And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?…
After the miracle of the loaves Jesus resumes his season of devotion, and in the course of it he asks the disciples who had just returned from their mission-tour what reports are being circulated about him. They tell him that some say he is John Baptist, some Elias, some one of the prophets risen again. This shows that they regarded his present life as preliminary only. The idea of his being the real Messiah, "the Christ of God," was not entertained by any of the outsiders at all. It is then he asks them what their idea is, when Peter answers unhesitatingly, "The Christ of God." And now we must inquire -
I. THE REASON FOR THIS SECRECY ABOUT THE MESSIAHSHIP. (Vers. 18-22.) Though the disciples believed in his Messiahship, they are directed not to make it known. Now, we must remember how different the Jewish ideas of the Messiahship were from the reality presented by Christ. Even such a noble-minded man as John Baptist had doubted the propriety of the course Jesus took. How much more liable to mistake would the common people be, if it had been blazed abroad that he was Messiah! It was needful, therefore, to wait till the picture was nearer completion before people were asked to look upon it. In fact, it was only his intimates who could at such a stage realize his magnificence at all. To give the people time to form a proper opinion, to prevent them from rising into premature opposition, to allow them no valid excuse if they rejected him at last, was the purpose of his secrecy and patience. He saw clearly that he "must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain," but he would not provoke the crisis by publishing his Messianic claims. His modesty and secrecy in this matter are in striking contrast to the manners and methods of the world.
II. PERSONAL SALVATION THROUGH SELF-SACRIFICE. (Vers. 23-27.) While predicting his death, he also predicts his resurrection. This is salvation through self-sacrifice. He immediately indicates that we are under the same law. The man alone saves himself who dedicates himself even unto death to Jesus. There are two policies pursued.
1. The selfish policy. People think they are so very valuable that they must save themselves at every turn. Hence they give the strength of their time and attention to self-preservation. This is their first law of nature. In doing so, they think that if they can only gain as much of the world and worldly things as possible, the better. They think it wise to win the world. But now Jesus shows that such a course only ends in utter loss of self. What does the self-centred, self-preserving soul become? What is the fate of the grasping, worldly mind? Such a soul shrivels up, becomes a nonentity, a mere derelict or castaway on the sea of existence. Such a life is "not worth living."
2. Notice the self-sacrificing policy. This is the policy pursued by the soul which is devoted to Jesus as supreme. It is no trial to carry the cross; such a soul is ready to die any day for Jesus. He cannot be ashamed or' Jesus, or of his words, but prizes him and them as beyond all price. And what is such a soul's experience? He feels that he is self-possessed and the subject of a grand development. He really has gained himself. His powers of mind and of heart grow into luxuriance, and he feels enriched in all the elements of being as he goes onward. And if perchance he becomes a martyr for the faith and lays down, as these disciples did, his life for Jesus, he finds in an immortal future of further dedication all his best being carried forward. Death may cripple him in working powers here, but promotion awaits him beyond the shadows, and he finds that "he is himself again" after the death-experience is over. Jesus thus presents the case in the proper light - self-sacrifice is real salvation of self if our self-sacrifice is for the sake of Jesus.
III. THE PRIVATE GLIMPSE OF GLORY. (Vers. 28-36.) Eight days after the noble confession of Christ by the disciples, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a mountain-top, that he might have another season of prayer. Though so busy, he never became prayerless. A most useful lesson! And here we have to note:
1. That transfiguration came through prayer. (Ver. 29.) There is nothing changes people's appearance so suddenly and so satisfactorily as being on the mountain-top of prayer. Jesus in transfiguration-glory is but a type of his people who come radiant from the secret places too. If there were more prayer on the part of God's people, there would be more transfiguration and less scepticism about its efficacy.
2. Transfigured ones are attractive to the heavenly world. (Vers. 30, 31.) Moses and Elias from their abodes of bliss are but indications of a perpetual interest in transfigured men. A new star is not more attractive to the astronomer than is a transfigured and radiant soul to the inhabitants of heaven. And further, the decease to be accomplished at Jerusalem is the supreme topic with the men from the heavenly city. For to this did the Law and the prophets point, and in the abodes of bliss other interests have not superseded this. If the cherubim were represented as gazing rapturously upon the mercy-seat and its baptism with blood, so may we believe the whole society out of which Moses and Elias came concentrate their interest upon the salvation which comes through the death of Jesus.
3. Transfigured ones attract attention from the inhabitants of earth. (Ver. 32.) The disciples had fallen asleep, but the glory awoke them, as a candle will when brought before a sleeper. They saw the Master's glory, and Moses and Elias at his side, and they regarded the Messianic kingdom as having in this triple glory dawned.
4. There is a natural desire to retain the rapturous vision. (Ver. 33.) As soon as the disciples became watchful witnesses, Moses and Elias appear to have moved away. Their converse has now been interrupted by unspiritual auditors, and so they prepare for their departure. It is in these circumstances that Peter proposes to retain the visitors by making "tabernacles in the mount. With such a reinforcement, he thinks, as Moses and Elias, in radiance bright, the victory of Messiah will be assured. It is thus we dream. We read the history of the heroes who are gone, and we imagine that it' we were only reinforced from the past we should be triumphant all along the line. Their spirit and their history may well inspire us, but they cannot take our burden.
5. The rapture may pass away in cloud, but Jesus abides with us for ever. (Vers. 34-36.) There can be little doubt about this bright cloud being the Shechinah. It came to indicate the true manifestation of God in the incarnate Son, and to withdraw the possible competitors. The disciples feared as they entered the cloud. But a gracious paternal voice assured them, This is my beloved Son: hear him." And when the cloud cleared away, they saw no man, but Jesus only. To the teaching of Jesus, consequently, they would yield intenser attention. Besides, they kept it secret what they had seen. It was one of those glorious visions which could not wisely be yet revealed. Let us enjoy Jesus, no matter how rapturous associations may fade away. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?