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to have been produced on the persons of the Apostles, though they must, one would think, have been within the circle of the descending glory; while in Jesus Himself the change was so great that His whole body became laminous, His countenance shone resplendent as the sun—nay, His very raiment, suffused and overcharged with the irresistible radiance, became white and glistering.
This effect can surely be referred to only one cause. A Divine manifestation it was, but the manifestation came from within, not from without. The Incarnation fully accounts for it, and it again as fully agrees with and bears witness to the Incarnation. We see in it the true Shechinah, penetrating the outer walls of the human sanctuary, and lighting up the whole temple of the Saviour's body. We see in it the Sun of Righteousness——to borrow the noble figure of one of the later prophets-piercing the cloud of humanity behind which it has hitherto been hidden, and shining through it with a most surpassing brightness. No interpretation short of this adequately explains the phenomenon, as none accords so well with those other passages in our Lord's history which teach, if they teach anything at all intelligible, that in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. This too, as we shall presently see, meets the special requirement of the Apostles at the time the event took place. It makes them, in one supreme instance, "eye-witnesses of the Divine Majesty,” and thereby qualifies them to say, what in fact they were expressly chosen to say, “ The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
But with the transfiguration of our Lord's person there is, in the next place, the testimony outwardly given to His supremacy and dignity. Several particulars combine in this—the appearance of Moses and Elias, their disappearance, the subject of their conversation with Jesus, and the termination of the whole interview by the words spoken from heaven.
They appeared “ in glory," says the Evangelist-came from their abodes of blessedness, and came in celestial attire, to do Him honour. Their very presence was itself an acknowledgment of His preeminence, both in person and office; the more so as their appearing seems to have been anticipated and prepared for in the very manner of their departure out of the world. They did not see death, or if one of them saw it, it must have been in a sense different from that in which death comes to others. But their presence was this chiefly, because they appeared representatively, as leaders in an economy that was now to pass away. They had formerly occupied the position of mediators between God and man, and in this character had been entrusted with high prerogatives and responsibilities ; but their authority was now to cease, and they came as if formally to resign their office to Him who was thenceforth to be the “One Mediator.” Hence they talked with Jesus, not with the Apostles ; and hence too the subject of their discourse was His decease, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. In Him their functions all merged, and in His death the Law and the Prophets, for which they stood, had their final consummation and end.
Strikingly is this illustrated in one or two remarkable incidents.
While Peter is expressing his ill-considered desire to detain the two heavenly messengers by building for them and Jesus three tabernacles, a cloud gathers about them and shuts them in,* and out of this cloud, as from an inner sanctuary, there comes a voice, recognised at once as that of the Eternal Father, which proclaims, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” What is this but a visible withdrawment and setting aside for ever of both Jewish legislator and Jewish prophet? What is it but the formal installation of the Son by His Father in the kingdom He was then establishing, and the definite transfer to Him of all its rights and powers ? Anciently the prophecy had run : “I have set my king on my holy bill of Zion. I will declare the decree : the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” And now this prophecy is accomplishedthe Son is appointed Heir of all things. He stands alone—the Fulfilment of all the past, the Hope of all the future. It is no longer Moses and Elias, either or both of them ; but Christ in their stead, the one Law-giver and Prophet to whom they both looked, and for whom they both lived. He only hath the words of eternal life. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, speaks now, and will continue to speak henceforth, only through His Son. “Hear him," therefore, is the command which solemnly comes from Heaven—that is, Him alone not Moses, not Elias, nor anyone of merely similar rank, but “hear," says Jehovah, “my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And then, as if to symbolise in outward act this exclusive appointment by the Father of His only-begotten Son, as if to speak it to the eye as well as to the ear, and so to speak it that the lesson shall not either be mistaken or forgotten, the whole scene vanishes out of sight, and Jesus, when the voice is past, is “ found alone.”
II. THE SPECIAL OBJECTS OF REMARKABLE These, I think, are mainly two, one having relation to the Apostles, the other to Jesus.
To the Apostles the transfiguration was a reassurance and still further confirmation of their faith in the character and mission of Christ. Slowly had they come to a true, and still more slowly to an adequate acquaintance with Him. This, indeed, was not fully attained until a yet later period. It seems to have been His purpose to train them gradually—to lead them step by step into the infinite mystery of His person and work. Perhaps by a similar law of progress He attained to a perfect knowledge of this Himself. A little before the scene here presented, in which He stands before them in a new and overpowering revelation of His hitherto hidden, glory, He seeks to draw from them some confession of the judgment respecting Himself at which they and others had so far arrived. “Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am ? ” He inquires. To which the reply was, "Some say that thou art John the Baptist; some Elias ; and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” But pressing the
• St. Matthew says a "bright" cloud; so bright, perhaps, that to human eyes it would seem dark : and hence a cloud-"dark with excess of light.”
question still closer, He demands, “But whom say ye that I am ?” To which, answering for Himself and the rest, Peter said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Here, then, is an acknowledgment both of His Messiahship and His divinity. To this point had they now advanced, not doubtfully, as at other times, but with the full assurance of a settled conviction. They had come to see in Him not only the Anointed of God, but also the Son of God; and in this knowledge, thus certainly acquired, one part of their Apostolic education was completed.
But mark “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." Not before that time, because until then they were not prepared for this further lesson ; but from that time, because knowing assuredly who "He was, they must now be taught explicitly what He had come to do. He was the Son of the living God—that they had conclusively learned ; as the Son of the living God He must suffer many things and be killed—this they had now to learn.
Here then was a terrible perplexity, and a still more terrible sorrow. How could a belief in one fact co-exist with a belief in the other? If the Son of the living God, why should He be put to death ? and if put to death, how can He be the Son of the living God ? Ah, to the depth of this mystery it was not easy to penetrate! This was the last and greatest lesson they had to master, as it contained the deepest and most vital truth they were chosen hereafter to publish. Much had to be done and much to be witnessed ere this secret was disclosed in its wondrous depth of meaning and of mercy. All that was now clear to them-all, it may be, that could now be made clear-was that Jesus must suffer and must die. What wonder if, in a momentary revulsion of feeling from this terrible and unex. pected disclosure, Peter hastily said, “Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee"? What wonder if, in prospect of a future so dark and desolate for them, their hearts should be oppressed with an infinite sadness and grief? What wonder if especially, in the strain now suddenly put upon it, their faith in Him as the promised Redeemer of Israel should weaken and give way?
Now at this juncture, "about an eight days after these sayings," the transfiguration occurred, and met the whole case of the disciples. It was at once a new argument and a new excitement, reassuring their faith and revivifying their hope and joy. Neither doubt nor despondency could long exist in presence of a scene so extraordinary and so glorious. Looking back to the confession of Peter, it proclaimed the truth to which he had borne such emphatic testimony with a power of visible demonstration before which every shadow of uncertainty must have melted away. Looking forward to the sufferings of Christ, which had seemed to come into such distracting and perplexing conflict with this truth, it suggested for these, since even Moses and Elias spake of them, a character so different from that of ordinary human sufferings, that it was no longer impossible to think
* Matt. xvi., 21
of them as in perfect, though still mysterious, agreement with it. Instead of personal calamities, they were seen to be in reality Divine appointments. This was especially true of the death He was to die, which was so little a misfortune He could not avoid that it was a purpose He had come to fulfil. It was “the decease "-determined upon beforehand, and known even to the inhabitants of heaven"the decease” not that He must endure, but which, rather, “He should accomplish.” Both facts were thus presented in the one marvellous exhibition, and though a strange obscurity still hung upon them in their mutual relations to each other — though how the two could exist together, and why they should so exist, was still a problem of which no solution was apparent-yet of their separate reality no question could now well arise. Clear it was that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God; and equally clear, nevertheless, that He must hereafter suffer and die.
To this outward revelation of the Saviour's character and wor} was added a condition of most exalted felicity. The Apostles were literally raised to sit together with Christ Jesus in heavenly places. They were brought into close proximity to heaven itself were permitted to stand on its very threshold, and in visible companionship with its most eminent saints to watch the shining forth of its unspeakable glory. The privilege over-mastered them-confused alike their sense and their reason-yet left them sufficient consciousness to say, “Master, it is good for us to be here." In this transport of more than earthly blessedness, not only was the sadness of the previous six days dispelled and forgotten, but new strength was obtained for that much greater shock which their now invigorated faith was soon to receive, in the actual occurrence of the sufferings and death of which Christ had so lately spoken to them.
It is true only three of them were thus favoured—the three who had witnessed His first miracle of raising from the dead—but these were in reality representative of the rest. They formed the inner circle of the Saviour's fellowship, and were, besides, the leading spirits of the Apostolic college, on whom, with afterwards that other one “born out of due time,” the establishment of the kingdom of God was largely to depend. The benefit of what they had witnessed and felt would in time extend to the others, though but in a secondary degree : a contagious sympathy would unite them in the same experience, and a free communication would put them in possession of the same facts. And thus all, inspired with one spirit, would join in the one testimony, given with even greater emphasis than before, “We believe and are sure that Thou art that Cbrist, the Son of the living God.”
But a further object of this great transaction had reference to our Lord Himself. It had, as we have seen, all the solemnity and meaning of a formal inauguration into his office as the Messianic King and Saviour of the world. It signalised outwardly, and by a most express appointment from Heaven, the exalted position He had come to occupy, and the sovereign authority He was thenceforth to claim and exercise.
But besides this, the transfiguration must have had an effect upon
our Lord personally, in His own subjective experience. It was as one of those great crises in human life by and during which chosen men are carried forward at an immensely accelerated rate towards a complete fitness for the work which they are specially set apart to do. Perfection even in Him was not immediate, but progressive. He was human, and therefore subject to human conditions, though all the while sinless. Not only is growth asserted of Him, not only is a course of development and education perceptible in His history, but certain great periods may be observed in it. Such, for instance, was His baptism in Jordan, when by solemn consecration He entered on His public ministry. Such also was His temptation in the wilderness, by which He came into sore and long-continued conflict with the power of evil, and utterly vanquished him. Such again was His lonely and bitter agony in the garden, which led to that submission to His Father's will, so sublime and majestic in its tranquillity, which took even from His cross its terror and its shame. And such, we may well believe, was His transfiguration, with all that accompanied it. A scene so extraordinary as that vouchsafed in answer to His prayer—the appearance of Moses and Elias on the "holy mount," as if to transfer their now obsolete prerogatives and functions into His hands; the giving to Him by His Father “honour and glory,” in the tenderly gracious and approving words, “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased ”; above all, the liberation and breaking forth of His own inner life in a manner so remarkable and self-transfiguring as to make His countenance bright as the sun, and His very raiment white as the light--this could not fail to produce on His whole consciousness and character a most profound and abiding impression, kindling to a deeper fervour the spirit of devotion to His Father's will by which He had hitherto been inspired, developing and carrying forward to a higher capability and power of patient endurance the human qualities and virtues so soon to be tested by the terrible strain of suffering and ignominy that awaited Him; and thus, or in other ways less understood by us, fitting Him by a larger and fuller qualification for that crowning work of His earthly life by which He was to become not only able but mighty to save.
Some such effect we may certainly think it must have had. He could not but descend from the Mount refreshed in spirit, and moved by a deeper as well as calmer impulse to tread the path of sorrow and of sacrifice which from that moment lay direct before Him. Every element in the scene, and every association and suggestion of it, was of a kind to inspire Him with a new and holy excitement, with a new and holy courage. What stimulus, for example, would be given Him, what yearning of desire and zeal of love would be awakened in His breast by His conversation with Moses and Elias ! They spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. And what would this suggest and imply for Him but that all heaven was interested in the event ; angels inquiring into its mystery, and saints looking forward to its completion as giving seeurity and permanence to their blessedness ? What else—at least, what less-could these distinguished visitants say than that their own salvation, and that of all believers who had been admitted to Paradise from the beginning of