God Speaks His Mind

Dr. Brian Allison

What do you think the audible voice of God sounds like? When my grandmother was a young girl, a minister told her that every time that she heard thunder, that was the voice of God. As a result, she never feared the sound of thunder. God does have an audible voice. God has been pleased to speak audibly to certain individuals, as well as within different public settings, at various times throughout history. Now, in so far as God has uttered His voice publicly, He has declared His mind and will; and as such, we may rightly speak of the declarative speaking of God. God spoke declaratively on Mount Sinai. We read, "And the LORD said to Moses, 'Behold, I shall come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe in you forever'...Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. And the LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain...Then God spoke all these words...And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die'...So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was" (Deut. 19:9,18-20; 20:1, 18,19,21).

Now, when we come to the New Testament, we observe that God spoke declaratively at different times during the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Recall, for instance, God spoke publicly at our Lord's baptism. In Luke 3:22, we read, "And the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, 'Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased.'" Again, as our Lord drew near to the end of His ministry, after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we read His words, "Now my soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. 'Father, glorify Thy name.' There came therefore a voice out of heaven: 'I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.' The multitude therefore, who stood by and heard it, were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, 'An angel has spoken to Him.' Jesus answered and said, 'This voice has not come for My sake but for your sakes'" (Jn. 12:27-30). So, at strategic points in the ministry of our Lord, God declaratively spoke, He thundered forth His voice in a public setting.

The declarative speaking of God, historically speaking, was a rather rare occurrence. God typically spoke through other means. (Often God spoke through visions, dreams, and internal impressions, revealing to prophets a message to proclaim). Certainly, the rarity of these declarative utterances argues for the critical importance and significance of their message. Perhaps one of the most stupendous occurrences of the declarative speaking of God is found in the account of the transfiguration of Christ; and it is this account that we will now consider, Luke 9:28-36.

The transfiguration relates to Christ's death

Let us work through Luke 9:28-36 progressively. Luke 9:28a reads, "And some eight days after these sayings..." The 'sayings' of Christ recorded immediately before the transfiguration account are vitally connected with this account. This transfiguration account is simply an extension – both a supplement and a confirmation – of the didactic sayings recorded of Christ. These sayings have as their main theme the death, the resurrection, and the glorification of Christ. In Luke 9:22, Jesus revealed, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day;" and verse 26, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."

Jesus takes along His special friends

Eight days after these profound sayings, the actual account unfolds – "...it came about that He took along Peter and John and James" (9:28b). These three men were the 'inner circle' of disciples, Jesus' closest comrades; if you like, His best friends. No doubt, our Lord took these three along with Him in order that they might be a source of comfort, encouragement, and support to Him. Furthermore, it seems that Jesus took these three men along with Him, and thus continued to give them special privilege and involvement (cf. Lu. 8:48-51), because they were presumably marked out to assume key positions of leadership after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was these three disciples who were to be pillars in the newly founded Church. But moreover, Jesus took these three along with Him in fulfilment of Deuteronomy 17:6, which states that a matter should be established in the presence of two or three witnesses.

Jesus was, and is, pleased to show favour and preference to whomever He wills. Jesus personally chose three to be with Him as His special companions. On the one hand, Jesus is an impartial Judge; on the other hand, He is a partial Lord. We ought never to forget that. Thus, on the one hand, we read, "There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God" (Rm. 2:9-11). But, on the other hand, we read, "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires" (Rm. 9:18). God is the sovereign Lord; and thus may be partial in the dispensing of His favour and goodness. So even here in the life of Jesus, our Lord was pleased to show favour, preferential treatment, to three undeserving souls. And we ought not to question Him on His dealings with us. But rather, we are to be thankful for any grace or privilege received, because He is neither bound nor obligated to show favour or mercy to anyone. If God has given you any grace or any privilege, my friend, you ought to be thankful; and if God has been pleased to give a Christian brother or sister more grace or privilege than you, neither complain nor murmur, for He can do what He wants with His own.

Jesus withdraws to pray

Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him for a specific purpose – "And [they] went up to the mountain to pray" (Lu. 9:28c). It goes without saying that prayer was the Lord's customary practice. He was a man of prayer. In fact, in this Gospel, Luke records a number of times that our Lord stole away to pray. For instance, Luke 6:12 reads, "And it was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God;" again, 11:1 reads, "And it came about that while He was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.'"

So, Jesus prayed; and He prayed often, and He prayed regularly, and He prayed consistently. Now, if Jesus prayed, and had to pray, how much more do we. We are to be people of prayer, and we are to pray without ceasing, even as our Lord did. In fact, our Lord even instructed us to pray in that manner. Luke 18:1 reads, "Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart." We are to pray, rather than faint or become downcast. In many respects, prayer is the antidote and remedy for, as well as the Biblical alternative to, a discouraged heart. Indeed, we can become overwhelmed with various circumstances in our lives and become disheartened; but Jesus teaches us to resist and reject that kind of response. This response is the natural tendency of the flesh. When troubles assail us, when pressures bear down upon us, we can become disheartened, we can throw up our arms, we can sink down in despair and in self-pity. Yet, our Lord instructs that we are to pray instead. Were there occasions this past week where you were tempted to lose heart, being overwhelmed with circumstances, and you cried out, "Lord, why is this happening?" Did you bemoan, complain, and murmur, and thus did you lose heart; not only becoming discouraged, but self-piteous? What is the solution and alternative? – prayer. We are to follow the example of Christ. Jesus was a man of prayer.

Prayer radically changes matters – "And while He was praying the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming" (9:29). It was while our Lord was praying that something extraordinary, epochal, and significant happened. While He was praying, God was pleased to manifest power, grace, and majesty. Similarly, it is while we are praying, pouring out our hearts to God, that God will be pleased to do something extraordinary. It is in such a spiritual setting and environment that God is pleased to give light, power, and grace. If you, for instance, find yourself confused, wanting answers, I am suggesting that it will be while you are in prayer itself that God will often move and give understanding. Or, maybe you are presently overcome with some stress or anxiety. I am suggesting that it is when you are actually engaged in the 'mystery' of prayer that God will often reveal His power and glory to you. While our Lord was praying, God moved.

The transfiguration was designed to strengthen Jesus

It could be argued that Jesus was praying for this divine manifestation, but that claim may be challenged. In considering the wider context, one may cogently argue that this extraordinary event occurred not only for the sake of the disciples (for it was quite instructive for them), but also for the sake of Jesus. Remember that Christ was making His way to Jerusalem. Again, Luke 9:22 reads, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day." Jesus clearly knew the terrible events that lay ahead of Him. He knew that He was going to die, not simply physically, but spiritually.

Christ, no doubt, realized and anticipated the incomparable wrenching ordeal that await Him in Jerusalem; and most certainly our Lord, as a result, was personally struggling. His soul was in great agony – agony which culminated in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the cross looming. Hence, our Lord needed extraordinary comfort, as well as personal assurance, as He was making His way to Jerusalem; and God provided that comfort and assurance. In the Garden, God sent the ministering angels to strengthen Christ. In the account before us, God gave Christ a foretaste and preview of the glory into which He would immediately enter after the cruelty of the cross and with the wonder of the resurrection. The transfiguration was designed to strengthen Christ in order that He might be determined to face the cross boldly and courageously for the salvation of sinners. Recall the words in Hebrews 12:2, "...who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Jesus received a foretaste of the majestic joy, and with that joy of entering into His glory, He was determined to face and endure the cross. And so notice that after the experience of the transfiguration, we read, "And it came about, when the days were approaching for His ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem" (Lu. 9:51). Now, if Christ needed comfort and assurance in His dark hour of testing and personal struggle, how much more do we? Many of us have various dark hours of testing and personal struggle; and so we must give ourselves to prayer. Prayer, in a very real sense, is our salvation.

Moses and Elijah strengthen Jesus

So, it is while our Lord is praying, out of His struggle and agony, for the salvation of the world and the fulfilling of the Father's will, that His appearance changes. His face shone brightly as the sun. His raiment changed and radiated brilliance. Our Lord was glorified. What a sight that must have been, what a vision! Now, God comforted Christ and gave Him assurance not only through the transfiguration, but also by sending two heavenly visitors, Elijah and Moses – "And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (9:30,31). Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the Prophets, epitomized the Old Testament era, as well as symbolized its hopes. (Just as an aside, notice that personalities remain intact after death. It is interesting that Elijah was taken bodily into heaven; and that the angel Michael disputed with the devil over Moses' body, which may imply that his body was exhumed and take into heaven).

Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about the death that He was going to undergo in Jerusalem. Again, the death and resurrection of Christ was the critical theme. With this momentous event, we witness the great redemptive focal point and the first major divine crescendo of history (the second one will be Christ's return). In conversation, Elijah and Moses, no doubt, were strengthening and encouraging Christ. The stakes were incredibly high – the salvation of the human race was resting squarely on the Son's shoulders. He was to accomplish the plan of redemption of the elect. Moses and the prophets spoke of Christ's day and prophesied of His salvation. With their appearance on this mountain with Christ, we witness the symbolism of the organic unity of God's saving truth, as well as the reality of Old Testament truth culminating and finding complete fulfilment in Christ. Remember, Christ was also to die for the Old Testament saints of faith.

Accordingly, Christ's death was no accident or mistake. It was planned; it was predetermined by God (cf. Acts 2:23). If you are reading this article, and know nothing of the benefits of the death of Christ, my unsaved friend, will you consider your rebellious ways, and will you repent of your sins? Will you come to God and humble yourself before Him, and accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour? He died for sinners. If you believe that Christ died for your sins, you will be saved.

The disciples awaken to glory

What about the disciples? What were they doing at this time? – "Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep" (9:32a). This verse implies that the transfiguration most likely happened at night. Jesus often stole away to pray either in the early morning or late at night because the days were just too busy for Him. He was constantly ministering. If anyone knew what it was to go sleepless, Jesus did. Sometimes we ought to lose sleep in order to take up the work of prayer.

Now, as mentioned, these three men went with Jesus to comfort and support Him; and the comfort and support which He needed was primarily spiritual in nature. Seemingly, Jesus wanted these three disciples to pray with Him. We read concerning another occasion, "And they came to a place named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, 'Sit here until I have prayed.' And He took with Him Peter and James and John, and began to be very distressed and troubled. And He said to them, 'My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch'...And He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, 'Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak'" (Mk. 14:32-34,37,38). Isn't that sad? It is a real shame, isn't it? Jesus could not depend on His best friends to stay awake an hour with Him while He prayed.

We ought not to be too hard on the disciples. I do not think that we would have done any better than they. My brothers and sisters, we all let the Lord down. You let the Lord down; you disappoint Christ, and you know it. This past week some of you have disappointed Christ. You have heard His voice. You have felt the pull of His Spirit, and you did not respond. Was Christ calling you to prayer at some point during this past week, and you said, "Later, Lord;" and you never got around to it? Or did Christ nudge your spirit, calling you to help someone or call someone, and you said, "Later, Lord;" and you never got around to it? Listen, you have disappointed Christ. We all do it. So, let us not be too hard on these disciples.

Peter and his companions awoke to a sight of radiant glory – "but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him." Probably the brilliance of that glory awoke them. As we read further, we realize that maybe it would have been better for Peter to have stayed asleep – "And it came about, as these were parting from Him, Peter said to Jesus, 'Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah' – not realizing what he was saying." His brain was in neutral, he spoke without thinking. No doubt, Peter was enjoying the heavenly interaction, the ecstatic experience; and he did not want it to end. Maybe God has given you a wonderful experience in the past, and your response was, "Lord, I do not want it to end;" and you have tried to live off that experience, rather than simply being instructed by it. My friend, do not try to live off of a previous wonderful spiritual experience. It was never intended to be a spiritual fuel supply to keep you spiritually 'pumped up' and going. Such wonderful experiences are rare; and are intended to make a momentary impact, or to give needed light, or to give timely instruction, in order that you might be encouraged or spiritually facilitated. They are special expressions of God's grace – exceptions and not the rule.

Peter wanted to hold onto the experience, rather than be instructed by it. As the parallel passage (Mk. 9:6) states, he was terrified, and thus he burst out with this apparently stupid statement. Have you ever been in a situation where you were overwhelmed by the situation, or you felt very uncomfortable with the situation, and you blurted out something stupid; and then went away berating yourself? Such was the case with Peter. He did not think before speaking. Now, in saying that it was good to be present with this heavenly august company, he demonstrated his presumption; and in suggesting to build three tabernacles, he demonstrated his ignorance, for heavenly visitors did not need a dwelling place, nor a place of protection; and further, it was very clear that they were not staying.

God thunders His voice

The authoritative, earth-shattering speaking of God is contrasted with the foolish, senseless speaking of a man – "And while he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" (9:34,35). Here we have the declarative speaking of God. God spoke audibly; and, most likely, His voice thundered. We read in a parallel account (Mt. 17:6) that when God spoke, Peter and his companions fell on their faces because they were afraid, which suggests the utterance of an awesome voice.

Surely, we cannot help but recognize the parallelism of, yet also the stark contrast between, God speaking on this mountain and God speaking on Mount Sinai. The similarities are plain. On Mount Sinai, the Law was given, and thus the Old covenant era commenced. On the mount of transfiguration, God sanctions the truth and authority of Christ's words, with the dawning of the New covenant era. The words of Christ constitute a new law, in contrast with the old; and so John 1:17 reads, "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ."

On Mount Sinai, there was a dark cloud, with smoke, fire, and gloom. On the mount of transfiguration, there appeared a bright cloud (Mt. 17:5). The cloud simply represented God's presence; it was symbolic of the Shekinah glory. The divine cloud overshadowed Mount Sinai itself, as well as the company on the mount of transfiguration. The idea of 'overshadowing' points to consecration. For instance, the divine cloud which descended on, and filled, the newly built (first) temple consecrated it for holy use; and when the Spirit of God overshadowed Mary at the conception of Jesus, she was consecrated for holy use. When God's presence and glory appeared, and He spoke, the disciples were terrified. Generally speaking, when God makes His presence and voice known, the response is always fear and trembling. His presence evokes fear because then we are in the presence of pure holiness.

God spoke out of the cloud. When the apostle Peter rehearsed this extraordinary event some 35 years later, he wrote that the Voice came from heaven – "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' – and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain" (2 Pe. 2:17,18). In speaking, God, first, acknowledged and authenticated the person of Jesus – "This is My Son, My Chosen One." God put His seal on the true identity of Jesus. God confessed that Jesus is the holy offspring, very God and very God. Further, God confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed deliverer, the one through whom salvation would come. God, in identifying the true identity of Jesus, confirmed Peter's immediately previous confession of Luke 9:20 (cf. Mt. 16:16). That which was internally revealed to Peter was now externally revealed to him.

In speaking, God, second, approved Christ's calling and His ministry. God divinely sanctioned and endorsed the words and teachings of Christ as authoritative and necessary. Christ's words and teachings are the foundation of the new spiritual society. In effect, with this divine utterance, with this declarative speaking by God, the Mosaic era – the Old Testament Law – came to an end. It was supplanted by the new law (i.e., teachings) of Christ. We have anticipation of this fact with the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. For instance, Matthew 5:21a,22a reads, "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER'...But I say to you ...;" again, Matthew 5:27,28a, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you..."

Christ's words and teaching (through His own mouth, and by His Spirit through the mouths of His apostles) are our 'Law', which alone is morally and spiritually binding upon us, and not the Old Testament teachings. There are some who say, "Well, I keep the ten commandments, and that makes me acceptable before God;" or, "The ten commandments and the Old Testament are still binding upon us and we should live by them." I do not think so. We can be encouraged, and even instructed and guided, by the contents of the Old Testament, but in terms of a 'Law' which is necessary for covenant community establishment, the Mosaic law has become obsolete. If you, my friend, are living according to the Old Covenant, basing your salvation, in some sense, on keeping the ten commandments, you will perish. If you have set yourself to keep the Old covenant, then you must keep it perfectly. If you falter, at one point, you are sunk (Jas. 2:10ff.). God thunders to you and to me, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!"

This utterance of God ended the disciples' mountain top experience – "And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen" (9:36). The disciples kept the event secret until the resurrection and ascension of Christ, for only then would the report be accepted and fully appreciated. To report the event at this particular time would have created misunderstanding and reaction. Furthermore, Jesus typically deterred attracting attention to Himself because His 'time had not come' (see Jn. 7:6-8).

But the point is this: God spoke for a moment in time, but the words resound throughout history. What God spoke on Mount Sinai has faded and disappeared. What God spoke on the mount of transfiguration continues to speak. In this connection, we read, "See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking; for if those did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven, and His voice shook the earth then [Mount Sinai], but now He has promised saying, 'YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN'" (Hb. 12:25,26). That heavenly, earthshaking speaking began with the coming of Christ. Do you hear the declarative speaking of God? He says now to you, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!"