Summary: Transfiguration means change or metamorphosis, & clearly it was an event that informed Peter’s theology, & that of the early Church. So what was it that the early Church saw because though they attached great importance to it, we in the modern Church don’
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2 Peter 1: 16-21
What on earth was going on here? Transfiguration means change or metamorphosis, & clearly it was an event that informed Peter’s theology, & that of the early Church. So what was it that the early Church saw because though they attached great importance to it, we in the modern Church don’t seem to think much about it do we?
Peter’s theology was shaped by his experience on this mountain. & it is no surprise that it did. It would affect you & I too wouldn’t it – not just being around Jesus but seeing such an incredible vision & hearing the audible voice of God.
Peter has been part of Jesus inner circle with James & John, & this was not the first time they had shared important times with Jesus. For instance they were there at the bedside of Jairus learning from Jesus about ministry & discipleship, & at Gethsemane they were supporting or rather not supporting Jesus, but what is going on here?
I think they are there to grasp the enormity of who Jesus really is. The transfiguration is a pivotal event for these & it should be for us too.
We too need to understand the 2 lessons of transfiguration.
They see Jesus with Elijah & Moses; both great Old Testament figures of prophecy & law. As we would expect from his track record Peter is all impetuous & rushes in with a strange plan to erect shelters show everyone can have shelter. Clearly Peter doesn’t grasp yet what is going in.
Then just as in other such moments as this in scripture God communicates through a cloud & the incredible voice from heaven.
Sure you remember these things happening before in Exodus or at the baptism of Jesus. Just as for Moses this activity takes place on a mountain top.
Mountains are important places in scripture you know & they remain so figuratively for us as Christian’s.
In scripture God often communicated great lessons on mountains:
- He spoke to Abraham in the aborted sacrifice of Isaac.
- Moses saw the burning bush, & received the law.
- Elijah had his great victory over the prophets of Baal.
For us too mountain top experiences are moments when perhaps above all others we comprehend & are aware of God.
Mountain top experiences are important & so it was that day, as we have reached a pivotal point in the gospel story when Jesus’ true nature is revealed to His disciples.
Of course there had been clues along the way, & they were perhaps beginning to realise He was more than just another rabbi. Indeed Peter’s blurted out confession to Jesus recorded a few verses before this in Marks story ‘You are the Christ’ shows that they were getting there, but here the truth became so clear. What they had begun to think was proved on the mountain.
As Peter put it later in his 2nd letter 1:16 they were ‘Eye witnesses of His majesty’. Jesus is glorified - they see God’s kingdom as it will be
God’s kingdom for Mark coming in power - 9: 1
At transfiguration we see God’s son - His glory, His identity, His power.
That is of course where Elijah & Moses come in for in Jesus these two great traditions of Old Testament theology are united & fulfilled.
There could be another less obvious reason for their presence though - both had their work completed by others. Moses - Joshua, Elijah – Elisha. No doubt in the years to come Peter James & John would see parallels in their picking up & continuing of Jesus’ work after the resurrection.
The second lesson of transfiguration is just as important. Peter wanted to erect shelters the text tells us, & traditionally we have seen this as a reference to the feast of the tabernacles - but I would like to suggest another reason.
Peter wanted to build shelters not just because of Jewish practice but because like us he liked being on the mountain top! Like us Peter wanted to hold on to & live in this wondrous experience but the mountain top is not a place to stay. Not for Peter or for us.
Too often we want to remain in the high places of our faith, & Peter likewise having caught this glimpse of the divine wanted to stay & ignore the priorities & work that lay ahead. Wrong because the task wasn’t yet completed.