Luke XXXV: Lk. 9:28-48
This section of Luke seems intentionally structured to emphasize the point that Jesus is repeatedly making. We move from miracle to confession of faith to foretelling His death to a call to discipleship in 9:10-27, and that same pattern repeats here: transfiguration/healing (9:28-42), confession/astonishment at the glory of God (9:43), foretelling His death (9:44-45), and a call to discipleship (9:46-48). Like the previous section, the central point seems to be Jesus trying to demonstrate to the disciples (and the people) what it means for Him to be the Messiah of God (cf. 9:20). The “messiahs” of old have always suffered in order to display the glory of God. And this section presses the same point again.
The Exodus of Jesus
Don’t miss the fact that Luke tells us that Jesus has gone upon on a mountain to pray (9:28), and it is while he was praying that the appearance of His face changed (9:29). This scene should immediately remind you of Mt. Sinai, and the time when Moses was on the mountain and came down with the skin of his face shining because he had been talking with God (Ex. 34:29). It’s no accident that after Luke records that Herod has heard speculations that Jesus is John or Elijah or one of the other prophets of old risen (9:7-8), and the disciples repeat the same rumors (9:19), that Jesus then appears with Moses and Elijah on a mountain (9:30). This scene is symbolically a “Mt. Sinai.” This is confirmed not only by the shining of Jesus’ face, but also by the presence of Moses and Elijah. Not only did Moses commune with God on Mt. Sinai, so did Elijah at perhaps one of the darkest moments of his life and Israel’s history (1 Kgs. 19:8). But not only that, Luke tells us that they spoke of the coming “exodus” that Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem (9:31).
As Peter and the other disciples slowly wake up and realize what they’re seeing, Peter suggests that three tabernacles be constructed for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses, which incidentally is where Moses ministered with his glowing face (Ex. 33:7-11, 34:34-35). The reason Peter didn’t know what he was talking about is because he still isn’t getting how suffering is connected to Christ’s glory. The tent of Moses eventually gave way to the tabernacle where blood was spilled constantly and where the presence of God’s glory cloud continually rested (Ex. 40:34-38). But Jesus doesn’t need a tent because He is the tent, and so God’s glory cloud comes and overshadows Jesus (9:34) and God speaks saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One, listen to him!” (9:35). In the Exodus, it was the same glory cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt, through the sea, to the mountain, and finally into the Promised Land. Just as Moses spoke to God at Mt. Sinai in the burning bush as a preview of the things to come, the transfiguration is a preview of the Exodus Jesus was about to perform in Jerusalem. Jesus would become the Passover lamb for the world, and He would pass through the waters of death unharmed in order to free all men from its power. He would triumph over the gods of the nations, and He would ascend to God in the clouds to sit at God’s right hand so that all the nations might feast together in His presence.
All of this is helpful in understanding why the following story is found immediately after the transfiguration in all three synoptic gospels (cf. Mt. 17:1-21, Mk. 9:2-29). In the minds and memories of the apostles, the story of the transfiguration is not complete without the healing of the boy with the unclean spirit (see Raphael’s Transfiguration). Part of what’s important to catch is the parallels between Israel in the days of Moses and in the days of Elijah, and what Jesus says here: “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” (9:41). While there may be some hint of rebuke of the disciples, it seems more likely that Jesus is speaking more generally about the state of “this generation” of Israel. Like the generation of Israel that came out of Egypt, this generation has little faith and is infested with demons and needs saving.
But there are two key details that connect the dots even more clearly. First, notice the ending of the story: “And all were astonished at the majesty of God” (9:43). This is a bit odd since Jesus has been casting demons out of people from the beginning of His ministry. The word “majesty” sounds regal and glorious; in short, it sounds like what the transfiguration would have looked like. In fact, the word is used in Dan. 7:27 to describe the majesty of the kingdoms given to God after the son of man ascends. It’s also used in Jer. 33:9 to describe Jerusalem restored after exile. These hints suggest something more is going on here. And this leads to the other significant detail: these two stories are two about sons and fathers. In the first, the Son shines with bright glory and the Father says this is “my son” and “listen to him” (9:35). In the second, the son is seized by an evil spirit and cries out and convulses, and the father says he is “my son” and “look at him” (9:38-39). Putting all of this together, it is plain that the apostles realized that “son” racked by a demon was a small picture of what Jesus can to do. Jesus came to be seized by evil men and demonic powers. He came to be the Passover lamb to bear our curse on the cross where He would convulse and cry out and be broken for sinful men. And in that death, He would conquer the powers of sin and death and Satan, rise up with healing for all nations, and return to His father (cf. 9:42). And in this Great Exodus, the whole world would come to be astonished at the majesty of God. This is why Jesus immediately tells the disciples to let these words sink into their ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men… (9:43-44). And at that time, the disciples still didn’t understand.
Conclusion & Applications
The fact that the disciples didn’t understand is illustrated by the fact that they immediately begin arguing about which of them was the greatest (9:46). So Jesus trying to make the point even more explicit takes a child (another son perhaps?) and puts him “by his side” (9:47) – which may be a subtle reference to the Son at the right hand of the Father. But the point is that the greatness of God’s Kingdom is going to be accomplished through a new Exodus where Jesus conquers evil by going down into it and turning it back to good. Receiving the child is receiving Jesus. Jesus is the child. Throughout the Bible children are victims of sickness and death and Pharaohs, but Jesus says that they are the great ones. In them, we see His majesty. Do you believe this? Do you believe that the ascended Jesus can and does display His majesty in the struggles and pain and weakness of this world? That is what this passage means.