Reader: “This is my Son, my Chosen One.”
Response: “Listen to him.”
Scripture: Luke 9:28-36
About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
Peter and the others had fallen asleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him. As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But even as he was saying this, a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them. Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” When the voice finished, Jesus was there alone. They didn’t tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
This particular passage provides us with a marvelous connection between the Old and the New Testaments, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. A little context may be helpful. Previously, Jesus and his disciples left the region of Galilee and headed northeast towards Caesarea Philippi. Their discussion on the way concerned Jesus’ identity. It was in this conversation that Peter declared Jesus to be the Messiah. After telling the disciples to tell no one that he was in fact the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus told them about his upcoming death and resurrection. Notice how Jesus was so tuned to the Father’s timing of his whole redeeming mission on earth. His time had not yet come. Recall how often Jesus uttered that phrase.
About a week later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up a high mountain to be alone. Scholars have not identified which mountain it was. The significance is not in the specific mountain, but that the event happened on a mountain carries great importance. The three disciples saw Moses, Elijah, and Jesus in conversation together. In a discouraging moment, the prophet, Elijah, had traveled to Mt. Sinai where he heard the voice of God and saw his backside as God passed by. You’ll recall that Moses received the Law from God on Mt. Sinai hundreds of years earlier. As he descended with the Law tablets, his face shone so brightly, he was veiled until it faded. Again from Mt. Nebo, Moses left this earth as he looked into the Promised Land. Both Old Testament men encountered God directly and now they speak with the Messiah face to face.
(Notice in the painting that Moses is holding the Tablets and Elijah a prophet’s scroll.)
In the case of the Transfiguration, the three disciples got a fleeting glimpse of the brilliant, shining glorified Savior. When Jesus appeared in this state, Moses and Elijah were gone. It was clear, neither Elijah nor Moses were an equal with Jesus. At this point, the Old Covenant, the Law, was still in effect, but that was about to change. The discussion among Moses, Elijah, and Jesus was about the Messiah’s fulfillment of the Law and the great change coming. The word used is Jesus’ “exodus!” from this world. While the great Exodus led by Moses, a redeemer of Israel, was a shadow of what was to come, now this Redeemer of the entire world came to set all peoples free from slavery to sin and death permanently. He would fulfill both the Law, (making it obsolete, Heb. 8:13 “When God speaks of a new covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete.”), and likewise, fulfill all the Old Testament prophetic writings.
In Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writing of the prophets [Elijah et al]. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Mt.5:17) If you will, Jesus is closing the loop with Moses and Elijah on the mountain! The unity of Scripture is never more apparent than in this passage. Like at his baptism, God the Father affirms the upcoming work of his Son with his voice from the cloud.
As we have often mentioned previously, in the Bible, the cloud represents the physical presence of God. (Cloud of fire in the desert, cloud over the Ark of the Covenant, cloud at the Ascension, etc.) Here, like later in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, James, and John fell asleep and failed to grasp the significance of the moment in both cases. God’s words to the three were so clear, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” Interestingly, Moses used that very phrase, “listen to him” (Deut.18:15) in speaking of the great Prophet to come (Messiah). Those words ought to ring daily in our ears. These disciples had trouble understanding what “rising from the dead” meant. Hindsight is easy, but we are called to faith which is why we need to “listen to him.”
We begin the Lenten “Journey with Jesus” this coming Wednesday! You’ll receive your first daily email Wednesday morning.
Music: “Christ Upon the Mountain Peak”
Jesus on the mountain peak,
stands alone in glory blazing.
Let us, if we dare to speak,
join the saints and angels praising.
Trembling at his feet we saw
Moses and Elijah speaking.
All the prophets and the law
shout through them their joyful greeting.
Swift the cloud of glory came,
God proclaiming in its thunder
Jesus as the Son by name!
Nations, cry aloud in wonder!
This is God’s beloved Son!
Law and prophets sing before him;
first and last and only One.
All creation shall adore him!
Father, at the transfiguration in glory of your only-begotten Son, you confirmed the mysteries of faith when the prophets Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus. You foreshadowed what we shall be when you bring your sonship to its perfection. Grant that by listening to the voice of Jesus we may become heirs with him, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. O Christ, you led Peter, James and John down from the mountain and into the suffering world: when our hearts crave permanence, may we know the permanence of your love as you take us with you on your way. O Christ, you will transfigure our poor earthly bodies and conform them to your glorious body; we pray to you for our brothers and sisters who are dying: that they may be changed into your likeness, from glory to glory. Amen.
―from Prayers for Sunday Services, p.83
© Daniel Sharp 2022