The disciples could not bear the thought of crucifixion. They dreamed of worldly honors and temporal rewards in their Master’s service. They did not understand that true Christians, like Christ, must be made perfect through sufferings. Hence our Lord’s solemn teaching.
If men follow Christ they must make up their minds to trouble and self-denial (v. 24). It is good for us to see this point clearly. The flesh must be crucified daily. The devil must be resisted daily. The world must be overcome daily. There is a warfare to be waged and a battle to be fought. All this is the inseparable accompaniment of true religion. Heaven is not to be won without it. Never was there a truer word than the old saying: ‘No cross, no crown!’
There is nothing so precious as a man’s soul (v. 26). Our Lord teaches this lesson by asking one of the most solemn questions that the New Testament contains, which ought to sound in our ears like a trumpet whenever we are tempted to neglect our eternal interests. He reminds us that there is nothing so precious as a man’s soul. There is nothing that money can buy, or man can give, to be named in comparison with our souls. The world and all that is in it is temporal. It is all fading, perishing, and passing away. The soul is eternal. That one single word ‘eternal’ is the key to the whole question. Let it sink down deeply into our hearts.
The Second Coming is the time when Christ’s people shall receive their rewards (v. 27). Our Lord knows the heart of man. He knows how soon we are ready to be discouraged. He therefore holds out a gracious promise reminding us that when He comes we shall receive good things. The bitter must come before the sweet, the cross before the crown, humiliation before glory, but it shall come.
We have seen the necessity of taking up our cross and denying ourselves. Have we? We have heard of the value of a soul. Do we live as if we believed it? We have heard of Christ’s second advent. Do we anticipate it with joy?
We have in these verses a striking pattern of the glory in which Christ and His people will appear when He comes the second time. There can be little doubt that this was one of the main objects of this vision. It was meant to encourage the disciples by giving them a glimpse of good things yet to come. That ‘face shining as the sun’ and ‘raiment white as the light’ were intended to give the disciples some idea of the majesty in which Jesus will appear to the world when He comes the second time. The corner of the veil was lifted up to show them the Master’s true dignity. They were taught that if He did not yet appear in the guise of a King it was only because the time for putting on royal apparel was not yet come. This is what Peter says (2 Peter 1:16).
We have reason to thank God for this vision. We are often tempted to give up Christ’s service because of the cross and affliction which it entails. We see few with us and many against us. We find our names cast out as evil, and all manner of evil said of us because we believe and love the gospel. Year after year we see our companions in Christ’s service removed by death, and we feel as if we knew little about them except that they are gone to an unknown world and that we are left alone. All these things are trying to flesh and blood. No wonder that the faith of believers sometimes languishes and their eyes fail while they look for their hope.
Let us see in the story of the transfiguration a remedy for such doubting thoughts as these. The vision of the holy mount is a gracious pledge that glorious things are in store for the people of God. Their crucified Saviour shall come again in power and great glory. His saints shall all come with Him and are in safe keeping until that happy day. We may wait patiently (Col. 3:4).
Part of this glory was actually seen by the three competent witnesses on the mount. One of them records this fact (John 1:14). Such witnesses may be surely believed.
How dependent Christ’s disciples are on the company of their Master and His help! When our Lord comes down from the mount, He finds His little flock in confusion. His nine apostles were besieged by a party of malicious scribes and baffled in an attempt to heal one possessed by a devil. The very disciples who a short time before had done many miracles and cast out many devils now met with a case too hard for them. They were learning by humbling experience that without Christ they could do nothing (John 15:5). It was useful lesson, no doubt, and overruled to their spiritual good, but it was a bitter lesson at the time. How much we learn from such lessons! We do not love to learn that we can do nothing without Christ.
We need not look too far to see many illustrations of this truth in the history of God’s people in every age. The very men who at one time have done great exploits in the cause of the gospel at another time have failed entirely and proved weak and unstable as water. Some great Reformers temporarily recanted under pressure. The holiest and best of Christians have nothing that they have not received. They have only to provoke the Lord to leave them for a season and they will soon discover that their power is gone. Like Samson when his hair was shorn, they become weak like other men.
Let us learn a lesson of humility from the failure of the disciples. Let us strive every day to realize our need of the grace and the presence of Christ. With Him we may do all things (Phil. 4:13). With Him we may overcome the greatest temptations. Without Him the least may overcome us. Every morning we need to pray that He will not leave us to ourselves but that His presence might go with us, for we do not know what will happen in any day.”
-From J.C. Ryle’s (1816-1900) Expository Thoughts; Found in Daily Readings From All Four Gospels Published by Evangelical Press Auburn, MA 2001 July 8, 9, 12 Devotions