May 16, 2014 Broadcast

Transfiguration

A Message by R.C. Sproul

At the beginning of the gospel of John, the apostle declares, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory." It is very likely that John is referring here to the transfiguration of Christ, that moment when the glory theretofore concealed was revealed to Jesus’ closest disciples. In this lecture, Dr. R.C. Sproul looks at the account of the transfiguration, explaining its significance in the ministry of Christ.

From the series: What Did Jesus Do?: Understanding the Work of Christ

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  1. article

    Humiliation to Exaltation

  2. article

    His Glory Is Our Story

  3. devotional

    The Transfiguration

Humiliation to Exaltation

R.C. Sproul

It just hangs there. It dangles as if it were simply an afterthought attached to the second chapter of Genesis. But we know there are no afterthoughts in the mind and inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Thus, we look at this passage to give us a clue about our condition prior to the misery of sin. Chapter 2, verse 25, reads, “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” This tells us that before sin came into the world, there was no shame. There was no embarrassment. The experience of humiliation was completely unknown and foreign to the human race. However, along with the first experience of sin came the awful burden of the weight of personal shame and embarrassment. Shame and embarrassment are feelings and experiences that occur to us in various degrees. The worst kind of shame, the most dreadful form of embarrassment, is that which results in utter and complete humiliation. Humiliation brings with it not merely the reddened face of embarrassment but also the sense of despair as we lose our dignity and our reputations are cast into ruin.

Yet it was precisely into this domain of shame and humiliation that our Savior came voluntarily in the incarnation. The popular hymn, “Ivory Palaces,” depicts this descent from glory — the Son of Man’s voluntary departure from the ivory palace that is His eternal dwelling place. He chose willingly to make Himself of no reputation, to become a man and a servant, obedient even unto death. It is this humiliation that Christ willingly accepted for Himself, which stands at the beginning of the entire progress that He travels on His road to glory and to His final exaltation. The progress, as the New Testament traces it, is one that moves from humiliation in the birth of Jesus to His exaltation in His resurrection, ascension, and return.

The quality of exaltation is the exact opposite, a strong antithesis, to the quality of humiliation. In exaltation, dignity is not only restored, but it is crowned with the glory that only God can bestow. And so when we look at the biblical theme of the exaltation of Jesus, we look at the way in which the Father rewards His Son and declares His glory to the whole creation.

We are told that no one ascends into heaven except the One who descends from heaven, and we are also told that in baptism, we are given the mark and the sign of our participation with Jesus in both His humiliation and His exaltation. The promise of participating in the exaltation of Christ is given to every believer — but there is a catch. There is a warning, and that warning is clear: unless we are willing to participate in the humiliation of Jesus, we would have no reason to expect ever to participate in His exaltation. But that is the crown that is set before us, that we, who have no right to everlasting glory and honor, will nevertheless receive it because of what has been achieved in our stead by our perfect Redeemer.

In 1990, I wrote a book entitled The Glory of Christ. The writing of that book was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had in writing. My task on that occasion was to demonstrate that while there is a general progression from humiliation to exaltation in the life and ministry of Jesus, this progression does not run in an unbroken line that moves uninterrupted from humiliation to exaltation. Rather, the book explains that even in Jesus’ general progress from humiliation to exaltation, in His worst moments of humiliation, there are interjections by the grace of God, wherein the Son’s glory is also manifest.

For example, when we consider the nativity of Jesus, it is easy to focus our attention on the sheer impoverishment that went with His being born in a stable and in a place where He was unwelcome in the resident hotel or inn. There was an overwhelming sense of debasement in the lowliness of His birth. Yet, at the very moment that our Lord entered humanity in these debasing circumstances, just a short distance away the heavens broke out with the glory of God shining before the eyes of the shepherds with the announcement of His birth as the King.

Even when He goes to the cross, in the worst moments of His humiliation, there still remains a hint of His triumph over evil, where His body is not thrown into the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem; rather, following the prophetic prediction of Isaiah, chapter 53, Jesus’ body was tenderly laid to rest in the tomb of a wealthy man. His death was ignominious, but His burial was one that was a great honor in ancient terms. His body was adorned with the sweetest spices and most costly perfumes, and He was given the burial plot of honor. Therefore, God, in the midst of the suffering of His obedient servant, would not allow His holy One to see corruption.

And throughout the pages of Scripture, we see these glimpses here and there, breaking through the veil and the cloak of Jesus’ humanity, piercing the armor of the humiliation and debasement that was His lot during His earthly sojourn. These moments, or glimpses, of glory should be for the Christian a foretaste of what lies ahead, not only for the ultimate exaltation of Jesus in the consummation of His kingdom, but also a taste for us of heaven itself, as we become the heirs and joint-heirs of Jesus. Jesus’ final lot, His destiny, His legacy, promised and guaranteed by the Father, is glory, and that glory He shares with all who put their trust in Him.

In common language, the terms exaltation and humiliation stand as polar opposites. One of the most magnificent glories of God’s revealed truth and most poignant ironies is that in the cross of Christ these two polar opposites merge and are reconciled. In His humiliation, we find our exaltation. Our shame is replaced by His glory. The songwriter had it right when he wrote, “My sinful self, my only shame, my glory, all the cross.”

His Glory Is Our Story

John Sartelle

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). I love being on a high mountain, on a tall building, or in a plane looking down on where I act out my daily routine, looking dow n on my house, neighborhood, and city. Such a panorama gives me a new perspective on my existence. Remember the first time you saw a view of the earth from a satellite, one of those marvelous pictures taken from space? Before the twentieth century, no human could see his location from that distance and angle. The apostle John, in his gospel, gives us a new position from which we can view the life of Jesus. Matthew and Luke begin their stories of Jesus with His conception and birth in Nazareth and Bethlehem. John begins his narrative with the Son of God in eternity before the universe was created. Before He took on flesh, the Son of God lived with the Father and the Holy Spirit in glory. The Son of God was the Word who became flesh (John 1:14). In the beginning, the Son of God was with God and was God (v. 1).

The life of Jesus as man began when He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit. However, the Son of God has no beginning. He is from eternity. How Jesus can be true God and true man is a mystery. We cannot get our minds around it. We can know for certain that before the Son of God took on flesh, He was the eternal Son with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Louis Berkhof, the brilliant Dutch theologian, wrote, “It is not possible to speak of the incarnation of one who had no previous existence.” He explained that Jesus did not acquire deity; rather, the eternal Son of God took on humanity — two natures, one person.

Focusing our attention on the Son of God in eternity before creation may seem unrelated to our everyday lives as Christians. Yet His life in eternity before the incarnation speaks to us about vital relationships, purpose in this world, and our future glory.

The Son of God lived in glorious oneness with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the incarnation, He came to draw us into that intimate and fulfilling relationship: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (v. 12). The Son came that we might know and enjoy a close relationship with God as our Father.

What was the Son doing before the incarnation? He was dwelling in communion with the Father and the Spirit, and executed, in time and space, His will in creation. For “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (vv. 3–4). Go out on a dark night and look at the Pleiades, the Big Dipper, Mars, and Jupiter — these are the works of His omnipotent hands.

In the incarnation, the creating Son came to redeem and restore His creation. His miracles were designed to prove His divine identity. With each miracle He was declaring, “So that you may know I am the eternal Son.” He made the blind to see, the paralyzed to walk, and the dead to live. His miracles also demonstrated His purpose to redeem and restore His creation. Everywhere the creator Son saw the effects of the fall on His creation, and He repaired the wounds and injuries, and pushed back the darkness.

The Son has called us to be a part of the redemption of His creation. He has called us to take the light of the gospel to the dark world. He has commanded us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and bring relief to the poor. Just as the Son called us into intimate fellowship with God, He has called us to follow Him in redeeming His creation.

From eternity, the Son had shared in the majestic glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus yearned to return to that glory: “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (17:4–5).

Through the incarnation, we were drawn into that glory. Remember what the Father said of the Son when He was transfigured before the disciples: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5). The Father’s commendation was glory to Jesus. Just so, Jesus will confess us before all of earth and heaven: “They are with Me. They are Mine.” He will commend us before the Father, before the angels, before the archangels — that will be the greatest glory we have ever known. Sometimes we speak of the glory of the Rocky Mountains or the glorious sunset at the seashore. God shall call all of heaven to look at the beauty of His redeemed. We will be dressed in the righteousness of Jesus: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:2). Such will be our glory.

Every part of our lives as His disciples is an extension of the life of the pre-existent Son. The Son calls us into His eternity, to live in harmonious union with Him, to participate in the redemption of creation, and to be a part of His glory.

The Transfiguration

The Holy Spirit enabled Peter to confess Jesus as the Messiah, but this is not the only revelation the apostle received while he and the other disciples traveled with Christ in and around Caesarea Philippi. As today’s passage indicates, Peter, along with James and John, was privileged to witness our Lord’s transfigured glory only days after Peter’s great confession (Matt. 16:13– 17:8).

As background to the transfiguration, we must consider the many theophanies recorded in sacred Scripture. Our English term theophany finds its roots in the Greek word for “God” (theos) and the Greek verb “to appear” (phainein); thus, we can see that theophany basically means “an appearance of God.” Theophanies were visible manifestations of the Creator and were usually granted to central figures in the Almighty’s redemptive plan. We can think, for example, of God’s appearance to Abraham as a “smoking fire pot” and “flaming torch” (Gen. 15), as well as Moses’ vision of Yahweh in the burning bush (Ex. 3). The transfiguration, we will see, stands in this tradition, but Jesus the Christ exceeds all previous theophanies, expressing as He does the fullest revelation of who God is.

We learn many lessons from the transfiguration. It confirms Jesus’ appointment as a special messenger of God: like Moses and Elijah who received revelation from the Almighty on Mount Sinai, also called Mount Horeb (Ex. 19–24; 1 Kings 19), Jesus also meets with God on a mountain. Yet Jesus is greater than these because the Father’s declarations about Him make Him the object of revelation (Matt. 17:5), not merely its recipient. Also, Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, respectively. Their appearance with Christ confirms His fulfillment of the old covenant revelation found in the Old Testament.

Most importantly, the transfiguration depicts Jesus’ divine identity unambiguously. Moses reflected the divine glory after meeting with God, but this reflection could be hidden (Ex. 34:29–35). Our Savior’s inherent splendor, however, cannot be veiled (Matt. 17:2). Matthew Henry comments, “The shining 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 it.” 

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