Skip to Main Content

Matthew 17:1-13 2BC

“The Transfiguration of Christ” 
Background Passage—Matthew 17:1-13 
Lesson for March 11 – 12, 2017 
Dr. James Patterson 


 Mason drove down Gessner Road regularly about twice a month. On this particular trip, he noticed a brand new bank that wasn’t there the last time he traveled the area. “Wow,” he thought. “That bank came up overnight.” 

Some friends who enjoy Country and Western music were watching the CMA awards and enjoyed a great song from an artist they had never heard of. The song and the artist both won awards on the show. “He’s an overnight success,” someone said. 

A young religious leader was said to be healing all afflictions in Galilee. Multitudes from Syria came to see him, and he healed them, too. Thousands upon thousands wanted to hear him speak. He delivered a message on a mountain that was unlike any ever preached in history. “Who is this person?” they asked. “He has come out of nowhere to say and do astonishing things!” 

These three examples of overnight sensations had at least one thing in common: They were anything but, “overnight.” 

The bank had been in planning for at least a year, as land purchases were made, permits were obtained, blueprints were drawn up, and more. Once the difficult legwork was complete, the actual construction was relatively easy. In our example above, Mason had no idea that any of the pre-construction work was in process. For competitive reasons, the bank had kept all information strictly hush-hush. 

It was not commonly known that the “new” country artist had been playing in local bars and dance halls for $60 a night, since he turned 16. He had written hundreds of songs as a young man—mostly bad. He had even taken a job as a janitor in a recording studio, so that he could learn from the people who were further ahead of him in the music business. His friends and family knew that his current successful song had been a very long time in the making.

In the case of the religious leader, His career had been ordained since the beginning of time. He came into this world in an astonishing manner. The entire universe had been created and developed to get Him to a particular place and at a particular time. He was destined to world-changing accomplishments. Things were going on in the background of which very few people were aware. Today’s Scripture gives us a glimpse into one of the “behind the scenes” events in this man’s life. 


Matthew 17:1-6 

1 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2 He was transformed in front of them, and His face shone like the sun. Even His clothes became as white as the light. 3 Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 

4 Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it's good for us to be here! If You want, I will make three tabernacles here: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 

5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said: 

This is My beloved Son. 

I take delight in Him. 

Listen to Him! 

6 When the disciples heard it, they fell facedown and were terrified. 

Note: In addition to Matthew 17, the transfiguration experience is written in Mark 9, Luke 9, and also in 2 Peter 1:16-18. 

Verses 1-2: The timeline for this event is about six days after Peter's confession that Jesus was the Christ at Caesarea Philippi. Even though Peter and the other disciples affirmed Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus wanted to provide and experience that would help them to understand His Godly nature more fully. 

No one knows for certain which "high mountain" they went to, but it was likely Mount Tabor, about six miles east of Nazareth. It is probable that a remote place, devoid of spectators was what the Lord had in mind. Peter, James, and John were Jesus' "inner circle," and were the logical choice to bring along to witness the upcoming spectacular event. 

As Jesus prayed, he was transformed so that His clothes became a brilliant white, and his countenance began to shine like the sun. These phenomena were evidence of God's glory upon the person of Jesus. The awesome whiteness testified to His purity and holiness. For a brief moment, the veil was lifted, permitting the three apostles to witness the Heavenly splendor of Christ. They got a "glimpse of the Kingdom." 

Verses 3: Then, Moses and Elijah joined Him, in what may well have been the greatest Bible conference in history-Moses, representing the Law; Elijah, the foremost Prophet; and Jesus, who came to fulfill both the Law and the Prophecies. 

Moses and Elijah had both experienced suffering and rejection during their ministries. Their appearance alongside Jesus at this time foreshadows the pain and humiliation in the near future for the Messiah, as well. Matthew's account does not mention what the three spoke of, but Luke 9:31 mentions that the topic was Jesus' upcoming crucifixion. 

Verse 4: Peter was thrilled to witness this astounding trio of Godly personalities. For his life, it was literally a "mountaintop experience." Instead of being silent and reverently observant--true to his nature--he blurted out the first thing that came to mind-"I will set up three shelters . . ." Jesus saw no need for temporary shelters, so he did not respond to Peter's suggestion. 

Had Peter taken time to choose his response to the situation more carefully, he may not have offered to build three shelters, which would indicate that the three men were relatively equal in importance, each deserving a shelter. Obviously, Peter knew that although Moses and Elijah were magnificent servants in the House of God, Christ is the ruler of the House of God. Moses and Elijah were not equal to Christ. He was their superior and their Lord. The parallel account in Luke 9:33, acknowledged that Peter "did not know what he was saying." 

Verses 5-6: Peter did not get to finish his thought before God's voice, emitting from a bright cloud, interrupted him, making four affirmations about Jesus: 

  1. He called Jesus His Son. Jesus alone is the eternal Son of the Father. This statement represents Divine confirmation of Jesus' deity. 

  2. He stated His love for His Son, Jesus. 

  3. He announced that He was pleased with His Son and with all that Jesus had been doing. 

  4. He instructed the apostles to listen to Jesus. What Jesus had to say was going to change their lives, as well as the lives of subsequent generations for all eternity. The "Peters" of society need to stop trying to instruct Jesus on what a Messiah should do and start following Him in devout obedience. They should listen to Jesus and only to Jesus. 

At the sound of God's voice, the apostles fell face down in submissive worship and fear. They began to realize the magnitude of what they had just witnessed. 

The transfiguration experience certainly made a lifelong impression on Peter. Could there be any higher endorsement of Jesus than the testimony from the voice of God, while in the company of the Old Testament's greatest prophets and some of the New Testament's greatest apostles? If this was a dream, it was a dream that all three of the apostles simultaneously shared. 


Matthew 17:7-9 

7 Then Jesus came up, touched them, and said, "Get up; don't be afraid." 8 When they looked up they saw no one except Him-Jesus alone. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Don't tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead." 

Verses 7-8: Jesus calmed His men with a reassuring touch and words of compassion and purpose. He didn't want His apostles terrified of His Father. He was ready for them to continue on to the final stage of His redeeming mission on Earth. Upon gathering themselves, the apostles saw that Jesus, alone, remained on the mountain with them. And Jesus, alone, was really all they needed. 

Verse 9: It is likely that the apostles couldn't wait to get back and share their witness to this extraordinary event with all of the others. But Jesus instructed them to keep quiet about this mountaintop event until after His death and resurrection. Jesus wanted this Divine declaration held back until the final proof of Jesus' divinity was irrefutable – His resurrection. 

In addition, by the time of the resurrection; Peter, James, and John would more fully understand what took place on that mountain. As new challenges came to face them years later, they would be assured their faith in Christ was not misplaced. They had heard from Almighty God that Jesus, alone, was mankind's answer. 

If they were to broadcast the transfiguration story immediately, they would risk inciting the people who were looking for a strong avenger to set up a political kingdom, which was contrary to God's plan for mankind's redemption. The news would also have caused Jesus' enemies to step up their efforts to thwart God's plan. 


Matthew 17:10-13 

So the disciples questioned Him, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" 

11 "Elijah is coming and will restore everything," He replied. 12 "But I tell you: Elijah has already come, and they didn't recognize him. On the contrary, they did whatever they pleased to him. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them about John the Baptist. 

Verses 10-11: The disciples had a lot to process on their journey back home. Among other concerns, they were puzzled about the fact that the scribes of Jerusalem had taught that God was (re)sending Elijah to lead His people back into fellowship with the Almighty, as well as to restore harmony within the nation. This would fulfill a prophecy from Malachi 4; yet, here was the undeniable Messiah walking down the mountain with them, and there had been no preparatory ministry from Elijah. 

Verses 12-13: Since the Jewish leaders didn't acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, they continued to look for a future coming of Elijah. However, "Elijah" had already come; the scribes just didn't recognize it. 

John the Baptist had ministered in the same style and spirit as Elijah to fulfill the prophecy in Malachi 4:6. John had clearly preached a message of repentance in preparation and expectation of the Messiah. Recall that Luke 1:16-17 said to John the Baptist's father before his birth: "He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people." 

Tragically, John the Baptist's message was largely ignored among Jewish leadership, and the man was executed. He had made a good start among the common people, but only the second coming of Jesus will complete this prophecy. 

Jesus asserted to His apostles that His fate would be similar to John's, including the suffering and death. However, He would be strengthened by this infilling of God's glory upon His person. At this point, the apostolic "inner circle" had the beginnings of significant spiritual insight, that would become much more apparent following Christ's death and resurrection. 


If we are convinced that the Jesus Christ is absolutely the Son of God and is the key to our eternal salvation, we should not hesitate in applying His teachings to our everyday lives. We should stay in the Word, to keep it fresh in our minds. In addition to reading the Bible, we should go to church faithfully. We should participate in a Bible Study class, listen to some of the excellent Christian broadcasts on our car radios, fellowship with other believers, and read Christian books and pamphlets. 

However, there is another step. Haven't we all heard pastors pray that their congregations would go beyond just getting fed but would take the principles of the sermons and use them for a changed life? Once we understand the way Jesus wants us to lead our lives, we must actually apply that knowledge to our daily situations. 

For example, do we consider Biblical teachings in the way we manage our finances? Do we always stay "equally yoked" in our relationships? Do we refrain from gossip, pride, and lust? Are there parts of our lives that we maintain sovereignty over? Are we modeling Christian behavior to our family and friends? Are we sharing our resources with those in need? 

At our level of Christian maturity, we should know that what the Bible says not only sounds good, but actually works. And every principle in His Word is there for our benefit. God's revealed truth-the only Word we can stake our lives on--has not accomplished its purpose in us until it moves us to action. Or, as James, the brother of Jesus said, "Faith without works is dead." 


Heavenly Father: Help us to understand more about the life that Jesus wants us to lead. Help us to "listen to Him." Please fill us with your Holy Spirit, so that we may conduct ourselves in closer accordance to Your Will. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.