Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller


Glimpsing Heaven Through the Lens of the Cross

Matthew 17:1-27

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Understanding the identity of Jesus is the key to everything. If He was just a good man with good advice then that\'s one thing. But what if He is so much more than that? The Jewish people had been looking for someone special, a Messiah, or Anointed One, for many generations. Genesis 3 tells us that this person would come from the seed of Eve, and later from the seed of Abraham.

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Moses talked about one who was to come who would speak for God:

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Deut 18:15-20 \"The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers-it is to him you shall listen- 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, \'Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.\' 17 And the Lord said to me, \'They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers.? And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.

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Still later we learned that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah, and later, from the descendants of David.

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Isaiah the prophet wrote about this ruler, saying:

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Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us? a son is given; ?and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it ?with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. ?The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

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So a man would come from David\'s line, born a child, but would rule the world and would speak very much like God did from the mountain to the people. So was Jesus that Man? Peter had said so, but then when Jesus reminded him of another heretofore unknown aspect of the Messiah-that of suffering for sin, Peter rebuked Jesus (Isaiah 53, Psalm 22).

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So now comes Matthew 17, where Jesus reveals His true nature, or at least as much as the men could stand without exploding on the spot! We see huge parallels to Mt. Horeb in Exodus 19 when God spoke and the people trembled. This time when God speaks He says \"listen to Jesus!\"

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So three of the disciples get some actual proof that this very ordinary carpenter is every bit as glorious and powerful as they imagined the Messiah would be. It is a glimpse at the coming King and His kingdom-but it is viewed through the lens of the current fallen kingdom we live in, and the way to God\'s kingdom, which is through the cross.

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1 - 13

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There is a cool parallel passage that takes place in Exodus:

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Ex 24:15-18 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

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Perhaps that\'s why Jesus waited six days to go up on the mountain, though Luke says it was 8 days. Moses\' face glowed when he was in God\'s presence. Jesus entire being shown. It was a special glimpse of His glory-to affirm that everything He had said was true-including the path to glory, which was through the cross.

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Jesus took Peter, James, and John - His inner circle. Just prior Jesus had said that some would not taste death until they saw the Son of Man coming in his kingdom (Matthew 16:28). This could be a literal fulfillment of that.

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The mountain was either Mount Hermon (12 miles from Caesarea Philippi) or Mount Tabor (in Galilee).? The transformation refers to an outside change that comes from within-it\'s the same word \"be transformed by the renewing of your mind\" (Romans 12). These guys saw what Jesus would look like upon His return (see Revelation 1:9-18 for a fuller description).

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This was the kingdom they thought the Messiah should start now and then. Perhaps they thought that was in fact what was taking place, so they offered to put up some tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

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Why these two? Moses represented the Law and Elijah the prophets. They personally attested to the divinity of Jesus. How the disciples knew it was these two we don\'t know-but this was a divine revelation so they just knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. Notably, no one knows where Moses was buried and Elijah was carried to heaven bodily. That leads some to suggest that they are also the two witnesses of Revelation 11. Jesus also shows that He was not just a reincarnation of either of these (as was discussed in the previous chapter amongst the disciples).

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It\'s possible that Peter (who interrupted the conversation) wanted to celebrate the feast of Tabernacles, which commemorated the exodus from Egypt, now fully fulfilled in the coming of God\'s kingdom. It was indeed good to be there. There is something so immensely good about the glory of God that makes us want to stay there forever.

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But the Father has something else in mind. He wants them to know for sure who Jesus is, but also that they must pay close attention to His words. They could bask in His glory but must ready themselves for the cross. The cloud of course is also reminiscent of the cloud over Mt. Sinai in Exodus 24.

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I love in the end how they opened their eyes and saw Jesus only-back to His earthly form. Jesus will single-handedly rescue us through His earthly shell, His body.

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Peter later looked back on this experience:

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2 Peter 1:16-21 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but? we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, \"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,\" 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And? we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention? as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until? the day? dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone\'s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

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9 - 13

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The discussion about Elijah comes from Malachi:

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Mal 4:5-6 \"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.\"

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John the Baptist had taken on the role of Elijah, in preparing the way for Jesus. Elijah too suffered from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19).

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Coming back down they descend from the mount of glory to the valley of trial-from a glimpse of heaven to the stark realities of hell on earth-a place where a very real and very evil enemy ravages his captives, and the fight to free humanity will be waged by those who can listen to the words of Jesus and trust Him completely.

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14 - 21

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Mark (Mark 9:14-29) tells us that the disciples were in the midst of a crowd, in a heated argument with some teachers of the Law. The man had come to Jesus to find rescue for his son, who had become a deaf-mute and suffered from seizures that saw him cast into the fire and water-this was not epilepsy but an evil being that controlled this helpless little boy.

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The disciples could not cast the demon out though they had been given that power (Matthew 10:1). The problem was they didn\'t trust Jesus. It was the same problem that everyone there had. The gift to heal was not the disciples, it was God\'s power appropriated. We are always to do God\'s work, not our own. When God moves, we move. The gifts are not magic tricks.

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The people had heard and seen Jesus but still did not put their full trust in Him.

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Jesus told the disciples it was their lack of faith. We often get confused here and try to trump up more \"faith.\" But it\'s not the amount of faith that is important, it is who the faith is in that matters. Our job is to think, speak, and act like Jesus. We are to trust in Him and His power completely. Even a tiny bit of faith can do great things when it is God\'s power at work.

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The ESV doesn\'t contain the last part of the verse \"this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.\" There is a bit of controversy whether all or even part of this was in the original (though part of it appears in Mark 9:29). Whatever the case, prayer is the verbal demonstration of our submission to and reliance on God to move.

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22

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Here Jesus brings the disciples back to earth. Yes, glory is ahead, and great power. But it will come through the cross. It distressed them, as it should have. But despite the fact that Jesus told them plainly, they were still taken by surprise when it happened.

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24 - 27

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Every male above 20 years had to pay the temple tax (Exodus 30:11-16) which was the equivalent of two days wages. The tax was collected by tax commissioners, not the same as those like Matthew who collected taxes for Rome. They came to Peter, perhaps recognizing him as the leader of the disciples.

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Peter answers without knowing the answer, typical. Jesus uses it as a teaching opportunity about himself. First he broadens the idea of the temple tax to all taxes. In worldly kingdoms the king\'s children did not have to pay tax. Jesus also would be free from taxes paid to His Father (the temple tax belonged to God). So for Jesus not to have to pay the tax would have identified Him as God\'s Son.

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Jesus tells Peter that He doesn\'t want to \"stumble\" those that don\'t yet understand who Jesus is. This is also not an excuse not to pay taxes (for more see Romans 13, 1 Timothy 2:1-3, Titus 3:1-8, 1 Peter 2:13-17).

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Conclusions

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The first time God came to reveal His Law and its sacrifices for sin. The second time, God came to reveal His Son and give Him who is the fulfillment of the Law as the final sacrifice for sin. Moses came down the mountain, witnessed the sin of the people and their allegiance to a demon idol. He was grieved-breaking the tablets he forced the people to drink their idol in the water. Jesus came down and saw the plight of the people, enslaved to the devil and his demons, who threw them into the fire and water. But instead of breaking the tablets he allowed His body to be broken so that we would no longer be enslaved.

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With Moses God said \"man shall not see me and live\" (Exodus 33:20) but now God says \"if you listen to and look to Me you will come alive again\".

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How does this glimpse of heaven help our perspective here on earth?

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  • It reveals the stark contrast between heaven and earth

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In God\'s presence is a place you want to be. You may not even know it, but when the disciples experienced it they said \"It\'s good to be here.\"

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  • It reveals the true condition of humanity

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We are all enslaved to Satan. Maybe it is not as obvious as the demon possessed boy, but we are not free. We are a puppet of Satan who uses us to keep people away from God and us enslaved to sin.

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  • It reveals our real mission

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Our reason for not going to heaven immediately is to reach out, as Jesus did, to those enslaved around us with the gospel. We are free; we are children of the King of Kings. But \"do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love server one another.\" (Galatians 5:13)

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