that cheeps and beeps and opens its mouth and finally grows up is that egg. It is the same substance; it has got to be. Or the metamorphosis of a caterpillar: that ugly, creepy, hairy, fuzzy, multitudinous-legged worm is a glorious, beautiful flying butterfly. Isn’t that amazing, the phenomena that we see around us? These are just earnests and harbingers of the glorious metamorphosis of our human frames. And we see it gloriously, infinitely exalted in the transfiguration of our Lord [Matthew 17:1-8].
That same thing that happens in the physical world happens in the spiritual world; the possibility of a transfiguration, a glorious change. He is the same man. That’s his name. That’s his frame, that’s his physical walk and talk – but oh, he’s a different man! He’s been transfigurated. Simon Peter was a cursing, swearing, rough man of the sea, but he’s Christ’s chief apostle, he’s been metamorphosized; he’s been transfigured. He’s a new man.
In the days of this last generation, the great preachers of America went to England, and they took such-and-such great preacher and put him in a high-steepled church in London, and they put such-and-such great preacher and put him in another high-steepled church in London. And they scattered those great preachers all over the city of London. But they took Mel Trotter – now Mel Trotter was a drunkard, and God lifted him up out of the gutter and made a glorious preacher out of him – they took Mel Trotter and they stuck him in Hyde Park. So somebody talked to him about that, all these other preachers from America in these high pulpits and these high-steepled churches, and Mel Trotter, they stuck in Hyde Park. And they asked him about it.
"Why," he said, "I understand, that’s all right with me. I understand." He said, "You know, when I was converted, I lost three-fourths of my vocabulary." What a metamorphosis! He’s a changed man. Ah, the possibilities!
"And He was transfigured before them, and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light" [Matthew 17:2].
Now the immediate meaning and purpose of the transfiguration is stated succinctly in a verse in Luke. As Luke describes this marvelous, glorious event, he says, "There appeared unto Him Moses and Elijah and spake of the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem" [Luke 9:30-31]. And that is one of the most revealing of all of the sentences in God’s Book.
Now I shall speak of it. Moses and Elijah; what were they saying to Jesus? Luke says they appeared to Him in glory and spake of the exodos, translated "decease," which He should accomplish, plēroō, which He should fulfill in Jerusalem [Luke 9:31].
Now I can understand the human element that lay in the physical sacrifice of the body of our Lord. He prayed, "O God, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me" [Matthew 26:39]. And I can understand the abject, abysmal discouragement of the apostles when they saw Jesus die. Every messianic hope to them had been dashed to the ground. So I can see in this a great encouragement to our Lord and to the disciples.
Satan offered Jesus the crown without the cross. "You fall down and worship me; I will give You all the kingdoms of the world and their glory." And the Lord refused [Matthew 4:8-10]. And when Jesus announced to His disciples the Son of Man must die, Simon Peter took Him and rebuked Him and said, "Lord, that be far from Thee" [Matthew 16:21-22]. It is the weakness of human nature to seek in monuments and victories and glories and conquests without cost and without price.
The crown without the cross; it was offered to our Lord, and He refused it [Matthew 4:810]. First, death, consecration, commitment; and then God’s everlasting commendation and exaltation. "Wherefore," because He suffered unto death, "wherefore – therefore God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus, the whole universe, above, below, around, should bow" [Philippians 2:9-10]. Now this was an encouragement to our Lord and an encouragement to the three disciples, speaking about His decease, His exodus, which He should plēroō, accomplish, in Jerusalem [Luke 9:30-31].
The first thing you would notice when you look at that passage is this: the word exodos is never used by Greek authors to refer to death. You just don’t find it. Yet you read it here, exodos, the word exodus, the Greek word exodos. Typically it is used by the author of the Hebrews, the Book of the Hebrews, referring to the deliverance and the journey of the people of Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land, the exodos. The second book in the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, is rightly called and named "Exodus." But this word refers to death, the exodos of our Lord. And the only other time – it is used twice in that sense – the only other time is in 2 Peter 1:15, when the same glorious transfiguration is repeated, described by Simon Peter. "The exodos of our Lord, which He should plēroō, which He should fulfill in Jerusalem" [Luke 9:30-31].
Well, what was that? When Moses appeared on one side of the Savior and Elijah appeared on the other side of the Lord; and they spake to Him, not about death as such, but they spake to Him about His exodus, about His translation, about all that it included and meant, when He should plēroō, fulfill all of these glorious Scriptures and the purposes of God in Jerusalem. What is that?
Now I can’t talk heavenly language, and what I say shall be very stammering and stumbling. Maybe I ought not to attempt it, but I don’t know any other way to delineate what that means except for me to try stumblingly to say it. Now this is what that refers to, "On one side of Him stood Moses." And Moses said to the Lord Jesus, "Lord Jesus, that cross certainly awaits and that atoning death must be offered unto God for our sins. For I am here, Lord Jesus, because of the pledge You made in heaven to die for my sins [Hebrews 10:7-9]. Lord Jesus, the law demands a sacrifice, the law says the life is in the blood, and "I have given it upon the altar for an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul" [Leviticus 17:11]. Lord Jesus, every sacrifice in the old covenant pointed to You. Every hope in the old covenant found in You. The sacrifice of Abel [Genesis 4:4], pointed to You, Lord. The Passover Lamb and the blood sprinkled on the door posts [Exodus 12:3-7, 13, 22-23] pointed to You, dear Lord. The sacrifice of the lamb every day on the altar, morning and evening, spoke of You, dear Lord. And blessed Savior," said Moses, "if we have any hope, if we have any life, if we have any remission of sins, if we can someday see God’s face and live, Lord Jesus, it depends upon Your fulfilling those great atoning commitments. Lord Jesus, without Thee, I cannot be here – and no place for me in heaven or in glory. Lord Jesus," says Moses, "I am looking to You."
And Elijah, on the other side: as Moses represented the law, so Elijah represents the prophets who lifted up their voices through the centuries and the centuries and spake of Him who was yet to come. And I can hear Elijah as he speaks to our blessed Savior, and he says, "Blessed Lord, I am here because of the promise and the commitment You made to die for our sins [Hebrews 10:7-9]. And without Thee, Lord, I cannot be saved and I cannot be in heaven. As a prophet and representing the prophets, we all look to Thee. Lord Jesus, did not one of Thy prophets say:
And He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace is upon Him: and with His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all . . .
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth.
The Lord shall see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied: and by His knowledge shall God justify many.
"Lord Jesus, all of the prophets have spoken of Thee, and without Thee, I cannot be saved. Master, the prophecy must be fulfilled. If we have hope for a heaven, You must die for our sins in Jerusalem."
Oh, and they appeared to Him in glory, Moses and Elijah, and spake of the exodus by which He should plēroō, fulfill [Luke 9:30-31], all the prophecies of God in Jerusalem. The finger that wrote the law pointed to Jesus [Exodus 31:18], the hand that smote the waters of the Jordan pointed to Jesus [Joshua 3:16-17], the grim voice of the lawgiver spake of Jesus, and that thundering of Elijah pointed to Him [Malachi 4:5]. "Behold God’s sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world" [John 1:29]. "And there appeared Moses and Elijah, and they spake of His exodus which He should fulfill all the promises of God in Jerusalem" [Luke 9:30-31]. What an amazing, what an amazing thought!
Are you ever asked, "How are people saved? How are they saved in the Old Testament? What is the difference in the saving of the New Testament?" There is never but one way to be saved, whether it is Abraham who lived before the law, or whether it is Moses who delivered the law, or whether it is the prophets who spake of the glorious coming of our Lord, or whether it is an apostle preaching the gospel of the good news, or a missionary, or an evangelist, or a preacher today who is telling the glorious tidings of Jesus. It is never changed; we are saved by looking to the Lord, never any other way; in the Old Testament, looking to Jesus; in the New Testament, looking to Jesus.
And when we all get to heaven, the Old Testament saints and the New Testament saints, we are all singing the same song: "Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood,to Him be glory and majesty and dominion forever and ever, amen, amen" [Revelation 1:6-7]. That’s the song of Moses and the Lamb; it’s the same song. Whether in the old covenant or whether in the new, it’s Jesus, Jehovah; Jesus, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world [John 1:29].
Now we must conclude. Back there in Matthew, after that luminous cloud, the shekinah glory, and the voice of the Father speaking out of the cloud [Matthew 17:5], the disciples fell on their face and were afraid – afraid, frightened, paralyzed in terror [Matthew 17:6]. Oh, the glory, the glory! And Jesus came and touched them and said, "Arise, be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw Jesus only" [Matthew 17:7-8].
Does that remind you of something else? The glory of the Lord transfigured, metamorphosized; deity, God, and the disciples, human beings, terrified, afraid, falling down in the dust on their faces. And Jesus, coming over to touch them, "Be not afraid." And they looked up and saw the sweet and blessed and precious Savior, Jesus only [Matthew 17:2-8]. What does that remind you of?
Doesn’t it reminds you of this: and when the sainted apostle John was on the lonely Isle of Patmos on the Lord’s Day, exiled to die of hunger and exposure, alone, the sea all around him, everybody he knew and loved across the sea [Revelation 1:9-10]. That’s what that means when it says up there in the New Jerusalem, "and there was no more sea" [Revelation 21:1]. No more separation, no ocean of water between God’s saints, God’s people, and God Himself. We will all be together, world without end in glory, and there is no more sea. The sainted apostle John was sent out into that sea on a little rocky island, there to die in exile. And on the Lord’s Day, worshipping in the Spirit of Jesus, he heard a great voice behind him as of the sound of many waters, and turning to see the voice that spake unto him, there and again is the metamorphosized and the transfigured Lord Jesus. His face as the sun in its strength, His feet as burning brass, His eyes as a flame of fire, and those beautiful robes of glory [Revelation 1:9-16].
And when John saw Him, the exalted, glorified Lord Jesus, he fell at His feet as dead [Revelation 1:17]. And the Lord – that same day, and the Lord took His right hand and placed it upon him, and said:
Fear not, fear not. I am He that liveth and was dead;
and, behold, I am alive for evermore,
and I have the keys of Death and of Hell.
Stand up, John; stand up, for I have a message to My churches.
[Adapted from Revelation 1:17-19]
And John wrote the glory of our triumph in the blessed Lord Jesus.
What we say about metamorphosis, the same essential nature. As He was in the days of His flesh, so He is, Deity in Glory. His heart, His sympathies, His understandings, His love, His grace, His mercy:
For we have not a High Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but in all things was tried as we are, though He without sin.
Wherefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, to find grace to help in time of need.
Come. Come. Come. That’s God’s invitation to the whole world: come. Come. Come [Revelation 22:17].
Our time is gone, but there is time and to spare to wait for you to give your heart to the Lord, to put your life in the fellowship of our dear church; you come. A family you, a couple you, one somebody you, a youth, a child; as the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, come now. On the first note of the first stanza, out of that seat, down here to the front, "Preacher, tonight, I make it now, and here I am now," while we stand and while we sing.