When I was younger, I used to ask God to let me see angels. I’d heard that verse in 1 Peter 1:12 where he speaks of the gospel as something into which angels long to look. I pictured the rafters of our church filled with angels watching as these odd, limited, human creatures worshipped a God they could not see. Full transparency, on occasion I still ask God for a glimpse of the angelic beings that are in our world, behind the scenes, doing God’s bidding. (He hasn’t said yes, yet!)
There’s something in all of us that longs to know and experience the supernatural. The world knows this, but they don’t recognize it as a longing for their Creator. Movies and books about supernatural beings (both good and evil) are the norm. As someone once said, we aren’t bodies with souls; we are souls who happen to live in bodies. And if you know Jesus, your spirit is also alive – that immaterial part of you that God created to have a relationship with Him (Ephesians 2:1-7), and that spirit longs to go home.
The disciples who walked alongside Jesus also knew there was a spiritual, unseen world that was yet to be revealed. On one special occasion, Jesus pulled back the curtain and gave three of them a glimpse. The story is told in three gospels – Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9 (my reading for today).
Luke 9 teaches us a lot about what it means to belong to the kingdom of God, and the true cost of discipleship. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Jesus (9:23). We must lose our life here, in order to gain life in God’s kingdom (9:24-25). We must not be ashamed of our King (9:26). We must be willing to give up our physical comfort and safety in earthly things and make Jesus the priority over all other relationships (9:57-62).
Jesus calls us to give up much, but in comparison to eternal life in the kingdom of God, it’s less than nothing. Jesus wanted us to know this without a doubt, so He took Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain and drew back the curtain on the physical kingdom of God for just a few moments. He wants us to know that what is ahead is well worth any suffering here. He had told the disciples just a few days earlier, But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God (9:27). This was the day that statement was fulfilled.
What did they see on that mountain when God pulled back the humanity that cloaked the glory of Jesus and He was transfigured in front of them? The Greek word describing what happened is metamorphoō (think: metamorphosis). There was a physical change in His appearance. Jesus’ garments became radiantly bright and exceedingly white as light. His countenance was changed, and His face shone like the sun.
That’s not all. In this experience, Jesus revealed some more truths about the physical, tangible, very real kingdom of God that we will one day enter. Elijah and Moses appeared and talked with Jesus; the disciples recognized them immediately. In God’s kingdom, we will still be known as we are known here, and (ahem…) we will be ALIVE. Elijah and Moses had died centuries earlier; they never knew one another in life on earth, but here they are, chatting with Jesus about His coming death and resurrection.
Also, God spoke audibly from a cloud, affirming Jesus as His Son and instructing the disciples to listen to Him. In the kingdom of God, we will hear God speak clearly and audibly, through our glorified ears!
The disciples were fearful, awestruck, and fell in worship, but Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid.” In other words, this is what is ahead for you…this is what it’s like where you’re going…this is where you belong because you belong to Me!
This was not the only glimpse into the kingdom of God that John experienced, and thankfully, the Holy Spirit inspired him to write it down for us. John saw Jesus revealed in even more of His glory, in a more complete revelation, as he spent his last days imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos.
Revelation 1:12-18 – Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And after turning I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and wrapped around the chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze when it has been heated to a glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
Revelation 19:11-16 – And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many crowns; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written: “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Right now, we live in the spiritual kingdom of God. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we communicate with Jesus through prayer and the Holy Spirit. We are confined to limited, frail bodies made out of dust – bodies which are decaying every day. But one day, we too will be transformed into a glorious likeness of our Savior and we will spend eternity with Him in the physical kingdom of God.
Jesus wasn’t just looking for something to do that day when He took those three up on that mountain. He had a purpose. He wanted us to know what is ahead so that we will have hope and endurance and strength and courage and anticipation to make it to the end as faithful followers. When things look grim here, remember…the kingdom of God is coming. Today, we’re one day closer to when Jesus will return in all His glory and the kingdom of God will be revealed.