We have here the narrative of Christ’s transfiguration, which was designed for a specimen of that glory of his in which he will come to judge the world, of which he had lately been speaking, and, consequently, an encouragement to his disciples to suffer for him, and never to be ashamed of him. We had this account before in Matthew and Mark, and it is well worthy to be repeated to us, and reconsidered by us, for the confirmation of our faith in the Lord Jesus, as the brightness of his Father’s glory and the light of the world, for the filling of our minds with high and honourable thoughts of him, notwithstanding his being clothed with a body, and giving us some idea of the glory which he entered into at his ascension, and in which he now appears within the veil, and for the raising and encouraging of our hopes and expectations concerning the glory reserved for all believers in the future state.
I. Here is one circumstance of the narrative that seems to differ from the other two evangelists that related it. They said that it was six days after the foregoing sayings; Luke says that it was about eight days after, that is, it was that day sevennight, six whole days intervening, and it was the eighth day. Some think that it was in the night that Christ was transfigured, because the disciples were sleepy, as in his agony, and in the night his appearance in splendour would be the more illustrious; if in the night, the computation of the time would be the more doubtful and uncertain; probably, in the night, between the seventh and eighth day, and so about eight days.
II. Here are divers circumstances added and explained, which are very material.
1. We are here told that Christ had this honour put upon him when he was praying: He went up into a mountain to pray, as he frequently did (Luke 9:28), and as he prayed he was transfigured. When Christ humbled himself to pray, he was thus exalted. He knew before that this was designed for him at this time, and therefore seeks it by prayer. Christ himself must sue out the favours that were purposed for him, and promised to him: Ask of me, and I will give thee, Ps. 2:8. And thus he intended to put an honour upon the duty of prayer, and to recommend it to us. It is a transfiguring, transforming duty; if our hearts be elevated and enlarged in it, so as in it to behold the glory of the Lord, we shall be changed into the same image from glory to glory, 2 Cor. 3:18. By prayer we fetch in the wisdom, grace, and joy, which make the face to shine.
2. Luke does not use the word transfigured—metamorphothe (which Matthew and Mark used), perhaps because it had been used so much in the Pagan theology, but makes use of a phrase equivalent, to eidos tou prosopou heteron—the fashion of his countenance was another thing from what it had been: his face shone far beyond what Moses’s did when he came down from the mount; and his raiment was white and glistering: it was exastrapton—bright like lightning (a word used only here), so that he seemed to be arrayed all with light, to cover himself with light as with a garment.
3. It was said in Matthew and Mark that Moses and Elias appeared to them; here it is said that they appeared in glory, to teach us that saints departed are in glory, are in a glorious state; they shine in glory. He being in glory, they appeared with him in glory, as all the saints shall shortly do.
4. We are here told what was the subject of the discourse between Christ and the two great prophets of the Old Testament: They spoke of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. Elegon ten exodon autou—his exodus, his departure; that is, his death. (1.) The death of Christ is here called his exit, his going out, his leaving the world. Moses and Elias spoke of it to him under that notion, to reconcile him to it, and to make the foresight of it the more easy to his human nature. The death of the saints is their exodus, their departure out of the Egypt of this world, their release out of a house of bondage. Some think that the ascension of Christ is included here in his departure; for the departure of Israel out of Egypt was a departure in triumph, so was his when he went from earth to heaven. (2.) This departure of his he must accomplish; for thus it was determined, the matter was immutably fixed in the counsel of God, and could not be altered. (3.) He must accomplish it at Jerusalem, though his residence was mostly in Galilee; for his most spiteful enemies were at Jerusalem, and there the sanhedrim sat, that took upon them to judge of prophets. (4.) Moses and Elias spoke of this, to intimate that the sufferings of Christ, and his entrance into his glory, were what Moses and the prophets had spoken of; see Luke 24:26, 27; 1 Pet. 1:11. (5.) Our Lord Jesus, even in his transfiguration, was willing to enter into a discourse concerning his death and sufferings, to teach us that meditations on death, as it is our departure out of this world to another, are never unseasonable, but in a special manner season able when at any time we are advanced, lest we should be lifted up above measure. In our greatest glories on earth, let us remember that here we have no continuing city.
5. We are here told, which we were not before, that the disciples were heavy with sleep, Luke 9:32. When the vision first began, Peter, and James, and John were drowsy, and inclined to sleep. Either it was late, or they were weary, or had been disturbed in their rest the night before; or perhaps a charming composing air, or some sweet and melodious sounds, which disposed them to soft and gentle slumbers, were a preface to the vision; or perhaps it was owing to a sinful carelessness: when Christ was at prayer with them, they did not regard his prayer as they should have done, and, to punish them for that, they were left to sleep on now, when he began to be transfigured, and so lost an opportunity of seeing how that work of wonder was wrought. These three were now asleep, when Christ was in his glory, as afterwards they were, when he was in his agony; see the weakness and frailty of human nature, even in the best, and what need they have of the grace of God. Nothing could be more affecting to these disciples, one would think, than the glories and the agonies of their Master, and both in the highest degree; and yet neither the one nor the other would serve to keep them awake. What need have we to pray to God for quickening grace, to make us not only alive, but lively! Yet that they might be competent witnesses of this sign from heaven, to those that demanded one, after awhile they recovered themselves, and became perfectly awake; and then they took an exact view of all those glories, so that they were able to give a particular account, as we find one of them does, of all that passed when they were with Christ in the holy mount, 2 Pet. 1:18.
6. It is here observed that it was when Moses and Elias were now about to depart that Peter said, Lord, it is good to be here, let us make three tabernacles. Thus we are often not sensible of the worth of our mercies till we are about to lose them; nor do we covet and court their continuance till they are upon the departure. Peter said this, not knowing what he said. Those know not what they say that talk of making tabernacles on earth for glorified saints in heaven, who have better mansions in the temple there, and long to return to them.
7. It is here added, concerning the cloud that overshadowed them, that they feared as they entered into the cloud. This cloud was a token of God’s more peculiar presence. It was in a cloud that God of old took possession of the tabernacle and temple, and, when the cloud covered the tabernacle, Moses was not able to enter (Exod. 40:34, 35), and, when it filled the temple, the priests could not stand to minister by reason of it, 2 Chron. 5:14. Such a cloud was this, and then no wonder that the disciples were afraid to enter into it. But never let any be afraid to enter into a cloud with Jesus Christ; for he will be sure to bring them safely through it.
8. The voice which came from heaven is here, and in Mark, related not so fully as in Matthew: This is my beloved Son, hear him: though those words, in whom I am well pleased, which we have both in Matthew and Peter, are not expressed, they are implied in that, This is my beloved Son; for whom he loves, and in whom he is well pleased, come all to one; we are accepted in the Beloved.
Lastly, The apostles are here said to have kept this vision private. They told no man in those days, reserving the discovery of it for another opportunity, when the evidences of Christ’s being the Son of God were completed in the pouring out of the Spirit, and that doctrine was to be published to all the world. As there is a time to speak, so there is a time to keep silence. Every thing is beautiful and useful in its season.