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)
Peter made his confession that Jesus was the Christ. Jesus spoke of his invincible church being built on that confession. But then, to Peter’s shock, he began to talk about his impending suffering and death. Imagine the reaction of the disciples when Jesus, in Matthew 16:24–28, includes them in the path of suffering and death! Don’t forget that Jesus also calls you to walk that path.
Take up your cross. Deny yourself. This denial is not a denial of certain things. Members of the Ethiopic church deny themselves certain foods during certain fast days. Muslims fast during the daylight hours of the month of Ramadan. Many Americans may think of Christianity primarily in terms of things they might have to give up. People may make a list of things they give up for Lent. But sin does not lie in things: Acts 10:15; 1 Corinthians 8; 10; 1 Timothy 4:4,5. Too often this kind of self-denial betrays a works-righteousness. Jesus requires that you deny, not certain things, but rather that you deny yourself. Turn from any form of self-worship to placing God central, Deuteronomy 6:5. Jesus is calling you to a radical commitment to him—one that is stronger than family ties, one that goes beyond self-interest. This denial is deep enough that it involves a willingness to sacrifice (lose, verse 25) your life for the sake of the Son of Man and his kingdom. He is telling you that your life must be shaped by the cross. Your life in Christ is cruciform, shaped like a cross.
Jesus has just listened to Peter’s confession. He has responded that he will build his powerful church on that rock. But, what is the rest of the story? Just how will Christ build his church? Matthew 16:21–23 tells you.
Understand that Jesus had to suffer, die, and be raised. The suffering of Jesus is how he builds his church. Although this is not the beginning of Jesus’ own awareness of his coming suffering and death, and Matthew has already hinted at its approach, it marks the start of Jesus’ intensive instruction of his disciples on the subject. Jesus says, “He must,” indicating the necessity of what he was about to do. This was not an option, not a possibility. Rather, he was about to fulfill what God had ordained and had prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures. Significantly, Jesus waited with this instruction until Peter had made his confession. Perhaps doing it earlier would have confused the disciples about his Messianic work. Peter has now made his confession, but his concept of what the Messiah would do needs to be drastically revised. Jesus is telling you how he will build his church. It’s construction will involve his own suffering, betrayal, and death. Jesus tells you the location of his suffering: Jerusalem, the place where God had caused his name to dwell, The place where the temple stood, the city of the Great King. Those inflicting the suffering would be the religious leaders, the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law. (This combination of the three groups apparently refers to the Sanhedrin.) If there was any group that should have been ready for the coming Messiah, that should have welcomed him, it ought to have been the Sanhedrin. But they will reject him, and cause him to suffer. Ultimately he will be killed. The gates of Hades will not prevail against the church he is building, but he will enter the realm of the dead.
Do you have a friend you would describe as “rock-solid”? What does that mean? Does Peter fit that description? Yet, in Matthew 16:13–20 Jesus uses Peter’s name, and says, “On this rock I will build my church!”
Share Peter’s confession. Who do you say Jesus is? Jesus had gone with his disciples to Caesarea Phillipi, a town to the north of the Sea of Galilee. He asks his disciples who the people, the crowds that had been following him, said that he, the Son of Man, was. The disciples recount the various opinions expressed by the crowds. Then Jesus ask the who they say he is. Matthew records the question because it is one you and I need to answer. In fact, it is a crucially important question with eternal consequences. Matthew is not just informing you of a bit of history (though indeed this happened). He records Peter’s confession so that you can join in that same confession. He wants you to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the great King in David’s line.
You cannot separate the resurrection from any part of your life as a Christian. The resurrection is crucial to worship on every Lord’s Day. Sometimes people say, “It’s as quiet as a tomb.” The sabbath rest had been disturbed only by the sealing of the rock entrance to the tomb, and the posting of the guard. But, as you read in Matthew 28:1–9, suddenly that peace is shattered!
Appreciate the uniqueness of Matthew’s Gospel. There are differences among the Gospel accounts of the resurrection. The differences can be harmonized. Appreciate the difference in perspective which each witness brings. They have in common the empty tomb and the presence of angelic beings who explain that. Each Gospel assures you that the Lord is risen indeed!
Matthew has his own emphasis. He alone mentions the earthquake. He alone describes the guard, their reaction, and the ensuing cover story. Matthew, more than any of the other Gospels, emphasizes the appearance of Jesus to his followers in Galilee. This is in fulfillment of Jesus’ words to his disciples on the Mount of Olives in Matthew 26:30–35.