The Horizon of Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Transfiguration

Especially for those who join us for the first time in this conference, let me say that we are, in these gatherings, moving within God's eternal appointment of His Son, our Lord Jesus as the "Horizon" - the utmost range of all His activities and His interests, to comprehend everything in His Son and to make His Son the nature and character of everything. This was established before the world was.

This Divine decision was the cause of an upheaval: first in heaven; a revolt and a rupture which brought its repercussions into creation, to man, and had its fruit there in the rupture in earth between man and God. God commenced in history to move on the line of His Son in spiritual principle and law. The Old Testament is a record of God so moving. On the one side: by discipline to undo the mischief, and on the other side: to constitute according to His own mind. The Old Testament closes in failure. The people chosen and dealt with on that Divine purpose failed God.

And then, in the fullness of the times, God sent forth His Son made in the likeness of sinful flesh, the embodiment of all His thoughts and intentions, and the expression of His own Nature to which He will conform all those who come into the way of the Son, the way of a complete repudiation of all rebellion, of all departure, of all insubmission and insubordination. The way of the Son is utter capitulation to the will of God.

God will proceed with His two-fold work in a new spiritual nation in this dispensation, not an earthly nation this time, but a spiritual nation. We call it the Church, or the New Testament calls it the Church, leave the title for the moment and see it as this new people chosen by God to be the vessel in which all His thoughts, as summed up in His Son, are to find expression. And in the end, the whole creation will manifest the nature of His Son, to be entirely governed by that character. That, in brief, in a very few words, is what has occupied us now for these two days.

We have been latterly looking at some of those epochs in the life of the Lord Jesus, which are related to this great purpose of God. They are like a series of mountain peaks: the birth - touched by heaven, the baptism - touched by heaven, the temptation in the wilderness - reaching far beyond the wilderness and this earth, out into the cosmic realm of the prince of this world.

Tonight, we come to the next peak: the transfiguration. We must note that from each of these peaks, the next one comes into view in related sequence. That is, when you contemplate the birth of the Lord Jesus, its meaning, purpose, nature, and associations, it is not difficult to foresee that the time will come in the life of that Child when a great act of renunciation, a great act of committal, a great act of utter yieldedness to the will of God on redemptive lines will come about. And so surely, the baptism is related to the birth as the sequel of the birth. The baptism is His full and complete committal to the will of the Father. From that point, by the descending Spirit upon Him, to abide upon Him, to rest upon Him, He was bound as a bondservant to the will of the Father. It is not difficult to see from that peak of the baptism that it is all going to be very definitely challenged. The sequel, the sequel to that committal is going to be conflict and not only personal conflict, but cosmic conflict. The whole world and its surroundings are going to be involved; kingdoms of this world and their ruler will become involved in this committal of the baptism. And so, in quite natural sequence, from the baptism we move to the temptation in the wilderness.

The issue of that, we read, was: "Then Jesus returned full of the Holy Spirit, in the power of the Spirit" returned from the wilderness to take up His work to which He had there committed Himself, the battle for which He had initially gained the victory. It was not the end of the battle. It is impressive that the end of that temptation is then, "the devil leaveth Him for a season." You can almost see the devil defeated, crestfallen, looking over his shoulder and saying, 'But I'll be back again; I'll be back again.' So it was, many times, right to the hour of His death on the Cross. The battle was started.

Now we come to the transfiguration, as the next mountain peak. You will like to have the sixteenth and seventeenth chapters of the Gospel by Matthew open before you. You will want to check me up as I go along, for there it is. The transfiguration is not an isolated incident in the life of the Lord Jesus, it is a link in the chain, and it must be seen from the standpoint of the temptation. You cannot understand rightly and sufficiently the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus, unless you do view it in light of the temptation in the wilderness; because, for one thing, the transfiguration was a climax. It was a climax and it was also the beginning of a new phase. There is a very real and true sense in which, at this point, so far as He Himself was concerned, it could have been the end of the journey. He could have gone through into glory. We will come back to that again in a minute.

This is the climax of all that has preceded: it is Christ glorified. That is the climax, the end. That is the ultimate issue of birth, for which He was born, of committal for which He so utterly surrendered Himself, of trial and temptation, conflict and suffering of soul. The climax had to be glory, so far as He Himself was concerned; and if it had been just Himself, that would have been the end of His earthly story. I am saying you have to see it in another context and connection as the beginning of a new phase as well as the end of one. The new phase is not only personal - it is a way that He need never have gone for Himself.

Well, let us look at this. It is a great pity that these chapters are divided into sixteen and seventeen, only for convenience, but certainly very inconvenient for understanding. They ought to run right on without any break. And it is to be noted that the three writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, all record this, and all put it at the same point in the life of the Lord Jesus, and all give the same associated features. They do not do that about everything, but in this they do. And there is, therefore, something to take account of in that fact. Do you notice how the thing begins?

It begins in verse 13:

"Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, 'Who do men say that the Son of Man is? Or that I, the Son of Man is?' And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.' He saith unto them, 'But who say ye that I am?' And Simon Peter answered and said, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.'"

Everything for the future hung upon Who Jesus was. That is basic to everything, the key to everything, and He knew it. And until that was established by Him, and that was settled, He couldn't go any further.

Who Jesus Was, Who Jesus Is

"Who do men say that I am? Who do you say that I am?" There is a very, very deep reason for that seemingly strange question. No one else in the human race dare talk like that. What would you think of any man who said, 'Who do you think I am?' 'Who do people say that I am?' 'What do you say about me?' Well, we just would not tolerate it, would we? No, but He could do it because He knew how much hung upon their recognition of Who He was. Everything! God had made Him (and He knew it) the Horizon of everything.

It is very necessary therefore, for those who are to be within that Horizon to know the identity and the character of the One Who forms that Horizon. Something has got to be done that is going to survive a terrible ordeal. You'll see that in a minute. And the only thing that will survive the ordeal through which they were about to pass, and through which all of us will have to pass, is the real inward knowledge of Who the Lord Jesus is; an adequate knowledge, a clear and definite knowledge. If we have any doubts about Him, we will not survive if we are not clear on this matter. It may sound foolish to be talking to Christians like this, but you'll see in a minute that there was a very, very good reason for talking to these disciples like this. At the moment the point is that He had to challenge them on this matter as to His Person; had to draw out from them a committal; a confession and a committal. Simon got it by revelation, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Very well, very well.

Notice what follows immediately. The next step:

"From that time Jesus began to show unto His disciples, how that He must go up to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up. And Peter... took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall never be unto Thee.'"

Peter was saying, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Nothing like that could happen to You!"

Now, here is a terribly, disconcerting thing on the part of the Lord. He has drawn out this confession. He has established Himself in His identity with them as the Son of the living God, and now, in this most disconcerting way, right at that point, He begins to talk about going to Jerusalem, and being treated in this shameful way, and being crucified. It is quite clear that the very pronouncement itself challenged the confession and went right to the heart of this declaration. The Son of the living God, into the hands of men, to be treated like this! How could that be? How could it be? It was a terrible shock to these men, make no mistake about it, such a shock that Peter lost his morale. So he took Him, and began to rebuke Him. It was such a shock that Peter at that moment fell out of the Lord, into the way of the devil.

"Jesus turned, and said unto Peter, 'Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art a stumbling-block unto Me: for thou mindest not the things of God, but the things of men.'"

What a fall! What a shock it must have been, after having made a confession like that, to have this stunning statement about Jerusalem, and what would happen there.

"And after six days, Jesus taketh with Him Peter, Peter, and James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart: and He was transfigured before them."

How gracious! How merciful! How redeeming! How saving! How confirming!

Shall we pause and put something in parenthesis, something we said this afternoon in another connection? How often it is when a committal has been made to a challenge from the Lord, a surrender to His will, to His way, to His purpose, that submission and that acceptance of the will of God - a position has been taken, a stand has been made, and we have declared ourselves. Declared ourselves. How often it is, that here comes something so soon afterward that is absolutely disconcerting, so that the vision fades. All that, all that which came from the open heaven - "flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven" that which came by way of an open heaven seems to have come into eclipse. Now the whole picture has changed; the glory, the wonder and ecstasy, to suffering and sorrow and disappointment and loss. And we would say, "Tragedy! Was it all true? Was it all right?"

Now dear friends, this is very true to spiritual history. It is true to individual spiritual history, and it is true in the history of the Church and the churches. God gives a revelation, a vista, a presentation, He opens up heavenly revelation concerning His Son and there is a reaction of acceptance, of embracing, and committal, of testimony. And then there comes a phase and a period, the features and characteristics of which are so difficult and so dark that you wonder if ever it was the truth, if ever it really was God's truth at all, or have you not accepted some illusion, something which for the time was very wonderful, but now... is it right, is it all right?

Have you gone that way? A time when you seem to be just disintegrated, torn to pieces, you don't know what to say. You think this is all wrong, like Peter, "This is all wrong! It can't be right. It is so contrary to what we were led to expect, so altogether other than the vision that we embraced. The wonder, the glory of the Lord Jesus, why, it broke upon our hearts as from heaven and we committed ourselves. And now, and now... has it all gone?" The dark clouds gathered over it and you are asking questions as to the past, whether it was right, whether it was true, whether it was of man or just yourself and your own response. Every revelation of the Lord Jesus will be sooner or later subjected to a tremendous test under trial, the trial of seeming eclipse, when you can doubt it all.

Now, what is the point of the transfiguration? Calvary is not the end. The Cross is not the end. The darkness, the shadows are not the end. The testing and the trial and the suffering, the eclipse of everything is not the end. The end is glory! The end is magnificence. The Lord Jesus just puts the transfiguration off. God the Father puts the transfiguration there. I don't know that the Lord Jesus went up into the mountain knowing that He was going to be transfigured. He just withdrew into the mountains. One of the writers said it was for prayer with His disciples and while He was there, He was transfigured. But God took this in hand, to show that although there must be this pain of the Cross, this terrible thing as represented by Jerusalem, all that was centered in Jerusalem. That is not the end! It is not the suffering and the shame and the reproach that is the Horizon of God. It is the glory of His Son! His Son glorified. On the way to that, you may go by Calvary, but the end is transfiguration.

And do not forget, dear friends, that this transfiguration of the Lord Jesus has a counterpart in believers. Paul, writing his second letter to the Corinthians said, "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory." The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says the same thing in other words, "We see Jesus crowned with glory and honor... bringing many sons to glory." Peter, so many years after this, wrote his letters. He has got through the darkness now, through the clouds, through the shadows, got through all the perplexity, and he said, "And this voice we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount... and there came from the excellent glory such a word..." He sees it all clear now, not beclouded by the Cross. The transfiguration is there, not only as an isolated incident or epoch in the life of the Son of Man, it is there as representing the "Horizon" of God for all His redeemed ones, transformed and transfigured and glorified with His Glory.

Let us believe, let us ask the Lord to strengthen us to believe, that if all that to which we did commit ourselves - in the full belief that it was heaven's revelation to us - has passed into the shadows and the clouds, surrounded with questions and difficulties and seems no longer to be so gloriously real as it once was, there is a meaning in this phase, but the end is not this phase: the end is the glory, the mountain top of transfiguration. Christ transfigured is the Horizon for God's redeemed creation! Nothing less than that, whatever may intervene in the meantime.

But here, while that ultimate Horizon is brought into view as glory, the way to its realization is the way of the Cross.

It is the Way of the Cross

It cannot be otherwise. But this is something to note: when you or we really do get something from God, it really does come from God, if it could truly be said that "flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father" - if it is not just a mental apprehension which will not stand up to the ordeal, it is not just an acceptance of and assent to some doctrine, some truth which will not carry us through, but if it can be said truly, if it is a fact that the thing came from God to our hearts, right from God the Father, something is done. Something is done and there may be a period of dark eclipse, deep sorrow and suffering and perplexity and bewilderment, but that something done will survive. It will come back again.

Look at Peter as representative. He got it from the Father, but the very story of Jerusalem thoroughly threw him off his balance, disconcerted him, broke him to pieces, and then, the fact of the Cross. It's an awful story isn't it, we read it this afternoon, that story in the court of the high priest, the so-hard denial, the forsaking, it is a terrible story. The ordeal is a terrible one. The Cross is something most devastating to the natural man, but something has been done, put within, that is going to come up again out of that depth and survive. And Peter will forget the intervening darkness, and the mount of transfiguration and his own spiritual position will be linked. "And this voice we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount," and there is no reference at all to what came between to Jerusalem. He is himself on that spiritual mount, or on that mount spiritually now. You read his letters; full of glory, full of glory and full of grace. It's like that, something has been done. This is, this is why the Cross must come in, or one of the reasons why this devastating experience must come, to find out and prove that God has done something in us.

If you and I can go back upon anything that we in the past have called a revelation from God, something shown us by the Lord, and we can just throw it overboard and write it off and say, 'Well, that belongs to the past; it does not hold good any longer.' Let it be understood that that never came into us by revelation of the Holy Ghost. You cannot, you cannot depart from something that God has done in you. No matter what the trial, the testing, yes, the devastation; of pain, perhaps long drawn-out, you cannot depart from it, it is something done. It is yourself, it has become a part of you! You cannot say, 'Well, I have left that now' or 'I have gone beyond that now' or 'That is something that I once thought was very good, but I can dispense with that now.' Nothing that comes from God, even though it might be in first stages, elementary things, on which you have got to move forward, nothing in the future cancels out anything that God has done.

So, I see this man crying with his committal and confession, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And then I see that same man broken, shattered, devastated; and then I see that man afterward: transfigured. The thing that was done on that mount has, perhaps not in his consciousness during the ordeal, has nevertheless, survived the ordeal. That is how it must be.

Oh, do take that to heart. Do take it to heart. It will be the test of reality, whether it has been real, or imitation, artificial, something less than revelation into our very being. Can you give it up? Can you let it go? Can you discard it? Can you write it off? Can you write it down? Then God Almighty never revealed that to your heart. It can, it will hold fast, though it may all seem to have gone, it will come back with glory. This is the foundation which is laid deeper, deeper than our human frailty; deeper than Peter's human frailty. Say all that you like about Peter, and his weakness and breakdown and all that, yes, it is all true, all true and Peter would be the first to confess and admit it, but something has been done deeper than human frailty. Thank God! If it were left to us, it would be a poor look out for the truth. God must do something that is stronger than all the forces in us and outside of us and triumph.

Now then, we close. And you can see in the last phase of this transfiguration the great principle coming up again. The great principle of the Horizon and its realization. We have said that had it been for the Lord Jesus Himself personally and alone, that could have been His way into glory. Other men, on lesser ground have gone into glory, the two men who appeared with Him on this mount. Moses had not seen death when he had gone into glory, went into glory. Elijah was caught up in a chariot of fire. They went in, but they never made anything perfect. They went away with their work still imperfect. They had their personal reward of glory. Alright, it's quite good to have a personal reward of glory, but at that point, when He could have gone through, and you know that some translators translate that word, "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despised the shame" some translate it, "Who instead of the joy set before Him, endured the Cross," and whether the translation is correct or not, the fact is there, at that very point when on His own account, by His own merit, in His own right He could have gone through... the glorified Son of Man. He turned around from the glory and came down. You know what was there, at the foot of the mount don't you? A world in suffering, in sorrow, in misery, a devil-torn world. He turned round and came down, renounced the glory again. He said, 'No' to the open door into heaven for Himself, and in effect said, 'I cannot accept that Alone. I must bring many sons to share it with Me. I must go down, for that is why I came. God's Horizon is not Myself individually and personally.' It never is with any of us. God's Horizon is mankind to be brought to glory.

So He came down, accepted the Cross, accepted all that shame and that sorrow, that ignominy. We are more amazed every time we read the story of His trial and death and all that accompanied it and then think: "This is God Incarnate! This is the Lord of Glory! This is the Prince of Life! This is the Eternal Son of God!" Oh, it is beyond us. But why? Simply because He knew that He had not come for His own glory, He had come for the glory of His Father, which was to be manifested in the mankind that He had made. God had made man and God is not going to be satisfied to have all men as they are. He will only be satisfied when men are glorified. Men can refuse to be glorified and accept God's Horizon, they can refuse Christ as God's realm and sphere and miss it all.

And you and I, dear friends, are called, says the Word "unto His Eternal Glory." And that is where the Father will be satisfied; "and having committed Himself to the will and pleasure of the Father," He has come down from the mount of all personal satisfaction. That is the principle, the servant-spirit for the Father, for men. The servant spirit, shall we be formed with it, we repeat, when the great end is finally reached and all things, as the Word says, are gathered together, summed up in Christ, when God reaches that end where everything is not only Horizoned as a range, but as a character by the Lord Jesus. The chief, the chief feature and characteristic of heaven will be this abandonment to serving one another and serving. That is what it will be.

I like to think that it is be like that, that it will be like that, with everybody thinking of what they can do for somebody without any thought for what they are going to get out of it, either praise or exaltation or reputation or reward or anything else, just abandoned to the interests of one another all the time, for the Lord's sake, for the Lord. This is foreshadowed in the Word. We are told to begin that now, everything as unto the Lord, in the Church as unto the Lord.

Well, may the Lord bless His Word.

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