The adult Bible study today talked about Jesus’s Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-9. Here are some items:
A. Transfiguration Sunday marks a transition between Epiphany and Lent. Epiphany is about the revelation of Jesus as God, to both Israel and also the Gentiles. It covers the magis’ visit of Jesus and goes to the Transfiguration, where Jesus reveals himself to be God to Peter, James, and John. Lent then commences on Ash Wednesday, which focuses on our fallen humanity as well as Jesus’s humanity, which includes his hunger, his suffering, and, ultimately, his death. The Transfiguration, too, transitions to an emphasis on Jesus’s death and resurrection. Jesus speaks about those things more often after the Transfiguration than he did before. He also forbids his disciples to say anything about the Transfiguration until after Jesus’s death and resurrection. According to the pastor, this is because Jesus is saying that Jesus’s death and resurrection, not only his glory, are crucial aspects of who Jesus is. Jesus wants us to understand him in light of his death and resurrection, not just his glory. That brings us to the next item.
B. The pastor was criticizing Christianity’s current focus on “your best life now”—-prosperity—-and becoming better people through sanctification. Its focus here is on glory. Christianity in the first two centuries, however, did not recoil from suffering. Ancient Christians saw suffering as a mark that they belonged to God, and they believed that, in suffering, they were more like Christ. As Christians pull away from the anti-God world (not necessarily socially), the world abuses them in an attempt to keep them under its dominion.
C. Matthew 17:1 states that Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain after six days. The pastor referred to the view that this could be an allusion to Exodus 24:16. After six days, the Israelites see God’s glory while Moses was in a cloud. Like the Israelites, Peter, James, and John behold divine glory after six days.
D. When Peter sees Moses and Elijah standing alongside Jesus, he proposes to make booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Peter was placing Moses and Elijah in the same boat as Jesus, as if the three of them were equal. But Jesus is above Moses and Elijah. Only Jesus glows brightly in glory, something that is not said in Matthew 17:1-9 about Moses and Elijah. In addition, God tells the disciples to listen to Jesus. Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus to demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets: God’s intentions laid out in the law and the prophets are fulfilled in Jesus. But also, when Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, that shows that Jesus is not Elijah or one of the Old Testament prophets, contrary to rumors (see Matthew 16:14). Jesus is beyond Elijah and the Old Testament prophets.
E. While we are on Matthew 16, Jesus says that flesh and blood did not reveal to Peter that Jesus is the Christ, but the Father did so. Peter’s understanding is incomplete, however, for Peter attempts to dissuade Jesus from going to the cross. The pastor referred to a belief in the Missouri Synod of the nineteenth century. In those days, the LCMS believed that it was the one true church. It still held, though, that people could have appropriate faith in their heart, even if that faith was not fully correct in their minds. The pastor mentioned his mother, who, on some days, does not have clarity about her religious beliefs, or much else. But she still was a faithful, lifelong Christian, and she believes in her heart, if not (with full clarity) in her head. The pastor speculated that something like this was going on with Peter: he believed in his heart, but not with full precision or accuracy in his head.
F. The Transfiguration demonstrates the Trinity, the pastor said. Jesus and the voice from heaven are two distinct persons. We do not see here modal monarchianism, in which God revealed himself as the Father in Old Testament times, as Jesus during the life of Christ, and as the Spirit after Jesus’s resurrection. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons, not three manifestations of only one person.
G. Jesus touches Peter, James, and John after they fall down in fear and reverence. The touch communicates reassurance and also acceptance and belonging, as a handshake (touch) does.