Sermon Manuscript . . .
The Eyewitness Proof of Christ’s Return
The Preview of Christ’s Second Coming and Proof of God’s Word
Movie previews are powerful–they tantalize you with the best action and out-of-sequence scenes to motivate you to squander big bucks and waste an evening to return to the movies. But they do give a taste of what is to come.
Such an event occurred in the life of Christ–a preview of His second coming, the only time His self-imposed veil was pulled back so that His deity could be fully seen in His second coming glory. It’s called the Transfiguration–a preview of His second coming. This event is recorded in three of the four gospels and was a crucial event in the life of the apostle Peter, who writes about it in verses 16 to 18 of 2 Peter 1.
Open your Bibles and follow in your outline. Peter writes this final letter, probably from Rome, possibly in prison, at the end of his own life and the end of Nero’s persecution. Peter writes to churches who are being infected by false teachers in the region of modern-day Turkey. Sadly, wicked teachers do not announce themselves as false. They do not appear immoral or evil or manipulative or void of Christlike character.
God already warned us, false teachers will appear as angels of light in 2 Corinthians 11:14, “No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” This truth puts a tremendous demand on every spiritual leader and each one of you, to grow discerning. You must know the Word and the God of the Word so well that you can discern 1% of heresy mixed into a sermon of 99% truth.
The undiscerning will read their books and say, “Oh, he is wonderful when he writes about the resurrection, but just stay away from his teaching on salvation.” That’s like saying, “Hey, enjoy these brownies made with the sweetest chocolate from Switzerland and just a small amount of Doberman dog poop. Mmm-m-m GOOD!”
It is a minor awareness to read the works of someone who doesn’t believe in a rapture of the Church, but honors the authority of the Word in every other way. Those are brownies without salt. But it is a major bad choice to read the works of someone who has distorted the Gospel or has manipulated the New Testament teaching of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Those are brownies made with a dash of dog excrement.
Peter’s brilliant game plan to address this threat of error is to write verses 1 to 2, the gospel was given to you by God–you received your faith from Him. Verses 2 to 4, your salvation is sufficient–you have all you need for life and godliness. You have a new nature allowing you to grow more like Christ and enabling you to stand against the corruption of the world and the desires of your fallen flesh. Verses 5 to 7, your new nature produces Christlike character you should be diligent to develop. Verses 8 to 11, demonstrating Christlike character is what gives you genuine assurance of salvation. This causes you to be solid in your faith and live in contrast to the faulty character of those errant teachers, even learning to identify them by their corrupt and lustful character.
Verses 12 to 15, it is essential you and I be reminded of these truths over and over repeatedly, because it is easy to forget and be seduced by subtle error and corrupt character. And now in verses 16 to 21, Peter wants to affirm the truth of Scripture over the faulty opinions and practices of false teachers. Peter proves that the Scripture is true in two dramatic ways. One) is that Peter himself is an eyewitness of the truth in verses 16 to 18 today. And two) is that the Scriptures, recorded by the apostles, are God’s actual Word and the only truth you can depend upon.
And since the false teachers are attacking Peters apostolic instruction about the second coming of Christ, Peter uses his own eyewitness of the second coming glory of Christ revealed at the Transfiguration as proof that you can trust God’s Word given by the apostles. Peter just reminded that you need to hear these same truths over and over again. You need to hear you can depend upon your Bible as God’s living Word. You should not trust the ideas, opinions nor distortions of false teachers, but you can trust the Word 1) witnessed by and 2) written by the apostles moved by the Holy Spirit.
So how do a church and a Christian defend against the error of false teachers? Your best two weapons are God’s Word and godly character. Peter reminded his readers in verses 1 to 11 of the new nature they received at salvation, resulting in godly character which offers believers true assurance. Now he challenges them to depend and trust on God’s Word, witnessed by the apostles today in 16 to 18 and written via the apostles in verses 19 to 21.
And today, as human witnesses, three apostles were permitted to see a glimpse of the earthly Kingdom of Christ where Jesus rules with all authority, righteousness and glory. Peter focuses on the Transfiguration to show he himself can personally vouch for the trustworthiness of Christ’s teaching and the certainty of Christ’s second coming. Peter is affirming Christ will return in glory. Plus Peter encourages his readers that a grand welcome awaits every believer who has made his calling and election sure.
#1 Denoting the TRUTH of the Preview of Christ’s Coming
Verse 16, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The nature of truth is objective, historical fact–not truth that works for each person, which is subjective, or society determines truth, which is a collective. So Peter says, “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales.”
The word for tales is muthos, which gives us our English word myth. The story of Jesus is material, not mythical–it is fact, not fable. The New Testament stands in stark contrast to Jewish fables you find in the Talmud and Apocrypha. The New Testament is also in strong contrast to the tales of Greece. The Greeks peopled Mount Olympus with mythical gods and told wild tales about them. The New Testament is not like that. The amazing events of the gospels are true, not myth.
The Virgin Birth, raising the dead, authoritative teaching, atoning death, burial, bodily resurrection, ascension into Heaven, and promised return of Christ are all historical facts. Jesus did calm the storm, walk on the stormy waters, and feed 5,000. He did cast out demons, cleanse lepers, gave sight to the blind, and make lame walk. And He did put Malchus’s ear right back on after Peter cut it off.
Peter knew all of these events as an eyewitness, and Peter’s witness is irrefutable. Peter’s teachings were not “cleverly devised tales” or myths. What is a myth? A myth is a story which a person has formulated to express their own desires without any reference to reality. Scripture originates with God, is divinely inspired, rooted in history, and unquestionably true. A tale is a lie–it’s error. This phrase, “follow cleverly devised tales,” actually exposes the nature of error. I was pumped to learn the very heart of error itself by studying this Greek phrase. Error is . . .
Cumulative–the participle cleverly is pointing to error that has been invented at one point, then continues into the future. It never goes away. Our day is filled with new error and this collected error of 2,000 years never goes away. Error is . . .
Intentional–cleverly means the enemy is continually working at it. They don’t fall into it, they pursue it–they labor to get you to doubt the truth. They want you to question the reality of Christ, His work and to question His Word–it’s intentional. Error is . . .
Shrewd–error is not your child who tries to hide the peas he doesn’t want to eat, in his dinner roll. This is the work of an enemy who has lived for thousands of years, all the while studying mankind. “Cleverly devised” is to come up with a plan, an explanation, or theory with great mental effort. The most frightening aspect of false teacher error is that the Greek word “cleverly devised” comes from the root word to make wise. And that is how the tempter sells it to you–“Hey, you believe this new error and it will make you wise. Here is the insight you need to give you the edge. Here’s the shortcut that will make you smarter than others, mature you faster, and make your Christian life easier.” Error appeals to your ego–it says it will make you wise.
Error is often taught by men with credentials, like the degrees of an NT Wright, or the TV program stadium-size church of a Joel Osteen or a Steven Furtick. Error is taught by those who have modern credibility. Like the quack doctor, they come with credentials, but what they teach is poison to your spiritual health. Error is . . .
Mythical–the word tales tells you that error is a fictional statement seeking to explain true events. It is a lie placed into a historical context. It’s mixing truth with ideas–brownies with an ounce of excrement, soda with a dash of arsenic. Error is . . .
Unrelenting–error is a constant pressure. The enemy will keep inventing error and loves it when the error sticks. The enemy rejoices when sincere people embrace error and perpetuate it. The participle “cleverly devised” has an ongoing nature to it, which lets us know this error casting will not stop, but continues to assault you. Never forget John 8:44, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Peter reminds his readers he didn’t follow cleverly devised error. Peter knew the false leaders would try to discredit him and this letter. So Peter gives evidences to prove he wrote the truth of God as a genuinely inspired writer. Peters writings were not inventions, myths, or stories, but reality, fact, truth. So Peter says in verse 16, “when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Greek verb, “made known”, is often used to communicate imparting of new revelation. Peter is giving them truth from God about God. Peter is absolutely convinced of the truth he taught, because he had personally witnessed it. Peter using the pronoun we is definitely Peter, James, and John–but here it might also refer to all the New Testament apostles since all of them, without exception, received supernatural divine revelation from God. They were uniquely promised the ability to communicate God’s Word in John 16:13, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
The apostles did not speak deceptive tales, but their preaching and writing was truth. Peter includes the pronoun we to remind his readers, these attacks from false teachers were not merely against him, but against all apostolic teaching, against the New Testament. They are attacking your faith, the truth of the Gospel, and the very nature of God’s Word.
But what was the specific truth Peter is defending here? Verse 15, “The power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” There is only one definite article in this phrase, “the power and coming“, telling us Peter is literally saying, “the powerful coming”, or “the coming in power” of our Lord Jesus Christ. Peter is teaching the truth about the powerful second coming of Christ.
The Greek word, coming, is the familiar New Testament word parousia, which also means appearing, or arrival. Coming occurs twenty-four times in the New Testament. The word was frequently used technically for the arrival or the visit of the king, the emperor, or some other great person of authority. Coming literally denotes both an arrival and the resulting presence of this great person. Whenever used in the New Testament of Jesus Christ, the term always refers to His return.
Why does Peter say this? Because the false teachers were denying Christ’s coming again. Be offended, friends–the false teachers were teaching Christ’s second coming as King was a myth. Look over at 2 Peter 3:3 to 4, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and [sneering] saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”
The false teachers say nothing has changed. This is uniformitarianism–the present is the key to the past. Uniformitarianism asserts that the natural processes of the past are the same processes at work today. Nothing has changed, which then categorically denies divine intervention throughout world history–so no six-day creation, no global flood and no second coming of Christ. They are teaching Christ won’t come again.
Peter warns in 2:1, the false teachers are teaching church members destructive heresies. And in 2:3, they make up stories about the truth. They scoff at Christ’s promise to return. Then Peter adds in 3:3 to 4, the false teachers deny the historical basis of the Gospel message and replace the truth with their own lies. Back in 1 Peter, the apostle had already taught the churches Christ was coming again. First Peter 1:13b, “Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” First Peter 4:13b, “Keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”
Now in 2 Peter, Peter’s statement in verse 16 is twofold–it’s a contrast between the trustworthy teaching of the apostles and the deceptive fables of the false teachers. Second Peter is rebutting the charge of the false teachers that the apostolic teaching of Christ’s return in glory was nothing but “cunningly devised fables.” Jesus IS coming again–but the false teachers say, “No.” So Peter challenges them with His firsthand knowledge of Christ’s second coming. Peter was an eyewitness.
#2 Describing the EYEWITNESS Account of the Preview
Verses 16b to 17, “But we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.’ ” An eyewitness testimony is important in establishing a case historically and legally.
Turn to Matthew 17:1 to 8. The we that begins this verse refers pointedly to the three apostles and a specific event, where the kingdom splendor of Christ was intended as a preview of His majesty, to be manifested at the His second coming. All three had witnessed it at the Transfiguration. Read Matthew 17:1 to 8.
“Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. 7And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, ‘Get up, and do not be afraid.’ 8And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.”
The Transfiguration was a glimpse of the glory to be unveiled at the return of Christ. Jesus’ earthly ministry of healing, teaching, and winning souls was also a glimpse of the character of the earthly Kingdom. But His full glory and power will be fully manifested at His return–and they saw that on the mountain!
The word “eyewitnesses” in Luke 1:2 means seeing with one’s own eyes, while Peter’s word eyewitnesses only occurs here in the New Testament and means one who watches or observes. In Greek culture, this eyewitness term was a technical word designating all those who had been initiated into the highest grade of the Greek mystery religions. Peter’s use of this term may imply that Peter was conscious that he and those with him on the Mount of Transfiguration had become privileged spectators of a special revelation.
He focuses on the amazing experience that he, James, and John shared on that mountain. Peter reminds his readers, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. Many people have seen His power. Many recipients have experienced His grace. But Peter, James, and John had seen something veiled from all other human eyes–His glory. Or as Peter describes it, “His majesty,” or His magnificence, His splendor. Peter, James, and John had seen that magnificence displayed in a way never experienced by the world before–no one had seen this before. Unforgettable!
Peter’s point is, the false teachers denied Peter’s claims about Jesus. They taught that Christ wasn’t returning–but unlike him, they were not eyewitnesses to Christ’s life and ministry. Peter and two other apostles were preeminently privileged spectators who had witnessed Christ unveiled, fully revealed at his Transfiguration. Which also dramatically previewed Christ’s second coming majesty.
What does Peter focus on? Verse 17, “For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased.’ ” They witnessed the Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, receive honor and glory.
Peter declares the preaching of the apostles is absolutely trustworthy, because they speak as eyewitnesses of the person and words of Jesus Christ. They personally saw Jesus’ glory and honor from the time of His baptism to the day of His ascension. John testifies in John 1:14, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Then Jesus was transfigured and talked with Moses and Elijah, all the while Peter, James, and John watched. Matthew 17:2 tells when Jesus was transfigured, His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. He received honor when a voice from Heaven said in verse 5, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”
Honor and glory are closely related, but there is a difference between the two. Glory is a quality that belongs to God, shared by Christ, and is the summation of all His attributes. Honor is the recognition of someone who has attained a position through his labors and achievements. Jesus was then transfigured in heavenly glory and honorably recognized by God the Father. Back in 2 Peter, when the apostle says, “Such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory,” Majestic Glory is probably describing the Matthew 17:5, glory cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration, from which God spoke to the disciples.
“This is My beloved Son“–this means, “this One is in essence with Me.” The Father is thus affirming the deity of Christ. “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”–this statement is the same as the synoptic gospels, except they add the additional command, “Listen to him!” But what is the significance of, “This is My beloved Son“? First, God the Father reveals that Jesus is his Son. If we acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God whom the Father has sent, we have eternal life (John 17:3).
Next, God qualifies his statement by adding, “[My Son, whom I love] My beloved Son.” Through His Son, Jesus Christ, God the Father loves us. And last God asserts, “with Him I am well pleased.” At the time of Jesus’ baptism, God the Father also spoke these same words. Because of His redemptive work, Jesus is the recipient of God’s good pleasure at both His baptism and His transfiguration. The apostle saw and heard this glorious sight and the excellent words as an eyewitness. Christ was seen in His glory, affirmed in His glory and will return in like glory. This is the preview and one of the guarantees of the second coming of Christ.
#3 Delineating the HISTORICAL Circumstances of the Preview
Verse 18, “and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.” Peter implies there is no reason to believe false teachers who deny the second coming of Christ, since they were not on the Mt. of Transfiguration to see the preview of the Kingdom or the glory of Christ, as he, James, and John witnessed.
Interestingly, what Peter remembered most was the voice–possibly because God interrupted Peter’s own blundering remarks. In Matthew 17:4 and 5 “Peter said, ‘I will make three tabernacles …5 While he was still speaking, ‘This is My beloved Son . . .’ ” But Peter recalled God’s voice. Those words were burned into his memory–“We ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven.” It’s like Peter says, “Such a voice!” Literally, this is the sound we heard. This was the voice of glory–actual speech from Heaven, rarely heard on Earth, a voice that must have been like a lions roar. You already knew a lions roar can be heard five miles away–but did you know the roar itself momentarily paralyzes its prey, giving the lion a better opportunity to catch his meal?
That’s almost like Matthew 17:6, “When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified.” It’s like they were paralyzed. God put an end to Peter’s nonsensical blabberings about tabernacles. And this voice, like the thunder of Niagara Falls, like the lions roar, like the noise of a jumbo jet, stopped everything and drowned out all other sounds. Verse 18, “and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven.” For Peter, the voice was what mattered. The pronoun we is emphatic. The voice came from Heaven, the eternal dwelling place of God. And Peter James and John–we all heard the voice that come out of the cloud, from God the Father in Heaven.
And the next phrase, “When we were with Him,” tells us real people were there, and they heard a real voice. It came from a real place. Peter was recounting facts, not fables. They were eyewitnesses of an event that was burned into memory and priority. The Transformation was seen, the voice was heard, and it became a holy place–“we were with Him on the holy mountain.” The three disciples had never experienced anything like it. It was holy because Jesus was there and because His Father was there.
When God met Moses at Horeb in Exodus 3:5, He demanded that Moses remove his shoes as a token of reverence, because he was standing on holy ground. God was there. The Church has never been able to identify the exact place of the Transfiguration. Some scholars think Mount Hermon. Others suggest Mount Tabor. But the exact location isn’t important–we don’t need to guess. The point Peter makes is the revelation of God’s glory made the mountain holy.
It was the presence of God Himself that made that scrubby mountain holy to Moses, and it was the presence of God Himself which made this mountain holy to Peter, James and John. Just as Christ revealed His true glory on the mountain, so will His glory be revealed at His return. Peter is an eyewitness. Peter is not making up stories. No, this event was all fact, all true–all proving Christ would come again in glory.
A ACCEPT the Testimony of Trustworthy Qualified Eyewitnesses
Peter wrote a summary of what he saw and heard on the Mount of Transfiguration. He saw Jesus Christ robed in majestic glory, and therefore witnessed a demonstration of the “power and coming” of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now when Jesus arrived in Bethlehem, born as an infant, He did not display His glory openly. Christ did reveal His glory through His miracles, but Christ’s face didn’t shine, nor did Christ have a halo over His head. Isaiah 53:2b, “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”
But Peter not only saw Christ’s glory, but he heard the Father’s voice from Heaven. Witnesses are people who tell accurately what they’ve seen and heard (Acts 4:20), and Peter was a faithful witness. Is Jesus Christ of Nazareth the Son of God? Yes, He is! How do we know? The Father said so! You and I were not eyewitnesses of the Transfiguration. But Peter was there, and he faithfully recorded his experience in this letter, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
B Never Depend on Personal IDEAS OR FEELINGS over God’s WORD
Peter begins verse 19 with, “So we have the prophetic word made more sure“–the Bible, God’s Word is more certain than even a true experience. Experiences are subjective, but the Word of God is objective. Experiences may be interpreted in different ways by different participants, but the Word of God gives one clear message. What we remember about our experiences can be unconsciously distorted, but the Word of God remains the same and abides forever.
These false teachers use “feigned words” instead of God’s inspired Word (2 Peter 2:3), and the result was, they teach “damnable heresies” (2:1)–making this a matter of life and death, Heaven and Hell. If a person believes the truth, he will live. If he believes the lies, he will die. It is the difference between salvation and condemnation–you?
C Embrace the DOCTRINES taught by the TRANSFIGURATION
By reminding his readers of the Transfiguration, Peter is affirming several important doctrines of the Christian faith. He affirmed Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God. The test of any faith or religion is, “Who do you say Jesus is?” If a religious teacher denies the deity of Christ, then he is a false teacher (1 John 2:18 to 29; 4:1 to 6). Equally important, is to also ask, “Why did Jesus come and what did Christ do?”
Again, the Transfiguration gives us the answer through Moses and Elijah. Luke 9:31, “Who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” His death is not simply an example, like faulty theologians assert–Christ’s death was a departure, same word as exodus, meaning an accomplishment. Christ accomplished something crucial on the cross–the redemption of lost sinners.
The Transfiguration was also affirmation of the truth of the Scriptures. Moses represented the Law, Elijah represented the Prophets–both point to Christ (Hebrews 1:1 to 3). Christ fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Luke 24:27). We believe the Bible because Jesus believed the Bible and He told us it was the Word of God. Those who question the truth and authority of the Scriptures are not arguing with Moses, Elijah, or Peter, but arguing with the Lord Jesus Christ.
This event also affirms the reality of God’s Kingdom. At that time, the twelve apostles were confused. They did not understand the relationship between Christ’s suffering and His glory, nor the Church and the Kingdom. At the Transfiguration, our Lord made it clear to His followers that His suffering would lead to glory and that the cross would ultimately result in a crown. Christ will physically rule for a 1,000 years.
D Don’t rely on experiences, but do DEPEND on God’s written Word
Peter could not share his experience with us, but he could share the record of that experience so that we could have it permanently in the Word of God. It is not necessary for us to try to duplicate these experiences–in fact such attempts are dangerous, for the devil could give us a counterfeit experience that could lead us astray.
Remember Peter’s wonderful news at the beginning of this letter–our faith gives us “an equal standing” with the apostles. The apostles did not travel first-class and leave you to travel coach in the back by the bathroom. We were not on the Mount of Transfiguration, but we can still benefit from that experience as we meditate on it and permit the Spirit of God to reveal the glories of Jesus Christ. We have learned two important truths as we’ve studied these contrasts–men die but the Word lives, and experiences fade but the Word remains. Let’s pray.