Eight days after Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi Jesus held another gathering, even more exclusive than the first, this time probably up Mount Hermon. It consisted of the triumvirate, Peter, James and John, and their Rabbi Jesus, meeting for prayer. But alas the unexpected happened. Fear grasped the three as Jesus was transformed before them: ‘the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning’ (Luke 9:29). Still stunned, they discovered Jesus having a conversation with the Law giver, Moses, and the prophet par excellence, Elijah, each ‘in glorious splendour.’ Their conversation was about Jesus’ departure, ‘which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.’ This all proved too much for the three, who went to sleep!
As they recovered their composure Peter suggested to Jesus that they build three succas (tabernacles) for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. A suggestion ridiculed by both commentators and preachers today who have failed to realise this was during the Feast of Tabernacles when the Jews were commanded by God to live in tabernacles for seven days as a reminder of God’s provision and protection during the forty years their forefathers wandered in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:33-44).
The Feast of Tabernacles also has a prophetic dimension foretelling the days when the Messiah reigns in Jerusalem over all the nations. In fact Jesus’ transfiguration is in the Feast of Tabernacles setting. Consider the topic of Moses and Elijah’s conversation with Jesus. This event on the Mount of Transfiguration presents the glorified Jesus as He would appear after His death and resurrection. It was all too much for the apostles to comprehend at that time. Their mind set, like many devout Jews of the day, was that great David’s greater Son, the Messiah, would come in military glory, as did David, to conquer the Roman enemy and release the Jews from their severe bondage. It was a wrong interpretation which they wrestled with.
But there was more. A bright cloud enveloped them as ‘a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” As the Son’s ministry was drawing to a close the Father was drawing their attention to the severity and importance of the entire situation: ‘Listen to him!’
Clearly, as they descended the mountain they were totally perplexed, and even more so by Jesus’ command to tell no one ‘until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.’ They had no understanding of what Jesus’ resurrection meant.
As we reflect on their confusion it’s a good time to ask ourselves, how expectant are we of Jesus’ returning to earth – the subject of Tabernacles? We don’t know what that will look like in reality. So do we simply shelve the idea? Or do we have an expectation in our hearts, regardless of our lack of understanding? It’s so easy for us to read Scripture with accusing hearts, as we consider the failed understanding of biblical characters, but let’s remember that we know the end of the story – they didn’t. They were still working through the process.
Perhaps this devotional causes us to ask what Jesus’ transfiguration means for us? I was invited recently to teach a weekend course entitled ‘Jesus: do we really know Him?’ That teaching included Jesus’ transfiguration, and we associated it with Jesus’ High Priestly prayer recorded in John 17: 4-5. Jesus was speaking to His Father and said, ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now Father glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began’. We may know Jesus, the Lamb of God, but do we know the glorified Jesus of the transfiguration and of Revelation 1:12-16?
Prayer: Father, Your ways are certainly higher than ours. Thank You for the truth recorded in Your Word. As I devote myself to meditating on Your Word today, and in the days ahead, would You give me revelation, so I may receive greater understanding of who You are, and faith to walk in Your ways. Amen.
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