“And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. 2 And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. 3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. 4 And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 6 For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. 7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. 8 And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. 9 And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead” (Mark 9:1-9).
A great challenge has faced the Church for 2,000, years and that is to think too little of Jesus Christ.
We are not surprised when the world laughs at the concept of God becoming man and dwelling among us, but it is more disconcerting to find those who profess to love Jesus questioning His virgin birth, doubting the resurrection, and denying His essential deity.
In the year AD 336 a presbyter of Alexandria, Egypt, named Arius, died leaving behind a divided Christendom. Arius had a large part to play in the division of the church, because it was he who introduced a new concept of Christ that denied Jesus His essential deity.
The irony is that Arius initially set forth his views to respond to another early heresy known as Sabel-lian-ism, the view that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were merely roles, or modes assumed in turn by God.
The Bishop Alexander of Alexandria said he subscribed to this teaching which alarmed Arius, and rightly so.
However, in refuting the error of Sabel-lian-ism, Arius went to the other extreme as he tried to answer the question,
If the Father was absolutely one, where did the Son come in? Arius taught something contrary to the orthodox faith. Arius said that the Father existed before the Son; there was a time when the Son did not exist; the Father created the Son; and, although the Son was the highest of all creatures, He was not of the essence of God.
With these simple thoughts, an attack was launched on the doctrine of God, and a challenge was made against the foundation of Christianity, which holds that Jesus Christ is really and truly God.
The Church had always held that Jesus is really and truly God.
Now it was Bishop Alexander who was alarmed to the point that he called a church council that he chaired.
Arius was instructed to come to the council and defend his position, for the theological battle lines had been drawn.
Arius contended that there was a time when Jesus did not exist, but was created. Therefore, Jesus could not be of the same substance as the Father.
Bishop Alexander, and others at the council, upheld the historic biblical doctrine that the Son is con-substantial and co-eternal with the Father.
The bishop commanded Arius to receive the orthodox faith, and to reject his position. But Arius would not repent, nor would he renounce his new beliefs.
In AD 319 the church council officially anathematized Arius, as it did others who made “shameless avowal of these heresies.” The matter might have ended there except for the fact that Arius was a very clever man, and popular with the people. He was also a gifted speaker. His idea against the deity of Christ spread like wildfire throughout the Roman empire causing great confusion, and division, to the point that the emperor Constantine moved to settle the matter once and for all.
Constantine saw the religious controversy over the deity of Christ was dividing the empire. While he did not care that much for religious unity, Constantine did care tremendously about the unity of his empire. For that reason, he called the first ecumenical council of the Church to resolve the matter. The council would meet in the city of Nicaea, Italy, in AD 325.
In AD 325 almost three hundred bishops did meet together to discuss many church matters, including the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Arius and his followers were given ample opportunity to make their case. Initially, they seemed confident of success. To their dismay, both Arianism and a compromise view was rejected.
The central point in the debate was whether or not Jesus was of the same essence as the Father (homo-ousios), or merely of a similar essence (homi-ousios). The future of Christology was determined between a sigma and an iota. Of course, the battle was not merely a battle over a letter, but the Christian doctrine of the deity of Christ. At the end of the council Arius was ex-communicated.
Unfortunately, the religious drama did not end in the 4th century AD, for the spirit of Arianism lives to this present hour. I once received a phone call from a man in Maryland. He had a question about a Pentecostal doctrine called the “Oneness Teaching,” or “Jesus Only Theology.”
In simple language, there is a growing branch of the Pentecostal church that is denying the doctrine of the Trinity.
Because the spirit of Arianism is alive to deny the deity of Christ, it is imperative that conservative Christians seek afresh a glimpse of the Lord’s divine glory.
Some Christians have already seen the Lord’s glory, and that according to promise. In Mark 9:1 we read that Jesus said unto His disciples, “Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”
Because the promises of the Lord are always true provision was soon made for a select few of the disciples to gaze from time into eternity. The curtain between this world and the next was pulled back for mortal eyes to see immortal realities. “And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2). The exact location where this miracle took place is in dispute. Mount Sinai.
Some biblical scholars believe the meeting between heaven and earth took place on Mount Sinai in commemoration of the giving of the law.
Other bible students think that the transfiguration took place on Mount Carmel where Elijah defeated the prophets of Balaal in the power of the Lord.
Matthew Henry suggests that Mount Tabor is the place where the glory of Jesus was manifested in fulfillment of an ancient prophecy (Psalm 89:12)
“The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.”
Since “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness there of,” (Psa. 24:1) it does not matter where the transfiguration took place, only that it did occur according to the gospel narrative.
By various degrees Jesus was changed in another manner than normal.
This was a change of His body, not His essence, for He was always the Son of Man and the Son of God. The transfiguration involves a great miracle as the essential glory of Christ was revealed, and that is the focus of attention. Jesus was transformed before His disciples. The transformation was gradual. While the disciples looked, Jesus moved from glory to glory. Even the clothing of the Lord became different. His raiment became shining as white as snow.
While the disciples gazed in astonishment, they became more incredulous, when suddenly two personages appeared whom they recognized as Moses and Elijah. “And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus” (Mark 9:4). Moses, the Law Giver, and Elijah the prophet, came to talk with Christ.
What did they speak of? It is possible that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus of His suffering, and the glory that would be His on the other side of the Cross. The soon coming death of Jesus was the great issue on His heart. It was always on His mind. Even after the resurrection we know that Jesus spoke to two disciples on a lonely road of these matters.
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
What was the great Messianic theme of Moses and the prophets, but the sufferings of the Messiah and the redemption of His people?
While Jesus talked in a translucent transcending presence of deity on display, His disciples gazed on in amazement. The changing of the presence of Christ, and the sudden appearance of Moses and Elijah was just too much for Peter. He felt he had to say something, anything. And so, Peter suggested that the moment last forever. Perhaps Moses and Elijah would like to stay with Jesus, right there on the mountain. A thought passed through Peter’s mind that some sort of shelter could be built. “And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (Mark 9:5).
There were two problems with Peter’s suggestions.
First, it was rooted in fear, and not faith.
Second, he had no idea what he was saying. Peter just blurted out the first thought that came to his mind, a mind filled with wonder and awe. In matchless grace Jesus did not respond to the words of Peter. Perhaps He smiled, as did Moses and Elijah. Why would they want to dwell on a mountain top in Palestine when they had the delights of heaven to enjoy?
What Peter did hear, as well as the other disciples, was a voice out of a cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son: hear Him.”
The voice from the cloud was that of God the Father, and the instruction is still compelling. All men are to hear the Son.
Those who listen can hear Jesus calling souls to salvation. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Those who listen can hear the Lord crying over the stubborn resistance of men. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37).
Those who listen can hear Christ caring for sinners. Jesus said to “the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.”
To an unnamed woman in the city of Peter’s home who was well known for immorality, Jesus said “unto her, Thy sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:37, 48).
Those who listen can hear Christ curing the sick. On many occasions the Bible says that Jesus was moved with compassion and so He feed the hungry, and healed the sick (Matt 9:36, Matt 20:34).
Those who listen can hear Christ condemning the wicked.
“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in” (Matt. 23:13).
Those who listen can hear Christ commanding Christians to be different in conduct and character.
“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42 Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. 43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?” (Matt. 5:39-46).
Suddenly the vision ended, and all things were as before. Moses and Elijah were gone, and the voice from the cloud was silent. A glimpse of divine glory had ended, and now the work of the ministry was to begin again.
Jesus, Peter, James, and John would return to the world of sorrow and sadness to help as many people as possible.
On the way back to the others, Jesus commanded His inner circle of friends not to say anything about what they had seen until after His resurrection.
There were two reasons for this prohibition.
First, these were the days of the Lord’s humiliation. While a glimpse of His glory was manifested, Christ came into the world to save sinners. The Son of God as the Son of Man, must be arrested, crucified, and buried.
Second, this was not the time for the disciples to become boastful. Sometimes ecstatic religious experiences can cause a Christian to become proud. The heart has to be guarded against special moments of divine closeness less the very goodness of God drawing near to His people is turned into a moment of spiritual arrogance, and thus sin. So, the moment ended, and the disciples, Peter, James, and John, returned with the Master to minister to men.