The Transfiguration of Christ is perhaps as familiar as any of the leading events recorded in the four Gospels, yet is it less understood than the other great crises in His blessed life. The purpose and meaning of the Transfiguration is defined in the closing verse of Matthew 16 -- "Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom." This is a verse which has puzzled many Bible readers, yet its meaning is simple if we pay heed to its exact wording. Observe that Christ did not here say, "There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till the Son of man come in His Kingdom" but "until they see the Son of man coming in His Kingdom." The little word "See" furnishes the key to the above declaration. Observe further, that our Lord said to his disciples, "There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom."
The above verse is the closing one of Matthew 16 and it is exceedingly unfortunate that a chapter division has been made to immediately follow it and thus obscure its real meaning to many readers. What follows in the next chapter is the fulfillment of Christ's promise to the disciples as is clear from its opening statement -- "And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them" -- the "And" connecting Matthew 17 with chapter 16, the "after six days" dating from the promise given the disciples, and the "some" finding its fulfillment in "Peter, James, and John." Here then is the key to the significance of the Transfiguration scene -- it was the disciples seeing "the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom:" it was a pattern and sample of the glory in which our Lord shall return to the Mount of Olives; it was a visible representation, a spectacular setting forth of each of the leading elements which shall be found in Christ's Millennial Kingdom. To particularize.
"And after six days" -- "about an eight days after" (Luke). Every detail in the description of this remarkable event is worthy of our closest study. A careless and flippant reader might ask, "Why are we told that our Lord was transfigured just six days after He had given His promise to the disciples? -- What does it matter to us whether it was six or sixteen days?" But the reverent student of Holy Scripture has learnt that everything in God's Word has a meaning and value. "Six days after," then it was a seventh-day scene, a Sabbatical scene, in a word -- a Millennial scene. Some students will differ from us upon this point, but we record it as our belief that the above words furnish Scriptural verification of a view which was commonly held by the ancients, by the Rabbis and by the Church "Fathers," namely, that in line with the statement found in 2 Pet.3:8 -- "One day is with the Lord be regarded as a definition of the duration of earth's history, i.e., six thousand years of toil and labor followed by a thousand years of rest and peace, the Sabbath-day thus pointing forward to the Millennium.
"And his face did shine as the sun, and His rainment was white as the light" (Matt.17:2). With this statement should be compared Peter's inspired commentary -- "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we make 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 (i. e., the Shekinah Glory), "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And this Voice which came from heaven we hear, when we were with Him in the holy mount" (2 Pet.1:16-18). During the days of Christ's humiliation when He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself, we are told, "His visage was so marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men" (Is.52:14), but here on the Mount of Transfiguration "His face did shine as the sun." The disciples were favored with a glimpse of Christ in His resurrection glory! It is thus He now appears in Heaven as is evident from the blinding effects of Christ's glory as manifested to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road. And it is thus He will appear when He shall return to this earth, arising as "The Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings" (Mal.4:2).
"And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with Him" (vs.3). From the fact that Moses (representative of the Law) and Elijah (standing for the Prophets) were with Christ at this time we may learn that the Old Testament saints shall have their part and place with Christ in His Millennial Kingdom. There is also another fact revealed here -- precious thought! -- when our Lord returns to the earth He will be accompanied by two classes of saints here represented by Moses and Elijah, namely, those who have passed through death and those who have been "changed" and raptured to heaven without seeing death. The three disciples -- Peter, James, and John -- may be regarded as representatives of the Church, not, of course, the Church in its Divine unity, but in individual capacity.
"While He yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud which said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him" (vs.5). The mention of the "bright cloud" here is deeply significant, the more so as it was out of it that the Voice of God was heard speaking. This was the "Cloud" which had been withdrawn from Israel centuries before but which now suddenly appeared again. This was the "Cloud" in which Jehovah appeared of old -- the Cloud of the Shekinah glory. It was the "Cloud" which filled the Tabernacle -- "Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle" (Ex.40:34). This was the "Cloud" which guided Israel throughout their wilderness wanderings -- "And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went forward in all their journeys: but if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up" (Ex.40:36, 37). This was the "Cloud" in which Jehovah appeared in the Holy of Holies upon the mercy-seat (Lev.16:2). This was the "Cloud" which filled the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 8:10). Little wonder then that the disciples "fell on their faces and were sore afraid" (vs.7)! The appearing of the Shekinah "Cloud" on the mount of transfiguration was the intimation that it shall be visible to Israel again in the Millennial Kingdom. That it will be is further evident from the prophecy of Is.4:5 -- "And the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for above all the glory shall be a defense" -- the context here, shows that this has reference to the Millennium. See further Ezek.43.
"And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only" (vs.8). This touch to the picture is a very beautiful one. It tells us that in the Millennium our blessed Lord shall be exalted high, above all, that He shall occupy the position of pre-eminency, that all human glories shall pale and disappear before His. As it is written, "And the loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" (Is.2:17).
The hour when the Transfiguration occurred is significant. From Luke's account we gather that it happened at night, for we read, "But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep" (Luke 9:32). Thus will it be at the close of the long, dark night of Israel's dispersion -- they shall look up and behold their Messiah returning in power and glory, accompanied by ten thousands of His saints who shall be on such terms of holy familiarity with Him (compare "Moses and Elijah talking with Him") that the world shall marvel at that wondrous grace which made them "joint-heirs with Christ."
The Transfiguration also revealed the blessedness of that time when Christ shall set up His millennial Kingdom. "Lord, it is good for us to be here" (vss.4) was the exclamation that fell from the lips of the astonished Peter. Thus will it be in the Millennium. "Lord, it is good for us to be here" will well express the contentment and the joy of those who will be upon earth in those days. O! what a time that will be. Satan removed, the Antichrist destroyed, and all that opposes the Gospel swept from the face of the earth. Israel penitent and restored, the heathen nations then completely evangelized, and creation itself delivered from its bondage of corruption. The saints "with Christ," wearing their glorified bodies and participating in His reign over an earth full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord. Christ Himself on the throne, the Holy Spirit poured out upon all flesh, and outwardly, God's will done upon the earth as it is in heaven. Yes, then indeed, shall it be said, "Lord, it is good to be here."
Striking indeed was the vision vouchsafed to the three favored disciples. Remarkably full was that manifestation of the glory of Messiah's coming Kingdom. But, the sequel to the Transfiguration was equally wonderful in its typical signification, and was needed to complete this spectacular setting forth of the Redeemer's Return to the earth.
"And when they were come to the multitude, there came to Him a certain man, kneeling down to Him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is a lunatic, and sore vexed: for oftentimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.** And Jesus rebuked the demon: and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour" (vss.14, 15, 18). What a sight was this which confronted our Lord and His disciples as they came down from the "holy mount"! What a picture of Israel in particular and of the world in general! Thus will it be at the time of our Lord's Return to this earth. The first thing which the Saviour did after He had given the disciples a vision of His glory in the coming Kingdom, was to cast out a demon; and the first thing He will do when He returns to the earth, will be to cast out the Devil and secure him for a thousand years in the Bottomless Pit (Rev.20:2, 3). God hasten that blessed day!
Thus we see that the Fact of the Redeemer's Return not only occupies a prominent position in the didactic instruction of the Church Epistles, but that it was also the subject of Old Testament prophecy and typology, was pictorially illustrated in the miracles recorded in the Gospels, and received a spectacular setting forth in the wonderful scene which was enacted upon the Mount of Transfiguration.