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(From “The Crises of the Christ” Chapter 16)

By G. Campbell Morgan

Having thus taken a general survey of the occasion, the company, and the purpose of the transfiguration, it is possible to pass to a more detailed examination of its chief features. It is the Lord Himself upon Whom the attention is first fixed, and that in regard, first, to the fact of His transfiguration, and secondly, to the place it occupied in His life and mission. In each of these separate studies the subjects will overlap. It is impossible to consider the Master without having also to look both at the discipled and the celestial Visitors, just as it will be impossible to consider either of these alone. All must be seen in connection with each, yet each demands special attention, and such attention is now directed to the principal Person in the glorious scene.

I. The books of Daniel and Revelation record visions of a glorious One which are remarkable for their similarity to the manifestation on the holy mount. Very little is said in Scripture concerning the glory and majesty of Christ. A stranger reading the Bible, especially the New Testament, would be impressed far more with the majesty of the Messiah's character, and the glory of His moral qualities, than in any other way. This, undoubtedly, was part of the Divine plan, for the search of men was rather for tokens of material glory, than for signs of moral excellence. His coming was principally for the display of the latter; and such signs, as might have appealed to the desire of the men whose only conception of glory had come to be that of manifested splendour, were denied. The word of the prophet spoken in another connection had a supreme fulfilment in the Person of Jesus, “There was the hiding of His power.” (Hab. 3:4) Consequently, that which arrests a person in the study of the life of Christ, is not outward magnificence, not pageantry or pomp, but something more wonderful, and without which mere outward pageantry and pomp would be nothing worth, even His moral glory. No man can study the life of this remarkable One, Who passed through the ways of men devoid of attributes that attracted the attention of the mob, without finding that the beauty of His character lays hold upon the inmost spirit, and commands its admiration. To see the Christ in the glories of His character, is to be prostrate before Him in adoration.
Yet while the glory of His power is hidden, and the radiant splendours of His Person are veiled, occasionally during His sojourn upon the earth, they flashed into prominence. Here upon the mount, before the eyes of the disciples, there flamed forth the magnificence and the majesty of' Him, Who, in order that the weakest and most trembling might hold intercourse with Him, had veiled these splendours behind the human.
What an outshining it was may be gathered from the accounts of the evangelists:
“He was transfigured before them; and His face did shine as the sun, and His garments became white as the light.” (Matt 17:2)
“And He was transfigured before them: and His garments became glistering, exceeding white so as no fuller on earth can whiten them.” (Mark 9:2,3)
“And as He was praying, the fashion of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became white and dazzling.” (Luke 9:29)
The accounts vary somewhat, and this is doubtless due to the different impression made upon the minds of the men who beheld the vision, and told the story to the evangelists. Yet in the differences there is unity.
Matthew describes the change that passed over Him as one of light: “His face did shine as the sun, and His garments became white as the light.”
Mark gives the impression of snow: “His garments be-came glistering, exceeding white.” The word “glistering” suggests the sparkling of the snow as light falls upon it.
Luke writes, “His raiment became white and dazzling,” the word “dazzling” suggesting the blinding light of the lightning’s flash.
That which is common to all the descriptions is the thought of whiteness and of light. “White as light” says Matthew's story. “White as snow glistering in the light” is Mark's utterance. Not as light merely, not even as snow glistering upon the mountain heights, but as lightning flashing forth in glory, dazzling in its brilliancy, is Luke's account.
The one fact of white light is here declared in threefold statement- the beneficence of light, the purity of snow, the majesty of lightning.
With what overwhelming awe must these men have looked upon their Master! They had become familiar with Him as with a Man sharing their nature- His face lined with the furrows of care, His visage sorrowfully marred, beautiful, yea, passing beautiful, and yet always overshadowed with the signs of sorrow. As they looked up from their bewildered sleep in the darkness of the night, they beheld Him white as the light, His raiment glistering as with the radiance of the snow-capped peaks behind Him, His whole Person standing out in clear relief against the dark background, like lightning flashing upon the bosom of the night. Long years after, Peter, writing of the vision, said, “We were eye-witnesses of His majesty.” (Peter 1:16) The word “majesty” occurs three times only in Scripture. Once it is translated “mighty power”, once “magnificence,” and once “majesty.” The thought it suggests is that of splendour, of overwhelming beauty and glory, and that which arrests and subdues the mind to the point of adoration and worship; and Peter, looking back to the splendours of that night scene, wrote, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
This glory was not the light of heaven falling upon Him from above. Nor was it a merely reflected radiance which resulted from communion. When Moses descended from the mount, his face shone so that men could not look upon it. That glory was the reflection of the light in which he had sojourned in the solemn days of his absence, and even that was so brilliant that men could not look upon it, and he had to veil his face. Later on, when the first martyr was about to pass from earth to heaven, upon his face there rested a glory so that when men looked upon him “they saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.” (Acts 6:15) But these are very different matters from the radiant splendour of the Master on the mount. That was the glory of His own face, of His own Person, shining through the veil that had hidden it, until the very raiment of His humanity sparkled and glistened and flashed with the splendour of light and snow and lightning. The transfiguration was effected, not by glory falling on Him, but by inherent glory flashing forth. To depict that splendour is impossible with brush, or pencil, or pen. Today it may only be seen partially, when in some place of silent solitude, the spirit of man communes with the Christ, under the immediate illumination of the Spirit of God.

II. The transfiguration had a close connection with the human life and the Divine mission of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, it may be said to have been the connecting link between the two. It carried the one over into the other. It was the consummation of ideal human life, and the beginning of the pathway that ended in the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the redemption of fallen human nature.
It is astonishing to find how many there are who look upon the transfiguration as an experience granted to Christ for the confirmation of His own consecration, and how large a number of writers on the subject say that He was led to the mountain, in order that His own faith might be confirmed, and His devotion made more complete in view of the death that lay before Him. Without doubt the experience was of value in His human life, in the way of a satisfaction and strength. But to imagine that He needed such an experience to confirm His consecration, is to misunderstand the whole of His life prior to this period. The consecration of the Christ to His Father's will and work, was settled before He was born a Man. In that Voice which comes out of the past, and Whose words are written in the volume of the Book, “Lo, I am come ... To do Thy will, 0 God," (Heb. 10:7) is the declaration of a perfect and complete consecration, from which there was never the swerving of a hair’s breadth, or the drawing back of a single moment. He needed no vision of glory such as this to confirm Him in His consecration to His Father's will. The vision of the Father’s face was never clouded for a moment to Him until the dark hour on Calvary’s Cross, which as yet was not reached. So perpetual was His sense of the Divine presence that in conversation with Nicodemus, He spoke of Himself as “the Son of Man, Who is in heaven.” (John 3:13) No, this was not something given as an encouragement to devotion. It was part of the perfect whole.
The transfiguration of Jesus was the consummation of His human life, the natural issue of all that had preceded it. Born into the world by the Holy Spirit, He had lived a life linked to, and yet separate from, humanity: linked to it in all the essential facts of its nature, separate from it in its sin, both as a principle and activity. He had taken His way, from His first outlook upon life as a human being -a babe in His mother's arms-through the years of childhood and growth, through all temptation and testing of manhood, and through the severer temptation of public ministry, and here, at last, that humanity, perfect in creation, perfect through probation, was perfected in glory. The life of Jesus was bound to reach this point of transfiguration. It could do no other.
In Jesus of Nazareth there was the perfect unfolding before heaven and before men, of the Divine intention as to the process of human life. Beginning in weakness and limitation, passing through difficulties and temptation, gaining perpetual victory over temptation by abiding only, at all times, and under all circumstances, in the will of God, at last, all the testing being ended, the life passed into the presence of God Himself, and into the light of heaven, not through the gate of death, but through the painless and glorious process of transfiguration. The transfiguration of Jesus was the outcome of His unceasing victory in every hour of temptation. The garrison of His life had been kept against every attack of the foe; no room had been found in any avenue of His being, nor in all the circle of His manhood, for anything contrary to the will of God. His life was a perfect harmony, and the unceasing burden of its music was the goodness, and perfectness, and acceptableness of the will of God. He had ever done the things that pleased God; He had thought the thoughts of God, and spoken words, and done deeds under the inspiration and impulse of communion with God and at last, having triumphed over every form of temptation, He passed, not into the darkness of death, but into a larger life; and as He was transfigured, He was filled with the answer of God to the perfection of His life- an answer that came, not as a glory from without, but as the perfect blossoming of that which He had always enfolded in His human nature.
Reverently take a flower as an illustration of the process, watching it in its progress from seedling to perfect blossoming. The blossom rested in the seed in potentiality and possibility. Take a seed and hold it in the hand, strange little seed, without beauty, the very embodiment of weakness. But within that husk in which the human eye detects no line of beauty or grace, no gleam or flash of glory, there lie the gorgeous colours and magnificent flower itself. From that seed, through processes of law, plant and bud proceed, until at last the perfect blossom is formed.
God's humanity has blossomed once in the course of the ages, and that transfigured Man upon the holy mount, flashing in the splendour of a light like the sun, glistering with the glory of a whiteness like that of the snow, and flaming with the magnificent beauty of the lightning which flashes its radiance upon the darkness, that was God’s perfect Man. That was the realization of the thought that was in the mind of God when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image.”
The mount of transfiguration was the consummation of the life of Jesus, and if He had not been in the world for other purposes, if He had not been here because He loved man, if He had not been here in order to win life out of the deep dense darkness of human sin and death, He might have passed back with Moses and Elijah to the heights of the glory of God- God’s Man, having won His way to heaven by the perfection of His life. Such then is the place of the transfiguration in the life of Jesus.
With regard to His mission, the transfiguration was the prelude to His death. It was the crowning of the first part of His mission, that of realizing perfect life. Because of this crowning, He was now able to pass to the second part of His mission, that of atoning death. It will at once be seen how closely united these things are. The death of Christ would have been of no avail for the redemption of the world, had it not been preceded by His perfect life. To say this is not for one single moment to undervalue the death of Christ. Had the life not been perfect, the death would have been nothing more than the tragic end of an ordinary life, ordinary because conformed to the tendency and habit of the centuries, that of sin. But blessed be God, there had been no such conformity in the years that had preceded the Cross. Amid the selfidolatry of all the race, He alone had stood erect, and therefore His death became the very door of life for a lost race, because of the infinite value of the life that had preceded it. No other man could be found as ransom for his brother, for every other man in coming to death had nothing in life that made death of value. When God had found none that could by any means ransom his brother, it was not that He had not been able to find one man willing to die for another. Men have always been found ready to die for others. The old story of how a soldier found a comrade ready to don his uniform, and take his place in the ranks, and answer “Here” when his name was called, is well-known. But on the higher plane, no man can answer “Here” for his brother, for each must answer for himself, and every man’s life is in itself imperfect, and the life of one cannot avail for that of another, for that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) Men have in all ages been willing to die for others. Savonarola died for Florence, but he could not redeem Florence by his death. George Whitfield died for England, but he could not redeem the country by his dying. But this Man on the mount finished His life, wrought it out to absolute perfection, crowning it with the glory of heaven in the sight of men and God. Having done this He took that life-perfect, spotless, entire- and poured it out in death. His death thereby became more than the end of life. It became the mystery of Atonement, the darkness through which the eternal morning broke, the death through which life as a river passed through the ages, for every man, who forsaking sin, commits himself to the Perfect One Who died and lives.
The transfiguration divided the ways. Amid the glory of that resplendent hour, the first part of His mission was ended. There was ushered in the second part, as He descended from the mountain, turning His back for the second time upon the light of heaven, and taking His way to the Cross, passed into the darkness of death. Follow carefully the life of Jesus from that mount to the green hill without the city wall. The one thought in His mind was that of His death, and of His Cross. May it not be said that after the mount He was eager for death? There was no drawing back, there was no flinching. He set His face towards Jerusalem, and it almost seems as though He were impatient of delay. With straight undeviating course, He passed from the mount of transfiguration to the Cross. Death was the goal, the Cross the throne, the passion- baptism the loosening of prison bonds, the darkness of Calvary the prelude of the dawn of the age for which He longed. So the transfiguration came into the life of Jesus as the crowning of His humanity, and therefore His preparation for the death by which man is redeemed.
In conclusion, it may be well to glance at the companions and the converse of the mount as they affected Him. His disciples were dazed, half asleep, not with the sleep of carelessness, but with that overpowering that follows the vision of glory. As He stood in the glory of that crowning moment, these men spoke to His heart, by their very blindness and blundering, of the incompleteness of His work. The words of Peter and the needs of these men were two different things. Said the words of Peter, “Let us stay here.” Said the need of the men, even expressed in the blunder of Peter’s prayer, Stay not here, but pass to the Cross. In the light of the mount Jesus looked upon these men, and heard the cry they themselves did not understand, their cry for the Atonement of His death, and the light that should follow the darkness of His passion.
Then again, Moses and Elijah, the spirits of just men made perfect. They talked with Him of His Cross. In this there is deep significance. What they said to Him, or He to them, concerning that Cross is not chronicled, but may it not have been that as He looked at them He saw again the necessity for His Cross? Did He not know that the perfecting of the just had been through the faith they had reposed in the purpose of God? And did He not know that the purpose, in which He had had fellowship, was that of redemption by blood? Did not these men say to Him by their very presence, Heaven as well as earth waits Thy Cross, and unless Thou dost pass from the mount of crowning to the mount of crucifixion, heaven must be unpeopled, for we are of the company of those who have died in faith looking for Shiloh, our Desire and our Redeemer. We wait amid the splendours of the upper world, and all is lost to us if Thy work of redemption be unfinished?
With reverent daring follow the thought to its issue. Had He, the crowned and perfected Man, passed upward into light, heaven would have been unpeopled, and in its splendour there would have been one only Man. The plea of heaven and earth in the ears of Christ was a great cry for the deeper work, that lay as yet beyond Him. Earth with no language but a cry, which itself did not understand, was asking for the Cross. Heaven in its glory of perfected vision was looking for the same; and because He willed one will with God, He left the glory of the mount, and with resolute step trod the way to Calvary and from the darkness that overwhelmed Him has broken a light, that falls in radiance of hope and certainty upon the ruined race.

By : G. Campbell Morgan

From “The Crises of the Christ” Chap.16
Fleming H. Revell USA (Out of print)

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