Home > Gospel, Jesus the Messiah > The Transfiguration: Exposition of Luke 9:28-36 by J. C. Ryle

The Transfiguration: Exposition of Luke 9:28-36 by J. C. Ryle

January 1, 2012

The event described in these verses, commonly called “the transfiguration,” is one of the most remarkable in the history of our Lord’s earthly ministry. It is one of those passages which we should always read with peculiar thankfulness. It lifts a corner of the veil which hangs over the world to come, and throws light on some of the deepest truths of our religion.

In the first place, this passage shows us something of the glory which Christ will have at His second coming. We read that “the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His clothing was white and glistering,” and that the disciples who were with Him “saw His glory.”

We need not doubt that this marvelous vision was meant to encourage and strengthen our Lord’s disciples. They had just been hearing of the cross and passion, and the self-denial and sufferings to which they must submit themselves, if they would be saved. They were now cheered by a glimpse of the “glory that should follow,” and the reward which all faithful servants of their Master would one day receive. They had seen their Master’s day of weakness. They now saw, for a few minutes, a pattern and specimen of His future power.

Let us take comfort in the thought, that there are good things laid up in store for all true Christians, which shall make ample amends for the afflictions of this present time. Now is the season for carrying the cross, and sharing in our Savior’s humiliation. The crown, the kingdom, the glory, are all yet to come. Christ and His people are now, like David in the cave of Adullam, despised, and lightly esteemed by the world. There seems no form or loveliness in Him, or in His service. But the hour comes, and will soon be here, when Christ shall take to Himself His great power and reign, and put down every enemy under His feet. And then the glory which was first seen for a few minutes, by three witnesses on the Mount of Transfiguration, shall be seen by all the world, and never hidden to all eternity.

In the second place, this passage shows us the safety of all true believers who have been removed from this world. We are told that when our Lord appeared in glory, Moses and Elijah were seen with Him, standing and speaking with Him. Moses had been dead nearly fifteen hundred years. Elijah had been taken up by a whirlwind from the earth more than nine hundred years before this time. Yet here these holy men were seen once more alive, and not only alive, but in glory!

Let us take comfort in the blessed thought that there is a resurrection and a life to come. All is not over, when the last breath is drawn. There is another world beyond the grave. But, above all, let us take comfort in the thought, that until the day dawns, and the resurrection begins, the people of God are safe with Christ. There is much about their present condition, no doubt, which is deeply mysterious. Where is their local habitation? What knowledge have they of things on earth? These are questions we cannot answer. But let it suffice us to know that Jesus is taking care of them, and will bring them with Him at the last day. He showed Moses and Elijah to His disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, and He will show us all who have fallen asleep in Him, at His second advent. Our brethren and sisters in Christ are in good keeping. They are not lost, but gone before us.

In the third place, this passage shows us that the Old Testament saints in glory take a deep interest in Christ’s atoning death. We are told that when Moses and Elijah appeared in glory with our Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, they “talked with Him.” And what was the subject of their conversation? We are not obliged to make conjectures and guesses about this. Luke tells us, “they spoke of His decease, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” They knew the meaning of that death. They knew how much depended on it. Therefore they “talked” about it.

It is a grave mistake to suppose that holy men and women under the Old Testament knew nothing about the sacrifice which Christ was to offer up for the sin of the word. Their light, no doubt, was far less clear than ours. They saw things afar off and indistinctly, which we see, as it were, close at hand. But there is not the slightest proof that any Old Testament saint ever looked to any other satisfaction for sin, but that which God promised to make by sending Messiah. From Abel downwards the whole company of old believers appear to have been ever resting on a promised sacrifice, and a blood of almighty efficacy yet to be revealed. From the beginning of the world there has never been but one foundation of hope and peace for sinners–the death of an Almighty Mediator between God and man. That foundation is the center truth of all revealed religion. It was the subject of which Moses and Elijah were seen speaking when they appeared in glory. They spoke of the atoning death of Christ.

Let us take heed that this death of Christ is the ground of all our confidence. Nothing else will give us comfort in the hour of death and the day of judgment. Our own works are all defective and imperfect. Our sins are more in number than the hairs of our heads. (Psalm 40:12.) Christ dying for our sins, and rising again for our justification, must be our only plea, if we wish to be saved. Happy is that man who has learned to cease from his own works, and to glory in nothing but the cross of Christ! If saints in glory see in Christ’s death so much beauty, that they must needs talk of it, how much more ought sinners on earth!

In the last place, the passage shows us the immense distance between Christ and all other teachers whom God has given to man. We are told that when Peter, “not knowing what he said,” proposed to make three tabernacles on the mount, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, as if all three deserved equal honor, this proposal was at once rebuked in a remarkable way–“There came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son, hear Him.” That voice was the voice of God the Father, conveying both reproof and instruction. That voice proclaimed to Peter’s ear that however great Moses and Elijah might be, there stood One before him far greater than they. They were but servants; He was the King’s Son. They were but stars; He was the Sun. They were but witnesses; He was the Truth.

Forever let that solemn word of the Father ring in our ears, and give the key-note to our religion. Let us honor ministers for their Master’s sake. Let us follow them so long as they follow Christ. But let it be our principal aim to hear Christ’s voice, and follow Him wherever He goes. Let some talk, if they will, of the voice of the Church. Let others be content to say, “I hear this preacher, or that clergyman.” Let us never be satisfied unless the Spirit witnesses within us that we hear Christ Himself, and are His disciples.

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