The glorification of God through the establishment and advancement of His kingdom is, I believe, the most succinct way to express the theme of the Bible. Covenants are the application and expression of this plan and how the plan is continuously and everlastingly fulfilled. And the heart of the plan is world redemption—rescuing people, the world, and all in it from sin, death, hell, and the curse. For God must redeem men and women to be His loving worshipers—they are the citizens of the kingdom. But they are, by His perfect design, eternally embodied creatures who must live within and be rightly related to a very physical world overflowing with good things—and so that world, and our relationship to it, must experience God’s comprehensive redemption as well.
It is our Lord’s work—in His First and Second Advents, as well as all He does between, before, and after them—to accomplish this total redemption for His people. This redemption is far more than just the personal rescue of the individual sinner from hell into a right positional relationship with God, which is why I have tried to highlight these sometimes-neglected aspects as also part of God’s total redemption. While the work will be consummated forever at His Second Advent in both mortal (millennium) and immortal (resurrected earth) phases, it has truly begun now and is advancing and extending according to His will and purpose.
The transfiguration, then, fits into all this because it is a real preview of the fullness of glory the Lord will manifest as He returns at the end of this age, although it also likely has reference to other aspects of His self-glorification (most notably His heavenly session). This hope—of the certain, immovable, infallible advancement and completion of His saving work in all its aspects—sustains us in trial and is the ground of confident expectation of good in this life and the next.
A. The Heavenly Promise (v. 1)
Recall to your mind all our Lord has said in the previous verses—His identity as the incarnate God and Messiah; His certain imminent suffering, death, and resurrection; the cost of following Him as a believing disciple—for what He says in this verse is a continuation of all of that. Why? “And.” This is part of the same conversation. Remember Jesus has a human mind and all that implies for how His thought processes work and how He communicates. That implies further that something about what Jesus has already said made Him think to say this latest thing. And if so, then clearly whatever “the kingdom of God com[ing] in power” means has implications for all Jesus has just said.
Precisely what “the kingdom coming with power” denotes has been the source of much discussion and debate over the centuries. Some, of course, take it to refer to our Lord’s second coming—and then promptly say Jesus was mistaken about the timing of His return, though the implications of this idea for His deity and the inerrancy of Scripture differ depending on which liberal is saying this to you. Amillennial and preterist commentators tend to view this as a statement of Jesus’ heavenly session from Daniel 7, the inauguration of the kingdom at Pentecost, or both. Nearly all conservative commentators are united in saying it refers to His transfiguration—more specifically, that the glory He displayed there is a preview of His second advent and the glory that will fill the world at that time.
I agree that our Lord is primarily referring to His second coming in the glory manifested in the transfiguration. But saying this is all He is talking about is mistaken. I see no issue with viewing the transfiguration as a manifestation of the glory of His kingdom—a kingdom established progressively, with progressive glory and wonder, culminating in His second advent (a complex event that itself has stages and degrees of glory). So I agree with my amillennial and preterist brethren when they say He is referring to the glory of His heavenly session, to the kingdom being inaugurated in that way. But I disagree that that is all He refers to. Similarly, I agree that He is primarily referring to (a) His transfiguration and (b) that the transfiguration is a preview of the glory to come at His second advent. But I disagree that that is all it denotes.
The Lord’s kingdom and its glory are both present and future, with increasingly wondrous and fruitful stages until the final, everlasting consummation. That comprehensive salvation and kingdom are our hope for the present, for the future five minutes and five years from now, and for an eternity of blessing and joy in God’s presence on a renewed earth. How kind of our Savior to give the apostles—and us through their “more sure word”—a manifestation of this sure and certain glory!
Some of those standing beside Jesus that day certainly saw the manifestation of His glory in the transfiguration. They and others saw His glory in the inauguration of His kingdom in the ascension and its effects (such as the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost). He continues to manifest the power of His kingdom to us today in a thousand ways. And one day, every eye will see our Lord as His shekinah glory fills the world with brightness in His return to judge and to save. Truly, Jesus promised the earthly, powerful manifestation of kingdom glory. But that is far richer and bigger and more luminous than many of us realize.
B. The Heavenly Preview (vv. 2–3)
Mark uses one of the most precise statements of time in all the gospels. Six days from this statement—Luke says eight because he is including the day the statement was made and the day of the transfiguration itself—Jesus’ promise was fulfilled. Luke tells us that Jesus took His inner circle—Peter, James, and John, all pillars of the earliest church—up to “the mountain” to pray (9:28). We aren’t told what mountain this was, though given their location, the mountain is probably Mount Hermon, as that was the one closest to where they were. At any rate, that it is denoted as “the mountain” is because it would have been immediately familiar to the original audience.
Luke alone also adds that at some point—probably before the actual transfiguration, though we can’t be sure—the apostles had fallen asleep (9:32a)! Imagine falling asleep and waking up to the most dazzling, even terrifying, sight you’ve ever seen!
For as He prayed—as He communed with His Father, doubtless about the things He had shared with His men and the crowds about a week prior—He was transfigured. That word is used only four times (Matt. 17:2, Rom. 12:2, 2 Cor. 3:18). In each case, it carries the idea of something like the true inner nature of something being manifested outwardly so it can be seen. In fact, this is the Greek word from where our English term “metamorphosis” comes.
The divine glory Jesus always had as eternal God but was veiled in His human body shone out through Him. “Glory” of course does not primarily refer to physical light but the perfect attributes of God in all their perfection and combination and manifestation. But often in Scripture, when God manifests His character and presence, light accompanies it as the visible manifestation of His presence and power.
The apostles are really seeing this. They are really seeing actual light flashing and emitting from their Rabbi and friend, light that denotes the perfect glory of His power, kingdom, and return. Light that screams to any mind immersed in the OT, “God is here!” Even His face shines like the sun in its strength and His robes cannot contain the intense whiteness of His purity—they are like no launderer on earth can whiten them!
Truly, this manifestation ought to change how we think about our Lord’s work in this age—it has this glory, even if we must see it by faith. But that work points us forward to the day when it will all be completed, and His glory will envelop the world and the unredeemed will cry out for the rocks to fall on them to hide them from the coming wrath (Revelation 6:12-16; cf. Matthew 24:29-31; Isaiah 2:19, 13:10, possibly 60:1-3; Joel 2:10, 30-31, 3:14-16; Psa. 97:1-6—remember that this manifestation of glory encompasses the entirety of our Lord’s Second Advent, both the pretribulatuional rapture and the return to earth).
C. The Heavenly Visitors (vv. 4–6)
But there is more. Our Lord is suddenly joined by two of the great personages of the OT—Moses, who represents the Pentateuch, and Elijah, who represents the prophets. Additionally, both men related in key ways to the person and work of Christ. Moses, of course, was a type of Christ and spoke of the Greater Prophet like him that must be heeded on pain of destruction (Deut. 18:15-19). Elijah is said to return before the day of the Lord and perform a new covenant work among the people so that God will not put the entire earth under His curse (Malachi 4:5-6). Their work and ministries pointed to and were fulfilled in our Lord Jesus, who is the Greatest Prophet who brings God’s kingdom.
The verb form of “talking” implies a protracted conversation that went on for some time. Luke writes that they spoke of “His departure”—His death. Fully awake, Peter in confusion, joy, and terror says they should build tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah (v. 5). This is a clear reference to the Feast of Tabernacles, when Jewish people would build makeshift huts to recall God’s deliverance and provision for them in the wilderness. Thus Peter associates Christ’s glory with provision and as something to celebrate! Moreover: Can’t they stay here, with Jesus? They love Him. They are in awe of Him. And maybe, just maybe, if they stay here long enough they can avoid the cross.
But God, of course, had other plans.
D. The Heavenly Purpose (vv. 7–8)
God the Son is not the only member of the Godhead to be here. God the Father also shows up. Just as He did at our Lord’s baptism—His anointing and commissioning as Savior and King, the formal stepping into His office that would be completed in His ascension—so the Father speaks again, and He means to be heard. Jesus is His beloved Son. The whole world is to lit. “continually heed” the Lord Jesus. And of course, to Jewish minds, hearing and obeying were not things that could be separated! Hear Him when He tells you of His death. Hear Him when He tells you of His glorious present-future kingdom. Hear Him when He speaks of the cost and reward of following Him. O Christian! O unsaved friend! God the Father commands you to heed His beloved Son!
And as soon as it began, it is over. And Jesus comes up to them, and lovingly says to not be afraid. O precious Christian friend: God loves you. He is for you in Christ. There is no reason to fear His glory and His power, for they are for your benefit and blessing. Whatever we face in following Jesus, He is here (Matt. 28:20), with words of counsel for us (Isa. 50:4, 10-11) as we await and work toward the present and future unfolding of His glorious kingdom. Amen.