We naturally shrink away from embarrassment and shame, both when it threatens ourselves and when it comes to those we love. The disciples were very unwilling to accept that Jesus would die, far less that it would be by the shameful death of the cross. However, ahead of the crucifixion, the Lord was transfigured (Matt. 17; Mark 9; Luke 9). In a glorious display, His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as the light, and the Father announced that He was well pleased with His beloved Son. Alexander Wedderburn, a respected Covenanting minister at Forgan and then Kilmarnock, returned to the transfiguration again and again in his preaching. His daughter eventually had his sermons published in a book titled Heaven Upon Earth. In the following abridged and updated sermon, Wedderburn identifies three things which Christ wanted His disciples to realise from the transfiguration. The shameful treatment meted out to the undeserving Saviour should not obscure His real and transcendent glory.
Let us consider the transfiguration not only as it relates to the work of the mediator, but in reference to what Christ intended to achieve by it.
To show His disciples a glimpse of His glory in heaven
Christ intended to show His disciples a glimpse of His glory in heaven, and particularly the glory of His person in his coming the second time to judgment. Prior to this He had promised that they would see His glory before they tasted death.
The glory of Christ at His second coming shall be great. “He shall come in the glory of His Father.” Not only will He be glorious in regard of His train and His throne, but in His person.
Theologians give some reasons for this transcendent glory. One is because His coming to judgment is the height of His exaltation. That’s why it says in the Creed, “… from thence shall He come to judge …” as the last step of His exaltation. The highest step of His exaltation must be full of glory.
Another reason is that it is fitting that those by whom He was despised and rejected should see Him as eminently glorious. At the Great Day that they are most afraid of His face. “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of the Lamb,” is their cry to the hills and mountains — not so much to be hidden from hell, as from His face.
The third reason is for the comfort of His people. They have forsaken all for Him, and the wisdom of their choice will be commended (in the judgment of their enemies) by this, when He shall appear in the brightness of His Father’s glory.
All this should stir us up to look on Christ as one who is in transcendent glory now (as well as that He will be seen to be so at His second coming). This is advantageous in several ways.
- It guards us against stumbling when we encounter all the ignominious reproaches that attend us when we follow Him here. He was, and His followers still are, a sight for passers-by to wag their heads at. Yet, above, He is the temple, the light, and the admiration of all who behold Him.
- It allows us to discern that not only our nature but our persons are advanced in Him as the second Adam, and the one head of all believers. By Him they are all represented. However despicable they may be in themselves, yet they are glorious in Him.
- It reminds us to be humble. Though we are warranted to come with boldness to His throne of grace, yet still we are to remember His glory, and what a vast inequality there is between us and Him, seeing we are base and polluted, and He is the glorious Lord.
- It will make us love and long for Him to come. Though many still cast His cords from them and despise His yoke, yet He shall then be exalted even by His enemies, who shall tremble at the sight of His transcendent glory.
To give His disciples a view of the glory of the saints’ bodies
The second aim which Christ had in mind in the transfiguration was to give us a view of the glory which the bodies of His saints (who will be conformed to His image) shall have in heaven from His transfiguration. Not only shall their souls partake of excellent glory, but their bodies shall be changed, and made like His glorious body.
Here we do not need to go into the many unprofitable speculations and foolish fancies about the glory of the body. I will, only briefly, set down these three positions about the glory of the body which, I judge, are sufficient for us to rest content with.
- This same body individually which we have shall be raised up into glory, and not another (Job 19:16, 27). This body was redeemed, and God was glorified by it. Shall it not be glorified? It was the same body of Christ that suffered that was raised up, and shall not the same body of the saints be raised too?
- All imperfections shall be removed from the body. Some suggest that the marks received by the martyrs in their bodies shall remain. What purpose would that serve, though, since many suffer no less for Christ, who are starved, or frozen, or burnt to ashes, and can have no marks at all? Even those who say these marks will remain, however, think that, as the print of the nails in the hands of Christ remain, so shall these marks remain only in order to advance the glory of the body. However, any thing that may suggest the least infirmity or imperfection shall be removed.
- In the place of the imperfections we now have, glorious properties will be communicated to the body. This mortality shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption. Whereas the body is now gross [material, bulky, corporeal], it will then for spirituality, agility, and beauty be transcendently glorious. Neither will it need sustenance from food and drink to preserve it like this. Indeed, there is no perfection which the body can be capable of that shall be lacking. It shall shine like the sun, and indeed, it shall be changed, and made like to the glorious body of Christ (Phil. 3).
This serves to teach us the right way to adorn the body and make it good. Some beautify themselves, some toil for food to strengthen themselves, and some spend great sums for medications to preserve themselves. But those who pursue holiness not only consider the good of the soul, but they take an effective way to have the body eternal, beautiful, strong, free of all perfections. All our toilings for it cannot make it exceed the lily (as Solomon did not, in all his glory), but the way of holiness leads to make it like the sun.
It also serves to comfort those whose bodies are continually their burden. Can any two people ever meet together but either their head or their back or their belly is their complaint? Either they’ve got something wrong with them now, or they’re afraid they’re coming down with something. But here is the privilege of the saints — their flesh rests in the hope that before long, the body shall partake of as complete perfection as it can be capable of.
Only let me add three directions so that you can make the more use of this point.
- Do not on this account idolise the body. Necessary provision for it is lawful, but when our main work is to make provision for it, it inevitably means that we fulfil its lusts.
- While you have opportunity, glorify God in your body. You have a tongue to speak for God, and hands to act for him. Be glorifying Him with these! If He calls you to offer up your body in a sacrifice, see this the way the apostle did, as “reasonable service.”
- Answer all the objections against the glorifying of the body by the power of God. People have racked their brains to put up objections against the glorifying of the body, but “the mighty power whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself” (Phil 3) is a sufficient answer.
To show them that a crucified body can be a glorified body
The apostles, especially Peter, did not like Christ speaking of the cross. All the Gospel writers prefix the account of the transfiguration with how Christ foretold them of the cross. So that they would see that a crucified body was consistent with a glorified body, before He is crucified, He is transfigured before them.
From this we see that however ignominiously the body may be treated here, yet this is not inconsistent with its glory in the future. Though Abel’s blood was spilt on the ground, it was no detriment to the glory of righteous Abel, who by faith offered acceptable sacrifice to God.
Indeed, there is nothing reproachful which the wit of man could devise, which has not been meted out to the bodies of the saints. “The bodies of thy saints they cast out to be food for the fowls of heaven” (Psalm 79:2–3). Yet the shameful treatment of the body here cannot impede it being glorified in the future. Instead, the more ignominiously the body is treated here, the greater will be its glory hereafter. All who overcome shall “walk with Christ in white,” but those whose blood is shed on the earth for the testimony of Christ have “long white garments.” It is no paradox among theologians that the martyrs have greater degrees of glory than others.
The glory of the saints will be measured out according to the promises, which are often along the lines, “If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him; if we abide with him in his temptation, he appoints us a kingdom;” and suchlike.
How we should use this teaching
Are you concerned about the base and low condition of the body in the grave, and how base and loathsome death makes even beautiful bodies? But all this cannot hinder the glory of it. How low and despicable Job’s body was, when he talked of seeing God in his flesh! Yet for all this, he says, “Iin this flesh I shall see God.” “He will change our vile bodies …”
Are you afraid of what you might suffer in your body? Well, supposing the evil you fear comes upon you — supposing your blood is spilt on the ground like Abel’s, and your head presented in a charger, like John the Baptist’s, to a Herodias — yet all this is no detriment to the future glory of this body. Only make sure that your sufferings are for righteousness, otherwise you are expecting glory for the body without a promise. You should also think often of how Christ’s body was so ignominiously treated, yet by His sufferings He has made reproach less reproachful under the New Testament than it was under the Old. If He was reckoned among the transgressors, can you not endure it? Think also of the future glory of the body, like Christ did. For the glory that was set before Him, He endured the cross, and despised the shame. After right counting, the apostle likewise reckons the afflictions of this life not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed.
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