—APRIL 17.—MATT. 17:1-9.—
"We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father."—John 1:14.
LITTLE did the disciples imagine that our Lord's statement that some of them should not taste of death until they had seen the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom, would be fulfilled within six days to Peter, James and John in the Mount of Transfiguration. Yet so it was, and evidently it produced a great and designed effect upon the witnesses, one of whom, writing respecting it, says (2 Pet. 1:16-18), "We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming 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."
The transfiguration scene was not all that it appeared;—it was a "vision," as our Lord explained to the disciples when they were coming down from the mount. In this vision, as in all visions, the unreal appears real. Just so it was in the vision of John, on the Isle of Patmos, described in the book of Revelation. He saw, he heard, he talked, yet the things thus shown him in the vision were not realities—not beasts with many heads and many horns, and angels and vials and thrones, nor real dragons, etc., merely a vision. And a vision was in every sense of the word just as good, and really better suited to the purpose, than realities would have been.
Moses and Elias were not present on the mountain, personally, but were merely represented to the disciples in the vision. We know this not only from our Lord's statement, that it was a "vision," but also from his statement that no man had ascended up to heaven. (John 3:13; Acts 2:34.) We know also that Moses and Elijah could not have been there, since they were not resurrected from the dead; because our Lord Jesus himself was the "First-fruits of them that slept"—"the first-born from the dead, that in all things he might have the preeminence." (1 Cor. 15:20; Col. 1:18.) Furthermore the Apostle to the Hebrews distinctly mentions Moses and the prophets (which would include Elijah) and their faithfulness in the past and their acceptance with God; but he points out that they had not yet received their reward, and that they would not receive it until after we (the Gospel Church) shall have received our reward as joint-heirs with Christ in his Kingdom. "These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the [blessings of the] promise; God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect."—Heb. 11:39,40.
Since, then, the appearance of Moses and Elias with our Lord was an appearance merely, we properly inquire, What was the significance or meaning of this vision? We reply, It was a tableau, illustrative of the glorious Kingdom of Christ, as our Lord had predicted, and as Peter understood it and expressed it. In this tableau, the three disciples formed no part. They were merely witnesses. Christ was the central figure; his features and garments, shining with miraculous lustre, represented in figure the glories which belong to the [R2289 : page 111] spirit nature, which our Lord received at his resurrection, "the express image of the Father's person." It is this same spirit glory that is represented in the visions of Revelation, where our Lord is represented with eyes as a flame of fire, and his feet bright as burning brass, etc. (Rev. 1:14,15; 2:18.) At his second advent our Lord will no longer be flesh because, as he testified, "flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God." He is now, and ever will be, a glorious spirit being of the highest order—the divine nature: and the transfiguration was intended to convey to the minds of his disciples a faint conception of the glory which excelleth.
Moses represented the faithful overcomers who preceded our Lord, described by the Apostle (Heb. 11:39,40), who cannot be made perfect until the Kingdom shall have been established. Elijah represented the overcomers of the Gospel age.* The topic discussed in the vision was our Lord's crucifixion. (Luke 9:31.) The cross of Christ is thus pointed out as being the necessary thing in order that he might enter into his glory, as he himself expressed the matter after his resurrection, saying, "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26.) There could have been no Kingdom glory without the redemptive work. But this vision portrays the Kingdom glories which will ultimately result from our Lord's death.
Possibly, too, the vision was intended to represent the two classes who will be associated with the Lord in his Kingdom, first the Church—the body of Christ, his bride and joint-heir, who shall be like him and see and share his glory, as spirit beings. These in the present time are represented by Elijah. Second, the overcomers of the past, who shall be the earthly representatives of the Kingdom, as per our Lord's statement;—The world "shall see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom;" because they will be restored, perfected human beings: but the world will not see the Lord and the Church, his glorified spouse, because they will all have been changed from flesh and blood (human nature) and will be spirit beings and of the divine nature, and hence as invisible to men as are God and the angels.—1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; Heb. 11:27.
Of course, the disciples did not clearly comprehend the matter at the time, yet they realized a blessing and felt that it was "good to be there." Their meeting had started as a prayer-meeting: the three favorite disciples of the Lord accompanying him on this occasion, as on several other occasions—for instance, when he went in to awaken the daughter of Jairus from the sleep of death, and a little later than this in the Garden of Gethsemane, they were again his chosen and closest companions. We cannot suppose that the choice of these was an arbitrary one, but must suppose that there was something about these three men that made them specially companionable to the Lord. One thing about them that impresses every reader of the New Testament record is their faith in the Lord and their zeal for his cause. It was James and John who, in their zeal (but not according to knowledge), were about to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans, because they did not promptly recognize and cordially receive the Master. It was Peter who first promptly confessed Jesus as the Christ, the same Peter [R2289 : page 112] who drew his sword in the Master's defense, and declared that he would die with him. The Master himself was of a warm temperament, and naturally and properly was most drawn toward those who were similarly fervent.
There is a lesson here for us, to the effect that, if we would be closest to the Master and most frequently privileged to have fellowship with him, we should similarly have and cultivate this earnest, zealous spirit. Cold, calculating people may have other good qualities, but there is no room for coldness or even luke-warmness on the part of those who have once tasted that the Lord is gracious. With such, the love enkindled should lead to a consuming zeal. It was thus with our Lord Jesus, and this was one of the reasons why he was beloved of the Father. Speaking for him, the prophet said, "The zeal of thine house hath consumed me." Let all who desire to be pleasing in the Lord's sight become so filled with the same spirit of zeal for righteousness and truth that it will consume them as sacrifices upon the Lord's altar. Thus they will be most pleasing and acceptable to him through Jesus our Lord. As a rule, only the warm and zealous ever get free from Babylon. The others coolly calculate and weigh matters so long that the spirit of the world, the flesh and the devil puts fresh blinds on them, even after they have gotten into the light and see considerable.
Peter proposed making some booths on the mountaintop for the Lord and his guests. Luke adds, "Not knowing what he said." He was bewildered, confused, but in harmony with his natural temperament wished to say something. The voice from heaven, however, seemed to say, Be still! hearken rather to the words of my beloved Son. Not a few need to learn the lesson of quietness—to hear and learn, be taught of God, before they have much to say. Peter evidently learned, as we may judge from his after conduct, to be slower to speak and swifter to hear. (James 1:19.) This is an important lesson to all who would be servants of the Lord: we must learn that of ourselves we know nothing, and can do nothing aright. The proper learning of this lesson means a lesson in humility and in patience, a lesson respecting our own nothingness, and that "our sufficiency is of God." Those who reach this condition become apt students in the school of Christ—not forgetful hearers, but doers of the Word: and such only are prepared to teach the truth to others. Those who are too forward and ready to teach, before they have received instruction from the Lord, are very apt not to know what they say, as was Peter's case; and if such be true-hearted and worthy of being used of the Lord as his servants, they are very apt to receive numerous reproofs from time to time.
The first lesson for such to learn is that "The fear [reverence] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Thus, Peter's rash expression, "not knowing what he said," found a reproof in the voice from heaven which said, "Hear ye Him." And fear fell upon the disciples.
Not only is the fear of the Lord valuable as a beginning of true wisdom, but it is valuable all our journey through. One tendency amongst those who have received the light of present truth, and who lose thereby the terrible and slavish fear inspired by misrepresentations of the divine character and plan, is to lose all fear. And according to the Scriptures this is a very dangerous condition, an ultra freedom that is apt to lead to license, under our present imperfect conditions.
It is true that "perfect love casteth out fear," but it is also true that perfect love is a very scarce commodity on earth even amongst the saints. Hence the Apostle urges, "Let us fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of us should seem to come short of it." (Heb. 4:1.) The fear which we are to lose entirely is "the fear of man which bringeth a snare." He who loses the fear of God, and the fear of losing the great prize which God has held out before us, is in a very dangerous position: he is likely to become self-conscious and self-satisfied, and readily drops into the condition where he does not believe even in the just sentence against sinners, the second death, and where he is proportionately careless respecting the keeping of his own words and thoughts and deeds in strictest alignment with the principles laid down in the Word of the Lord. Having lost his fear of the Lord, he rapidly loses carefulness respecting the Word of the Lord, and inclines more and more to "lean to his own understanding," and becomes blinded to his own faults.
Let us note carefully additional encouragements to fear held out in the Scriptures. Some of these are as follows:—"O fear the Lord, ye his saints." "Ye that fear the Lord, praise him." "Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth forever." "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." "The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him." "He will fulfil the desire of them that fear him." "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him." (Psa. 34:9; 22:23; 118:4; 103:13,17; 145:19; 147:11.) Our Lord says, "I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear." (Luke 12:5.) The Apostle Paul says, "Be not high-minded, but fear." "Let us also fear." (Rom. 11:20; Heb. 4:1.) The Apostle Peter says, "Honor men; fear God;" and "He that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted with him." (1 Pet. 2:17; Acts 10:35.) God says through the prophet that they who fear his name, are the ones who speak often together, and of whom a book of remembrance is made. And again he promises, "To you that fear my name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his beams." (Mal. 3:16; 4:2.) Of our dear Redeemer himself it is recorded that Christ "was heard in that he feared."—Heb. 5:7.
The lesson of these various scriptures is that, to lose fear of God, in the sense of losing fear of his displeasure or fearing to come short of the grand possibilities which he has so graciously put within our reach, would be a most serious loss, as it would probably cost us our eternal life; for those who have lost this fear are like steam-engines which have lost their governors, and are apt to run with too much liberty to self-destruction and unfitness for service. Hence, as the Apostle again says to the pilgrims who seek the heavenly country,—"If ye call on him as Father,...pass the time of your sojourning here in fear" (1 Pet. 1:17); not in levity, nor in worldly frivolities, nor in sensualities, nor in land and money grabbing, nor even carelessly and slothfully, but in earnest watchfulness of every word and act, to please the Lord and to copy his character and thus to make your calling and election sure to a place in his Kingdom, when it shall be established in power and great glory.