Just six days before Jesus spoke unto His disciples of some seeing Him coming in His kingdom before they died (16:28). If someone chooses to believe that the Bible contradicts itself, they could assume that there is a contradiction between Luke’s account and of this account by Matthew, and Mark’s account. Matthew and Mark both declare six days, but Luke says eight days. If we would consider that Matthew and Mark are probably not counting the day of Peter’s confession and the day of transfiguration, and that Luke does we have no contradiction; just a difference of accounting for the days.
“And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was 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 Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which 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 face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.” Matthew 17:1-8 (KJV)
Peter, James, and his brother John were the “…some standing here, which shall not taste of death till…” whom Jesus speaks of in 16:28. Matthew’s intent seems to be to direct this story to this point to bring the last words of Jesus in chapter 16 into account with this event in Jesus’s and the disciples lives. The three of them and Jesus went to a mountain without the other disciples, and were about to witness the most glorious event of their lives.
Matthew was not at the event, so this has been told him by those who were present; and recounted by the Spirit of the Lord as well. This is a trustworthy accounting. There were three witnesses to the event; and that is one more than necessary for something to be certifiably true; and the fourth witness would have been Jesus, and a fifth for recounting later was the Holy Spirit. Peter is referring to this event when he writes;
“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” 2 Peter 1:16-18 (KJV)
Jesus “was transfigured before them…”; often called His transfiguration, and the place as the “Mount of Transfiguration”. What is meant by “Transfiguration”? It comes from the Greek word – “metamorphoo”, and a word, with which many people today are somewhat familiar is “metamorphosis” comes from that word. The word “Metamorphosis” means “a change of physical form, structure, or substance, esp. by supernatural means;…” THE MIRRIAM/WEBSTER DICTIONARY. The Greek word “metamorphoo” means – “to transform (literally, or figuratively): change, transfigure, transform.” STRONGS (e-Sword edition).
What these blessed and trusted disciples witnessed, therefore, was a pre-death and pre-resurrection appearance of the resurrected glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. This fulfilled Jesus’s words in 16:28, “Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” They witnessed Jesus in His glory. This was the glory which He had with the Father, before He became flesh, and the glory He would have with the Father after his physical death, and His bodily/physical resurrection.
There were two men speaking with Jesus. One was Moses, and one was Elijah. It appears that the disciples identified them without Jesus telling them who they were. They had never seen the physical Moses of Elijah, yet they recognize them. The Law and the Prophets is represented here, along with the one is the Law Giver. Moses represents the Law, and Elijah the Prophets. These men are unique in this appearance. Moses died and his body was buried by God (Deuteronomy 34:5-8); and Elijah never died, but was carried away in a whirlwind chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:9-12); and they were speaking to the One who would die, yet rise again from the grave in His own power.
The following are notes from The Scofield Study Bible –
The transfiguration scene contains, in miniature, all the elements of the future kingdom in manifestation:
(1) the Lord, not in humiliation, but in glory. (Matthew 17:2).
(2) Moses, glorified, representative of the redeemed who have passed through death into the kingdom. (Matthew 13:43); (Luke 9:30-31).
(3) Elijah, glorified, representative of the redeemed who have entered the kingdom by translation. (1 Cor 15:50-53); (1 Thes. 4:14-17).
(4) Peter, James, and John, not glorified, representatives (for the moment) of Israel in the flesh in the future kingdom (Ezekiel 37:21-27).
(5) The multitude at the foot of the mountain (Matthew 17:2); representative of the nations who are to be brought into the kingdom after it is established over Israel (Isaiah 11:10-12); etc.
It also seems that Peter, James and John were sleepy and had fallen asleep, and were awakened; according to Luke’s account of the event. Jesus had brought the three up to the mountain to witness His glory, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and they were about to sleep through it. It sounds kind of like many today. Asleep when we should be awake, and awake when we should be sleeping; and we miss those God-opportunities. Upon witnessing the appearances Peter; the one who always opens his mouth; spoke saying what seems to be the obvious thing for the human race, in the event of something wonderfully unique; powerfully spiritual; and maybe historical: “…Let us make here three tabernacles…”. Let us do something really spiritual to mark this event. Humanity has built shrines and monuments for everything; and in the end move toward worship of it.
Peter is quickly rebuked by a voice from heaven, “While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” It wasn’t that they were not to hear the written words of Moses and Elijah; after all they were inspired by God Himself; it was that monuments or “tabernacles” are of the flesh and will perish. The Word of God, written and Living will never perish.
When you hear the words of Moses; the Law, the songs he wrote, etc; and you hear the words of Elijah and the prophets; you hear the words of Jesus. When you hear the words of Jesus and do them, you are hearing the word of the Law and the prophets. Remember Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” John 6:29 (KJV)
Upon hearing the voice of the Father from heaven they were struck with fear, and fell face down on the ground. That is a great response for all who will fear God. Jesus then came and touched them, and when they looked up the only One they saw was the One whom they had seen glorified before their eyes, and speaking with Moses and Elijah. The Law and the prophets is the Word of God, still worthy of hearing, doing, and bringing to light the light of Christ in a dark world.
In a time when we are pressured to do what we know is Biblically wrong we have Scripture as a sure footing to stand on for the encouragement of making that right decision. In order to make Biblical/Scriptural decisions you must know the Bible, and be filled with the Spirit of God, or you will fall.
How can we know that Jesus is coming in His glory? By the evidence that He revealed His glory previous to His death, burial, and bodily resurrection. His bodily resurrection was witnessed by His disciples and over 500 brethren (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
In verse 8 of chapter 17 Matthew we have one of the Bible’s “Be not afraid(s)”. I just imagine that at that moment those three men needed that “Fear not” from the lips of our Savior. They are always good to hear.