Luke 9:22-36 very touchingly presents the sufferings of the Son of Man and the glory that shall follow. At the hands of men He was to "suffer many things," to be "rejected" and "slain." Then, on the Mount of Transfiguration we have a passing vision of the glory and honour with which it is the purpose of God to crown the Son of Man. (Ps. 8). Moreover the passage challenges our hearts, for it clearly shows that if His disciples have the privilege to share in His glory, they are also first called to partake of His sufferings. Thus there passes before us the path and portion of those who follow a rejected Christ in this present evil world; and the glory to which the path leads in the world to come.
The Path of Suffering (v. 23-27). The Lord opens His instruction with the words, "If any man will come after Me." Touching words that presume He has gone before and marked out a path for His own, and, drawn by love, that they would seek to tread where He has trod. At the entrance of this path we find these searching words, "Let him deny himself." Men speak of self-denial, and have self-denial weeks, by which they mean denying themselves certain things for a limited period of time to help some benevolent cause. This, however, is the very opposite of denying self, for it rather adds to self-complacency and the exaltation of self. The denial of self is not simply denying ourselves certain things, but the denial of the man that lusts after these. The denial of self is the ignoring of self altogether in order to serve others in love. Such was the path that the Lord ever trod while passing through this world of need. Moreover, as rejected by this world, Christ is in the outside place of reproach, and those who follow Him will find that they too will have to face reproach. Thus the Lord exhorts the one that comes after Him to "take up his cross daily." For the Lord the cross meant not only suffering and shame from the hands of men, but also the far deeper sufferings from the hand of God. He was alone in His sufferings at the hand of a holy God, when made sin; but in His sufferings from men we can in our little measure share, and He has left us the perfect example of such sufferings for we are told to consider Him that "endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God" (Heb. 12:2). We are exhorted "To go forth … to Him without the camp, bearing His reproach." Moreover, this reproach is to be taken up "daily." This is a searching word, for it is comparatively easy to make some great sacrifice on some special occasion, but the "daily" acceptance of the path of reproach and suffering for Christ's sake in everyday life calls for great grace. But how is it possible to deny self and accept reproach? Only as we have an object that is greater than self before us. Thus the Lord adds the words, "Follow Me." Furthermore, to follow after Christ must mean the letting go of the present life. Whoever, believer or unbeliever, lives only for the present life, is living a life that he must inevitably lose, for at best it is but a passing life. To have Christ before us, is to live a life that will never pass away: — a life that can be enjoyed now, but will only be known in all its fulness in life's eternal home. Lastly, it is impossible to follow Christ and at the same time walk with the world and seek its advantages. Paul, with Christ as his life, could say, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." Even for the unbeliever what advantage is there in gaining the whole world for a few fleeting years and then to be lost for eternity? For the believer to associate with the world and seek its advantages and honours must mean the loss of all present joy in the Lord, the end of all testimony for the Lord, and the forfeiture of His approval in the day "When He shall come in His own glory and in His Father's, and of the holy angels." Thus to follow truly a rejected Christ will mean, as to this present world, the refusal of self, the reproach of men, the loss of the present life with the world and its advantages.
The Coming Glory (v. 28-36). The path of reproach and loss of present things involves suffering for the flesh. But the suffering is only for a season, the eternal weight of glory is on before. The Lord would impress our souls with a sense of this glory by unfolding before us the blessedness, as well as the moral traits of the home of glory that lies at the end of the path of suffering. To enter into these heavenly things we must have our spirits lifted above this present world; therefore we read, "He went up into a mountain." Amidst all the sorrows of this world, and the heart-breaking trials amongst the people of God, is it not a joy to be lifted above things seen and heard, and, in spirit on the mountain top, catch a glimpse by faith of the coming glory? It cheers and calms the spirit as we pass through this dark valley to see the sunlight on the hills beyond.
Having ascended the mountain the first great sight that passes before the disciples is a praying Man, for we read, "He prayed." Prayer is the expression of dependence upon God, and communion with God. The sorrows of earth can be traced back to the disobedience and independence of one man — Adam. The glories of the world to come are introduced by the perfect obedience and dependence of one Man — Christ. The world to come will be a world of bliss, for there everyone will be dependent upon God. Good for us to go up "into the mountain" to spread everything before God, so that we may come down "into the plain" to do everything for God, while we wait for the coming of Christ. Thus Jude, in his Epistle, links prayer with the coming of Christ, when he exhorts us to be found "praying in the Holy Spirit" while "looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life."
(1) In this great scene we learn the change that will pass upon the saints when Jesus comes. We see set forth in Christ the image of the heavenly that we shall wear in the coming glory; "As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (1 Cor. 15:49). Thus, as He prayed, the disciples saw in the Person of Christ the earthly changed into the heavenly. Peter, writing of this great scene, can say, "We made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Mark the word "power." Peter, says as it were, "We not only foretold but we have seen what would happen when He comes. We saw Him as a lowly Man, and behold, in an instant, the garments of humiliation were exchanged for garments of glory; and His face that was more marred than any man's became shining as the sun. We saw in Him the mighty power, that in 'the twinkling of an eye' will change these bodies of humiliation into bodies of glory like His own."
(2) It is brought home to us in the mount that, in the coming glory, we shall not only be like Him, but we shall be with Him, for, we read, "Behold, there talked with Him two men." He will not be alone in the glory. He will have companions; though truly He will be anointed with the oil of gladness above His companions. In such a scene of glory we might have expected to see Him surrounded by a host of angels, but His companions will be men. They are men for whom He died; whom He is bringing home to glory; and men that will share with Him in His glory as the Son of Man. In heaven there will be "No more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain"; but the greatest joy of all will be that we shall be "with Him" — we shall be with JESUS. Thus, the great passage in which the Apostle Paul tells us that we shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, concludes with the words, "So shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17).
(3) We learn that, not only shall we be with Him in the glory, but we shall be at home in the glory, for we read of these two men that they "talked with Him." Had it been written merely that He talked with them, we might judge that in the glory we shall be delighted but silent listeners. If, however, they can talk with Him, all distance and reserve will be gone. The disciples had indeed held sweet intercourse with Christ on earth, howbeit, at times, with a measure of restraint. In the glory there will be holy happy intercourse without a trace of reserve. Blessed, indeed, that He can come to two disciples on the resurrection day and, in their sorrowful wilderness circumstances they can say He made "our hearts burn within us, while He talked with us by the way." But how far more wonderful is this scene in which He brings two saints to talk with Him in glory.
(4) Not only shall we be like Him, and with Him, but we shall share His glory, for we read of these two men, they "appeared in glory." They share in the glory of Christ as the glorified Man. So we read of believers, "When Christ who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:4). It is no great hardship to let go the passing glories of this world, and accept the path of suffering, when we know that we are going to share in the glories of Christ in the world to come.
(5) They "spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem." A little later two other disciples, treading a dreary road to Emmaus, speak of His decease as accomplished by men, for they say, "The chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to death, and have crucified Him." No wonder they were sad, for all they could see in the death of Christ was that which brings judgment upon man. But here, on the Mount, two men lose sight of man and his wickedness, and they see only Jesus and the death "which He should accomplish." They see in His death the perfect setting forth of His obedience to the Father in carrying out the Father's will by offering Himself without spot to God. Thus they see in His death what brings glory to God and opens the way of blessing for men. How good to ascend the Mount, and rising above all the wickedness of men, and the failure of the saints, to see that transcendent love that led the Lord to give Himself, and find rest in that death which He accomplished. Even so in the day of the coming glory the assembled host of the redeemed will still speak of the death which He has accomplished, for the language of the new song will be, "Thou hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood."
(6) In this great scene we are carried in spirit beyond the Kingdom glory into what speaks of the Father's house. We read, there "came a cloud and overshadowed them." The death which Christ accomplished not only opens the way for believers to share the Kingdom glories of Christ, but enables them to enter in company with Christ into the immediate presence of God the Father, of which the cloud speaks. Peter, in his Epistle, speaks of the glory that excels, for he says, "there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory." There is the glory of the earthly kingdom, but there is the more excellent glory — the glory of the Father's presence in the Father's house. The disciples had seen the glory of the Son of Man. But there is another glory — a greater glory — a glory of which the Lord speaks in His prayer when He asks, "That they may behold my glory." We share in His glory as the Son of Man; we shall behold His glory as the Son of God.
(7) In this more excellent glory we are permitted to hear the Father express His delight in the Son, for we hear the voice from the excellent glory, saying, "This is my beloved Son: hear Him." The voice does not say, This is my Son that you ought to love, but, This is my Son that I love. We are taken into the Father's house, there to have fellowship with the Father in His delight in the Son.
Thus there passes before us the blessed portion that will be ours when Jesus comes. We shall be like Him: we shall be with Him; we shall be at home with Him; we shall share His kingdom glory; we shall delight not only to share it all, but owe it all to Him, for we shall speak of His decease; we shall be taken beyond the Kingdom glories, to enter the more excellent glory of the Father's house, there to know and enjoy the Father's delight in the Son. Moreover, as we journey on to be with Christ in glory, let us ever remember that we have the Lord with us in our wilderness path. Thus we read, "When the voice was past, Jesus was found alone." The vision passes, Moses and Elias depart, the cloud fades, the voice is silent, but JESUS remains. As we take our journey through this world with all its trials and sorrows, He is with us according to His own promise, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." Loving us to the end, He will be with us until the end when we are with Him to go no more out and the blessings of the Mount will be our eternal portion.