Mount Hermon: Mount of Transfiguration
April 2nd, 1969 @ 12:00 PM
MOUNT HERMON: THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-02-69 12:00 noon
Today it is Mount Hermon: The Mount of Transfiguration. And I beg of you your mind as well as your heart. I want you to listen today with your mind as well as your heart. We are going to probe into some of the deep things of God. There has never been anything that has ever happened in human story like this; like what happened on the top of one of the hills skirting great Mt. Hermon. It is a phenomenal thing and a meaningful thing.
The sixteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew closes with our Lord, saying, "Verily, truly, I say unto you, There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. And" [Matthew 16:28] – but you have a chapter heading there. I now go to the first verse of chapter 17, but when Matthew wrote this, there were no chapter headings and there were no verses. This is a part of the same word:
And after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
And was metamorphosised, metamorphoo, transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with [Him].
How did they know, recognize Moses and Elijah? Moses had been dead a thousand four hundred years; and Elijah had been dead something like nine hundred years. Yet the disciples knew them. How did they know them? A thousand times and more have I been asked, "Will we know each other in heaven?" Why, certainly we shall know each other in heaven. "Well, how shall we know each other?" We shall know intuitively. They knew Moses intuitively. They knew Elijah intuitively. That is, it is a God kind of knowledge, an intuitive knowledge.
Let’s take a mundane illustration. How do you know how to swallow? Did you know to swallow is one of the most complicated anatomical processes in your anatomy? But I never think about it, I just swallow. That is an intuitive knowledge. I was not taught it when I was a baby. I knew it. It is an intuitive knowledge. It is an intuitive knowledge: Moses and Elijah.
Then answered Peter, and said unto the Lord, Lord, it is good to be here, never saw such a thing as this: let us stay here and build three dwelling places, tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. And while he yet spake, behold, there was a bright shekinah
[Matthew 17:4-5]. . .
– the glory of God, the raiment of God, the garments of God, the chariot of God, by which God surrounds Himself; whatever clothing God, whatever raiment God possesses, it is like this. There appeared a luminous cloud, a covering, and overshadowed them, the glory of God:
And a voice came out of the cloud, and said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.
And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces, and were sore afraid.
And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only,
the lowly Jesus; the transfiguration of our Lord.
"And after six days He taketh those three disciples, and on a high mountain apart, he was metamorphoo" [Matthew 17:1-2]. Morphe is the Greek word for "outward form and shape," morphe. Metamorphe, meta, the verbal form, metamorphoo, refers to the changing of outward shape and form. We took it bodily into the English language; metamorphose is the verbal form "to change." Metamorphosis is the substantive form of what is changed; that is, the outward form and the outward shape.
One of the most interesting of all of the studies in the phenomena of nature is how a substance will change in form, and shape, and kind, and yet its inherent composition is still the same. Carbon; carbon is charcoal, black lusterless charcoal, but take the same carbon under intensive heat, and under tremendous pressure, and you have a sparkling, brilliant diamond! They are the same, one hundred percent pure charcoal, though one is lusterless and black, and the other is brilliant and light.
Or hard ice, hard frozen ice: raise its temperature and it’s flowing water. Raise its temperature and its steam that will drive a locomotive. Raise its temperature and it becomes invisible and an almost illimitable force. Yet it’s the same thing!
Sand, sand: sandstone, sand, cheap sand, a little lime, a little soda, and it is brilliant glass displayed in Steubenware. It’s the same thing. Dirt; dirt and a little seed that has leased from God a power for a springtime, and out of that muck and mud and dirt will be the most beautiful flower you ever saw, fragrant, precious. It’s the same thing.
A caterpillar, a worm; and in time a little cocoon is broken and a beautiful butterfly. It is the same thing, metamorphosised! A little egg in a bird’s nest, a little blue thing and under the warmth of a little sitting hen bird, a little chirp, chirp, chirp will come out of this shell. I know it’s the same thing because there’s nothing in that shell but what was there, an egg; and out of it steps this little peeping, chirping thing, a little bird. It’s a marvelous phenomenon in nature, and it’s seen everywhere.
That same marvelous metamorphosis is possible in human life. Simon Peter was a cursing, swearing fisherman. What a great disciple of Jesus he made. Like Jerry McAuley of the Bowery of New York City, he was a gutter rat. He was a filthy bum! He was a hopeless drunkard, and he became, metamorphosised, a flaming evangelist!
In his lifetime they invited a great group of the finest, noblest preachers in America to go to England, and they parceled them out. This great preacher went to that high steeple church, and this one to that high steeple church, and another one to that famous church. And they took Jerry McAuley and put him in Hyde Park, outside, outdoors, in Hyde Park.
And when Jerry McAuley stood up to speak, to preach the gospel, he said to the throng before him there in Hyde Park, he said, "Now I’ve been asked, ‘Am I insulted and am I hurt because all these other famous preachers are in these great churches and I’m stuck out here under the sky in this park?’" He said, "No." He said, "I understand. I lost three-fourths of my vocabulary when I was saved"; the metamorphosis that can come to a man.
Now, it was a glorious and incomparable and indescribable metamorphosis that changed the face and the body of Jesus Christ, for we’re taught in the Bible that the flesh of our Lord was a veil covering His deity [Hebrews 10:20], and here for just a moment the glory of the Godhead shone through, and the disciples looked upon Jesus in His glory, in His resurrected immortality, God in the flesh [Matthew 17:1-2].
There are three miracles here: one, the metamorphosis, the transfiguration of the Lord; the other, the appearance of Moses and Elijah; and the third, the voice speaking out of the luminous brilliant cloud [Matthew 17:2-5]. And so indelible was that vision upon the three disciples that John, when he was a hundred years old, wrote about it in the first chapter of his Gospel [John 1:14]. And Simon Peter, just before he was martyred, wrote about it in the first chapter of his second letter [2 Peter 1:13-18]; and James, as you know, had not opportunity to write, because he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa 1 [Acts 12:1-2].
But this tremendous scene had two purposes. First; it was to encourage Christ in His coming death. Luke says, the Gospel of Luke says that, "Moses and Elijah spake unto the Lord about His death, His decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem" [Luke 9:30-31]. And that’s the strangest word. "They spoke to Him about His," and the Greek word is exodus, exodus. Exodus is never used for death but it is here.
In the Book of Hebrews he uses the word exodus to describe the bringing of the children of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land; and that’s the word, "They spake to Him about His exodus"; that is, the glorious, triumphant atonement and resurrection, by which our Lord shall bring many sons to glory. "Which He should pleroo accomplish," literally, "fulfill at Jerusalem" [Luke 9:31]. The death of our Lord, His burial, and the resurrection of our Lord was in fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophecies. And that is presented here poignantly, dramatically, in the speaking to Him of Moses and Elijah.
Now, Moses represents the Law. And when Moses spake to Jesus about His death, His exodus, which He should fulfill in Jerusalem, I can just in my mind, I can think of what Moses could have said. Moses could have said to the Lord, "Lord, I have come to talk to You about Your death. For the law requires the death of the substitute for the sinner. The law says it is the blood that maketh atonement for the soul [Leviticus 17:11]. The law says, without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins [Hebrews 9:22]. And Lord Jesus, every ceremony, and every type, and every sacrifice, and every altar call in the Old Covenant pointed to Thee. And without Thy death, Lord, there’s no forgiveness of our sins [1 Peter 2:24] and I am here only in the promise of Thy death."
I can hear Elijah as he spake to Jesus. And he represents the prophets. And he could have said, as I think of it in my mind, Elijah says, "Lord, I have come to speak to You about Your death, for all of the prophets have said that the Son of God must be offered up for the atonement of the sins of the people. ‘All we like sheep have gone astray,’ the prophets say, and the Lord has laid on You the iniquity of us all [Isaiah 53:6]. By Your stripes we are healed [Isaiah 53:5]. Lord, You must die if we are to be saved [1 Thessalonians 5:9-10]; and I am here only because of the promise of Your death."
In that awesome moment, the finger that wrote the Ten Commandments and the hand that smote the Jordan, both alike point to the Lamb of God. The stern voice of the lawgiver that spake the commandments, and the grim figure that condemned Israel in their apostasy, both alike testify to the grace of the Son of God, without whose love and death, there is no forgiveness of sins. So in that awesome moment, the representative of the Law and the representative of the Prophets are there to encourage our Savior as He faces the cruel death of the cross [Luke 9:30-31].
Then second; this phenomenal transfiguration was given of God to the disciples and to us that we might also be encouraged. Look at it. "Verily, truly, I say unto you, There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. And," as a part of the same story, what is that? "There will be some of you who are here, who will not die, until you see the Son of Man coming in glory" [Matthew 16:28]. By the word "and" [Matthew 17:1], I know that it is the same passage. It’s the same story.
And that is confirmed as I turn to Simon Peter in the second letter and the first chapter of his book, when he refers, and he speaks of it at length, when he refers to this experience, and he refers to it as the parousia of Christ [2 Peter 1:16-18]. That is the word used in the New Testament for the second coming of our Lord, the parousia, the coming, the presence of Jesus. And what this is is a little preview. It is the second coming of our Lord in glory.
Would you like to know how it is at the consummation of the age? How will it be when Jesus comes again? Then look, here in miniature is the denouement of all time [Matthew 17:1-5]. This is the great return of our Lord to earth. Well, what will it be like? How is it when the Lord shall come? First, look. We shall see our Savior in His glory; translucent, iridescent, immortalized, glorified, no longer in lowly guise, with a crown of thorns, bleeding from His wounds, despised and rejected of men, no! When He comes He will be the earth’s Majesty and heaven’s Glory; God manifest in the flesh. And how will it be with us?
This is it. Moses represents those who die and are buried before He comes; and Elijah, who was translated to heaven, Elijah represents those who will be translated, transformed, metamorphosised
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, when the trumpet shall sound, and the dead – by Moses – shall be raised incorruptible, and we who are alive at His coming shall be changed
[1 Corinthians 15:52]
Moses representing those who fall asleep in Jesus, I can hear Him cry, "O Grave, where is thy victory?" and Elijah representing those who are translated, "O Death, where is thy sting?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]. Together, to be with the Lord.
Not the least of His saints does God forget. When a missionary falls on a foreign field, God marks the place. And some glorious day the dead in Christ shall rise. And if we are buried before that triumphant sounding of the trumpet and the coming of the Lord, we shall be raised from the dead, and the immediate transformation, metamorphosis of all of that generation who shall be alive when the Lord comes back to earth: that’s how it shall be when Jesus comes [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. And the luminous cloud, these are the garments of glory – the pillar of fire that shined by night, the pillar of smoke they saw by day [Exodus 13:21], the luminous shekinah flame above the mercy seat [Exodus 25:21-22], the smoke that filled the temple so that Isaiah could not enter in, nor the priests [Isaiah 6:4-5] – these are the garments of God, the glorious raiment of the Lord. I must close.
Just this word: "And when the disciples saw it, they fell as dead. And Jesus came and put His hands upon them," and the Book says, "and He touched them. And when they opened their eyes and looked up, they saw no one, save Jesus only" [Matthew 17:6-8]. Now look, with all your heart, now look. A like and identical thing happened on the lonely Isle of Patmos, where John the sainted, beloved disciple had been exiled to die of exposure and starvation [Revelation 1:9].
And when he was there, thinking by himself:
He heard a voice, as of a great trumpet behind him. And he turned to see the voice that spake unto him; and being turned, he saw seven golden lampstands
And in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, One like unto the Son of God."
[Revelation 1:10, 12-13]
And when John looked upon Him and he describes Him, the immortal, glorified Jesus, John says, "And I fell at His feet as dead." And the same thing happened:
And Jesus put His right hand upon him, and touched him, and said, Fear not, fear not; I am the First and the Last:
I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore; and I have the keys of Death and of Hell.
Think of it, my brother. The Lord God of all the universe is the lowly, blessed Lord Jesus. The miracle of the metamorphosis, glorified, but still the same. His heart hasn’t changed. "And He put His hand on John," the hand of the Almighty of the universe, He put his hand on the beloved disciple and said, "Do not be afraid" [Revelation 1:17]. It’s the same Lord Jesus, whether walking in the days of His flesh [Romans 8:3], whether dying for our sins on the cross [1 Peter 3:18], or whether coming again in glory [Matthew 16:27]. It is just the miracle of the metamorphosis; the transfiguration.
Now, our Lord, bless us in that faith, that the God who reigns on the throne in heaven [Matthew 19:18]0 is the same blessed Jesus who loved little children [Luke 18:16], who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], and who sympathizes with us in our trials [Hebrews 4:15]. Oh, that we could love Him more and serve Him better! In His dear name, amen!