THE TRANSFIGURATION AND THE KINGDOM
ROBERT GOVETT, M.A.
Matthew 16; 25. "For whosoever would (shall wish to) save his life (Greek, 'soul') shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life (Greek, 'soul') for my sake shall find it." In this alternative, the wish of man, runs counter to that of God, appears. Man naturally desires to save his life. But if the cause of God demands its surrender, to withhold it is to lose it for the kingdom. It may be spared as regards the present time. But such a prolongation of life would be a sowing to the flesh, which would entail a reaping of corruption in the Day of the Lord. Now that a better life in resurrection has been revealed in the Son, and the way to it declared, God and Christ would have our eyes directed to that, as that which is "really life." * How glorious it was, that Peter, though thus severely rebuked, was one of the three taken to behold the miniature kingdom! How comforting to find that the apostle, thus weak at first, was strengthened to endure the most dread death of crucifixion to the glory of God!
[* "This is the true reading in 1Timothy 6: 19. The rich saints are to give liberally, that they may lay hold of what is really life.]
"But whosoever will lose his life (soul) for my sake shall find it." Our Lord does not insert the word "wish" in this alternative. Many have been martyrs for the truth, who trembled at the thoughts of their own weakness, and would gladly have been spared. They had no wish to lose their life. But when the voice of God, expressed in the circumstances in which they were placed, demanded it, they made the surrender. Paul, indeed, desired the fellowship of Jesus' sufferings, even to the being conformed unto his death, as the pathway to the FIRST resurrection. But this is not the high standing of many.
Jesus' death and resurrection show how life lost is found in resurrection. His victory over Hades is to be theirs who so follow him. The finding [the salvation] of the SOUL is seen in Revelation 20: 4. "I saw the souls of those beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God . . . and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." But this resurrection is peculiar. "The rest of the dead lived not till the thousand years were finished."
The life of the thousand years is gain. It is something over and above what is enjoyed by those who saved life in this world. If we think all our substance well spent to save life in the present world, much more prudent is it to give up present life to obtain the life of the thousand years. How much greater its duration, more certain, and more felicitous!
Here we have the secret of the joyful suffering of the martyrs of the earliest age of the Church. They saw that a peculiar joy was connected with such endurance. Some rushed into death uncalled, that they might attain it. It is not in human nature to desire suffering for its own sake. But this motive overpowered dread. 'If all are to be alike in the day of Christ, I should prefer to go through life quietly, without reproach, and without being called to give up any of the comforts or enjoyments of life. But if such is not the way to the kingdom, but the way to lose it, faith will enable me to overcome nature.'
So important is the sentiment of the verse before us, that it is often repeated in the New Testament. "He that loveth his life (soul) shall lose it, and he that hateth his life (soul) in this world shall keep it into life eternal": John 12: 25. The context, in this case also, points us to Jesus' surrender of life.
Thus we have in this passage - first, the resurrection generally, as the result of faith in Christ. But then follows the resurrection of reward, as the result of conduct or of suffering.
Verse 28. "Verily I say unto you, there are some standing here, who shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."
There were some before the Lord who would see a vision of the kingdom without death. In this they were representatives of disciples, who would in like manner behold the kingdom itself, without suffering death. For "we shall not all sleep". "We who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in clouds to meet the Lord in the air."
That the Transfiguration was a fulfilment of this promise of the Saviour, seems certain. It follows immediately after the promise, in the three Gospels. The fourth gives neither the promise nor the Transfiguration. The ancients so understood it. "Some" of those alive should see it. Accordingly, only three of the twelve saw it. All the apostles beheld the gospel fully come, and themselves preached it. But if the Transfiguration fulfilled it, then our Lord's "coming in his kingdom" is a personal, and a pre-millennial coming; for it is in order to administer the kingdom that he comes. It is a visible, supernatural appearing in brightness, wholly unlike any 'providential and spiritual coming', as some speak. It is to be the proclamation of mercy to sinners; but the time of enjoyment of loss to requited saints. There was no preaching to the ungodly on the mount of Transfiguration: none but saints were there.
Matt. 17: 1. "And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and Jacob (James), and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a lofty mountain apart. 2. And was transfigured before them: and his face shone as the sun, but his raiment became white as the light."
The Transfiguration is thus expressly set forth as an outline of the future kingdom of Christ. Hence, those who deny the millennial kingdom cannot understand the Transfiguration. Those who deny the reward of good works cannot enter into its spirit. Though little is told us of the scene upon the unnamed mountain, it is all of importance in this view. (1) From this point of observation the presence of Moses and Elijah is significant. Moses died, and was buried: type of the saints who have fallen asleep, but will be awakened from their graves to enter the kingdom. (2) Elijah had not died, but was caught up alive to heaven: type of the saints still tarrying on earth when the Saviour descends, who will, like him, be caught up without seeing death. (3) The apostles were apparently types of men yet in the flesh, as Israel and the Gentiles, whose dwelling will be on earth.
Saints of the Law, of the prophets, and of the Church will be united in enjoyment of the kingdom of Messiah. The facts of the case confirm the doctrine which we found in the Saviour's preceding words. If the Lord announce principles which will exclude some saints of the church from the kingdom, the exhibition of it in the vision proclaims the same thing.
10. "And his disciples asked him saying, 'Why, then, do the scribes say that Elias must first come? 11. But Jesus answered and said to them, 'Elias, indeed, is first coming, and shall restore all things. 12. But I say unto you, that Elias is already come*, and they recognized him not, but did to him whatever they pleased: so also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.' 13. Then understood the disciples that he spoke to them of John the Baptist."
[* John the Baptist was a type of Elias who came "in the spirit and power of Elias," to prepare the way for Messiah's first advent. Elijah will come, during the Great Tribulation to prepare the way for Messiah's second advent, (see God's two witnesses, Revelation Chapter 11.) - Ed.]
The question of the apostles was natural, and very important, both to them and to us. The scribes taught that Elijah must precede the coming of Messiah to reign. Was this true? What they had seen had made them think that the expounders of the prophets were mistaken. If it were - and they seemed to have the authority of Malachi in their favour - how was it consistent with what they had just seen? If Jesus were the Christ [Messiah], how was it that Elijah had only appeared so long after Messiah's [first] advent? They expected Elijah to stay and open his commission. How was it that he had departed? They fasten this question on the previous scene, by the very natural word "then", or "therefore". Or shall we say that it rests upon the Saviour's previous prohibition? 'If Elijah's coming is not to be spoken of, why do the scribes speak of his preceding Messiah's advent?
The reply of our Lord will repay study. To those who only wish to know the mind of God, it is plain enough. "Elias indeed, is first coming." Jesus takes up as attested by the disciples, the scribes' words, and confirms them to be true. Yes! they were right in teaching that Jehovah would send Israel Elijah the prophet, before the great and terrible day of the Lord should come. The apostles held that the Elijah seen by the fathers should come. This confirmed it, Malachi describes the effect of his coming to be, his "turning the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers". Jesus speaks of it as his "restoring all things". The scribes were right then in their literal interpretation of the prophet's words.
But if so, the apostles' original difficulty pressed them still in all its force. Jesus hastens to remove it. Elijah had already come, and been put to death by Israel in their blindness, as he himself would be. This statement the disciples understood, and rightly, to refer to John the Baptist. By noticing his own death again, Jesus refers them to his TWO comings. It was this latter statement concerning Elias, which threw upon them the new light which satisfied their minds, and is recorded as having done so. The work of God was double, where they looked that it should be single only. Israel's blindness compelled a two-fold coming of Elijah and of Messiah. Their former Jewish expectations were not shaken, but confirmed. Hence, on that point nothing more is said by the historian.
If any will contend that only one Elias was meant by our Lord, and that John was the only person that was intended, we must repel the assertion by John's own solemn word to the deputation sent to inquire who he was. "Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not": John 1: 21. Besides, if John the Baptist alone be meant, then must he rise from the dead to "restore all things" ere, Messiah appear. For Jesus after John's death declared that Elias had yet to come. But those who contend that John Baptist alone is Elijah, will as little relish this conclusion, as that the Tishbite should appear.