Luke chapters 8 and 9 record several parables Jesus spoke concerning the Kingdom of God as well as some miracles Jesus did before great crowds. Probably the miracle people remember the most is when He fed the 5000 with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. Naturally, many of the people that observed these miracles wanted anyone who could do that to be their king for their physical benefit. Some undoubtedly sought Him for spiritual reasons but many of them wanted to become His followers and expected Him to inaugurate the Kingdom of God at that time. We find His answer in Luke 9:23.
Luke 9:23 Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."
Let's face it; almost any Jewish man of that day would be willing to sacrifice his old life for the chance to rule with the Messiah in His worldwide Jewish empire. Who wouldn't trade his workaday existence for power, popularity, and wealth in the King's administration? Were they in for a surprise!
Jesus explained what becoming a part of His kingdom involved. His soon to come triumphant march into Jerusalem would not end in victory, at least not in the short term. Not in this life. To join the Lord's triumphant agenda was to follow Him into suffering. This required obedience to three explicit commands.
First, a disciple must deny himself. Here, denial doesn't mean forsaking all earthly pleasures. It means submission to His agenda, saying "no" to what we want and saying "yes" to what He wants.
Second, a disciple must take up his own cross. Executioners under Roman rule forced a condemned person to carry his own cross to the place of his execution, so to take up one's cross means to die to one's own agenda daily.
Third, a disciple is to follow Christ. He gave His all for the sake of the kingdom of God. For Him, the path led to death. True disciples have to be willing to walk where He walks, regardless.
Luke 9:24-26. "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26. For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in the glory of His Father, and of the holy angels."
Verse 24. A present life that is dominated by Satan is no life at all. It makes a lot more sense to live in such a way as to guarantee eternal life in the Kingdom of God. We can paraphrase verse 24 and 25 this way. "Whoever lives only for this present life cannot attain eternal life, but whoever devotes his present life to Christ will have eternal life." Or, "Whoever thinks he can save his soul by his own means will lose his soul, but whoever turns his soul over to Christ will retain his soul."
Verse 25 contrasts the value of our eternal life to all the wealth in the world. It’s a rhetorical question. “Can a person make a wise investment by forfeiting his soul for great riches?” It's an absurd question. If you trade your soul for riches you no longer own your soul so you can’t exist without a soul and someone who doesn’t exist can’t enjoy riches or anything else.
Verse 26 contains a sober warning. The most shameful death imaginable in the first century was crucifixion. The shame of the person who is ashamed of Jesus and His words will be like the shame of being crucified. The Romans stripped their victims naked, scourged them and made them carry their own cross, then hung them high enough for everybody to see and then left them to die.
When the Lord returns in power, He’ll reject those who have rejected Him and their shame will be worse than that of being crucified.
In the next verse, Jesus ended this discourse with the assurance that some of the twelve disciples would see the Kingdom of God inaugurated in their lifetimes. Inaugurated, not consummated. There's a big difference.
Verse 27. “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God."
I believe His bodily transformation and meeting with Moses and Elijah portrayed God's kingdom on earth. Three of the disciples did "see" the coming kingdom of God before tasting death. But I think there are a couple of reasons why there is much more to the manifestation of His kingdom.
As glorious as it was, the transfiguration probably didn’t meet the expectations of His disciples. Jesus’ words tend to suggest the coming of the Holy Spirit as the appearance of the kingdom, and the church age as the spiritual growth of the kingdom, and the end-time events as the consummation of the physical kingdom. In Luke 13, Jesus described the future Kingdom to be like a tiny seed that grows into a very large tree and it is also likened to the meal that is greatly expanded by leaven in the dough.
Luke 13:18-21 Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19. It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches." 20. And again He said, "To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21. It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."
Just before Jesus ascended to heaven, His followers asked, in Acts 1:6, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"
The Lord's answer makes it clear that the kingdom of God has come to earth, but it had not yet come in its complete form. Acts 1:7-8. “And He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
The King has been crowned, but He has not yet taken His place on the throne. A usurper continues to reign on earth as though he were our legitimate ruler.
Jesus does not yet physically rule over Israel. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have yet to possess all of the land promised to them; and the forces of evil continue to dominate the world.
Many of the prophecies concerning the Messiah's triumphant reign have not yet been fulfilled. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which some of the disciples "saw" the kingdom of God in their generation just as we, the believers in Christ Jesus, "see" the kingdom today.
The literal, full fulfillment of the kingdom promises will come to pass when Christ returns "in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (9:26).
Shortly after this, as Jesus began His journey toward the cross, He would explain how His followers can become citizens of the kingdom now.
Not everyone who attends church and calls themselve a Christian is His disciple. God has called us, instructed us, encouraged us, and equipped us, yet there are times we choose to sit and wait for the kingdom to come. While salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, the requirements of discipleship described by Jesus should serve as a warning. Verse 23. "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
Discipleship is not a requirement of salvation, it is proof of salvation. Following Christ means more than believing Him; it includes obeying Him. We get saved (born again) by trusting in Him, but that's just the beginning. Birth leads to living. Believing leads to learning; learning leads to transforming; transforming leads to obeying. This is the progression of a genuine believer.
People live according to the truth they genuinely believe. If a person genuinely believes what Jesus taught, their life will show evidence through their daily behavior. That's not to say disciples obey perfectly. As believers, we can’t achieve perfect obedience or total commitment, and the Lord hasn’t required this of us; but He does want to see progress.
On another note, our desire to explore the supernatural realm goes as far back as time itself. Throughout recorded history, people of every age and in every culture searched the heavens for something or someone greater than the problems of humanity.
This universal human instinct is why we try to explore the supernatural because we know there has to be more out there than what we see in the material world. It’s also human nature to look to the supernatural when we need hope.
After hearing Jesus' shocking agenda, the disciples began to wonder what the future held. They once expected the Messiah to gather a great following, take over corrupt Jerusalem, and overthrow Rome, and return Israel to its glory days. But Jesus predicted a completely different path and that path led to His suffering and to death.
To encourage the Twelve, Jesus promised that most of them would "see the kingdom of God" before dying (v.27). He then gave three of them a foretaste of the kingdom, a close encounter with the supernatural, a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the heavenly agenda they had joined. They had become an important part of something great, but they had no concept of its magnitude.
Luke 9:28-36. “28. Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31. who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32. But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 33. Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" — not knowing what he said. 34. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!" 36. When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen."
Verses 28-29. About a week after the disciples learned their Messiah would suffer and die, Jesus went up on a mountain to pray and He took His three most trusted apostles, Peter, John, and his brother, James, along. Apparently Jesus prayed for a long time because the three apostles were "overcome with sleep" (v. 32) when something strange occurred. His body transformed into some other substance and yet they could recognize Him.
Luke, rather than trying to explain what happened, simply described what the disciples saw. “The appearance of His face was altered.” Matthew 17:2 records that "His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as light.” Clearly, this was not a normal earthly experience. People don't suddenly change in appearance during prayer and garments don't just turn themselves white.
There was no natural explanation. The three men weren’t merely superstitious, mistaking a natural event for something mysterious. They truly did witness a supernatural event.
30-31. If that wasn't eerie enough, in verses 30-41, Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory,” and joined Jesus in a conversation.
Why Moses and Elijah? Why not Abraham and Isaiah? Why not Jeremiah and Daniel? Jacob, Joseph, David, or one of the patriarchs along with another prophet? Why not John the Baptist? Why these two men in particular? Any explanation requires conjecture because we are not given the answer in Scripture. Moses was considered the father of the law, while Elijah typified the Old Testament prophet, so the two men embodied the spirit of the Law and the Prophets in Old Testament Scriptures. Moses also represented the beginning of Israel as a nation, establishing them in the Promised Land, while Elijah foretold apostate Israel returning to the Lord before "the great and terrible day of the LORD. Malachi 4:5-6).
The two men also departed the earth in unusual ways. Moses, who was born in Egypt, never got to go into the Promised Land and died outside the Promised Land. God buried the body of Moses in a secret location outside the promised land but here he finally makes it to the Promised Land in his glorified resurrection body.
Elijah was born in the Promised Land and as far as we know never left it while serving God but he wasn’t buried in the Promised Land either. God took Elijah directly to heaven without experiencing death and he, too, appeared here in a glorified resurrection body.
The answer to why Moses and Elijah appeared is not important because God never included it in Scripture. What's important is that two departed Old Testament believers stood with Jesus, alive and well, in bodies that were recognizable as themselves, yet glorified. Moses had died more than 1,480 years earlier. Elijah never saw death but he was translated by God about 900 years before this. Now both of them stood on earth in visible form, but without the normal earthly restrictions.
Moses and Elijah seemed to know all about Jesus and His impending "departure." They knew He would die in Jerusalem as the completion of a task God had sent Him to earth to fulfill.
Its significant to note that Moses, although he had contributed to the Old Testament Scriptures, and Elijah, who never had access on earth to the complete Old testament, seemed to know that Jesus was the Messiah who would die in Jerusalem for their sins and the sins of the world. I’m sure they knew there would also be a resurrection of the saints that died as Moses was living proof.
We don't know the specifics of their conversation. Again, if it was important, God would have revealed it to Luke or to the other human authors. The more important detail is that Jesus, still alive, glowed with the same glory and manifested the same otherworldly characteristics as Moses and Elijah. He stood on earth with a foot in each realm, so to speak. For a brief time, the kingdom in its glorious fullness existed on that mountain, shared by those 3 men.
Verses 32-33. Peter, John, and James had been sleeping during part of the supernatural encounter, but they woke up in time to witness it. When Peter saw Moses and Elijah start to leave, he offered to build a "tabernacle" for Jesus and each of them. A "tabernacle" was a temporary lodging or a hut that the Jews erected each year during the Feast of Tabernacles.
That festival commemorated the wilderness wanderings and anticipated the messianic kingdom. Peter’s offer of hospitality was absurd! Moses and Elijah were supernatural beings, they didn’t need shelters.
The tabernacle is a metaphor for the body which we inhabit temporarily during our sojourn on earth. Paul drew on this image as well in 2 Corinthians 5:1-4. Moses and Elijah didn't need huts any more than they needed flesh-and-bone bodies. They had kingdom-style bodies. Why would they want to go back to the old model when they had the new and much improved version?
Before we come down on Peter too hard, his offer to have Moses and Elijah stay longer expresses an honest desire we all share. As believers, we want the kingdom in its fullness to come now and to remain forever. The kingdom will come and remain, but at the cost of great suffering in the world and when God says the time is right.
At that present time in Scripture, Jesus would have to travel to Jerusalem and suffer for the sake of His kingdom as it is predicted in Isaiah 52:13-15 and chapter 53.
In verses 34-35, as Peter was speaking, a cloud descended and enveloped the scene. Naturally, this scared the men as it often did when people encountered a manifestation of God.
When the cloud had descended, the voice of God the Father was heard. I can just hear the inflection in God The Father’s voice when He said, "This is My Beloved Son! hear Him!" His Only Son was not to be classified with men, no matter how great they might be.
The disciples probably started getting cold feet after hearing about the Lord's plan to enter Jerusalem and suffer on behalf of His people instead of conquering the city. They needed reassurance that could come only from the voice of God. God addressed the disciples, not Jesus. This close encounter with the supernatural would be all the reassurance they needed.
After God spoke, the cloud vanished and no trace of the supernatural remained. Jesus alone remained. He would be all the disciples needed.
The three men would probably liked to have run down the mountain to tell the other disciples what they had witnessed but according to Matthew and Mark, the Lord asked them to keep it to themselves until after His resurrection. Later, when the time was right, they wrote about their close encounter with the kingdom of God so that people like you and me might receive the benefit of their experience.
What was the purpose of the transfiguration experience? I think God the Father had two things in mind; one for Christ and another for the disciples. First, the Father brought reassurance to His Son that the way of suffering was the best and only plan of salvation. Next, I think God wanted to remind the disciples that Jesus was, indeed, the Christ, His "Chosen One." The disillusionment they would suffer at the cross almost certainly would undermine their belief but God had given the leading apostles a close encounter with the future Kingdom of God to reassure them. The Lord knew they would need it.
The Kingdom of God did appear on earth in all its glory for a few brief moments.
There are people today who don’t believe in life after death or the resurrection, but these three disciples received firsthand proof of the resurrection and afterlife in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, death has no power.
In the kingdom of God we will have bodies without pain, suffering, hunger, thirst, injury, disease, and death. We will have no lack for food or shelter nor need a Medicare Plan.
This glimpse of the future kingdom of God is our reminder today: stay with God's plan! There is none better and the glory of God awaits us at the end of our journey.
If you are not enrolled in God’s plan of salvation, take Him up on His offer of eternal salvation today. Simply sincerely confess to Him that you are a guilty sinner and you want His forgiveness and He will give you salvation and eternal security to the uttermost in the eternal Kingdom of God.