The Glorious Son of God
Passage: Luke 9:28–9:36
The Glorious Son of God
If we were to sum up today’s passage in one word, that word would be glory. The Transfiguration is a moment of glory. From the setting on the mountaintop, to the dazzling brightness of the scene, to the overshadowing cloud that descends – each element of the passage speaks of glory. But at the same time, it is important to be clear what kind of glory is revealed here. The glory of this text is not like the glory of a sunrise or a majestic mountain. It is not even the glory of something unusual or unprecedented. No, the glory of the Transfiguration is the glory of heaven itself, breaking in to this world and shining out from the Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s otherworldly, and that’s what makes this passage significant. Here we find God pulling back the curtain and allowing us to see the glory of his Son. Here we have a glimpse of the King in his splendor – Jesus Christ, who reigns forever over the kingdom of God. It’s a moment of glory, but it is also a moment of revelation. God allows us to see, just a glimpse, of what is in store for the Lord Jesus.
And that means this is a key moment in Luke’s Gospel. The Transfiguration balances out the picture of Jesus’ identity as the Christ. Remember, we’ve just witnessed Peter confess Jesus as the Christ, and we’ve just heard Jesus declare that as the Christ, he must suffer many things. But the Transfiguration balances out that picture. This moment on the mountain is God’s way of reminding us that suffering is not the final word for Jesus. Glory awaits because Jesus is the Father’s Beloved Son. So, do you see how the Transfiguration connects with the cross to reveal Jesus’ identity? Who is Jesus? He is the Suffering Savior of the Church, and he is the Glorious Son of God. Suffering leading to glory – that is the road ahead for the Lord Jesus.
So, let’s spend our time together meditating on the glory of Christ that is revealed in the Transfiguration. It’s clear that this text is about glory, but what, in particular, do we see in these verses? The Transfiguration reveals three distinct aspects of Jesus’ glory that help us better understand who Jesus is and what he has come to do. These aspects build on one another, and then at the end, there is one grand takeaway – one application – that we ought to make as God’s people. So, that’s how we’ll proceed today. Let’s note these three aspects of Jesus’ glory, and then we’ll conclude with a single point of application.
The Transfiguration Reveals Jesus’ Essential Glory
We begin in vv28-29 – the Transfiguration reveals Jesus’ essential glory. We’ve already noted the setting in v28 – how Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on the mountain to pray. That setting of prayer on the mountaintop should raise our expectation. Typically in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus prays before significant moments, so the setting of v28 should get our attention.
And in v29, we see why. Notice again the strange but glorious occurrence, v29 – “And as [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” All the Gospel accounts agree at this point – something remarkable happened to Jesus, and the effect was visible. Luke says the appearance of his face was altered – it took on a different form, it had a new aura, you might say. What exactly did this transformation look like? Luke doesn’t tell us – we don’t know exactly, and that’s part of the point. The key here is not so much the specifics of the change, but the nature of it. Something glorious begins to shine through, and it’s visible on Jesus’ face.
And the next phrase draws this out more fully. Luke says Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white. Matthew says white as light, and Mark says intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. So, the idea is brightness or brilliance. It’s remarkable, really – a light so brilliant, it appears Jesus is clothed in light itself. That may be the best way to envision this moment. Picture the Lord Jesus, standing before his disciples, beaming with glory so intense that dazzling light is the only fitting attire for him.
But here’s the key connection. Here’s the point that helps us see what we ought to see. In Scripture, light is most often associated with whom? With God. It’s all through the Scriptures. God created light, God’s face shines light on his people, God’s word gives light to dispel darkness, God’s people walk in his light. It’s all through the Scriptures, and it culminates in that memorable statement from the apostle John – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Light, then, is connected with the glory of the Living God.
Now, look back to Luke 9 and ask yourself, “Where is the light at the Transfiguration coming from?” It’s coming from Jesus, isn’t it? We can’t miss this, brothers and sisters. Jesus is not reflecting light, like the way the moon reflects the sun. No, Jesus is radiating light from himself. Jesus is the Sun that shines with brightness all his own. And that’s the takeaway in v29. At his essence, Jesus is glorious. He doesn’t reflect glory; he radiates glory, in and of himself. That’s the first aspect of this glorious revelation. The glory here is not external to Jesus, but essential to Jesus, belonging to his very nature. The Transfiguration, then, reveals Jesus’ essential glory.
The Transfiguration Reveals Jesus’ Saving Glory
This takes us right into the second aspect of Jesus’ glory, this time from vv30-31. The Transfiguration reveals Jesus’ saving glory. As Jesus radiates with the brightness of glory, two other men appear with him on the mountaintop – Moses and Elijah. Now, just on the surface, this is pretty remarkable. Moses and Elijah are well known figures in the OT, men through whom God did mighty things. But there are a lot of mighty men of God in the OT, aren’t there? If the goal was simply to highlight significant leaders from the OT, there is a whole host of people God could have chosen. But he picks Moses and Elijah, so what’s the significance? Why pick these two figures in particular to appear with Jesus?
It has to do with what each man represents. In the OT, both Moses and Elijah are connected with the promise a new age – a new day, in which God’s Messiah would come and, with redemptive power, would lead God’s people to return to the Lord God. Two OT passages, in particular, draw out this expectation.
The first is Deuteronomy 18, where Moses prophesied that God would raise up another prophet like himself, a greater prophet, and it was to this greater-than-Moses prophet that God’s people would listen. But – and this is key – this Deuteronomy 18 prophet would not be merely a prophet. He would speak the Word of God with finality, and it would be his Word that defines, once and for all, who belongs to God. In other words, Moses predicted that one day, a much greater Person would arise who would finish what the Prophets started, a Person who would reveal, once and for all, the fullness of God to his people.
The second OT passage is Malachi 4, which is connected with Elijah. Malachi 4 anticipates the day of the Lord, when God would finally crush the enemies of his people and restore all things. The wicked would be cut off in that day, but Malachi predicted that the sun of righteousness would rise with healing on those who fear the name of the Lord. Now here’s the connection with Elijah. The prophet Malachi said that God would raise up Elijah again as the signal of that great final day. Elijah’s return would be like the trumpet blast announcing that restoration has dawned – that the new age of life and hope with God has arrived for the Lord’s people.
So, put those two OT passages together, and you can see how Moses and Elijah represented a great hope for God’s people. With OT expectation, these two men looked forward to the day would God would reveal himself in glory and, in doing so, would redeem his people, once and for all.
Now, that’s only the first part of the significance. That’s the prelude, you might say, to the glory. Notice again what Luke writes, v31 – Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory and spoke of [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” It’s significant enough that Moses and Elijah are conversing with Jesus. That fact alone speaks to Jesus’ glory. If Moses and Elijah, who’ve been dead for centuries, showed up, you’d expect them to be the focus of the conversation. Let’s hear what they have to say. But that’s not the case in v31. Moses and Elijah are focused on Jesus. They’re talking with him about what he’s going to do! So, that fact alone speaks to Jesus’ glory.
But there’s something else here, something that speaks of the great gospel work Jesus is about to undertake. V31 says Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus about his departure. Do you see that? You could also translate that as, “They spoke with Jesus about his exodus which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” At this point, biblical alarm bells should be ringing pretty loudly in our minds. They spoke about his exodus at Jerusalem. Remember, why is Jesus going to Jerusalem? He just told us, v22 – to suffer, die, and rise again on the third day. Jerusalem is the place of the cross, in other words.
But here’s the glory. That cross will be the fulfillment of the Messianic hopes represented in Moses and Elijah. Jesus’ death and resurrection will be a like a new and greater exodus for the people of God. Just as Moses led the people out of bondage and into the promised land, so also Jesus will accomplish an even greater exodus – he will deliver God’s people from sin and death, and he will bring them into God’s own presence.
And through this new and greater exodus, Jesus will establish God’s righteous kingdom, where God’s people are gathered in his presence and the wicked are cut off forever more. Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus about his death because it is at the cross that God’s promises of redemption are fulfilled. That’s the glory. It’s not simply that Jesus stands in line with Moses and Elijah, as an equal with them in redemptive history. No, Jesus stands above Moses and Elijah, as the One who fulfills what they anticipated. Do you see the difference? Moses and Elijah promised salvation would come. Jesus accomplishes salvation through his own death and resurrection. That’s why they talk with Jesus about what he will accomplish. Jesus possesses saving glory.
Before we move on, please don’t miss that note of divine sovereignty in v31. The phrase which he was about to accomplish in v31 is a very specific expression of God’s sovereign will. The cross is already in view because the cross is the definite plan of God for the salvation of his people. It’s not a surprise that Jesus will suffer and die. It is not uncertain as to whether he will rise again. From eternity past, God has ordained this is how his people would be saved – through the death and resurrection of his Son.
And that means your salvation, brothers and sisters, does not rest on your accomplishment, but on Christ’s. It does not rest on your will, but on God’s. From eternity past, he has planned to save his people in this way. And that means, brothers and sisters, that he will keep you firm to the end. I actually love this encouragement we get from the Transfiguration. Where is Jesus headed? For glory, without a doubt. So, where are Jesus’ people headed? For glory, without a doubt, because God will finish what he has determined to do in his Son. The next time you’re afraid you won’t make it to the end, read the Transfiguration and remember that where Christ is headed, he brings his people with him, without fail. The Transfiguration, then, reveals the saving glory of Christ.
The Transfiguration Reveals Jesus’ Unique Glory
The third aspect of glory comes with the help of our old friend, Peter. If you’re like me and find that you often speak too quickly, then you love the apostle Peter. He’s bold, that’s for sure, but sometimes he should probably just be quiet. This is one of those times, but God uses it to reveal more of Jesus’ glory. Vv32-35, the third aspect – The Transfiguration reveals Jesus’ unique glory. V32 establishes that Peter, James, and John are eyewitnesses of all that happened. They were really sleepy, Luke tells us, but they wake up in time to see Jesus radiating with light, as well as Moses and Elijah standing with him. So, the disciples see this glory, and it goes on to have a dramatic effect on their lives. You can read 2 Peter 1 as an example of how deeply this shaped the disciples. All of that to say, Peter is an eyewitness. He sees Jesus’ glory on the mountain.
But then Peter decides to speak. Now, if you were present at a conversation where the three participants are Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, you could be pretty sure that saying nothing is your best bet. But Peter is bold if nothing else, and as Moses and Elijah leave, Peter doesn’t want this moment to slip away. So, he makes a suggestion, v33 – “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah’- not knowing what he said.” That last phrase – not knowing what he said – is Luke’s way of gently saying, “He should have said nothing.”
So, what is Peter suggesting? It could be that Peter wants to prolog the moment with something like a revamped Feast of Tabernacles from the OT. Or, it could be that Peter wants to simply enshrine this moment for future remembrance – that way people could come to the mountaintop and see these three monuments to these three significant figures. Whatever the reason, Peter doesn’t know what to say, so he says what seems best in his mind – “Let’s build three tents to remember this.”
But v34 brings a correction, and it comes from God. Notice v34 – “As [Peter] was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.” So, what’s this about? Once again, we’re taken back to the OT. When God came down at Sinai, what signaled his presence? A great cloud, you remember? And so it is here. The cloud signifies the presence of God. The Holy One has manifested himself here on the mountaintop.
But then the Living God speaks, v35 – “And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” That is Peter’s correction. He wants to build three tents, so God comes down and says, “No, it’s not three people who should be celebrated, Peter. It’s One – my Son.” In fact, notice that after the voice speaks, only Jesus is left. That’s key. This moment is significant not because three great men are here, but because Jesus is here, and Jesus is God’s Son.
It’s a lot like Jesus’ baptism, where the voice from heaven declared the truth about Jesus. Now, that truth is declared again. Jesus is not merely a prophet. He’s not merely an authoritative teacher. He’s not merely a mighty miracle worker. It’s true Jesus does function in all of those ways, but that’s not the essence of who he is. Most significantly, Jesus is the Son of God. He is unique in a way that Moses and Elijah cannot match. Jesus shares the Father’s glory and nature, which means Jesus is the One who makes God fully known. And that’s the correction that God gives to the apostle Peter. Peter wants to commemorate three mighty men, and God wants Peter to see his one and only Son.
But at the same time we shouldn’t be too hard on Peter. Yes, he spoke too quickly, but God’s voice in v35 is also a confirmation of what Peter confessed back in v20. Peter’s boldness cuts both ways, doesn’t it? He spoke too quickly here, but back in v20, Peter was absolutely right to boldly say that Jesus is the Christ. And now, God confirms Peter’s confession. Look at v35 where God says Jesus is his Chosen One. What’s the significance of that title? Again, the OT gives us the answer. At various points in the OT, the Messiah was referred to as God’s Chosen Servant – Isaiah 42.1, Isaiah 49.7, Psalm 89.3. So, here in Luke 9, v35 is God’s stamp of approval on Peter’s earlier confession. According to God, Jesus is the Christ, the Chosen One of God, the Servant who redeem and deliver God’s people.
And again, this makes Jesus unique, even compared to such luminaries as Moses and Elijah. That’s the culminating piece to the Transfiguration, brothers and sisters. Jesus is utterly and entirely unique. So, if you’re going to build tents on the mountaintop, then you only need One, for Jesus is the unique and glorious Son of God.
And therefore only Jesus can save sinners like us. There is a sense in which the Transfiguration reveals why the gospel is effective. Think about it. What do we see about Jesus here on the mountaintop? We see that he is fully God – the One who possesses the essential glory of God, the One who is uniquely from the Father. Jesus is fully God. And at the same time, we see that Jesus is fully Man – his appearance had to be transformed in order for that divine glory to shine through a bit more. He is flesh and blood, in other words, and that’s why he can fulfill all those OT promises about the Messiah. That’s why he can save sinners – because he shares in our nature too. He’s like us in every way, yet without sin. The Son shares in our blood.
And in that sense, the Transfiguration is a glimpse of glory, but the glory it reveals is nothing less than the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God. We cannot stress this enough, brothers and sisters. When we talk about the glory of Christ, we’re not talking about an abstract concept, and we’re not talking about a list of attributes or actions. The glory of Christ is revealed in the gospel of his suffering and resurrection. Jesus’ glory shines the brightest when our eyes see and rejoice in the reality that this uniquely glorious Son of God would shed his blood for sinners like us – sinners who despised the very glory he possesses. That’s the glory of Christ, brothers and sister. It’s not abstract or merely intellectual. It’s the gospel, it’s the cross, it’s the empty tomb, and it’s anticipated here at the Transfiguration.
And so, that brings us to the takeaway of the passage – What should be our response? God’s Word always calls his people to response, so what is it here? Jesus possesses essential glory, saving glory, and therefore unique glory. What must we do now in response to him?
Brothers and sisters, God tells us. Look at v35, notice the one grand application that brings the Transfiguration home to us. V35, God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” That’s the response. Listen to him, God says. Listen to Jesus. Jesus is the centerpiece of all that God is doing in this world, and therefore, Jesus is the focal point for all who would know God in this world.
If you want to be right with God, then you must listen to Jesus. You must trust his gospel – that his death is the only payment for sin, that his resurrection is the only foundation for our justification, and that his righteousness is the only sufficient standing before the Holy God. If you want to be right with God, then you must listen to Jesus.
If you need strength for life and godliness, then you must listen to Jesus. You must walk, each day, by faith in his Word, trusting that his wisdom is enough to keep you from stumbling, that his grace is sufficient to cover you when you do stumble, and that his promises are strong enough to sustain your faith at its weakest. If you need strength for life and godliness, then listen to Jesus.
If you need light and discernment in this upside-down world, then you must listen, first and foremost, to Jesus. You must submit your thinking to his authority, you must adjust your ideas to his, and where the world doesn’t line up with the straight edge of Jesus’ word, you must go with Jesus. If you need that kind of discernment don’t look out there. Look right here, to the Scriptures, and listen to Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, there’s more we could say, but perhaps we’ve said enough for now. You’ll note that even in the text, v36, the disciples took time to reflect on what had occurred. It didn’t sink in immediately. It was only after the resurrection, after they reflected with the help of the Holy Spirit, that they could fully grasp the glory of this moment.
And so, that is perhaps the best way to conclude our time – with a call for reflection. The Transfiguration is a glimpse of Jesus’ glory – his essential, saving, unique glory as the Son of God. The takeaway, given by God himself, is to listen to Jesus. And so, I end with a call to prayer – that God would take this glimpse of Christ’s glory and use it to shape our lives to bring honor to the Son. Amen.