The Triumphant Messiah – Matthew 17:1-8

… a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” Matthew 17:5.

Following Peter’s great messianic confession at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus began teaching His disciples that both He and they must suffer (Mt 16:21-26). In order to encourage them in the midst of this, Jesus promised His disciples that, “there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Mt 16:28). Many find the answer to this promise in what takes place six days later when Jesus would take Peter, James, and John to a high mountain to be transfigured before them (17:1-2). These disciples witnessed Jesus Christ in all of His past and future glory, in the very form that He would occupy for all eternity after His resurrection.

With the transfigured Jesus were the two great figures of the Old Testament: Moses (representing the law) and Elijah (the prophets). Again it is impetuous Peter who speaks up with the typical human response to any great historical moment: “Let’s memorialize it!” He announced, “I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (17:4). No sooner does Peter say this, than God replies, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (17:5), leaving them with Jesus alone.

There are a number of things that we can learn from this momentous event. We see the continuity of the Old and New Testaments in the friendly conversation of Jesus with Moses and Elijah; we also find, however, the supremacy of Jesus Christ as the Beloved Son of God, who is more than a mere prophet like Elijah and who fulfills the Law of Moses. We also see our sinful human tendency to memorialize events with something physical to adore. And we find that Jesus alone is the final authority whom we are called to obey. The transfiguration also gave the disciples a hopeful glimpse of the future triumph of Christ and the restoration of His glory after He would suffer and die. This glory was that which was inherent to Jesus’s nature, which He had in the beginning when He dwelled eternally in the bosom of the Father. It was this glory that Jesus temporarily shrouded in flesh in the incarnation, the glory which now became visible for this brief but life-changing moment in time known as the transfiguration.

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