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God’s Word for You

Luke 9:29-32 The transfiguration

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 10, 2018

29 While he was praying, the way his face looked changed, and his clothes became as white as a flash of lightning.

The transfiguration began while Jesus was praying. Luke tells us that his appearance changed—I have translated this as “the way his face looked changed,” but we need to understand that it was more than just his outward appearance. Jesus was changed in this moment from the form of a man into the form of God.

The three accounts pile up their adjectives as they describe the scene:

“The way his face looked changed” (Luke 9:29).

“His face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2).

“His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mark 9:3).

“His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2).

“His clothes became as white as a flash of lightning” (Luke 9:29).

Jesus was being displayed in all his glory. His change was not merely in the shape of his nose or ears, or whether he showed his nose and ears anymore, but something much deeper. This is especially clear when we look at the Greek word metamorphosis (μετεμορϕώσις). As a verb, it means to change one thing into another. A similar word, metaschematizo, means to change the way something looks. Trench (1853) explained: “If I were to change a Dutch garden into an Italian, this would be metaschematismos. But if I were to transform a garden into something wholly different, say a garden into a city, this would be metamorphosis.” It is like the difference between describing symptoms and naming a disease. Jesus’ transformation, his transfiguration, displayed his divinity in the same way that his ordinary body and earthly needs (hunger, thirst, sleep, etc.) displayed his humanity.

30 At just that moment, two men were talking with him. They were Moses and Elijah.

Jesus’ disciples were aware that within the dazzling, lightning-bright light, there were two men talking with Jesus. They recognized them as Moses and Elijah. This is evidence that when we encounter one another in the resurrection, we will recognize each other, even if we have not met. Moses died in about 1406 BC (Deuteronomy 34:7). Elijah was taken to heaven sometime in the 840’s BC, during the reign of King Joram of Israel (cp. 2 Kings 1:17 and 3:1). Yet, many centuries later, Peter, John and James recognized them, and Peter would even call them by name.

Moses had appeared in a glorious state to the Israelites. When he came down from Mount Sinai, “his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD” (Exodus 34:29). His face simply reflected the glory of God, but Jesus was displaying that same glory from within.

31 They appeared in glory and were talking about his exodus, which he was soon going to bring about in Jerusalem.

The Greek word exodus (ἔξοδος) means “a road out,” or a departure. They were talking about the way in which Jesus would atone for the sins of all mankind with his crucifixion. Notice how carefully Luke chooses the word Exodus in association with Moses. If anyone could be an expert on the meaning and application of the Law of Moses, and whether Jesus Christ could indeed fulfill it on our behalf, would not Moses himself be that expert? What argument could anyone have on the interpretation of the Law if Moses is the one putting his approval on it? The Exodus of the Jews was a mere escape from human bondage, a slavery of the flesh. The Exodus of Jesus was the release from the bondage of sin, escape from the slavery to the devil, to the world and to our own sinful flesh. The Exodus of Christ is infinitely more valuable to mankind than the Exodus of Moses and the Jews, and here we have Moses himself present as a testimony to this.

32 Peter and those with him were overcome by sleep. When they woke up, fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.

The disciples were overwhelmed by what they saw, and their minds were so burdened that they gave in to sleep. This is not the usual word for “faint” (apopsycho, Luke 21:26), and so we can be confident that the disciples actually fell asleep for a little while. But when they awoke, they were “fully awake,” and still saw the glory of the Lord emanating from Jesus, and Moses and Elijah still talking with him.

This is one of just two times we are told the disciples fell asleep when we would think they would have been awake in Jesus’ company. The other was in the Garden of Gethsemane. So now, in the Lord’s greatest hour of glory, and later in his greatest hour of need, the Lord’s disciples slept, and he was comforted by others: men from heaven in this place, and an angel from heaven later (Luke 22:43).

There is another important connection between Moses, Elijah and Jesus, which we will consider with the next verse. For now, we have been shown that Jesus Christ is truly and fully God. He who would lay down his life on the cross was sufficient to atone for our sins, once for all.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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