And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”
There are two ways of getting a behind-the-scenes look at something. There’s seeing behind the curtain and there’s seeing through the veil.
My friend and colleague Andy Miller, who is Seedbed’s director of publishing, gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the Franklin First Methodist Church’s new church campus construction project. I had driven by there countless times and watched as the beautiful structure had risen up from the ground, but I had never been inside. As we walked along, I could clearly see the emerging floor plan with tons of steel framing rooms and spaces of various sizes. Wires ran into and out of everywhere. I could begin to imagine what this majestic place would look like in the future. Andy had lived with the vision so intimately that he could practically see it and it came through in his vivid tour guidance. I was being privileged to see a work in progress behind the veil.
Recently on a work trip to the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary, where I have served for the past fifteen years, I experienced something of a seeing behind the veil on a building project. Rather than staying in the Asbury Inn campus hotel, they put me in a nearby dormitory known as the William House. I had been in there probably a hundred times over the years. I knew all the curried smells of international student home cooking. I knew the messiness of all the lived-in spaces with the carpet stains and tears from all the efforts to make a dorm room seem new by rearranging the furnishings. As I walked to the front door, everything looked like it had always looked, but as I passed through the front door and into my room everything had changed. I felt like I was in a brand-new Embassy Suites Hotel. The place had been completely remodeled and I was being privileged to a behind-the-curtain experience of this new-old place.
These two scenes serve as apt metaphors for the nature of our lives. There is the outer appearance and there is an inner reality. Sometimes the outer appearance looks new and shiny and the inner reality is somewhere in the process of catching up. Other times, the outer appearance may have the same worn look as always, but the inside radiates with a total makeover. Both scenes offer us an analogous picture of what transformation looks like in various stages of progress. The Bible calls this “sanctification.”
We tend to spend a lot of time in life on the outer appearance only to realize as life progresses there’s only so much we can do with it. Somewhere along the way we hopefully abandon cosmetic improvements to awaken to the inside project, where no matter how old the outer structure, the inward reality can become utterly and completely transformed.
None of this, however, describes the scene in today’s text. Transfiguration is to transformation as Jesus is to Peter. The transfiguration takes us up on a high mountain where we are privileged to see through the veil where we behold the almost indescribable reality of ultimate reality. This is neither a vision nor a dream. It is neither a glimpse of the future nor a remembrance of the past.
Standing in the presence of Jesus with Peter, James, and John, we behold the mysterious convergence of our storied past and our transfigured future in the present moment of the presence of God. We hear from the Father, behold the glory of the eternal Son, and breathe in the breath of the Holy Spirit.
We are glimpsing the timelessness of eternity breaking in on the present time. On that mountain, we are seeing through the veil that separates heaven and earth and glimpsing the kingdom of God in all its glorious indescribable essence—bright shining as the sun.
This is the glorious end of all of the sanctifying grace of God, which is itself only the beginning of the unfathomable reality of “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” On that mountain, we behold the life, everlasting in quality and quantity, for which we were made; the beloved community of all who have followed Jesus before us and who will come behind us together in the resplendent presence of the beloved God of all glory.
The justifying grace of salvation is the door. The sanctifying grace of transformation is the process. The perfecting grace of transfiguration is the end. The only way there is through the cross of Jesus, apart from whom we have no hope of finding it. The cross is the only cure for the terminal cancer of sin and death, but it has a 100 percent cure rate.
And this reality we refer to as the Mount of Transfiguration? It is as real and present right now as it was on the day described in the Scriptures. This is not some distant ethereal future to which we will one day fly away. No, this is the reality just through the veil. This is not a distant reality we hope in. It is the present reality we hope from.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Rom. 8:22)
The point of this text is not that we would clamor for this Mount of Transfiguration experience to happen again and this time for us. The point is for us to realize that what happened that day as we have it in Scripture, happened to and for us. Because we were there, we are there. This is not about mystical perception but concrete reality. May the Holy Spirit order our understanding and experience of the Word of God accordingly.
To my scholarly minded friends—please do not interpret me as propagating some version of a post-millennial realized eschatology. I am speaking of the transfiguration as a perfect glimpse through the veil into the kingdom of God—which exists gloriously already and yet remains unquestionably not yet. And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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