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.
Christ had earlier instructed them not to take their staffs with them on their journey to proclaim the kingdom (9:3,) but now in following Him they are to take them up again. The word here is not the same as in verse 3, where the word is rabdos, which means a stick for walking. This time the word is stauros, the word for a stake driven upright into the ground, and is the word commonly used to describe the instrument of torture and death upon which Christ would later be crucified. This led to the translation here. Yet just because the word for “cross” is used here does not mean that Christ literally or figuratively meant that they were to carry the means to execute people around with them. The fact was that they were to be literally traveling around with Him in very desolate and wild country, and the use of a walking stick would be most useful, and apparently was a requirement of the Lord’s for those following Him. Perhaps these sticks were traditionally left stuck in the ground, and thus their comparison to stakes here. But more likely, considering the context of them denying themselves, Christ used this word for them as an indication that, in taking them up, they were denying themselves worldly goods and possessions and choosing to lead the poor and transient life that was necessary to follow the Lord. Thus they were “crucifying” their desire for worldly comfort day-by-day as they took up their walking sticks and followed the Lord.
The cross at that time was a symbol of great shame and reproach. Being executed on a cross was more than just an execution, but was a sign that one was the lowest of the low, a criminal or rebel of the worst character. By comparing their walking-sticks to crosses, the Lord was showing them the attitude they were to have in following Him. They were to leave behind the desire for fame or personal glory, and instead be willing to suffer shame and reproach along with their Lord. This is often the call upon those who would follow the Lord in this dark time of man’s day.
24. “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.
To some, this penniless existence that Christ was calling upon His disciples to live was a loss of all that makes life worth living. Yet Christ assures them that in losing their lives thus they will in reality find them. The word translated “life” here is psuchen, the word for “soul.” The soul has to do with the emotions and desires, and it is put here for the comforts of life that would satisfy these desires. He promises that one who seeks to save his soul by rejecting the Lord will in the end lose his comfortable life. Yet one who loses his soul for the Lord’s sake will save it in the end, for he will receive the comfortable life he desires in the kingdom of God to come.
25. “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost?
From a worldly aspect, one could not profit more than to gain the whole world. Yet if he himself is destroyed or lost, what good would it do? Gaining the whole world under such a circumstance would indeed be no gain at all.
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 His Father’s, and of the holy angels.
Up until this point, the Lord had largely been popular and received with eagerness by those to whom He spoke. Only some of the leaders in their jealousy had dared to oppose Him. Yet the time was coming when to be a follower of the Lord would appear to be a shameful thing, and when to believe His words would appear to be dishonorable. The Lord is now preparing them for that time, and warning them that if they are ashamed of Him at that time, then the Son of Man Himself would be ashamed of them when He comes in His Own glory, and His Father’s, and of the holy angels. This is a solemn warning, and one all need to take to heart.
Yet at the same time, we should not carry this too far. One can be ashamed of his child, and yet not disown that child or sentence him to death. The Lord might be ashamed of some, yet this does not mean that they will not receive eternal life. It may be, however, that they will attain it while having forfeited all rewards.
The word “comes” here is a form of the Greek word erchomai. This may mean the second coming of Christ, yet this need not necessarily be the case. When God’s kingdom begins on earth once again, the Lord will indeed come into all the glory that is due Him, for men will at last know Him for Who and What He is. I believe that this is when the Lord would be ashamed of such a one, not at His parousia.
It is important that we not be ashamed of the Lord or of His words. Many, it seems, have specific passages of the Bible that almost make them cringe when they are read. They have no room for these passages in their theology and beliefs, and so they are ashamed of them. It does not matter if these are the “red letter” words of Christ or not, for this whole Book is His word, and it is our job to believe it, not to be ashamed of it. Many indeed have been ashamed of His words, but to those of us who love them, they are the words of life. Whether it is the creation story, or the stories of God’s wars of extermination against certain people, or Christ’s encounter with the Canaanite woman, or any of the supposed contradictions in Scripture, it is our job to stand proudly upon the word of God. Let us never dare to be ashamed of anything that God has said.
27. “But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God.”
There has been an endless amount of speculation and controversy over the words of the Lord here. Those who make the kingdom of God to begin with Christ’s second coming find this verse almost impossible to deal with, since it seems to say that some standing there would not die until Christ’s return. Many erroneous explanations have been put forth as to what Christ might actually have meant. Others have used this passage to mock the Word, and claim that Christ’s words here simply did not come true. Yet a Biblical picture of the kingdom of God and what it actually is would clear all this difficulty away.
If we would just look at these words in their simple meaning, we would realize that this verse reveals to us that the kingdom of God came soon after Christ spoke these words. Yet we must be careful in saying this, for many might take this line of reasoning who yet have no idea what the kingdom of God actually is. The kingdom of God is not the church. The kingdom of God was not the destruction of Jerusalem. The kingdom of God is nothing more nor less than the government of God upon earth. When the kingdom of God is present, it is God ruling in power over the earth.
In Matthew 16:28, this same statement is put thus: “Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” In Mark 9:1, this same thing is stated in this way: “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” Therefore in these three passages the same thing is called “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom,” “the kingdom of God present with power,” and “the kingdom of God.” Some would define these all by the passage in Matthew, and assure us that “coming” can mean nothing else than Christ’s second coming to earth. Yet the word that relates to Christ’s coming personal presence on earth is the Greek word parousia, and the word used here is once again erchomai. This is not talking about the Lord coming again to be personally present on the earth for a thousand years. This is talking about the Lord coming into His government. And one important face to remember about God’s government is stated in Psalm 103:19, “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.” The Lord’s throne is in the heavens in the kingdom of God. He does not have to come to earth to reign, then, for when He rules He will rule from the throne in heaven.
When the kingdom of God comes, however, it does not come in all at once as a great, fully established kingdom. The Lord in Mark 4:26-29 compares the government of God to the stages of growing grain. God’s government comes in “first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.” Thus I believe that combining these two passages we can understand the truth about the Acts period: that it was in fact the beginning stages of the government of God upon the earth. At that time the government was in limited form only, like the simple blade of grain, extending only to the Jews and those who had accepted Christ as their Lord. If it had followed its natural course it would soon have taken control of the entire earth as the full grain in the head, but this did not happen. Instead, the Kingdom program was delayed at the end of the Acts period, and God introduced the dispensation of grace. Since that time not one second of the Kingdom has passed, though 33+ years have already been fulfilled in the past. Only when this dispensation ends and the Kingdom returns to earth will all the prophecies concerning it be fulfilled.
What Christ was revealing here was not that some of them would not taste death until His second coming. If that is what He meant, then He was wrong, and the word of God is broken. If that is what He meant, then we would have good reason to be ashamed of His words, as He warned us not to be in verse 26. Yet this is not what He meant. He was referring to the government of God, and that government began indeed when Christ rose from the dead, and it came in power on that great day of Pentecost. There was only one standing there who tasted death before that time: Judas Iscariot, who died by his own hand. Thus Christ’s prophecy was fulfilled exactly as He said it.
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.
Now we learn that about eight days after these sayings, the Lord took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. These three most honored of His disciples were the only ones to see the great miracle and revelation of Christ that followed. Interestingly, John does not give us an eyewitness account of this in his book, but Peter does in II Peter 1:16-18.
Notice that this verse says that this event took place eight days after His previous statement. Yet Matthew 17:1 says this took place six days later. This apparent contradiction is because Matthew was using exclusive dating (not counting parts of days as a day) whereas Luke was using inclusive dating (counting parts of days as a day.) So there were six full, twenty-four hour days between these events, and parts of two other days as well. This is not a contradiction, but rather both Matthew and Luke state the truth. We will consider this more in my upcoming message on “Contradictions in Scripture: Time Reckoning Methods.”
29. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.
As the Lord prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. What exactly His face altered into, we cannot say, but it may have been something like His face as John saw it in Revelation 1:14-16. “His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” At any rate, whatever His appearance may have altered into, we can be certain that it was an amazing sight indeed.
Some have tried to make this out to be the fulfillment of verse 27, and say that this was what Christ was predicting. Yet this cannot be true, for this was not the same as seeing the kingdom of God. If what Christ predicted in verse 27 was that some of His disciples would not be dead six to eight days later, then He was a poor prophet indeed. I could take any crowd of twelve or more men and tell them that, and in the vast majority of cases what I said would be true. Anyone could make this prediction of any twelve men and almost always be right. Those who try to say that this was the fulfillment of verse 27 make Christ a weak prophet indeed! This is not what the Lord was talking about. What they saw was Christ in His glory. Christ in His glory is not the same as the government of God. The fulfillment of Christ’s prediction would not come until after His resurrection, when all the disciples except Judas saw the beginning stages of the kingdom of God.
30. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah,
Now more changes than just His appearance. Now, the three disciples see two other men with Him. These men, we are told, were Moses and Elijah. The passage does not explain to us how the disciples recognized these men, but since God meant for them to recognize them, we can be sure that they did.
Many start to wonder how Moses and Elijah could be here, for were they not both dead? For Elijah it was an easy matter to appear here since he never died, but was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and, as far as we know, he lives there still awaiting his return to earth. Yet Moses did die, and so how could he appear here? This is where some like to bring in ideas of disembodied souls. Yet Elijah too is standing here, and the Lord, and they are not disembodied souls. This is just an attempt to justify a doctrine by a passage that has nothing to do with it.
There are two things which, if we put them together, will help us to understand what exactly the three disciples were seeing in this passage, and therefore how Moses and Elijah could be seen there. First of all, in Matthew 17:9, we read in the aftermath of this event, “Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.’” So Christ here calls what they had seen a “vision.” Visions are not a reality, for if they were a reality they would not be a vision. This can be clearly demonstrated from Acts 12:9, where Peter thought his deliverance from prison was just a vision, and therefore did not realize that it was real. “So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.” So what they saw was not something that was actually taking place, but was a vision.
Secondly, consider what Peter says about this event in his eyewitness account in II Peter 1:16-18, where he states, “16. For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ 18. And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.”
In this passage, Peter calls what they saw on the mountain the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That word “coming” in this case IS actually the Greek word parousia, the word that describes Christ’s personal presence on earth for a thousand years. When we put this together with Matthew 17:9 and the fact that what they saw was a vision, then we realize that what was going on here is that Peter, James, and John saw a vision of something taking place during the thousand years of Christ’s presence on earth. No doubt during that far future time, Christ at some point will stand on that very mountain with His two friends Moses and Elijah, and will discuss with them the decease He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem when the three disciples saw this vision. Moses will long since have been raised from the dead at that point, and Elijah will have returned from heaven to earth, as is predicted in Malachi 4:5-6. When that day comes, Christ, Moses, and Elijah will be discussing His death long after the fact, but Peter, James, and John saw them discussing it before it ever happened.
This, I believe, is the explanation of what was going on here. No special resurrection of Moses was necessary. No disembodied souls had anything to do with this. Rather, what they saw was a vision of a far-future event, when Christ in His glory will be talking with these two great men of the Scriptures.
31. Who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
These men appeared in a state called glory. I would say that they appeared in exaltation or honor. These men are two who are reigning with Christ in His parousia when this takes place. Anyone who is worthy to live in that day and reign with Him will be in glory, or in a state of great honor and esteem.
Their discussion centers around the decease He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. The word for decease is exodus, the same word that is used as a name of the second book of the Old Testament in Greek, as well as in English. Notice that they did not talk about the fact that He was to be executed or murdered, but rather that He was to accomplish His Own decease or exodus at Jerusalem. Thus Moses and Elijah realized the truth that the disciples did not: that Christ had to die to fulfill God’s plan. Moreover He was not killed by men, but rather He laid down His Own life, and no man took it from Him, as He Himself declared in John 10:18.
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.
Remember that they all had been praying on this mountain. The prayers had gone on for some time, and it seems that these disciples had started to drop off to sleep, or at least to doze, at the time when this happened. This would not be the only time that the Lord would take these disciples with Him to pray, or the only time that they would fall asleep when they were supposed to be praying, for the same thing happened in the garden of Gethsemane. Thus we see that the three disciples were sleeping, or at least dozing, when this vision began, and the Lord’s appearance changed and Moses and Elijah appeared. As they heard voices and began to wake up, this incredible vision met their eyes. When they had closed their eyes, they were on a normal mountain top. Now, they find themselves viewing an image of glory. This must have been a most startling and disconcerting thing for them.
When we see pictures of this, for some reason it is always shown that the Lord, Moses, and Elijah were floating in the air. This is not what is indicated here, but rather that the men were standing with the Lord Jesus at the very spot where He had been praying.
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.
The conversation between the Lord and these two faithful ministers of His runs its course. Probably throughout their discussion the disciples watch open-mouthed, not daring to speak, hardly daring to breath. Now, as the discussion draws to a close, Moses and Elijah prepare to leave the Lord, to return to whatever we cannot guess that they might have to do in that far-future day. The event of these two great men of the past preparing to leave jolts Peter into speaking up. He does not want this incredible moment to end. He wants to prolong this, and to keep Moses and Elijah around, and to make them a part of what the Lord is doing.
What he wants to do is to make three tabernacle: one for the Lord, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. A tabernacle is a tent, as we know, but it is also far more than a tent. A tabernacle was a place from which you lived out your life. It was your home, and it was your office. The commander of an army would direct all those under him from his tabernacle. We might call it a base of operations. Peter wants to set up three centers of operation, one for each of these men. Yet Luke tells us that Peter did not know what he said. He thought he should speak up and prolong this glorious event, and yet the suggestion he made was very rash. Many who tend to speak without thinking can relate to Peter’s hasty suggestion here.
34. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud.
Even as these hasty words are in Peter’s mouth, a cloud descends and overshadows the scene. No longer can Peter, James, and John see this vision of the glorious future, and these men who meant so much to Israel in the past. The cloud enveloped them all, and Peter, James, and John are fearful as the cloud gathers around them.
35. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”
Now a voice speaks to them out of the cloud, and it makes a very important statement that pointed out the serious error in what Peter had said. Peter had equated Moses and Elijah with the Lord Jesus. He had suggested setting up a base of operations for each of these three, and having them minister side-by-side. As such, he was suggesting that Moses and Elijah be given an equal place alongside the Lord Jesus Christ. This can never be. Although Moses and Elijah were indeed great men, they were nothing next to the Lord Jesus, and Peter’s hurried suggestion placing all three of them on the same level was a bad mistake that needed to immediately be corrected. Thus this miracle of the voice out of the cloud not only sets Peter straight, but also confirms Christ’s position far above even the greatest of men. Moses was Israel’s great law-giver, and Elijah was the greatest of their prophets of the past. Yet both of these are set aside compared to the greatness of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One we should hear above all others, no matter how great they may be. This is the position of the beloved Son.
The Son is the true representative of the Father. He speaks in the Father’s behalf, and He reveals Him. He is the living projection of the Father. Therefore what the voice told these men was true. They needed to listen above all others to the Son.
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.
Notice that it is said that the voice ceased, not that God stopped talking. Many tend to think of this voice as the voice of God, yet we need to understand that Christ as the Living Word is the only true voice of God. God is not a man, as the Scripture makes clear. He has no tongue, no vocal cords, no lips to form words. This voice was a miracle sent from God, not the “voice of the Father.” Yet this voice was from God as surely as if He had spoken with a mouth like ours. Thus we call this “The Miracle of the Voice,” not the voice of God.
When the voice had stopped, it seems that the cloud lifted. What they saw now that they could see clearly again was the Lord Jesus alone. The vision of Moses, Elijah, and the glory of the future was gone. All they saw was Jesus alone. How good it would be if we would set Jesus Christ alone in our minds, if we would give Him a place of honor above all others, to which nothing else can be added! Yet many mix Him up with so many other things, like church or other believers, that He never stands alone in their minds. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ needs no one to stand beside Him, and in our minds no one and no thing should. We need to come to the place where we can see the Lord Jesus alone.
What a picture this gave to the disciples! The greatest of the men of the Bible disappeared, and they were left with the Lord Jesus alone. Surely this was something that they never forgot. God had set Jesus Christ alone, and set aside all others.
As we noted earlier, the Lord ordered them in Matthew 17:9 to tell no one of this event. Though this command is not mentioned here, we find out that those to whom it was given obeyed it, and acted in faith by following his orders. They did keep it quiet, and told no one of this vision in those days. As we find out from the Lord’s command in Matthew, those days were until He had risen from the dead. Then, they were free to speak of it, and, of course, they did, and it is written now in Scripture. These disciples, at least, had enough faith to keep quiet when the Lord told them to do so, unlike some of the people He healed, who couldn’t seem to keep their mouths shut, as we find out in other passages.
This lack of testimony is important, and we should keep it in mind as we continue through Luke. Any testimony of Who and What the Lord is was stopped. The people cannot be blamed for rejecting their Messiah, for they did not know that He was the Messiah, or that He was the Son of God. If they had known, we could blame them, but by the Lord’s command any testimony to this effect was stopped. It was not until the Acts period that He was preached as both Lord and Christ. His death was truly brought about in ignorance by those who demanded it, for they had not been told Who He really was. Christ spoke the truth when He said that those who killed Him did not know what they did.