Reading: Matthew 16:13-Matthew 17.
In chapter 16, we have the Lord questioning the disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" (v.13). We have their various replies, and then Peter's declaration, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Then we read what the Lord said in reply as to the source of that revelation. And after that the great word about the church which brings the church fully forward for the first time in the New Testament: "I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." The two are brought together, the church and the kingdom; the church being the embodiment of the kingdom in its laws, principles and nature. Here is heaven governing where the church is concerned; it is heavenly government in and through the church.
"Then charged He the disciples that they should tell no man that He was the Christ. From that time began Jesus to show unto his disciples that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed." Then came the reaction to that from the disciples, and what the Lord saw of Satan behind their reaction. "Get thee behind me, Satan."
Now verse 28: "Verily I say unto you, There are some of them that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. And after six days Jesus takes with Him Peter, and James, and John his brother, and brings them up into a high mountain apart: and He was transfigured before them" (Matt. 17:1-2). There ought not to be a break between Matthew 16 and 17. It is one of the very unfortunate things that have happened by dividing up in this way, because in this arrangement Matthew 17:1 is the continuation and the complement of Matthew 16:28. "There are some of them that stand here, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom", and after six days, with the Mount of Transfiguration it is revealed what that coming kingdom would be like.
We are on the mountain again with the Lord; we have seen that Jerusalem is now, in the earthly sense, being set aside. Another Jerusalem, a heavenly one, has appeared: the church, taking up all these spiritual features symbolised in the earthly and embodying the meaning of the kingdom of the heavens.
The Vision of the Glorified Son of Man
What does all that mean? What is this for the future? I think we can call it 'the heavenly vision'. If you look at Matthew 17:9, you have this: "Jesus commanded them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead." What then does that heavenly vision include? Well, first of all, that very title which He uses of Himself is indicative. "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" "Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead." That title gives us the significance of the range of Christ. You need to turn to the letter to the Hebrews again to understand that. In Hebrews 2:6-18 the Lord Jesus is brought right before us, and then appeal is made to the eighth Psalm, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and crownest him with glory and honour. Thou makest him to have dominion over the work of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet" (Psa. 8:4-6).
"But now we see not yet all things subjected to him. But we behold Him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus... crowned with glory and honour" (Heb. 2:8,9); Jesus, the Son of Man, crowned with glory and honour. And Peter, many years afterwards, thinking back to the Mount of Transfiguration, says, "He received from God the Father honour and glory, when there was borne such a voice to Him by the Majestic Glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: and this voice we ourselves heard borne out of heaven, when we were with Him in the holy mount" (2 Pet. 1:17-18). Peter is referring back to Matthew, to the Son of Man in the Mount crowned with glory and honour. It brings to us this: that God's thought for man is here seen in its full realisation in Him who has become the inclusive representative of man, the inclusive Son of Man representing man as God intended, and still intends him to be, as God intends that one, new, corporate, comprehensive Man to be, "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
On the Mount of Transfiguration we see, so to speak, the Son of Man reaching right back towards the Fall and taking up the divine thought for man, bridging that long gap from the divine conception to the divine realisation, bridging all that came in with the failure of man, taking up the divine thought and realising it in Himself, and then throwing on to the future that representation of God's thought in perfection and saying in effect that this is how it will be when God reaches His end; He will have a race like this. Do you see Him on the Mount of Transfiguration? That is how it is going to be corporately, collectively, when God realises His first intention concerning man. It is going to be like this - a glorified humanity.
Christ Expressed in the Church
And now this comes in concerning the church, or the church comes in concerning this. It is all of a piece. It is this heavenly church. Oh, not the church that you and I are all too sadly familiar with, not what is called 'the church' down here. No, but that church which God has ever had in mind, which He can see. What is it? Well, it is Christ expressing Himself through countless members of one Body. It is Christ corporate, that is all, but eventually Christ corporate, glorified, transfigured. That is God's intention, God's thought. And here, in this figurative, heavenly place on the Mount, the high mountain, there is a revelation given which is the heavenly vision.
You know exactly how that worked out later. It was when they saw Christ risen, ascended, glorified, saw Him by the Spirit; when they saw that great, eternal, vast thought of God concerning His Son, it was then that things became marvelous and effective, down here in the gathering of the living stones, the material for building that church. It was then lifted right away from all poor, earthly conceptions of the church as an organization and an institution and something down here. In the case of the apostle Paul, when he saw the Lord Jesus in glory on that memorable day in his life, it was then that he was overwhelmed, not just with the single idea of Jesus as a unit, Jesus of Nazareth of whom he had heard down here, but now as a glorified Person. That was big enough to smash him to pieces and all his earthly system as well. What he came into at that time, as he makes perfectly clear, was that this Christ is comprehensive. He is not just a single man; all those whom Paul was persecuting were, in effect, Christ. "Why persecutest thou Me?" (Acts 9:4). They are Christ. All that comes through that apostle later on that line, had its beginning there; the seed of the vast meaning and significance of Christ was dropped into his heart on the Damascus road, and he went away to the desert to get hold of that, to grasp it, to wrestle with this overwhelming thing. And it was that heavenly vision that broke all his national barriers, all earthly departmentalism of race and everything else, and made him [part of] the great comprehensive Man, Christ inclusive. Paul saw the heavenly vision, which meant not only Jesus as an individual glorified, but he saw in that Individual the elect church comprehended and what its heavenly calling, heavenly vocation and heavenly destiny is. "A glorious church" (Eph. 5:27); that is how he puts it at the end of the Ephesian letter, the document which most fully brings the church into view. "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself up for it; that He might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that He might present the church to Himself a glorious church", a church of glory. That is the Mount of Transfiguration.
Has he not already said to the Corinthians, "We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed." It is the same word, transfigured "into the same image" (2 Cor. 3:18). Eventually the transfiguration will be complete, and the church will be a glorious church. That is all here in the heavenly vision.
For a time that vision became eclipsed because the men were not on heavenly ground. However, after the cross, by which the earthly ground was cut away, they came onto heavenly ground, and it was that vision which governed them. It was that conception of Christ comprehensive which lay behind all their living and serving. It was indeed a glorified Christ crowned with glory and honour. The word of Psalm 8 was undoubtedly meant to refer to the first Adam; he missed it and now it is taken up by the last Adam, crowned with glory. He is the first of this heavenly race, this heavenly kingdom.
"Crowned with Glory and Honour"
What is glory? It is simply the outshining of the essential nature of this new Christ. It is not just an endowment from without. It is the manifestation of what is within. In Christ's case that is undoubtedly true. The true, divine nature burst forth. The glory is seen to be inherent in the very nature.
He has given us His own divine Life, and while we in ourselves are not as He, not being the original vessels of the divine nature, He has given divine Life to be within us. Eventually that divine life, if it has its way and is not frustrated by disobedience, will show itself in the same way and break out in glory. The word of the apostle regarding that is very simple: "...when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be marvelled at in all them that believed" (2 Thess. 1:10). It is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). At some time Christ is going to blaze out and betray the hidden secret of our spiritual life in glory. People will look on and say, I never thought they were that kind of people, that that was possible where they were concerned. Now, you and I are anything but glorified people, but there is resident within us that power which one day will manifest itself in glory. We have little intimations of that sometimes. We say we have had a touch of heaven on earth, times of blessed fellowship with the Lord and with one another, and we say, This is a bit of glory and something breaks up inside! It is a spiritual sense of glory. But think of that in overwhelming fulness. That is the destiny of the church - "the fulness of Him that fills all in all" (Eph. 1:23).
"Crowned with glory and honour". Those two things are the reverse of corruption. Glory over against corruption, honour over against shame. Let me close here for the moment with this. The church is not a theme, it is not a doctrine, a teaching, it is not a subject in the Bible. You can have all the teaching and all the doctrine and know all that the Bible says about it, be conversant with all the theories of the church, and there be no glory or Life about it. The church is not a subject to be studied or a doctrine to be taught. The church is a Person to be manifested; it is Christ.
And no one really knows anything about the church until they have seen Christ by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Do not ask to see the church and do not ask others if they have seen the church. There is a lot of that sort of language going on - have you seen the church, the truth of the Body? Oh, the Lord deliver us from that sort of thing! Have you seen Christ? If you have seen Christ, you have seen something more than just a Person. Great, vast and wonderful as the Person is, that Person signifies something more than Himself as an isolated unit. He represents and signifies a vast, elect company to come to His likeness, to be conformed to His Image. It is only as we really see Christ in a spiritual heavenly way that we know anything about the church in truth. So do not begin to study the doctrine of the church, and be very careful how you take hold of any teaching about the church. Always remember that you can never have that in a living way unless you are seeing Christ, and for the expression of the church we have to keep on seeing Christ. It is to be the manifestation of Christ.
You may have none of the doctrine, teaching, theory, and yet be in the good of the reality of seeing the Lord. Far better to have it that way than to have all the technique and not to have seen the Lord. It is on heavenly ground that He is seen, and that Mount is a marvellously comprehensive Mount. It goes right back to those eternal counsels of the Godhead before man was created, in their deliberations, counsels and conceptions as to the meaning of the creation which they were about to bring into being, and man was its centre; and right on to the eternity yet to be the realization of that, and it is fixed upon that Mount. It is a tremendous Mount, and it is tremendous to come up into a heavenly place and see the Lord, and, while that may sound external and somewhat remote and far away, it simply is what happens when the Holy Spirit gets a full way in us. It is what happened on the day of Pentecost, it is what happens whenever Christ becomes absolutely Lord and Master in a life. The sovereign Lordship of Christ as Head is the secret of everything else.