The Gospel Messenger—1886
By Elder W. M. Mitchell
In compliance with a request of Brother S. H. Oliver, of Barnesville, Texas, we offer a few remarks on the Text, Luke ix, 30, 31: And as he prayed the fashion of his countenance was altered and his raiment was white and glistening. And, behold there talked with him two men which were Moses and Elias, who appeared in glory and spoke of his decease which he should accomplish in Jerusalem.
What is recorded here, in this connection, is a most wonderful event. In Mark 9th and Matthew 17th chapters, we have a more full and little different wording, but substantially the same glorious things presented. But however wonderful or mysterious these glorious things may be to us in our present mode of existence, they are no doubt real facts—not ideal nor imaginary. The plainness and simplicity with which this wonderful event is related by the three evangelists, show clearly how real it appeared to the three apostles, James, Peter and John, to whom our Lord had chosen to make this wonderful display of his “excellent glory.” He was transfigured before them, his raiment was exceedingly white, beyond all earthly cleansing, and his very face “did shine as the sun.” And in the midst of this extraordinary brightness a heavenly embassy, from the eternal world, suddenly make their appearance, in great glory and familiarity, talking with Jesus in the hearing of these three astonished apostles—speaking of his death, which he should accomplish in Jerusalem.
But though this is no “cunningly devised fable,” but a real fact, yet we regard it as a revelation to the faith of these apostles, and not merely to their natural senses. Nor was it such a circumstance as mere natural men could behold. The natural, unregenerate man, could no more have seen Jesus in this heavenly brightness, and seen Moses and Elias, hearing and understanding their conversation with Jesus, than he could receive and understand the things of the Spirit of God, which we are told is “foolishness unto him.”—l Cor. ii, 14. “The things of God, knoweth no man, but by the Spirit of God.” “He that hath an ear to hear let him hear.” Yea, let him hear what the “Spirit saith to the churches.” The Spirit of God speaks, and it speaks specially to those who are prepared in spirit to hear.
But while a revelation of these heavenly things may be, and are very incomprehensible to us, yet they afford a glimpse of divine realities of which we can only now know in part. Even the brightest manifestations of heavenly glory which is made to the faith of the saints, is as seeing “through a glass darkly.” But it should rejoice our souls rather than excite a vain curiosity, that we have something here presented more glorious than the fiery sign on Carmel or the burning on Mount Sinai. “This is none other but the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”
These three chosen apostles whom Jesus designed should be “pillars” in the gospel church, had never before this time stood on such an elevation of faith as they now did. They were now introduced more fully into the deep mystery of redemption, and the solemn truth that Christ must suffer and die for the sins of his people was being more fully disclosed— a truth which they had not been able to bear. They could learn here that in the crucifixion and death of their glorious King that he had not fallen by accident, but that he voluntarily gave himself up to death. Moses and Elias talked with Jesus, spoke of his decease as something that he should voluntarily accomplish in Jerusalem; and therefore the transfiguration of Jesus, together with the presence and talk of Moses and Elias, forever banishes the thought that there is anything in the law or in the prophets at variance with the coming, suffering, death or kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is evidently a striking representation between the spirit of the Old Testament and that of the New. Moses stands as the representative of the law, and Elias or Elijah, as the representative of the prophets, but both the law and the prophets “testify Of Jesus.” We know that in the New Testament Moses is sometimes mentioned when the law, or only the writings of Moses are intended. So also of the prophets. “But even unto this day when Moses is read,” (that is, his writings or the law,) “the vail is upon the heart.”—2 Cor. iii, 15. “For they that dwell at Jerusalem and their rulers, because they knew him not, nor the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath day they have fulfilled,” these very prophesies, “in condemning him.”—Acts xiii, 27.
Christ Jesus is the sum and substance of all the inspired testimony, whether in the Old or New Testament. He himself speaks specially of all the Old Testament Scriptures, whether of the law or of the prophets, and says, “They testify of me.” (St. John v, 39.) He tells the self-righteous Jews, who professed to be disciples of Moses, that “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.”—St. John v, 46. And so clearly do Moses and Elias or the law and the prophets, combine with the apostles in one united testimony of Jesus, as the only name given under heaven or among men whereby a sinner can be saved, that it is said after the resurrection of Jesus, when he had fallen in with two of his sorrowing disciples, who were very sad about what had “happened,” or come by some accident or chance, as they verily thought, he sharply rebuked their stupidity by saying, “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken ;“ “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”—Luke xxiv, 25, 27. And again, “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets and in the Psalm8, concerning me.”—Luke xxiv, 44.
We see, therefore, from the above texts as well as many others which might be quoted, that in all things Christ Jesus has the preeminence. He is indeed the “alpha and omega,” the beginning and the end of all that is written in the Scriptures. Abraham rejoiced to see the day of Christ and he saw it by faith and was glad. “By faith Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” And one of the apostles of Jesus, rising in the holy triumph of faith, says, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”—Heb. xii, 1. It is unto Jesus that all God’s people must look for salvation, whether of the Old or New dispensation. He is the glorious ensign unto whom the people of both dispensations are gathered. The ensign of a well regulated army stands in the center, with the banner of his country unfurled over his head. Both wings of the army dress and look to this common center. Those to the right of the ensign have their eyes directed to their left; to the ensign as their guide; and those to his left turn their eyes to the right, so that both meet on the ensign as one common center of attraction. Jesus Christ is the glorious ensign for both Jews and Gentiles, and of the twain he has made one new man in himself, and thus there is but one body and one spirit by which this body has been animated in all ages of the world. Abel had faith in Christ when he offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain; and the same grace that saves Abel saves Paul, Cornelius, or other Gentile sinners, till this day. God has thus “set up an ensign for the nations and has assembled the outcasts of Israel and gathered together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.”—Isa. xi, 12. Unto this ensign shall the “Gentiles seek and his rest shall be glorious.” We dare not pretend to know all that was intended to be illustrated by the transfiguration of Christ upon the holy Mount, or by the sudden appearance of those distinguished men, Moses and Elias, from the invisible world. Moses had been dead for near fifteen hundred years, and Elijah was translated to heaven without seeing death, near one thousand years before this time. But now they meet together with the apostles of the new dispensation—they talk with Jesus and speak of his death which he was soon to “accomplish” These are indeed wonderful things, and though we cannot fully understand the full import of them, we must not theorize or speculate upon, nor even spiritualize so as to explain the truth away altogether.
We think, however, from the few texts we have already quoted, that it is no forced construction to say that however real and personal Moses and Elias may have been as men, they are nevertheless, in this connection, to be regarded in a somewhat figurative and representative character also. Moses, as we have already indicated, representing the law with all its precepts and commands, ceremonies, sacrifices and offerings; while Elias represents the testimony of the prophets when the “Spirit of Christ was in them, and testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and of the glory which should follow.”—l Peter i. How forcible therefore is the truth as presented to us by the inspired apostle that “we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.” And may we not also here see something of this kind indicated to us in that “bright cloud” that overshadowed the Son of God and his holy prophets and apostles on this consecrated Mount of God? It was indeed a bright cloud out of which there was but one voice, the voice of God, saying, “This is my beloved Son, hear ye him.” Moses was gone, and Elias had disappeared from these three apostles, but here was their concentrated testimony, coming as the voice of God from a bright cloud of heaven which overshadowed them. So completely were these chosen and astonished apostles cut loose from the world and from Moses and Elias as men, that after they had been enveloped in the bright cloud, and heard the awful voice which proceeded from it, they “saw no man, save Jesus only.” Jesus is the substance of all the divine testimony of the Scriptures, whether in the law, in the prophets, or in the Psalms.
And the apostles determined by the Spirit to “know nothing among” their brethren, save Christ and him crucified.
The combined testimony of Moses and Elias, or the law and the prophets concentrate in this “Bright Cloud,” and with one united testimony proclaim from heaven, as the voice of God, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” Clouds in the Scriptures are frequently mentioned as symbols of God’s presence, his power or his glory. So the bright cloud here has an important and sublime signification as manifesting the Divine presence as in the former days with the Old Testament saints. From the days of Noah down to this present time God hrs “set his bow in the cloud” as a sign or token that he will not again deluge the earth with water, and “in a pillar of cloud” the Lord went with his people in all their journeyings of forty years in the wilderness. It was the continual symbol of God’s presence among them and of the fulfillment of his promise to them. It went before them to guide them in the right way, or stood behind as occasion required to protect them from their enemies. Israel’s God was in the cloud, and thus it represented Christ and the fullness of the Godhead in him. God in Christ is our hope of salvation. He is our Comforter, Protector and Director in all our conflicts, trials, temptations and journeyings through the wilderness of this world.
When the Lord, in some striking and remarkable manner, is seen to guide, comfort and protect his church and his people, it is then it may be said, in the language of inspiration, that he has “Created upon every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory there shall be a defense.”—Isa. iv., 5. There is indeed something very glorious signified in the Scriptures by the clouds. God manifested himself in a cloud upon Sinai. In this cloud be made darkness his pavilion; and round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the sky. When God speaks in his law character to men out of a cloud, as on Sinai, there is blackness and darkness so that they cannot, without a mediator, endure that which is spoken. At the dedication of the typical temple a “Cloud filled the house of the Lord so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house.” Then even Solomon said the “Lord dwelleth in thick darkness.” How dark indeed is the dwelling of our God as seen only in the justice of his holy law? How should man be just with God? Who shall be able to stand before him?
But the Bright Cloud into which Jesus, Moses, Elias and the three apostles entered, and which completely overshadowed them is very different from the cloud on Mount Sinai, when it burned as a furnace, and different also from the thick darkness which veiled all the temple service. This is a Bright Cloud, having in it no thundering of death, no blackness nor darkness of despair, but a voice, the voice of God the Father, from his eternal throne, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” No wrath here, “I am well pleased for his righteousness sake.” This is the voice of the prophets. “Hear ye him.” This is the voice of Moses in the law. “A Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me,” says Moses, “him shall ye hear in all things.” This then is the voice of Moses and Elias, the divine testimony of the law and the prophets, concentrated in the one Bright Cloud out of which it comes to us as the voice of God the Father. It is a voice of mercy, peace, truth, righteousness, wisdom and love all combined.
The wonderful things which now had taken place on this holy mount, and which James, Peter and John had seen, heard and felt for themselves, was something in their experience not to be forgotten. Though, as yet, it was not to be told to others, it was doubtless designed to help the faith of those apostles for the present to understand more fully the nature of Christ’s kingdom, and the glory of his Godhead, which before this had been but dimly seen or very imperfectly known. They had seen him perform miracles in many things, and they, too, had, in his name, been empowered to cast out devils, heal the sick and many other things, but still they did not fully understand the complex character of the Mediator as having two natures blended in one person. But on the Mount of Transfiguration they saw, not simply a glory shed forth on the Saviour, but they saw the beams of that brightness of the glory of God in Christ which now shined, as it were, in and through his sacred humanity. In this glory appeared Moses and Elias, as well as James, Peter and John. And in this heavenly glory, in a more full and glorious state than we are now able to bear, or to contemplate, shall all the redeemed people of God of every nation, kindred and tongue appear.
We do not now know what we shall be, we are not now capable of knowing, but we know that when Christ shall appear all will “appear with him in glory.” It is said in the connection of our text that Moses and Elias “appeared in glory” when Christ was transfigured. The three apostles of Jesus were capacitated at that time to see this appearing, but soon it all vanished away and they were left to wonder what the ‘‘rising from the dead could mean.”
God is pleased to reveal and make known his will and purposes to his people as they are prepared to receive such knowledge. We should not be too hasty to speak of things that we know nothing about. The apostles for some time did not understand that Christ must be crucified, and the very mention of such a thing even by Christ himself caused one of them to treat the idea with abhorrent disgust: “Be it far from thee, Lord;” “This shall not be, I will go with you to prison and to death.” As much as to say, “I will prevent it, if in my power.” Let young Christians especially young preachers, and old ones too, take care they do not get a little too confident in things of which they are profoundly ignorant.
But we must close this already too lengthy article. It may be that neither Brother Oliver nor others will be fully satisfied with our weak comment upon this sublime subject. But let them remember that at best the saints of God can only know here in part.—M.
Submitted by Elder David Montgomery
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THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION