Matthew 17:1-13

1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves;

2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.

3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”

6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.

7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.”

8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things.

12 But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.”

13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.

This event is also covered in Mark 9:2-13 and Luke 9:28-36.

Peter, James, and John (v.1) — three witnesses as required by Mosaic law. John refers to it in John 1:14, Peter in 2 Peter 1:16-20.

transfigured (v.2) = changed into another form. The Greek word is used elsewhere only in Romans 12:2 (regarding grace in our lives) and 2 Corinthians 3:18 (regarding our future glory).

It was a metamorphosis, a change from within; the glory of Christ’s eternal Sonship shone out through the veil of His flesh, so that the disciples might have ocular proof of His true character as Immanuel — God and man in one person. — Ironside, page 212

His face shone (v.2) — the light shone from Him, not on Him.

The transfiguration was the fulfillment of Matthew 16:28.

This was the glory that belongs to God which was revealed in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38). This glory was revealed again in the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11). It was that glory which departed from the temple because of Israel’s apostasy and unbelief (Ezekiel 10:18; 11:22-23). Now this glory was on the earth in the person of Jesus Christ. This glory would be revealed to Stephen (Acts 7:55-56), to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3; 22:6, 11; 26:13), and once again to John (Revelation 1:16). This glory will be revealed to the world when Jesus Christ comes to this earth again (Matthew 24:30; 25:31). The glory that will lighten the whole world at the Second Advent was here revealed to the three who witnessed the Transfiguration. The light in which the redeemed will walk for all eternity (Revelation 21:23) was witnessed by Peter, James and John. 

It was necessary that Christ’s glory be veiled when He came into this world. Christ’s glory was not surrendered at the time of the Incarnation but was veiled, lest the people whom He had come to redeem should be consumed by its brightness. God’s purpose was to dwell in the midst of His people Israel and to reveal His presence among them by letting the light of His glory shine on them. But Israel could not behold the unveiled glory of God. Therefore, in revealing plans for the tabernacle to Moses, God instructed him to erect a curtain between the Holy of Holies, where God purposed to dwell, and His people. That veil was not so much designed  to teach Israel that they were unworthy to enter the presence of God —which in truth it did — as much as to protect Israel from being consumed by the brightness of God’s glory. The veil, then was a gracious provision by a holy God to make it possible for Him to dwell in the midst of an unholy people. The writer to the Hebrews said that the body of Jesus Christ was to Him what the veil was in the tabernacle: “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body” (Hebrews 10:19-20). Christ’s glory, then, was not surrendered at the Incarnation; instead, it was veiled so that the Holy One might dwell among an unholy people. The Transfiguration, then, was a revelation of the essential glory that belongs to Christ and one day will be revealed to the world. This, then, was the fulfillment of the prophecy that Christ had made the preceding week. — Pentecost, pages 256-257.

Moses (v.3) — representing the law (Jude 9)

Elijah (v.3) — representing the prophets (2 Kings 2:11)

then Peter answered (v.4) — Mark and Luke both make it clear that Peter, overcome by what he saw, did not know what he was saying. He was probably wanting the kingdom without the cross.

The Feast of Tabernacles, the last in the cycle of Israel’s annual feasts, was a memorial of the nation’s deliverance out of Egypt and their desert experience in which they were characterized as strangers and pilgrims. This feast also anticipated Israel’s final regathering as a nation out of the desert into the Land of Promise under the beneficent rule of the promised Messiah. In Peter’s day the nation was oppressed by Gentiles and looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, or Deliverer, who would gather the people into the land under His reign. The vision of the glory of Christ which Peter had seen reminded him of Israel’s glorious hope to be realized in Messiah’s kingdom. Therefore it seemed fitting to him that they should have a Feast of Tabernacles because the three had witnessed the millennial glory of Christ. Peter had correctly interpreted the significance of the Transfiguration. But it was impossible for Israel to experience the fulfillment of what was anticipated in the Feast of the Tabernacles until the nation turned in faith to the Messiah. This the nation was not doing, and, therefore, Peter’s proposal brought a rebuke from Christ. Although Christ possessed the glory of the King, He was not publicly recognized as King; therefore, Israel could not enter into their millennial blessing. — Pentecost, pages 257-258.

cloud (v.5) — This cloud was none other than the one that had appeared over the tabernacle in the desert to signify the presence of God among His people. From the cloud God spoke again concerning the person of Jesus Christ: “This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” (Mark 9:7). Instead of “whom I love,” the two parallel texts have “whom I have chosen” (Luke 9:35) and “with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5). Thus the Father again authenticated both the person and word of Christ. — Pentecost, page 258.

Hear Him! (v.5) — the Son has more authority than the law or the prophets. Only He, and never they, can restore the relationship between man and God.

Elijah must come first (v.11) — Malachi 4:5-6

It seems clear from the prophetic scriptures that a similar Elijah-testimony will be given in the dark days of the great tribulation before the manifestation of the Lord in judgment. The vision of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 would appear to confirm this. — Ironside, pages 215-216.

restore all things (v.11) — the Millennial Kingdom — Luke 1:17

John the Baptist (v.13) — a type of Elijah — Matthew 11:14

John the Baptist had come in the power and spirit of Elijah. He was the voice in the wilderness, the way preparer, the one in whom the last prophecy in Malachi might have been fulfilled, but they did not know him. His rejection was the prelude to the rejection of the Lord as we have seen before (chapter 11). John surely was the Elijah for that time. 

But this does not fulfill Malachi’s prophecy. That prophecy is yet to see its fulfillment. Before the Lord returns to earth in power and glory another forerunner, an Elijah, will come and his testimony will not be rejected then; he will indeed be Elijah who restores all things and he will be followed by the coming of the King to set up His kingdom. 

As long as the church is in the earth that end time does not begin. The removal of the church will be followed by the last stage of the ending of the age. During that time, the great tribulation, Elijah appears.

His work is exclusively among the people who are the kingdom people. His witness is to the remnant of Israel. Like John’s call to repentance, he will preach repentance and his testimony will be received; he will accomplish the mission of Malachi 4:5-6. — Gaebelein, pages 368-369.

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