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November 14, 2023

Matthew Part 15

Did you know that the chapter and verse divisions in the Bible were not part of the original inspired text?




Matthew 16:27-17:13

Did you know that the chapter and verse divisions in the Bible were not part of the original inspired text? Chapter divisions came about in the 13th Century and verse divisions in the 16th Century – so relative to the entirety of church history, these are a recent additions. The Bible was divided up into chapters in 1227 by a professor at the University of Paris named Stephen Langton (later Archbishop of Canterbury). Overall I would give him a grade of a B. He did an OK job, but sometimes he missed it, as in the case of our text today.

We’ll be in Matthew Chapter 17 looking at the transfiguration of Jesus. But the narrative actually begins at the end of Matthew Chapter 16, v 27, and continues on through the chapter break. To set the stage for you, Jesus has just told His 12 disciples “that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” And then he tells them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This isn’t exactly the news the disciples want to hear. Frankly, they’re probably a little bit discouraged by it. They believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah (Peter’s statement in 16:16). So they expect Jesus to soon head into Jerusalem and establish His kingdom, a political kingdom and rule from there. After all, that’s what the O.T. scriptures said Messiah would do. And now here’s Jesus talking about suffering and dying! They’re thinking earthly kingdom now, but Jesus is talking about something else.

READ Matthew 16:27-28

Now that’s the news the disciples want to hear – the Son of Man, Jesus, coming in His kingdom! Here Jesus makes reference to His second coming. We know that now only because we’ve read the rest of the story [summarize it]. But the disciples don’t know all of that. They’re thinking Jesus is getting ready to set up His kingdom!

Remember from our study of Matthew’s gospel last year - Jesus is presented as King. And every king rules over a kingdom. Jesus is literally in line to be the King of the nation of Israel by virtue of His human ancestry – the royal line runs thru Joseph, His earthly father. But Jesus is not reigning as king because the monarchy ended when Judah was carried off into captivity by Babylon. Jerusalem fell, the temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. And when a remnant did return home to the Promised Land some 70 years later they as a people group were governed by Persia, then later Greece and then Rome. So the nation of Israel is a conquered nation being ruled by Rome. We saw earlier in our study in John 6 that the people of Galilee recognized that Jesus must be the Messiah and tried to take Him by force and make Him their king. But that’s not why Jesus came and so He withdrew up to a mountain by Himself away from the masses. When it became clear that Jesus was not going to meet the expectations of His followers to be a political messiah they began to abandon Jesus. Ultimately Jesus would be rejected by His own people and executed on a Roman cross. Jesus knows all this. That is why He came – to be the Savior of the world and to redeem sinful humanity. His death on the cross paid the penalty for our sins and His resurrection defeated death, hell and the grave. Jesus says, “some standing here…will see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Which takes us right into Chapter 17…

READ Matthew 17:1-3

V 1, the three disciples who were the closest to Jesus go up with Him to a high mountain (possibly Mount Hermon, possibly Mount Tabor, we don’t know, it really doesn’t matter). Jesus takes with Him 3 trustworthy witnesses who will attest to what they will see (Deut 17:6 mentions the requirement of 2-3 witnesses so as to avoid false testimony).

V 2, Jesus is transfigured, He is totally changed. His face shines like the sun and his clothes are a dazzling white. Jesus’ divine glory is manifested in a dazzling bright light in his face. John MacArthur says that when Jesus came to earth “He took the veil of humanity and clothed His glory.” Here Jesus, the very essence of God, shows Peter, James and John His unveiled glory. And it shows up in the form of light.

The manifestation of God’s glory in the Bible is light. It is interesting that the first thing God creates in a physical universe is light, Gen 1:3. Even before He made the sun, moon and stars He made light. Then all throughout the Bible whenever God appears in His Shekinah glory there’s light – Moses’ face shown when he came down from Mt Sinai because he had been in the presence of God; the glory of God filled the tabernacle in Exo 40, the glory of God filled Solomon’s temple in 2 Chron 5 (the priests could not even stand to minister); on a hillside outside of Bethlehem when the angels announce the birth of Jesus the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds filling them with fear; Saul on the Damascus road, suddenly there’s a light from heaven and Saul fell to the ground having encountered the Lord Jesus Himself; when our Lord appears to John on the island of Patmos, John describes the appearance of Jesus: “His face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev 1:16); Rev 21 talks about a new heaven and a new earth and that in the new holy city of Jerusalem there was no need for sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light.

V 3, Jesus is joined by two others – Moses and Elijah. One of the questions that gets asked when people read this is how did the 3 disciples know that the two men with Jesus were Moses and Elijah? I don’t know. Maybe they had name tags! Maybe the Holy Spirit revealed it to them. Maybe their names came up in the course of talking to Jesus. Maybe Jesus introduced them to His disciples. The better question is: WHY Moses and Elijah? Well, Moses represents the Law. God gave the Law to Moses who was the leader, priest and prophet of Israel. Elijah represents the Prophets. He was a guardian of God’s Law and he did so with great courage and zeal. So Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, the O.T.

READ Matthew 17:4

Peter is so thrilled by he sees! He gets caught up in the moment. He makes what some think is a stupid, ridiculous statement, a silly suggestion. Peter, they say, just doesn’t understanding the significance of the moment. But I’m going to cut Peter some slack here. Think about it from his perspective. You have Jesus in all His divine glory, getting ready to set up His kingdom. You have Elijah here and we know that Malachi mentions that Elijah must come as forerunner of the Messiah (Mal 4:5-6). You have Moses, the greatest figure in Israel’s history. And coming up very soon, and this would have been on Peter’s mind, is the biggest Jewish celebration of the year (we read about it in John 7), the Feast of Tabernacles. So Peter is suggesting, basically, “Hey, let’s just celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles right here in this place, right now!

READ Matthew 17:5-8

Bright cloud = God, Exodus, Revelation

God speaks and gives testimony about who Jesus is. The disciples have heard the testimony as to who Jesus is from Jesus Himself. They’ve sat at His feet and listened to Him for 3 years. They have the testimony of the O.T. Law and the Prophets, represented by Moses and Elijah. Now they hear the greatest testimony of all – the testimony of God the Father. And being in the very presence of God fills them with a sense of awe and panic, fear, great emotion – “they fell on their faces and were terrified.” When in the presence of God it is normal for us to be overcome by God’s holiness (Isaiah in Isa 6, Ezekiel in Ezek 1, John in Rev 1). But Jesus reassures them, He calms their fears. He’s done this before, hasn’t He?

The disciples look around and Moses and Elijah are gone. It’s just them and Jesus and He’s back to His normal appearance. Wow! What an amazing experience! I’m sure a lot of thoughts were rushing through their minds. “Wait until the other disciples hear about this!”

READ Matthew 17:9

Jesus instructs them not to tell anyone about what they saw until after His resurrection. Here again Jesus knows that His disciples and followers have a wrong expectation of Him. They don’t understand His mission. They are thinking political Messiah. So until after His death, burial and resurrection, when Jesus’ real mission become clear, He doesn’t want to stir people up. You know that must been really hard on Peter, James and John not to be able to say anything. But it would be an experience that they would never forget.

READ Matthew 17:10-13

Elijah did come, an Elijah-like prophet, but the Jewish people and their religious leaders did not recognize him, but did to him as they pleased, they killed him. The disciples understand what Jesus is saying and that the Elijah that Malachi talked about, the forerunner, was John the Baptist.

What is fascinating about this passage is that while they hear and understand what Jesus is saying about John the Baptist, they don’t hear what Jesus is saying about Himself. “The Son of Man will suffer at their hands.” Jesus knows He will soon go to the cross, suffer and die and be resurrected. Jesus knows that the Jewish people and their leaders will reject Him as their Messiah and kill Him. And He has been telling His disciples all this. But they just don’t get it yet.

Jesus has just given 3 of His closest disciples a preview, a glimpse of future glory. That glory will not happen just yet. It’s coming, but first there must come suffering and death. Jesus knows this. And little by little the disciples begin to understand it as well. Suffering, persecution, hardship first… glory, reward later. That goes for Jesus, for His disciples, and for us as well. Paul understood this. Listen to his words, Romans 8: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The glory is something we can look forward to. In the meantime we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. As the Father commanded us, “Listen to Him.”

We’re going to sing a hymn, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” The words are based on the testimony of a family in India who died for their faith in Christ. As we sing, let this be your testimony to the world… 

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