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On The Holy Mount

There have been many holy scenes on Bible mountains but never one like this. It is recounted in Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36.

The background is deeply significant. It was away in the north at Caesarea Philippi, on the border of Gentile territory. There, apparently for the first time, the Lord Jesus unfolded His plan to build a Church which in later days would be found to embrace both Jews and Gentiles. But the cost would be His own life. So immediately following this He disclosed explicitly to His followers that His earthly journey would culminate in a death of suffering to be followed by His return to glory.

Then he invited individual disciples to follow Him in His path through suffering to glory. He put it to them in that characteristic manner which since then many have learned to love. He said, in effect, Four your sakes I must go that way. Are any of you willing to follow Me?

With this he linked the memorable threefold reason why His disciples should follow Him, concluding with the promise that certain of those standing around would "in no wise taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" (Matt.), or "till they see the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark). Some understand this as the establishing of the kingdom of God at Pentecost. Others see the fulfilment in the Transfiguration scene which followed six days later.

But however this may be viewed, the background to the Transfiguration is clearly the Lord's explicit announcement of His suffering and death at the hands of the leaders of Israel. All heaven was evidently interested in the subject. It was so at His birth also, when an angel brought the tidings. But it was two men, Moses and Elijah, who were sent down to talk about His death. These men stand related in the ways of God to the original constitution and the ultimate restoration of Israel respectively. They represented the law and the prophets.

It was night on the Holy Mount. The three apostles must have been for ever grateful that they did not sleep through all those memorable hours.

The Lord had been praying in His usual way, when suddenly He was transfigured before them. His whole appearance was altered to the brightness of the sun in its full strength, and His garments became white as the light.

Then in their own relative glory came Moses and Elijah from heaven to commune with Him. No wonder Michael, the archangel, had a dispute with the devil about the body of Moses. No wonder a chariot and horses of fire accompanied Elijah as he went up by a whirlwind into heaven. These men were to come back later in the service of God.

Together, for a little while, they spoke of "His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem". Had Luke not told us this, the subject of the conversation would doubtless have provided endless, inconclusive discussion among Christians. They talked about His death, His departure to the Father, the exodus He would lead as a kind of firstfruits, which would far exceed what Moses had led from Egypt.

The disciples were not yet ready to receive the implications of His impending death, but all heaven awaited it, for the counsels of eternity required it, and messengers had come from heaven to strengthen Him for it. The law and the prophets had abundantly predicted it and now their representatives attended in person to bow out of the scene and allow the Son of God to fill it with His own glory.

Then the disciples saw the heavenly messengers about to leave. The grandeur of the whole scene had made them afraid. Peter felt something appropriate was called for, so blurted out the suggestion that they should all remain together and they would make three booths for the Lord, for Moses and for Elijah. But while he was still speaking, one of God's great clouds enveloped them (how often the divine presence was associated with clouds!) and the voice from heaven came to them, "This is My beloved Son, My Chosen, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him".

Little wonder the disciples fell on their faces, sore afraid. Then they felt a touch, heard the familiar voice say, "Arise, and be not afraid". And there He stood beside them, "Jesus only", the same Jesus they knew and loved so well.

Years later Peter recounted it all in his second letter, see 2 Pet. 1:16-21. If the whole enactment on the holy mount brought strength to his Master for His coming encounter, it clearly brought also to Peter a sense of spiritual stability which was to fortify him for the years of his ministry.

Thereafter no one would ever persuade him that he had mistakenly followed "cunningly devised fables". There on the mount he had actually been an eyewitness of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in majesty and power. He had actually heard the voice of God giving honour and glory to the Son of His pleasure. He had actually witnessed the representatives of the law and the prophets speaking with the One whose coming they had long foretold.

So to Peter in that day, and to us in ours, the seal was set to the whole word of Old Testament prophecy. Now it shines in all its brilliance like a lamp in a dark place, and will continue to do so till the Light Himself breaks through the gloom at His coming. Till which day, says Peter, we do well to take heed in our hearts to that same sure Word.