Friday, February 04, 2005

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Transfiguration of Our Lord: Matthew 17:1-9


  • 6 days later Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves
  • And he was transfigured (metamorfo,w) before them.
    • His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as the light (evge,neto leuka. w`j to. fw/j)
  • Suddenly (kai. ivdou.) Moses and Elijah appeared talking with Jesus (sullale,w)
    • Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings (trei/j skhna,j — three tabernacles) here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
  • While yet speaking, suddenly (ivdou) a bright cloud overshadowed them (nefe,lh fwteinh. evpeski,asen)
    • From the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
      • Disciples fell to ground in fear. [can be understood as act of reverence and worship as well as emotional fear]
        • Jesus came and touched them, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
          • When they lifted their eyes they saw no one but Jesus.
  • Coming down from the mountain, Jesus told them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead (e[wj ou- o` ui`o.j tou/ avnqrw,pou evk nekrw/n evgerqh/|).” [note that dead is plural, ‘raised from the dead ones’]

Missing from pericope vv. 8-13: And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He replied, "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

Use of the verb metamorfo,w denotes a change in Jesus’ form and not an interior change as in Greek thought. Here the disciples see a preview of the eschaton and a vision of Jesus’ glory.


The Transfiguration is a fascinating story. It is one event that demands serious reflection and interpretation. I will argue greatly that each gospel evangelist takes a different tack on what the Transfiguration is about. I believe Luke sees it as an event that points to discipleship based on Jesus' death and resurrection. Matthew has more to do with seeing it as a preview of the end of time and what things will be like in the eschaton. I will be honest and say that I just haven't dealt with Mark's account on a serious basis.

But for Matthew, who is writing for a community of Jewish Christians, one question that is surely to be addressed is "what is Jesus' relation to the Law and the Prophets?" Taking this event as a snapshot would be dangerous. I wonder how many pastors and preachers have taken the tack that Jesus replaces the Law and the Prophets. I think they have actually gone the wrong direction. By replacing the Law and Prophets, we actually cut ourselves off from the Hebrew Bible... and by doing so, we relegate the Jews to a former people of God, and if that is so, what might keep God from revoking our status as people of God now?

For Matthew, this question is important. What to do with the Law and Prophets (most likely these Jewish Christians were of the Pharisaic tradition who held both Law and Prophets as authoritative)? Matthew's account of the Transfiguration is an interpretation to some regard on this. I will actually turn to Origen's Commentary on Matthew, because he writes it very nicely... despite his somewhat checkered past in the Church, he is still one VERY clueful
theologian. Anyway, he writes:

But after these things it is written that, when they heard the voice from the cloud bearing testimony to the Son, the three Apostles, not being able to bear the glory of the voice and power resting upon it, "fell on their face,"264 and besought God; for they were sore afraid at the supernatural sight, and the things which were spoken from the sight. But consider if you can also say this with reference to the details in the passage, that the disciples, having understood that the Son of God had been holding conference with Moses, and that it was He who said, "A man shall not see My face and live,"265 and taking further the testimony of God about Him, as not being able to endure the radiance of the Word, humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God;266 but, after the touch of the Word, lifting up their eyes they saw Jesus only and no other.267 Moses, the law, and Elijah, the prophet, became one only with the Gospel of Jesus; and not, as they were formerly three, did they so abide, but the three became one,

With Jesus there is a unity in the Law, the Prophets and the Kingdom yet to come in the eschaton. The Word of the Lord spoken in the Law, the Prophets, and now through Jesus is one and the same. Jesus does not come to replace the Law and Prophets but transform it, and literally put flesh on it.

Grace and Peace,

1 comment:

andrena said...

hi..i just did a paper on the transfiguration...have always wanted to know what my home church was about...sooo many things I came across, how there are so many different themes running through the points to so many different things ... the baptism of christ (with the voice from above), christ's own exodus (road out) as he begins his entrance into jerusalem...and a few more goodies...but I am about to fall a seminary student getting ready to go on internship...

check me out at my new blog..

(some of my sermons there, are not theologically sound...written before I came into seminary...)