Theme: Listen to Him
In this week’s lesson we are told what to expect of God.
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as White as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
The word for “transfigured” (v. 2) is used in 2 Corinthians 3:18 and Romans 12:2 to describe an inner transformation of the believer to Christ’s likeness. Here it seems to have to do more with Jesus’ outward visible appearance. If we turn to Exodus 34:29-30, we find something similar. In that passage Moses’ face is said to have shone so brightly that the people were unable to look at it and Moses had to cover his face with a veil when he was with them. But there is a major difference. Moses’ face shone because he was reflecting the glory of God, with whom he was speaking. By contrast, Jesus’ face shone because He was transfigured, which means that it was His own glory that was being made visible for the disciples’ benefit.
This difference also shows up in the appearance of Moses and Elijah. We are not told why it was Moses and Elijah rather than some other Old Testament figures who were there. But since Moses was the great lawgiver and Elijah was the first of the great prophets, the two figures seem to represent the Law and the Prophets as the two chief divisions of the Old Testament. This suggests that what they stood for is now to be fulfilled in Jesus.
Jesus had taught this Himself, of course. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Again He said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it” (Luke 16:16). This does not mean that the Law and the Prophets were to be abrogated by Jesus, because the very next verse says, “It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the law” (v. 17). But it does mean that Jesus is the culmination of the Old Testament revelation and the fulfillment of everything these two great figures taught and represented.
The importance of Jesus as the fulfillment of what Moses and Elijah stood for comes out even more clearly in what happens next. Peter, the man of action, was not a person to keep silent and merely marvel at what he was privileged to see. He thought he had to say something. So he blurted out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (v. 4). This was exactly the wrong thing to say. The point of what was happening was that Jesus was the unique Son of God, the King of Glory. Moses and Elijah were there to honor him. But Peter’s suggestion had the effect of putting Jesus, Moses and Elijah on the same footing. Or perhaps Peter even thought it was an honor for Jesus to be allowed to speak to these other two great men.
This time it was God the Father Himself who corrected Peter, rather than Jesus who had corrected Peter earlier when he sought to deflect Him from the cross (see Matt. 16:23). The text says, “A bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him! (v. 5).
It would be impossible for any Jewish reader to miss the importance of this cloud, for it would immediately suggest the Shekinah Glory cloud of the Old Testament and indicate that God Himself was present to speak as He had spoken before on Mount Sinai. The Shekinah Glory was a striking phenomenon, and it is mentioned frequently in both the Old and New Testaments. In all it is referred to fifty-eight times in the Bible, which is more often than the name of places like Bethlehem, Nazareth or Mount Sinai, and more often than the names of persons like Cain and Abel, Mary and Joseph, Herod, Satan and so on. Moreover, the references are spread out over at least ten of the Bible’s books and occur in many important passages.
Explain different ways the word “transfigured” is used in the Bible.
Was Moses transfigured when he received the Law? What happened in his case?
Why did Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus?
What was foolish about Peter’s suggestion?
Explain the significance of the cloud.
Symbols that appear in the New Testament have their derivation in the Old Testament.