After predicting His suffering, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain and is transfigured before them. God's voice is also heard from the heavens, confirming Jesus' identity. The disciples now must wrestle with this idea of "suffering before glory" - not only for their Messiah, but also for themselves.
Hey everyone, I’m Josh Hawkins, welcome to Episode 84 of Opening Up the Gospels. In the last two episodes we’ve been looking at Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ. We looked at how this was a tested confession. Despite everything that had been happening, Peter and the rest of the Twelve continued to believe that Jesus was the promised Davidic king who would rule from Jerusalem and crush Israel’s enemies. Jesus affirmed Peter’s confession and said that only God could have revealed the truth to Him, and that the assembly of the righteous that He was building would be ones like Peter - those who would inherit the kingdom and the resurrection of the dead because their belief in Jesus as the king of Israel did not waver as it was severely tested. Right at the end of Episode 83, I talked about how it was from this moment forward that Jesus began to predict His coming suffering at the hands of the Jewish authorities. This was the answer to the question the disciples had been asking all along. Jesus was sneaking away from the crowds, telling people to not reveal who He was as the long-expected king, and ministering out of Jewish regions all to finally reveal the role that suffering had to play in his Messianic identity. Peter wasn’t going to have any of that suffering stuff though - He takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him. Why? Peter rightly believed that the final Davidic king would set up his kingdom and rule from Jerusalem forever, per the promise in God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7. If Jesus truly was that Messiah, why would He now be talking about suffering and death? Truly this prediction of suffering was yet another major test for Peter and the Twelve. In light of Jesus’ coming suffering, He begins to encourage the Twelve to continue to follow in His footsteps. This is what disciples would do with their teachers in Jesus’ day. The call Jesus gives His disciples was not just to believe a certain teaching or treat people a certain way - it was a call to something so much more. Let’s read from Matthew 16: "Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross an follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”" (Matthew 16:24–28 ESV) What’s Jesus saying here? He’s telling the disciples what kind of road is ahead of them too. For if they wanted to be with Him in the glory of His kingdom when He rules from Jerusalem, they too would have to carry their cross. For Jesus to use the picture of taking up a cross would evoke one main thing in their mind - death. Just as Jesus would enter into His glory through the path of humiliation and suffering, so would they. They wouldn’t have eternal life by trying to save it with their own strength - they would have to lose all their rights to it and trust Jesus to give it to them. Just like we saw Jesus correct Nicodemus back in Episode 50 regarding how His kingdom would come and who would inherit it, He brings a similar word to the disciples here. We also looked at the Maccabean Revolt back in Episode 35, the time when the Jews rose up in rebellion against the Greeks to retake Jerusalem and crown a king. What we saw Jesus saying back in John 3 was that the military might, the ingenuity, the righteousness, or the wisdom of sinful man cannot bring about God’s promises. The resurrection could not be obtained by the strength of man. The kingdom would not be established by the strength of man. Jesus would come with His angels, establish His glorious kingdom in Jerusalem as the promised Davidic king, and judge all the nations just as all the prophets spoke. But in order to be a part of it, one must deny themselves and submit to the path of humiliation and suffering. The rest of the New Testament continues to exhort believers with this theme of “suffering before glory”. Now while we do pray “let your kingdom come”, we are asking God to fulfill His promises but there is no “partnership” in the equation. God doesn’t use some of our strength or piety and some of His power to bring about His promises. Not only does Jesus affirm that fact throughout the Gospels, but the prophet Isaiah also declares that God has no helpers when He brings about justice and redemption and salvation at the end of the age. Our God-given task is to bear witness to Jesus and what He will do, even if that means we lose our lives. The pride of man has no part of it, and those with this sojourning mentality deny themselves and joyfully descend into suffering for Jesus when it comes their way, knowing that the grave will not have a final hold and that Jesus will indeed reign from Jerusalem as the Christ, just as He promised. Let’s keep going with the story. I’ll jump to Luke’s account now in Luke 9: "Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 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. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen." (Luke 9:28–36 ESV) Here we are about a week after Jesus’ first prediction of His suffering, and Peter, James, and John go up a mountain with Him to pray. We’re not exactly sure what mountain they went up, but I think we can be pretty confident that it was somewhere in the general vicinity of Caesarea Philippi. Let’s take a look at our map. The traditional site for where this took place was Mount Tabor, but others have proposed this took place on Mount Hermon for two reasons - first, Hermon is close to Caesarea Philippi, and that’s where the Gospels tell us the previous events were taking place. And second, Matthew 17:1 says that they went up to a “high mountain”. Mount Tabor is only about 1900 feet above sea level, but Hermon is over 9,000. It would have taken several hours to hike to one of the highest peaks of Hermon, and so they would have had to take provisions of food and water to make the journey. At some point on the mountain as Jesus is praying, He begins to shine with dazzling, pure white light, and both Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Him about the significance of His coming death, resurrection, and ascension in Jerusalem. Now why do we see Moses and Elijah in this scene? Well they represent the Law and the Prophet respectively, both of which Jesus is the fulfillment of. Both of them were also important Messianic figures that were expected to be a part of Messiah’s coming in some way according to passages like Malachi 4:5 and Deuteronomy 18:15. Now it was a grueling, tiring climb to the top of Hermon, so Peter, James, and John were falling asleep as Jesus prayed. But when they woke up and realized they weren’t having a dream as they beheld Jesus shining like the sun, Peter said: “let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”. Though setting up little tents or booths seems pretty random, it actually is pretty significant. Think back to Episode 31 where I talked about the three major feasts that God commanded the Jews to celebrate. One of those was the Feast of Tabernacles, also called the Feast of Booths. This feast was celebrated around the harvest time in late September or early October where they would feast on the new crops and the abundance of their land. The point of this feast was to remember the days when Israel sojourned in the wilderness and didn’t have permanent homes a land to call their own, but it also looked forward to the day when they would inherit the land permanently. Remember, though they did live in the land, Rome was in control and the promises God had made to them about the land and an everlasting Jewish kingdom had not been fulfilled yet. So theologically, the feast of Tabernacles represented the culmination of the messianic age when those promises of land possession and a kingdom would be fulfilled. This is why building booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah was theologically significant. In essence, though Peter may not have been fully aware of what he was saying and what was going on, what he could have been thinking was “it’s here! it’s here! All of God’s promises are going to be fulfilled! Jesus, you are the Christ, Moses and Elijah are here as the prophets spoke about! Let’s do this thing!" As Peter was speaking, a cloud overshadows them and these tough fishermen start freaking out. A voice comes out of the cloud and says “This is my son, my chosen one, listen to Him!”. These are the same words that were heard from heaven at Jesus’ baptism. We looked at that back in Episode 41 where I talked about the significance of what God said there, so go back and re-watch that if you’d like. God is one again endorsing Jesus as the Messiah and the suffering Servant as He is getting ready to go to the cross. Remember, Peter, James, and John had no concept whatsoever of a suffering Messiah. He was supposed to reign from Jerusalem forever, not die at the hands of the Jews and Romans. Unlike the baptism, this time, God speaks to the three and says “listen to Him!”, which is echoing the language of Deuteronomy 18:15 on how Israel would heed the voice of the Prophet like Moses who would arise among them. Even as Jesus sets His face towards Jerusalem to suffer and die, once again God powerfully affirms His identity as the Christ. What must this have been like for Peter, James, and John? How did this encourage them in the days, weeks, months, and years following? We have a little bit of commentary on the event from Peter himself. Let’s read in 2 Peter 1: "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For 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.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises." (2 Peter 1:16–19 NIV84) These are Peter’s own words on the transfiguration, saying He was an eyewitness of Jesus’ majesty and heard with his own ears what the Father said about Him, that He is indeed the Christ. And because of that, Peter says that the words of the prophets have been “made more certain” - in other words, what Isaiah and Jeremiah and Malachi and Hosea and Ezekiel and all the rest of the prophets have spoken has been confirmed to be true and trustworthy, and that those hearing and reading Peter’s letter do well to pay attention to what the prophets said until the great day of Jesus dawns and He arises to reign from Jerusalem. Peter isn’t reinterpreting, redefining or realizing what the prophets said here - he is saying “they were right, Jesus has been confirmed to be the messiah, and the messiah did have to suffer before entering His glory as the king of Israel. The prophets said that, and you do well to believe them and to eagerly wait for the day when all they’ve spoken comes to pass." Well we are totally out of time for this episode, but come back next time when we begin to look at the next period of Jesus’ ministry - the Late Perean and Judean ministry. If you’ve missed any episodes on this series, you can find them all on my website - www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, see you next time.