Lessons from the Transfiguration, Pt. 2

Feb 12, 2023

Lessons from the Transfiguration, Pt. 2

Passage: Matthew 17:9-13

Preacher: Jeff Crotts

Series: Matthew

Category: Sunday Morning


Lessons from the Transfiguration – Matthew 17:1-13 (pt. 2)


Intro: One of the most amazing gifts God gives his children is the ability to see God’s provision in his or her life.


  • This is discerning God’s providence. It is easy to be lazy and ignore what the Lord is doing in your circumstances, to not see that he is right there, when he is in fact present.
  • What’s important to see is not merely God’s nearness, as if he is some kind of inanimate object, but that his nearness means involvement in how everything is playing out for you.
  • God’s involvement than becomes meaningful when you are willing to see his hand at work in your day-to-day circumstances.
  • As important as it is to see that God is at work in your life, it is more important to understand that this is not God’s endgame.
  • As most Christians are taught within our self-focused culture are instructed to think.
  • The goal is still you.
  • No, instead, discerning that God is at work in your life is, the door to see God’s greater work, that though it includes you, is not ultimately about you.
  • Your story is actually a part of a greater whole.
  • You are a piece of God’s greater plan that is working itself out according to God’s greater redemption story.
  • Does this mean God loves you less than you thought?
  • No, I would in fact argue the opposite is true when you understand that by design God has chosen you to be involved to participate on the inside of his greater plan.
  • When you understand you life by way of connecting your day to day with God’s greater plan, then life truly takes on meaning, where the goal is not you.
  • Is this a realistic way to see your life, or some kind of theological façade or fairytale?
  • By contrast, coming to see your life in terms of God’s direct involvement, woven within his greater plan is exactly how Jesus understood his entire life on earth.
  • “How much does God love you, if the goal of your life is solely, about you?”
  • This can only be answered by asking, “How much does God love his Son, when the goal of his life on earth was not solely about him?”
  • Jesus did everything in terms of his Father’s intimate guidance and empowerment, while at the same time, he did everything in terms of his Father’s greater redemptive plan.
  • All followers of Christ, follow Jesus with a life patterned after him and this begins with how we understand our life.
  • Being willing to see and live your life like Jesus did, is the disciples’ second lesson.  


  1. Be willing to discern God’s providence (vv. 9-13)

[TRANS] Let’s walk through this next section of this story where Jesus’ disciples are reacting to the event of the Transfiguration. Still processing what they immediately had experienced. Jesus’ process to build discernment in his disciples.  

  1. Jesus’ kibosh (v. 9)

Verse 9 takes us back to this incredible event.

  • Peter, James, and John were the selected eye-witnesses to the unshielded glory of Christ.
  • The shekinah glory displayed, bouncing between, Jesus and the unexpected pre-resurrection appearances or Moses and Elijah.
  • Old Testament saints, grounding Christ’s witness to being the point of all written revelation; the Law and the Prophets.
  • This unforgettable display of glory was etched on the minds and hearts of the intimate three disciples, to both magnify Christ in their hearts and to prepare them for Christ’s soon departure and the mission he would be leaving for them to carry on.
  • The weight of this occasion is categorically unparalleled to most everything else that has or will ever happen on earth, rivaling Jesus’ birth, baptism, and resurrection.
  • Peter, who was front row to every miracle, declared this as Jesus’ apex finalizing moment.
  • Yet, everything shuts down in an instant.

Verse 8 says, “And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (v. 8).

  • Verse 9 leaves little room for pause, leading with the conjunction, “And” with the participle, “…as they were coming down” (v. 9).
  • Jesus shuts everything down and they find themselves together, working their way down the mountain.
  • In shock? Processing what just happened to them and why?

Depending on the mountain, their descent would have taken a long time.

  • Jesus’ command certainly would have been long, but we are not privy that their exchange, only to this single command.
  • What I assume to be a summary of their conversation: “Jesus commanded them, ‘Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead’” (v. 9).
  • This kind of command is always something of an anomaly.
  • Why did Jesus reveal his glory in such a demonstrative way, when all he wants these three key disciples to do is to sit on it, at least until the resurrection.
  • Theologians call this kind of command the Messianic Secret, commands meant to protect Jesus from being rushed for pragmatic gains, such as miracles or for immediate political governance.
  • Pragmatics that interrupt or attempt to short circuit the perfect plans and will of God.
  • The reason Jesus issues this command comes clear when you understand that the disciples were not commanded to not tell ever, but to not tell yet.
  • Last time we surveyed New Testament passages that serve to record their eye-witness accounts.
  • Each with the context to verify the event and its glory but to make the clear point that the event was not the point.
  • Just like any miracle event that flowed from Jesus, the miracle event was never the point.

[Appl] Making the miracle the main point is always the profound and confusing error of the charismatic church. Miracles are never the point. Experiences are never the point. Hanging on to either real miracle experiences or false miracle experiences as measurements of your spiritual condition is always shaky ground. Experience-based faith is always a diversion from Truth.

Christ’s motivation is to counter this temptation to trade Truth for experience, knowing it is only the Truth that makes people free.

  • Jesus’ extraordinary revelation of himself was meant to be a witness in the context of his greater plan; the plan Jesus was on mission to fulfill.
  • He would die and he would be “…raised from the dead” (v. 19).
  • The lesson for the disciples was to see the Lord’s providence in their lives in view of considering the larger whole.
  • Their response tells us how difficult it is to see the Lord both working in our lives and how we are part of his greater plan.
  • It does take intentional work to see the Lord’s providence, and this is the very work, essential for their future success that the Lord is calling his closest friends to do.


  1. Disciples’ ignorance (v. 10)

The disciples respond to the Lord’s command to silence with a question.

  • First, I think their question rose out of how utterly tempting it would have been, not to share what they had witnessed.
  • Think of the most monumental event in you’ve had in your lifetime.
  • Maybe when you were engaged or the birth of your first child.
  • As believers, observing your child come to faith in Christ.
  • Perhaps a miraculous healing of a loved one.
  • What is the most natural thing in the world to do? Share it!
  • You want to share your news, your joy, so that you can magnify this joy inside your soul.
  • This is by design, by how God made us.
  • I believe this urge to share is what drove the question the disciples (collectively?) raise about the coming of Elijah.

They ask, “Then why di the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” (v. 10).

  • It is as if the disciples want to school Jesus in terms of his theology.
  • “Okay Jesus, we understand you want us to keep this quiet until later, but we just verified that Elijah was here and certainly this is great news in view of you being Messiah!”
  • We saw him, so now you should be readily affirmed.
  • I again believe the disciples not unlike Peter saying, Christ should never have to go to the cross, and not unlike Peter declaring the transfiguration (“Calling it good!” with three tabernacles) as the appropriate stopping point for redemption history.
  • Now, you have all the disciples chiming in with their theology-timeline to say, “Jesus, Elijah was supposed to come first, he came, so our announcement that he came will move things toward you being recognized as Messiah!”
  • In fact, see that verse 10, that the disciples are leaning on what the “scribes say” to garner authority behind their announcement (v. 10).
  • The same scribes that have attacked Jesus are the ones the disciples are ready to appeal to as experts for interpreting and applying Scripture.

[Appl] It is always curious what sources you will rationalize using and resorting to relying on to make your case. This alliance exposing a lack of discernment of the disciples, heretofore.

  1. Jesus’ clarification (vv. 11-12)

The way Jesus responds at first strikes me as confusing but the immediate context reveals what he is doing.

  • Jesus’ answer is both broad sweeping and story like.
  • Jesus’ statement tells like a story when he says, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things” (v. 11).
  • “He answered” is an aorist participle, meaning what he says is visualized as a unit or full story and then saying, “Elijah does come…” is a middle participle deponent which tells this fact in view of the whole story.
  • Then finishing the story with a future event, “…and he will restore al things” (v. 11).
  • Answering his disciples with the greater story and the big picture affirmed their understanding of Scripture.
  • They in fact were putting some of the pieces together, nevertheless, they were still missing the fact that God’s plan was unfolding differently then they understood. Elijah’s arrival would be significant to announce Christ’s ministry and he would indeed come first.
  • And, his announcement speaks to the solution of restoration.
  • With that said, the path of restoration had not been grasped by these disciples.
  • The Transfiguration though being majestic was not meant to short circuit the path of the cross.
  • What was meant as encouragement so as to endure the hard path, was being viewed as the culmination to why Jesus came.
  • So, Jesus is not denying the greater story, but will not leave this story generic.
  • In verse 12, Jesus abruptly adds essential information to this broad story.
  • “But I tell you…” is like Jesus saying, “News flash!”
  • What the disciples said, that Jesus affirmed as true needs this additional puzzle piece to have real bearing on their lives.
  • If you’re missing this puzzle piece, you really cannot see the whole.
  • The phrase, “But I tell you” [legw de umiv] (v. 12) is the same phrase Jesus used over and over to explain the meaning the law in his sermon on the mount (cf. Matt. 5-7 “You have heard it said, but I say to you”).
  • Jesus in the same way is saying, you might have the basic facts of Scripture right but if you are not discerning the times to make the right applications, you are missing everything.
  • The disciples were operating with a wide lens but Jesus adjusts their focus with greater acuity to see that Elijah had already come.
  • “…Elijah had already come, and they did not recognize him…” (v. 12).
  • The word, “recognize” [epigivovtes] is used repeatedly in the New Testament was the litmus test for whether you are alive spiritually or not.
  • The word means, spiritual knowledge.
  • To genuinely know the Lord and to see that he is doing.
  • Luke used this word to when opening his Gospel as an invitation to evangelize the Gentile, Theophilus.

ESV  Luke 1:4 that you may have acertainty concerning the things byou have been taught. (Luk 1:4 ESV)

  • Paul indicts the Jews for superficially knowing “God’s decree” while deserving to die based on hypocrisy, not truly knowing God and his law.

ESV  Romans 1:32 Though they know aGod's decree that those who practice such things bdeserve to die, they not only do them but cgive approval to those who practice them. (Rom 1:32 ESV)

  • Believers discern God’s word and his will, Though imperfectly seeing in a mirror dimly, The nevertheless, “know in part.” The lights are on spiritually speaking.

ESV  1 Corinthians 13:12 For anow we see in a mirror dimly, but bthen face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as cI have been fully known. (1Co 13:12 ESV)

  • Christ says, “Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him” (v. 12).
  • Who are “they” none other than the “scribes” who were the ones the disciples appealed to, to make their case.
  • For all the religious leaders knew, they did not know God. And, they did not have the capacity to see John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Elijah’s coming.

[Illus] The Jews would later mock Jesus, saying they heard Jesus, “crying out to Elijah” in Jesus’ greatest moment of desperation! Eloi Eloi Lamma Sabbateni! – Jesus’ point was to pay for all believer’s sin – while at apex suffering, he heard the superficial bible knowledge miss applied – these religious jeers were bible based – based on the big picture – this kind of mockery is soul killing – flying in the face of the true reason Jesus first came – Elijah was never meant for Jesus to be rescued from the cross – Elijah as meant to validate Jesus as the Lamb going to the cross -the cross before the crown! Humble debasement before exaltation. Cross before Crown. Humiliation before coronation.

[Appl] It is one thing to miss the forest for the trees and quite another to miss the trees for the forest. To get so up in the clouds, seeing and measuring life events from the drone’s perspective, while missing out of what is happening right in front of you. Discernment is seeing both and living your life in light of each. Do not miss the hearts and lives in front of you; in so doing, you will pay a significant cost. You miss the many avoidable dangers while at the same time, missing the multitude of blessings dropped right in front of you!

[Appl] I remember the story of the man shipwrecked on a deserted island, where the tide was dangerously encroaching. He climbed the peak in the center of the island, to the top and prayed for a miraculous rescue. At first, a plane landed on a sandbar just in time for the man to climb down and flee for safety. Being hailed by the pilot the man hollered down, that he had prayed and the Lord would see him to safety. Soon, with the water’s rising, a boat passed by with loudspeaker called the man to leave the mountain and swim to he boat for safety. He yelled back, too dangerous and that the Lord would be his rescue. Then finally, a helicopter flew by with a dangling ladder, crying out for the man to jump to the ladder and to hang on for safety. And the again, said, I have prayed and the Lord will rescue me. With the tide now overtaking the mountain, this man only had a few moments left where his head would be above water, so he cried with exasperation, to God, “Why did you not rescue me?” To which God said, “Well, I sent a plane, boat, and helicopter, what else did you expect!”

Seeing God’s will and his word with discernment does come from God’s gracious gift.

  • Nevertheless, there is moral culpability for not receiving this gift God freely offers to all.
  • Having your eyes opened by the Spirit of God is synonymous with being born again.
  • So, the offer of salvation is the same offer to spiritually see what is going on in God’s plan in the bigger and smaller picture.
  • That said, Jesus’ next statement exposes the religious leader’s sin in their rejection of John.
  • They not only “….did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased” (v. 12).

Jesus desired for the disciples to discern God’s providence.

  • It is important to have discernment because this means you are a believer but once you have discernment, the priority now becomes, using discernment.
  • Being discerning.
  • This is the lesson Jesus is teaching his disciples.
  • What they must have in their set of primary tools for them to endure the battle they will face.
  • What the scribes did not recognize or better, could not recognize, his disciples could.
  • The religious leaders, to include Herod Antipas “…did to [John] whatever they pleased” (v. 12).
  • While John was preaching, you’ll remember the scribes and pharisees went out to John, in step with all the masses, who were leaving the religious center of Jerusalem, for baptism.
  • John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance and their approach for this exposed their religious hypocrisy.
  • John called them a brood of vipers, a family of lethal snakes, uncovering their motive to attack him and his message from the inside.
  • They wanted to blend in with the crowds to leverage their authority over John, once inside.
  • John’s message did not stay in the fields but moved inside the castle of Herod Antipas.
  • We covered this in detail but just to say, John had called out Antipas (one of the 4 tetrarchs, Herod the Great’s sons) who had taken his brother’s wife, cavalier adulterer.
  • Antipas wanted the preaching of John but no convicting accountability.

[Appl] The same recipe the evangelical world has craved for the last 50 years in our country. Give me inspiration without conviction. Give me God without submission. Give me grace without repentance.

So, “[they] …did to him whatever they pleased” (v. 12) meaning, Antipas jailed John in his dungeon and Herodias had him beheaded, all to silence John, silence the Word, the to attempt to silence their consciences.

  • Jesus’ commentary on what they did with John has to do with people doing “…whatever they please!” (v 12).
  • People want God on their terms not on God’s terms.
  • This is the sin of control and self-worship.

[Appl] Suffering as a path never appears pleasing. This is never the pleasing choice and yet it is often only through the real crucible of suffering that real heart change happens.

[Illus] I have been bedside with aged fathers who know their end is near, looking into the eyes of their son, ensuring lifelong matters are reconciled. The path of suffering is the path of sanctification.

[Appl] Why Jesus said, better to enter eternity lame, or blind, into the kingdom of God then to be whole and sent to Hell. Severing body parts has nothing to do with the state of your soul; suffering that calls to holiness does. If the Master suffered, so will his servants. Our treatment is the same and worse.

[Illus] Jesus made this personal promise to Peter. You are forgiven; you are restored; you are also promised a martyr’s death. Not as punishment but to validate that you are not your own, you are Christ’s. It is Christ who has charge of your life. Considering this promise, Peter asks, “What of John?” and Jesus’ quick response is that this is of no concern to Peter.

Verse 12 makes this same point in reverse.

  • The servant [John] suffered and likewise the Master will suffer.
  • “So also, the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands” (v. 12).
  • The Son of Man will certainly “suffer” – meaning Jesus, who is fully human [Son of Man] will “suffer” meaning will “endure suffering” – will run this marathon – the cross. “…at their hands” literally “…under [upp] their hands” (v. 12) which points to Christ’s “subordination, submission, or yielding” to suffer.
  • The lesson to suffer first was hard for the disciples to envision for Christ (cf. 16:21-22). Jesus had told them he “must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things” (v. 21).
  • Why is Jesus taking this opportunity to remake this connection to his suffering?
  • It was important to sow this seed for later.
  • This path was dawning on them, though not fully realized by them yet.
  • They would scatter and later put the pieces together in retrospect, after the resurrection.
  • Jesus used their desire to be pragmatic, to leverage their encounter with Elijah, to be inappropriately bold, to connect back to John the Baptist (whom they deeply respected) to suffering.
  • All to say, Jesus has to suffer! Jesus saying, “I will certainly suffer!” These “scribes” whom you’re trying to catch me up short with, will cause my suffering.


  1. Disciples’ discernment (v. 13)

What happens with Jesus’ disciples?

  • “Then the disciples understood…” (cff. Mk 4:9; Rom. 3:11; Eph. 5:17).
  • This has to do with hearing, spiritually having ears to hear.
  • Jesus was using this conversation, post an incalculably beautiful and glorious experience to see a greater lesson.
  • The glory awaits, but suffering will come first!

[Question] Did Jesus’ disciples accept this lesson?

  • The text tells us at the very least, they took a step.
  • In one sense, there is grace in seeing that these friends and followers of Jesus were still in process, grasping what Jesus had still had to face; what they in turn would still have to face.
  • How they took this step of acceptance was through their encounter with Elijah, puzzle piecing this together through patching their experience together with Malachi’s prophecy, testing this in a conversation with Jesus, basically challenging Jesus’ theology, being corrected by Jesus, and then yielding to this correction.
  • “It was John the Baptist who fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy.”
  • “So, John’s pattern for how he was treated and suffered is the foreshadowing of how they will treat Jesus.”
  • “By implication, this is what we should likewise expect and begin to accept.”
  • “It will be suffering before final salvation.”
  • How patient is our Christ, to teach us the lessons we must learn to then execute on our mission.

Verse 13 is the beginning of Jesus’ disciples exercising discernment.

[Appl] When you find out that you are on a path of suffering and you are a Christian, then if you want to grow and not shrink, you will have to decide not only to lay something down but also to pick something up. If you do one thing but not the other, you will be overburdened and will find yourself unsteady and shaken. First, Christians are called to cast their care upon Christ. All your cares upon him. This is laying something down.

This must be followed by taking up your cross.

  • Which is coming to the full acceptance and willingness to suffer.
  • Suffering well, is where you by the power of God, decide to bear up under the pressure of this new pain.
  • And in doing so you become stronger (cff. 2 Corinthians 12 “your grace is sufficient, power perfected in weakness;
  • Ephesians 6 “take up the shield of faith”;
  • I Timothy “suffer hardship like a good soldier”;
  • James 1:1-2 “consider it all joy”;
  • 1 Peter 1 “the tested genuine-ness of your faith”).

[Question] You say, “How do I do this and keep this mindset?”

  • You have to exercise discernment, see the big picture and little picture.
  • Discern that God is providing for you in the pain, daily and discern that he is working all things together for the good (cff. Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).

Cast your burden down; then get under it and do so by seeing God’s work in your inside while he’s using you through this to work out his greater plan.

  • These are the same principles Christ was training the disciples through to prepare them for their mission and it is no different for you and me.      

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