Commentary on the Gospel (Matt. 17:1-9)
The Transfiguration of Christ.
1. And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother,
and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, 2 And was transfigured
before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as
the light. 3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking
with him. 4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for
us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for
thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 5 While he yet spake, behold,
a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which
said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6
And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore
afraid. 7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not
afraid. 8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save
Jesus only. 9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them,
saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from
We have here thee story o Christ's transfiguration; he ha said that
the Son of man should shortly come in his kingdom, with which
promise all the three evangelists industriously connect this story; as if
Christ's transfiguration were intended for a specimen and an earnest of the
kingdom of Christ, and of that light and love of his, which therein appears
to his select and sanctified ones. Peter speaks of this as the power and
coming of our Lord Jesus (2
Pet. i. 16); because it was an emanation of his power, and a previous
notice of his coming, which was fitly introduced by such prefaces.
When Christ was here in his humiliation, though his state, in the
main, was a state of abasement and afflictions, there were some glimpses of
his glory intermixed, that he himself might be the more encouraged in his
sufferings, and others the less offended. His birth, his baptism, his
temptation, and his death, were the most remarkable instances of his
humiliation; and these were each of them attended with some signal points of
glory, and the smiles of heaven. But the series of his public ministry being
a continued humiliation, here, just in the midst of that, comes in this
discovery of his glory. As, now that he is in heaven, he has his
condescensions, so, when he was on earth, he had his advancements.
Now concerning Christ's transfiguration, observe,
I. The circumstances of it, which are here noted,
1. The time; six days after he had the solemn conference
with his disciples,
ch. xvi. 21. St. Luke saith, It was about eight days after,
six whole days intervening, and this the eighth day, that day seven-night.
Nothing is recorded to be said or done by our Lord Jesus for six days before
his transfiguration; thus, before some great appearances, there was
silence in heaven for the space of half an hour,
viii. 1. Then when Christ seems to be doing nothing for his
church, expect, ere long, something more than ordinary.
2. The place; it was on top of a high mountain apart. Christ
chose a mountain, (1.) As a secret place. He went apart; for though a city
upon a hill can hardly be hid, two or three persons upon a hill can hardly
be found; therefore their private oratories were commonly on mountains.
Christ chose a retired place to be transfigured in, because his appearing
publicly in his glory was not agreeable to his present state; and thus he
would show his humility, and teach us that privacy much befriends our
communion with God. Those that would maintain intercourse with Heaven, must
frequently withdraw from the converse and business of this world; and they
will find themselves never less alone than when alone, for the Father is
with them. (2.) Though a sublime place, elevated above things below. Note,
Those that would have a transforming fellowship with God, must not only
retire, but ascend; lift up their hearts, and seek things above. The
call is, Come up hither,
3. The witnesses of it. He took with him Peter and James and John.
(1.) He took three, a competent number to testify what they should see; for
out of the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be
established. Christ makes his appearances certain enough, but not too
common; not to all the people, but to witnesses (Acts
x. 41), that they might be blessed, who have not seen, and yet have
believed. (2.) He took these three because they were the chief of his
disciples, the first three of the worthies of the Son of David; probably
they excelled in gifts and graces; they were Christ's favourites, singled
out to be the witnesses of his retirements. They were present when he raised
the damsel to life,
v. 37. They were afterward to be the witnesses of his agony, and this
was to prepare them for that. Note, A sight of Christ's glory, while we are
here in this world, is a good preparative for our sufferings with him, as
these are preparatives for the sight of his glory in the other world. Paul,
who had abundance of trouble, had abundance of revelations.
II. The manner of it (v.
2); He was transfigured before them. The substance of his body
remained the same, but the accidents and appearances of it were greatly
altered; he was not turned into a spirit, but his body, which had appeared
in weakness and dishonour, now appeared in power and glory. He was
transfigured, metamorphothe--he was metamorphosed.
The profane poets amused and abused the world with idle extravagant stories
of metamorphoses, especially the metamorphoses of their gods, such as were
disparaging and diminishing to them, equally false and ridiculous; to these
some think Peter has an eye, when, being about to mention this
transfiguration of Christ, he saith, We have not followed cunningly
devised fables when we made it known unto you,
Pet. i. 16. Christ was both God and man; but, in the days of his flesh,
he took on him the form of a servant--morphen doulou,
ii. 7. He drew a veil over the glory of his godhead; but now, in his
transfiguration, he put by that veil, appeared en morphe theou--in
the form of God (Phil.
ii. 6), and gave his disciples a glimpse of his glory, which could not
but change his form.
The great truth which we declare, is, that God is light (1
John i. 5), dwells in the light (1
Tim. vi. 16), covers himself with light,
civ. 2. And therefore when Christ would appear in the form of God,
he appeared in light, the most glorious of all visible beings, the
first-born of the creation, and most nearly resembling the eternal Parent.
Christ is the Light; while he was in the world, he shined in
darkness, and therefore the world knew him not (John
i. 5, 10); but, at this time, that Light shined out of the darkness.
Now his transfiguration appeared in two things:
1. His face did shine as the sun. The face is the principal
part of the body, by which we are known; therefore such a brightness was put
on Christ's face, that face which afterward he hid not from shame and
spitting. It shone as the sun when he goes forth in his strength, so
clear, so bright; for he is the Sun of righteousness, the Light of the
world. The face of Moses shone but as the moon, with a borrowed reflected
light, but Christ's shone as the sun, with an innate inherent light, which
was the more sensibly glorious, because it suddenly broke out, as it were,
from behind a black cloud.
2. His raiment was white as the light. All his body was
altered, as his face was; so that beams of light, darting from every part
through his clothes, made them white and glittering. The shining of the face
of Moses was so weak, that it could easily be concealed by a thin veil; but
such was the glory of Christ's body, that his clothes were enlightened by
III. The companions of it. He will come, at last, with ten
thousands of his saints; and, as a specimen of that, there now
appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him,
3. Observe, 1. There were glorified saints attending him, that, when
there were three to bear record on earth, Peter, James, and John,
there might be some to bear record from heaven too. Thus here was a lively
resemblance of Christ's kingdom, which is made up of saints in heaven and
saints on earth, and to which belong the spirits of just men made
perfect. We see here, that they who are fallen asleep in Christ are not
perished, but exist in a separate state, and shall be forthcoming when there
is occasion. 2. These two were Moses and Elias, men very eminent in their
day. They had both fasted forty days and forty nights, as Christ did, and
wrought other miracles, and were both remarkable at their going out of the
world as well as in their living in the world. Elias was carried to heaven
in a fiery chariot, and died not. The body of Moses was never found,
possibly it was preserved from corruption, and reserved for this appearance.
The Jews had great respect for the memory of Moses and Elias, and therefore
they came to witness of him, they came to carry tidings concerning him to
the upper world. In them the law and the prophets honoured Christ, and bore
testimony to him. Moses and Elias appeared to the disciples; they saw them,
and heard them talk, and, either by their discourse or by information from
Christ, they knew them to be Moses and Elias; glorified saints shall know
one another in heaven. They talked with Christ. Note, Christ has communion
with the blessed, and will be no stranger to any of the members of that
glorified corporation. Christ was now to be sealed in his prophetic office,
and therefore these two great prophets were fittest to attend him, as
transferring all their honour and interest to him; for in these last days
God speaks to us by his Son,
IV. The great pleasure and satisfaction that the disciples took in
the sight of Christ's glory. Peter, as usual, spoke or the rest; Lord, it
is good for us to be here. Peter here expresses,
1. The delight they had in this converse; Lord, it is good to be
here. Though upon a high mountain, which we may suppose rough and
unpleasant, bleak and cold, yet it is good to be here. He speaks the
sense of his fellow-disciples; It is good not only for me, but for
us. He did not covet to monopolize this favour, but gladly takes them
in. He saith this to Christ. Pious and devout affections love to pour out
themselves before the Lord Jesus. The soul that loves Christ, and loves to
be with him, loves to go and tell him so; Lord, it is good for us to be
here. This intimates a thankful acknowledgment of his kindness in
admitting them to this favour. Note, Communion with Christ is the delight of
Christians. All the disciples of the Lord Jesus reckon it is good for them
to be with him in the holy mount. It is good to be here where Christ is, and
whither he brings us along with him by his appointment; it is good to be
here, retired and alone with Christ; to be here, where we may behold the
beauty of the Lord Jesus,
xxvii. 4. It is pleasant to hear Christ compare notes with Moses and the
prophets, to see how all the institutions of the law, and all the
predictions of the prophets, pointed at Christ, and were fulfilled in him.
2. The desire they had of the continuance of it; Let us make
here three tabernacles. There was in this, as in many other of Peter's
sayings, a mixture of weakness and of goodwill, more zeal than discretion.
(1.) Here was a zeal for this converse with heavenly things, a
laudable complacency in the sight they had of Christ's glory. Note, Those
that by faith behold the beauty of the Lord in his house, cannot but
desire to dwell there all the days of their life. It is good having a
nail in God's holy place (Ezra
ix. 8), a constant abode; to be in holy ordinances as a man at home, not
as a wayfaring man. Peter thought this mountain was a fine spot of ground to
build upon, and he was for making tabernacles there; as Moses in the
wilderness made a tabernacle for the Shechinah, or divine glory.
It argued great respect for his Master and the heavenly guests,
with some commendable forgetfulness of himself and his fellow-disciples,
that he would have tabernacles for Christ, and Moses, and Elias, but none
for himself. He would be content to lie in the open air, on the cold ground,
in such good company; if his Master have but where to lay his head, no
matter whether he himself has or no.
(2.) Yet in this zeal he betrayed a great deal of weakness and
ignorance. What need had Moses and Elias of tabernacles? They belonged to
that blessed world, where they hunger no more, nor doth the sun light
upon them. Christ had lately foretold his sufferings, and bidden his
disciples expect the like; Peter forgets this, or, to prevent it, will needs
be building tabernacles in the mount of glory, out of the way of trouble.
Still he harps upon, Master, spare thyself, though he had been so
lately checked for it. Note, There is a proneness in good men to expect the
crown without the cross. Peter was for laying hold of this as the prize,
though he had not yet fought his fight, nor finished his course, as those
ch. xx. 21. We are out in our aim, if we look for a heaven here upon
earth. It is not for strangers and pilgrims (such as we are in our best
circumstances in this world), to talk of building, or to expect a continuing
Yet it is some excuse for the incongruity of Peter's proposal, not
only that he knew not what he said (Luke
ix. 33), but also that he submitted the proposal to the wisdom of
Christ; If thou wilt, let us make tabernacles. Note, Whatever
tabernacles we propose to make to ourselves in this world, we must always
remember to ask Christ's leave.
Now to this which Peter said, there was no reply made; the
disappearing of the glory would soon answer it. They that promise themselves
great things on earth will soon be undeceived by their own experience.
V. The glorious testimony which God the Father gave to our Lord
Jesus, in which he received from him honour and glory (2
Pet. i. 17), when there came this voice from the excellent glory.
This was like proclaiming the titles of honour or the royal style of a
prince, when, at his coronation, he appears in his robes of state; and be it
known, to the comfort of mankind, the royal style of Christ is taken from
his mediation. Thus, in vision, he appeared with a rainbow, the seal of the
covenant, about his throne (Rev.
iv. 3); for it is his glory to be our Redeemer.
Now concerning this testimony from heaven to Christ, observe.
1. How it came, and in what manner it was introduced.
(1.) There was a cloud. We find often in the Old Testament, that a
cloud was the visible token of God's presence; he came down upon mount Sinai
in a cloud (Exod.
xix. 9), and so to Moses,
Exod. xxxiv. 5; Num. xi. 25. He took possession of the tabernacle in a
cloud, and afterwards of the temple; where Christ was in his glory, the
temple was, and there God showed himself present. We know not the balancing
of the clouds, but we know that much of the intercourse and communication
between heaven and earth is maintained by them. By the clouds vapours ascend,
and rains descend; therefore God is said to make the clouds his
chariots; so he did here when he descended upon this mount.
(2.) It was a bright cloud. Under the law it was commonly a thick
and dark cloud that God made the token of his presence; he came down upon
mount Sinai in a thick cloud (Exod.
xix. 16), and said he would dwell in thick darkness; see
Kings viii. 12. But we are now come, not to the mount that was
covered with thick blackness and darkness (Heb.
xii. 18), but to the mount that is crowned with a bright cloud. Both the
Old-Testament and the New-Testament dispensation had tokens of God's
presence; but that was a dispensation of darkness, and terror, and bondage,
this of light, love, and liberty.
(3.) It overshadowed them. This cloud was intended to break the
force of that great light which otherwise would have overcome the disciples,
and have been intolerable; it was like the veil which Moses put upon his
face when it shone. God, in manifesting himself to his people, considers
their frame. This cloud was to their eyes as parables to their
understandings, to convey spiritual things by things sensible, as they were
able to bear them.
(4.) There came a voice out of the cloud, and it was the
voice of God, who now, as of old, spake in the cloudy pillar,
xcix. 7. Here was no thunder, or lightning, or voice of a trumpet, as
there was when the law was given by Moses, but only a voice, a still small
voice, and that not ushered in with a strong wind, or an earthquake, or
fire, as when God spake to Elias,
1 Kings xix. 11, 12. Moses then and Elias were witnesses, that in
these last days God hath spoken to us by his Son, in another way than he
spoke formerly to them. This voice came from the excellent glory (2
Pet. i. 17), the glory which excelleth, in comparison of which the
former had no glory; though the excellent glory was clouded, yet thence came
a voice, for faith comes by hearing.
2. What this testimony from heaven was; This is my beloved Son,
hear ye him. Here we have,
(1.) The great gospel mystery revealed; This is my beloved Son,
in whom I am well pleased. This was the very same that was spoken from
heaven at his baptism (ch.
iii. 17); and it was the best news that ever came from heaven to earth
since man sinned. It is to the same purport with that great doctrine (2
Cor. v. 19), That God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto
himself. Moses and Elias were great men, and favourites of Heaven, yet
they were but servants, and servants that God was not always well pleased
in; for Moses spoke unadvisedly, and Elias was a man subject to passions;
but Christ is a Son, and in him God was always well pleased. Moses
and Elias were sometimes instruments of reconciliation between God and
Israel; Moses was a great intercessor, and Elias a great reformer; but in
Christ God is reconciling the world; his intercession is more prevalent than
that of Moses, and his reformation more effectual than that of Elias.
This repetition of the same voice that came from heaven at his
baptism was no vain repetition; but, like the doubling of Pharaoh's dream,
was to show the thing was established. What God hath thus spoken once, yea
twice, no doubt he will stand to, and he expects we should take notice of
it. It was spoken at his baptism, because then he was entering upon his
temptation, and his public ministry; and now it was repeated, because he was
entering upon his sufferings, which are to be dated from hence; for now, and
not before, he began to foretel them, and immediately after his
transfiguration it is said (Luke
ix. 51), that the time was come that he should be received up;
this therefore was then repeated, to arm him against the terror, and his
disciples against the offence, of the cross. When sufferings begin to
abound, consolations are given in more abundantly,
(2.) The great gospel duty required, and it is the condition of our
benefit by Christ; Hear ye him. God is well pleased with none in
Christ but those that hear him. It is not enough to give him the hearing
(what will that avail us?) but we must hear him and believe him, as the
great Prophet and Teacher; hear him, and be ruled by him, as the great
Prince and Lawgiver; hear him, and heed him. Whoever would know the mind of
God, must hearken to Jesus Christ; for by him God has in these last days
spoken to us. This voice from heaven has made all the sayings of Christ as
authentic as if they had been thus spoken out of a cloud. God does here, as
it were, turn us over to Christ for all the revelations of his mind; and it
refers to that prediction concerning the Prophet God would raise up like
unto Moses (Deut.
xviii. 18); him shall ye hear.
Christ now appeared in glory; and the more we see of Christ's
glory, the more cause we shall see to hearken to him: but the disciples were
gazing on that glory of his which they saw; they are therefore bid not to
look at him, but to hear him. Their sight of his glory was soon intercepted
by the cloud, but their business was to hear him. We walk by faith,
which comes by hearing, not by sight,
Moses and Elias were now with him; the law and the prophets;
hitherto it was said, Hear them,
xvi. 29. The disciples were ready to equal them with Christ, when they
must have tabernacles for them as well as for him. They had been talking
with Christ, and probably the disciples were very desirous to know what they
said, and to hear something more from them; No, saith God, hear him,
and that is enough; him, and not Moses and Elias, who were present, and
whose silence gave consent to this voice; they had nothing to say to the
contrary; whatever interest they had in the world as prophets, they were
willing to see it all transferred to Christ, that in all things he might
have the pre-eminence. Be not troubled that Moses and Elias make so
short a stay with you; hear Christ, and you will not want them.
IV. The fright which the disciples were put into by this voice, and
the encouragement Christ gave them.
1. The disciples fell on their faces, and were sore afraid.
The greatness of the light, and the surprise of it, might have a natural
influence upon them, to dispirit them. But that was not all, ever since man
sinned, and heard God's voice in the garden, extraordinary appearances of
God have ever been terrible to man, who, knowing he has no reason to expect
any good, has been afraid to hear any thing immediately from God. Note, even
then when fair weather comes out of the secret place, yet
with God is terrible majesty,
xxxvii. 22. See what dreadful work the voice of the Lord makes,
xxix. 4. It is well for us that God speaks to us by men like ourselves,
whose terror shall not make us afraid.
2. Christ graciously raised them up with abundance of tenderness.
Note, The glories and advancements of our Lord Jesus do not at all lessen
his regard to, and concern for, his people that are compassed about with
infirmity. It is comfortable to think, that now, in his exalted state, he
has a compassion for, and condescends to, the meanest true believer. Observe
here, (1.). What he did; he came, and touched them. His approaches
banished their fears; and when they apprehended that they were apprehended
of Christ, there needed no more to make them easy. Christ laid his right
hand upon John is a like case, and upon Daniel,
Rev. i. 17; Dan. viii. 18; x. 18. Christ's touches were often healing,
and here they were strengthening and comforting. (2.) What he said;
Arise, and be not afraid. Note, Though a fear of reverence in our
converse with Heaven is pleasing to Christ, yet a fear of amazement is not
so, but must be striven against. Christ said, Arise. Note, It is
Christ by his word, and the power of his grace going along with it, that
raises up good men from their dejections, and silences their fears; and none
but Christ can do it; Arise, be not afraid. Note, causeless fears
would soon vanish, if we would not yield to them, and lie down under them,
but get up, and do what we can against them. Considering what they had seen
and heard, they had more reason to rejoice than to fear, and yet, it seems,
they needed this caution. Note, Through the infirmity of the flesh, we often
frighten ourselves with that wherewith we should encourage ourselves.
Observe, After they had an express command from heaven to hear Christ, the
first word they had from him was, Be not afraid, hear that. Note,
Christ's errand into the world was to give comfort to good people, that,
being delivered out of the hands of their enemies, they might serve God
Luke i. 74, 75.
VII. The disappearing of the vision (v.
8); They lift up themselves, and then lift up their eyes,
and saw no man, save Jesus only. Moses and Elias were gone, the rays
of Christ's glory were laid aside, or veiled again. They hoped this had been
the day of Christ's entrance into his kingdom, and his public appearance in
that external splendour which they dreamed of; but see how they are
disappointed. Note, It is not wisdom to raise our expectations high in this
world, for the most valuable of our glories and joys here are vanishing,
even those of near communion with God are so, not a continual feast, but a
running banquet. If sometimes we are favoured with special manifestations of
divine grace, glimpses and pledges of future glory, yet they are withdrawn
presently; two heavens are too much for those to expect that never deserve
one. Now they saw no man, save Jesus only. Note, Christ will tarry
with us when Moses and Elias are gone. The prophets do not live for ever
i. 5), and we see the period of our ministers' conversation; but
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,
Heb. xiii. 7, 8.
VIII. The discourse between Christ and his disciples as they came down
from the mountain,
Observe, 1. They came down from the mountain. Note, We must
come down from the holy mountains, where we have communion with God, and
complacency in that communion, and of which we are saying. It is good to
be here; even there we have no continuing city. Blessed be God, there is
a mountain of glory and joy before us, whence we shall never come down. But
observe, When the disciples came down, Jesus came with them. Note, When we
return to the world again after an ordinance, it must be our care to take
Christ with us, and then it may be our comfort that he is with us.
2. As they came down, they talked of Christ. Note, When we are
returning from holy ordinance, it is good to entertain ourselves and one
another with discourse suitable to the work we have been about. That
communication which is good to the use of edifying is then in a special
manner seasonable; as, on the contrary, that which is corrupt, is worse then
than at another time.
Here is, (1.) The charge that Christ gave the disciples to keep the
vision very private for the present (v.
9); Tell it to no man till the Son of man is risen. If they had
proclaimed it, the credibility of it would have been shocked by his
sufferings, which were now hastening on. But let the publication of it be
adjourned till after his resurrection, and then that and his subsequent
glory will be a great confirmation of it. Note, Christ observed a method in
the manifestation of himself; he would have his works put together, mutually
to explain and illustrate each other, that they might appear in their full
strength and convincing evidence. Every thing is beautiful in its season.
Christ's resurrection was properly the beginning of the gospel state and
kingdom, to which all before was but preparatory and by way of preface; and
therefore, though this was transacted before, it must not be produced as
evidence till then (and then it appears to have been much insisted on by
Pet. i. 16-18), when the religion it was designed for the confirmation
of was brought to its full consistence and maturity. Christ's time is the
best and fittest for the manifesting of himself and must be attended to by