The ninth chapter of Luke is not the longest chapter of this gospel, but there is a great deal going on in it as Luke picks up the pace in his account. After the feeding of the five thousand, we pick up in verse 18 with Jesus asking the disciples who people are saying that He is. Their answer is that they either say He is John the baptist, Elijah, or one of the other prophets (so in all cases, one raised from the dead). So the bulk of people that are referred to here are familiar enough with the signs and wonders that Jesus has done to know that He is definitely not some ordinary man. And in each case, they obviously believe that He was sent from God.
But now that Jesus has His disciples thinking about this, He wants to know what they have come to think about who He is. It is here that Luke records the fact that it was Peter who first spoke the correct answer – that He is the Christ (the long-awaited Messiah) and the Son of God. In verse 21, Jesus “strictly charged and commanded them” not to tell anyone else. But why is that? The Bible does not explicitly answer that question for us, but it is really not too difficult to figure out the answer from the other information we have in the Scripture.
Given the fact that the people, by and large, already believe that Jesus was sent from God, it would be very easy for most of them to believe that He is the Messiah, once that word started spreading. But what would the reaction be? Given also that Jesus knew that the sort of Messiah they were expecting was one that would lead them to the end of Roman dominance and lead Israel to its former place as a world power, belief in Him as the Messiah before His death could be problematic.
The crowds (5,000 men plus women and children most recently) had become vast in numbers. An expectation that Jesus was there to be their earthly king would result in chaos. It is in this light that Jesus tells them in verse 22 that He must “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Nothing could be allowed to hinder this – and it would happen on God’s timetable.
In verse 23, Jesus talks to the disciples about what it will mean to follow Him. He speaks of it as “taking up” one’s cross and following Him. The context of the next few verses culminates with the statement that some of those present at that very moment would not “taste of death” before they see the kingdom of God. Being a disciple and following Him before such time would not have been an easy thing to do. But Jesus seems to be referring to the cost of following Him after He has risen, and the kingdom has been established.
Taking up one’s cross would mean bearing the burdens that discipleship that just might make life a great deal more difficult. Indeed, many of those first-century Christians would know persecution and suffering unimaginable to us. Jesus knew that many would even be killed for being a part of that kingdom. But those who would lose their lives would gain everlasting life with God. Those who would rather be safe and pursue worldly pleasure and gain, turning their backs on the kingdom, would suffer a worse fate in the end. In a very real sense, taking up one’s cross often means doing what one would much rather not do.
Eight days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him to “the mountain” to pray. Which mountain it was, we do not know. One traditional belief is that it was Mount Hermon because of its height. It is estimated that this mountain is about 45 kilometers from Capernaum, so it is definitely possible. Others believe that it was Mount Tabor. But the mountain is not the focus of the gospel in verses 28-36.
As Jesus was praying, “the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” We are not given much detail about just what was happening or in what way His face was altered. But clearly, the Holy Spirit brought about some changes to Him that were important to God’s plan. Peter and the others woke from a deep sleep to see two men talking with Him (Moses and Elijah). Luke says that they appeared in “glory” and they saw Jesus’ glory as He spoke with them. This is a term that was used in the Old Testament to describe the dramatic visual effect of the presence of God; and that is exactly what was going on here as well.
Peter, either having it revealed to him or learning from what he heard, knew who the two men were. But he did not understand what was happening, as he suggested they make some extra tents for them. They became afraid as a cloud came and surrounded them. Then the voice of God sounded out as He told them “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” Peter, James, and John probably would not fully understand until after Pentecost, but the point for them (and for us) was made when Moses and Elijah left, and Jesus alone was standing there. God was telling them that it was the words of His Son that they would listen to from now on – not Moses, and not the prophets.
Another point to ponder from the record of the transfiguration is the fact that Moses had died hundreds of years ago (Deuteronomy 34:5). Elijah had been taken up by God many “lifetimes” ago (2 Kings 2:1-12). What does this tell us about life after death and everlasting life? It certainly tells us that we can count on God’s word, as always. But what conclusions should we draw from Moses’ presence? Something to ponder for perhaps another time.
(This year’s reading plan for Luke, Acts, and 1 and 2 Chronicles averages just 15 verses per day – 5 days per week!)
Schedule for this week
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from Luke here
Read or listen to audio of today’s selection from 1 Chronicles here
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
Please note: I did not design the reading plan that I am following in my blog. All of my comments in this blog, however, are solely my responsibility. When reading ANY commentary, you should ALWAYS refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word. Reading schedules, as well as a link to the site where you can get the reading plan that I’m currently following for yourself can be found on the “Bible Reading Schedules” page of my website at http://graceofourlord.com.