Children, do your parents ever say, “this is really important, listen carefully,” before going on to give you some instructions? In Matthew 17:1–13 God the Father tells you, children and adults, to listen to Jesus, his beloved Son.
Listen to Jesus because of his glorious kingship. Jesus appears in his kingdom. He had said that some listeners would see the glory of the kingdom, Matthew 16:28. “After six days” indicates a connection. His title, Son of Man, is related to the kingdom, Matthew 17:9; 16:28. In Daniel 7:13,14 it refers to Christ as the triumphant ruler.
The transfiguration is a foretaste of Christ’s triumph. Christ did appear in heavenly glory. His clothes became as white as the light. His face shone with his heavenly glory. The language reminds you of the exalted Christ, Revelation 1:13-16. When Moses had spoken with God, his face shone, Exodus 34:30. But that was a reflected glory. Jesus is God. Glory comes from him. Why was he transfigured? Jesus was facing the most difficult period of his ministry. The cross was ahead. Don’t underestimate Christ’s humanity. The event on the mountain reminded him of the glory which awaited the completion of his work. But the transfiguration was not just for Jesus. It was for Peter, James, and John, as witnesses, who after the resurrection, were to tell the story. Peter reflects on that in 2 Peter 1:16–21. Jesus is the great King, and he calls his people to share in his wonderful kingdom. He gives authority to his people. Do you see the glory of Christ as you see fellow believers who, by the power of the risen Christ, are enabled to break sinful habits and shape their lives more and more according to his will? As the glorious Christ, the King of kings, he is to be heard. You need to listen to him! “Jesus… is the Son of God not because he is Messiah and king, but he is king because he is the Messiah, because he is the Son of the Father. God is his Father (Luke 2:49); he is the only Son, whom the Father loved and whom he sent as his last emissary (Mark 12:6). At the baptism (Matthew 3:17) and later at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:5), God calls him his ‘beloved son with whom he is well pleased.’” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, p. 252)
Listen to Jesus because of his priestly work. Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus. They represent the law and the prophets. Their work had centered on Christ. Thus it was appropriate that they meet him before his sacrificial death. They summarized the history of the theocracy. Moses founded the nation. Elijah restored it. (Thus Jesus’ reference to John the Baptist as Elijah–in fulfillment of Malachi 4.) Christ fulfilled their work. He is the substance of the Old Testament shadows. Wouldn’t you have liked to have listened in on that conversation?
Jesus was looking ahead to his death and resurrection. Although Matthew doesn’t specify the content of the conversation, its subject can be gathered from Jesus’ comment about his being raised from the dead, v.9. Luke 9:31 is explicit, that Jesus was speaking of his “departure,” or literally, his “exodus.” This had to include his sacrificial death. Christ’s glory was to follow his suffering. Jesus cannot speak of his death without also mentioning his resurrection, v.9; Matthew 16:21. The transfiguration is a foretaste of the resurrection glory, see Philippians 2:6-11. “At the transfiguration mount, too, where the divine voice intimates that the divine favor continues to rest upon the Son as he goes to the cross, Jesus himself speaks of the new era which is in prospect through the approaching resurrection of the Son of Man (Mt. 17:9; cf. Mk. 9:9). The glory which belongs to the Son of Man will not wait to appear until his return on the clouds of heaven; it will be manifested through another stupendous supernatural event, the resurrection of the crucified one from the dead.” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, p.237) Listen to Jesus because of his priestly work. One of the principles, rediscovered at the time of the Reformation, is that his people are also priests. We no longer need an order of earthly priests to stand between us and God, because the God man is the perfect high priest. Every man, woman, and child who is part of the body of Christ has the right to come directly to the throne of grace. We believe in the priesthood of all believers.
Listen to him because he is God’s Son, the great prophet. The cloud shows the very presence of God. The cloud accompanied God in the Old Testament: Exodus 13:21; 14:19,20,24; 40:34-38; 1 Kings 8:10,11. It continues to function that way in the New Testament: Matthew 24:30; Acts 1:9ff. Here, God is in the bright cloud. From it the Father speaks. A prophet speaks. Peter, James, and John could hear Christ speak directly. While we no longer hear him speak on the hills of Galilee or in the temple at Jerusalem, he still speaks to you. He has given you his Word, the Bible, breathed out by the Spirit whom he poured out on the church at Pentecost. Peter emphasizes how important that Word is: 2 Peter 1:16–21.
Listen to your Prophet. The Father places his approval on Christ. He had done so at Christ’s baptism, now the public approbation is repeated. Peter had confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Matthew 16:16. Now the Father himself affirms Peter’s evaluation. Jesus is the one to whom you must listen. He is the great prophet. His presence means the presence of the Lord. As those united to Christ, we all have a derived prophetic function. The command not to speak (Matthew 17:9) was time-limited. You live in the period of redemptive history when the message of Christ’s glory is to be proclaimed everywhere. Some of that is formal preaching and teaching. Some of it is Christians speaking to neighbors, family, friends, and even strangers. Note that Jesus came and touched the terrified disciples and spoke to them. He comes to you with the message of salvation through his death and resurrection. Listen to him!
Jesus is your King, your priest, and your prophet. Listen to him, and obey him, for he is the Son whom the Father loves.