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Epilogue: The Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ

Epilogue

The Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ

The unparalleled event of the transfiguration of Jesus is recorded for us in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but its meaning is not explained in these gospels. The following is Matthew’s ac­count of the transfiguration, followed by a brief excerpt from Luke’s account:

Matthew 17:1-12 1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by them­selves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, be­hold, a bright cloud over­shadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my be­loved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the dis­ciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, say­ing, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 And as they were com­ing down the mount­ain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vis­ion, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will cer­tainly suffer at their hands.” (ESV)

Luke 9:30-32 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his depart­ure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. (ESV)

The transfiguration of Jesus is an event unprece­dented in Israel despite its similarity to what took place when Moses came down from Mount Sinai after meeting with God: Moses’s face shone so brightly that the people could not bear to look at him, so a veil was put over his face (Ex.34:29-35). Yet a greater display of glory took place at the transfigurat­ion, with Jesus’ face shining like the sun and his clothes becoming lum­inous. The glory shin­ing through Jesus was far greater than that through Moses on Sinai, though in both cases it was undoubtedly Yahweh’s glory that was shin­ing forth.

It is gratuitous and without scriptural basis for BDAG, under metamor­phoō (be transfigured), to make the trinitar­ian comment that the transfig­ured Jesus was manifesting his own preexistent glory. The fact is that the “glory” (doxa, Lk.9:32) manifested in Jesus at the transfiguration was not his alleged pre­existent glory, just as the “glory” (doxa, v.31) mani­fested in Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration was not a preexist­ent glory. Jesus repeatedly says that he has nothing except what has been given to him by the Father, and this would certain­ly include Jesus’ glory which had all along been Yahweh’s glory shining through him in his words and deeds.

Years later, Peter, an eye­witness of the transfig­uration, explicitly says that Jesus’ glory at the transfiguration “came from God the Father”:

… we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, say­ing, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (2 Peter 1:16-17, NIV)

At the transfiguration, Yahweh’s glory shone also through Moses and Elijah. Moses was the one through whom Yahweh had given His word as the Law, and Elijah was the one who raised the dead and thus revealed Yahweh’s power as the Life-giver.

Although God’s glory shone more powerfully in Jesus than in Moses and Elijah, it did not occur to Peter to set up just one tent for Jesus only, but to set up three tents for the three. Though Jesus was his teacher and master, there was no “Jesusism” in Peter’s mind! Moses as the law giver and Eli­jah as the repres­entative prophet of Israel were accorded the same honor as Jesus in terms of being offered tents. This is not to deny that God’s glory shining through Jesus was great­er than that through the other two, but it is to deny that Jesus is to be exalted as the sole object of veneration by his disci­ples.

The brilliance of Jesus’ face, shining like the sun with God’s glory, left the disciples overwhelmed and prostrate on the mountain. If they ever had any doubts about Yahweh’s indwelling presence in Jesus, these would have evap­orated at the sight of the brilliance of God’s divine light.

The transfiguration was not the only time that Jesus’ face shone like the sun in John’s presence. Later on, in the Revela­tion, Jesus ap­peared to John in a manner similar to his trans­figuration:

In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Rev. 1:16, ESV)

In the Revelation, John saw a similar manifesta­tion of glo­ry in a mighty angel with his face shining with the intensity of the sun.

Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. (Rev.10:1, ESV)

No one who reads this verse would for a moment think that this angel is a divine being coequal with God the Father. Hence there is no Script­ural basis for making Jesus divine on the basis of his trans­figured appear­ance.

 

Jesus took only three disciples with him to the transfigura­tion. Why were the other nine excluded from this remark­able revel­ation? The gos­pels give no clues beyond the fact that the three formed Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. But we can consider one or two possibilities without arriving at any dogma­tic conclusions.

One possible reason is that Judas, the one who was to be­tray Jesus, was one of the Twelve. So if the other eleven were included in the event of the transfiguration, there would be no way of excluding Judas without drawing atten­tion to him. More­over, since the transfig­uration was a secret that Jesus instructed the three not to share with the others, it is clear that Judas, the disciple who was about to betray him, should hard­ly be given this secret revelation. Peter, James and John formed Jesus’ in­ner circle of disci­ples, so in this moment­ous event of the transfigurat­ion, they were granted to witness an extraordinary revelation about him.

But even if we don’t take Judas into account, why restrict the num­ber to three? One possible reason is that God’s revel­ations are granted to those who have an attitude of heart and mind that is rare even among the chosen ones. This is some­thing that exper­ienced teachers of the Script­ures, the word of God, would have firsthand knowledge of. In the course of my teach­ing and preach­ing ministry, I have not infre­quently seen how some can under­stand a spiritual truth almost immed­iately upon hear­ing it, while others who hear the same truth at the same time and at same place either struggle for a long time to perceive it or never at all. From the gospel accounts, it would seem that John was except­ionally per­ceptive in spirit­ual matters. As for Peter, even if he was slightly slower than John, it would seem that his level of spiritual per­ception was well above aver­age (e.g., Mt.16:15-17). As for James, we know little about him from the gospel accounts, but his in­clusion in the inner circle would indicate that he was probably around the level of Peter.

 

Paul speaks of “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2Cor.4:6). This profound statement says every­thing there is to be said about the person, life, and ministry of Jesus Christ. God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ is perfect­ly mirrored in the extra­ordinary event of the transfig­urat­ion.

What is the “secret” of the transfiguration that the three are to keep for a time? There is the significant reference to Jesus’ death and resur­rection: “Tell no one the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead” (Mt.17:9), and “the Son of Man will cer­tainly suffer at their hands” (v.12). In Lk.9:31, Moses and Elijah speak of Jesus’ “departure” (NIV) or “death” (HCSB).

Years later, Jesus appeared to John at the Revela­tion and said to him, “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever­” (Rev.1:18), a striking comment­ary on what he had said on the mount of transfig­uration. The dual themes of Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection form the foundational message of “the gos­pel of God” (Mk.1:14; Rom.1:1; 15:16; 1Th.2:2,8,9; 1Pet.4:17), so called because through Jesus’ death and resur­rection, Yahweh reconciled the world to Him­self (2Cor.5:19-20). Jesus is the Lord of glory (1Cor.2:8) not because of his supposed preexistence but because by his blood at the cross, mankind was redeemed for God. It was because of his obed­ience unto death at the cross that he was exalted to receive the glory of God:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and

bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

 

— End —

 

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church