When Peter arrived with James and John on the mount of transfiguration, he wanted to stay. “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4, NKJV). Peter didn’t know what he was saying for fear (Mark 9:6). Some people ridicule Peter, but he was right. It was good for them to be on the mountain.
Here the three disciples glimpsed Christ’s heavenly glory, as John did again on the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1:12-16). They also saw Moses and Elijah, who eagerly talked with Jesus about his impending death in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). Moses prefigures the saints asleep in Jesus, while Elijah prefigures the rapture. The disciples also heard the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5) – just as He had done at Jesus’ baptism (3:17).
The mount of transfiguration is most likely Mount Hermon, a 9200-foot mountain that straddles the border between Lebanon and Syria. In Hebrew Hermon means “sanctuary”; its root words mean to “destroy” and “prohibit for common use.” The idea is spiritual consecration through worship. In Hebrew Lebanon means “whiteness” and its root means to purify. On his high and holy mountain, God makes us whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7, Isaiah 1:18). Here Christ calls us to worship him and offer spiritual sacrifices. Here he will purify, anoint, and consecrate us. David encapsulates this experience in Psalm 133, where he compares God’s people dwelling in unity with the blessed dew on Mount Hermon.
Mount Hermon is a lovely place. So why did Jesus return to the valley? He knew he had to die on a cross in Jerusalem to save the world from sin. Once again he told them of his impending death: “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead” (Matthew 17:9, NKJV). Jesus told his disciples the same thing in Caesarea Philippi. Peter rebuked his Lord then: “This shall not happen to you!” (16:22). He didn’t rebuke Jesus this time. Yet I wonder if Peter’s request to stay on the mountain was just another attempt to save Jesus from the cross.
Mount Hermon is a few miles north of Caesarea Philippi in Israel. Here Peter declared, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus said in response, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (16:18). Why “gates of hell”? Jesus was giving spiritual significance to a local attraction. In ancient times, this town was a center of heathen worship. People thought Pan, a Greek god of victory who created panic in his enemies, lived nearby and had a cave that opened to the underworld. When Jesus said “gates of hell,” he may have been looking at this cave. He knew what he was doing!
Jesus brought his disciples to Caesarea Philippi to give them an object lesson. He wanted them to know what the sinner’s life without Christ looks like and who faithless people think he is: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets – anyone except the Son of God (Matthew 16:13-16). Jesus may even have taken his disciples to the mythical cave of Pan. Although his transfiguration on Mount Hermon was a wonderful experience, it was never as important to Jesus as Caesarea Philippi. That’s why he brought his disciples there first.
The name “Jesus Christ” means “anointed Savior” in Greek. Jesus’ one mission on this earth was evangelism, seeking and saving the lost from eternity in hell and making them worshippers of God “in spirit and in truth” (Luke 19:10, John 4:21-24). The road from Bethlehem and Nazareth led to a bloody cross outside Jerusalem. Since his ascension, that mission has not changed!
Jesus wants us to do what he did: face the “gates of hell” in our lives and rescue the lost. This is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). However, Jesus knows that we can’t fulfill the task of evangelism without spiritual preparation and he doesn’t expect us to. If we try, we’ll flee when Satan comes against us! No person can face a demonic force alone. A divine task requires divine power. Its source is Mount Hermon, a place that signifies much more than worship.
Ancient heathen nations called this place Sirion, which means “breastplate” in Hebrew and Shenir, which in Hebrew means “snow mountain” or “coat of mail” (Deuteronomy 3:9). These terms denote armor for battle. When we worship Christ on Mount Hermon and he consecrates and anoints us as a result, what is he really doing? Jesus is putting spiritual armor on us: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:14-17).
The transfiguration and blessing that Jesus received on Mount Hermon gave him the spiritual power he needed to defeat Satan on the cross. The Mount Hermons in our own lives are spiritual preparation for rescuing sinners from hell, doing Christ’s work in his power. This is the secret to becoming spiritual warriors for the kingdom of God. First, we must go down to Caesarea Philippi and see the “gates of hell.” We must see for ourselves the deadly physical and spiritual costs of sin. Then we must go up to Mount Hermon, worship Jesus in his sanctuary, and receive spiritual anointing and power. Here we put on the full armor of God. Then we must return to Caesarea Philippi and battle the “gates of hell” in order to snatch lost sheep from Satan.
We like to ridicule Peter about wanting to stay and make tabernacles, but we’re just like him. When we arrive on Mount Hermon in our spiritual lives, we want to be with Jesus and experience all he has for us. In our spirit we tell God, “Let us never leave your presence.” We also want to make tabernacles! The desire to worship is good, but we can’t make camp. Our wanting to stay shows that we have forgotten the Great Commission, the sinners we’re supposed to love, witness to, and pray for – people who live daily near the “gates of hell.”
Sometimes we experience a good worship service, Bible study, or prayer meeting at church or in our homes. Sometimes we attend revivals. These divine encounters are like traveling to Mount Hermon. But we can’t stay there. Sinners are dying.
Sadly, some people make the Mount Hermon experience a way of life. They go up the mountain, worship Christ in his sanctuary, and never leave. They isolate themselves for decades. This was the crucial mistake of the Essenes in Jesus’ day and later millions of Roman Catholics in their cells, monasteries, and convents. People isolated themselves in mountains and caves and never left! Martin Luther forsook this way of life after conversion. He married and then preached the gospel to the lost. We must be like Luther and all those who have followed him. The Christian life of seeking the kingdom of God is not spiritual hibernation!
Jesus told his disciples to “tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, NKJV). Nearly 120 people gathered in an upper room for a week and prayed to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:15). Without him, they couldn’t preach the gospel or withstand Satan. But they didn’t stay in the upper room either! By this time, Peter had learned from the example of Christ. He preached the gospel on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were saved (2:41). Paul stayed in the Arabian Desert after his conversion (Galatians 1:17). Then he returned to Damascus and preached the gospel.
We can’t stay on Mount Hermon. Instead, we must use our experiences as spiritual equipping for evangelism – rescuing lost sheep from hell and leading them to Jesus Christ. We must return to Caesarea Philippi and enter the marketplace. We must go into the “highways and hedges and compel” people to come (Luke 14:23). Like Christ, we must seek and save the lost (19:10).