jump to navigation

Wrestling with the Word, episode 104: Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year A (March 6, 2011) February 9, 2011

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Sunday celebrating the Transfiguration of Our Lord has been set in a particularly strategic position. In one sense, the Sunday is also the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. In another sense, it is the transition to Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. Typical of the Epiphany season, the Transfiguration story announces the identity of Jesus over against the more reasonable and manageable ways we often describe him. The portrayal of our Lord here is visibly magnificent. Yet God’s announcement of “who Jesus is” points us both to magnificence and to the cross. The meaning of Jesus’sufferings as we recall them through Lent is based on who he is, and the mountain of the Transfiguration provides a critical perspective for Jesus’ and our lives in the valleys and pits below.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 104: Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year A.


Psalm 2
This psalm, like Psalm 110, describes the action and significance of crowning kings of the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem. The opening words set the coronation of Davidic kings within the context of the world. Other “kings of the earth” conspire to unseat the newly crowned King who is none other than “the Lord’s anointed” (messiah). This attempt only makes God in heaven laugh. God’s speech to those foolish rulers identifies the crowning as his own divine action while simultaneously defines Mount Zion as the space from which God will rule through this king: “I have set my king on Zion, the hill of my holiness” (v. 6). Verse 7 provides the speech that the king will say: “He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have given you birth.’” The words convey the identity of the king who becomes adopted in this coronation as the son of God (see also 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 89:26-27). God has also promised this new king that his reign will extend over the whole earth. Those divine words serve as a warning for usurpers of the throne but also as a blessing for those who take refuge in the Lord and the Lord’s anointed.


Exodus 24:12-18
In order to instruct Moses and the people in ways that God would continue to be present with them, God invites Moses (and Joshua) to the summit of Mount Sinai where, prior to the instructions, the Lord appears in glory.

After receiving from God the Book of the Covenant (Exod. 21–23) and reading it in the hearing of the people (24:7), Moses and 73 others were invited to the top of Mount Sinai where they saw God and feasted in his presence (24:9-11).  Following this banquet, God invited Moses to ascend even higher and to bring along Joshua his servant (24:13).

Key Words
V. 12, 15, 17, 18. hāhār = “the mountain”:  The term becomes a technical expression for Mount Sinai/Horeb (Sinai at v. 16; Horeb at 3:1 and often) which serves in the OT as the home of God from which he directs the events surrounding the exodus and the trek through the wilderness. Later the expression would become connected for another holy mountain, namely, Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

For a fuller discussion of the function of “the mountain” throughout the Bible, see Ancient Myths and Biblical Faith  by Foster R. McCurley, (Fortress Press ex libris, 2007, pp 125–182).

V. 13.  wayyāqōm mōše wîhôšua‘  mešortô wayya`al mōše ’el-har ’elōhîm = “And Moses rose and Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God”:  At 3:1 Mount Horeb is called “the mountain of God”; elsewhere Zion is called “the mount of his holiness” (see Ps. 2:6). 2 Peter refers to the Transfiguration event as occurring on “the holy mountain.”

V. 16.  he‘ānān = “the cloud”:  Clouds are a symbol of God’s presence (see 19:16); recall also the “pillar of cloud” at 13:21-22; 14:19.

V. 16.  “six days; and on the seventh”:  The expression is an ancient Semitic literary device leading up to the climax of an action “on the seventh day”; cf. Gen. 2:2; Josh. 6:15-16.

V. 16.  kebôd-YHWH = “the glory of the Lord”:  The expression is common in priestly writings to designate the presence of God in splendor; in late Judaism “glory” becomes virtually a hypostasis of God.

V. 17.  ke’ēš ’ōkelet = “like a consuming fire”:  For fire as a symbol of God’s presence, see 3:2; 14:21-22; 19:18; Isa. 31:9.


2 Peter 1:16-21
Inspiration to speak the word of God and to prophesy comes not from human initiative but from the Holy Spirit and from the transfiguration announcement about the identity of Jesus as God’s Son.


Matthew 17:1-9
In order to indicate that bearing the cross is not the end of God’s designs, God reveals in the Transfiguration the identity of his Son in terms of the agony and the ecstasy that awaits both him and his disciples.

Somewhere in the district of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples about popular opinions concerning him.  When they told him, he asked them about their view of him.  After Peter’s confession which was affirmed by Jesus’ blessing on him, Jesus urged them to be silent (16:13-20).  That was the end of Jesus’ public ministry.  Now at 16:21 Jesus begins a more private ministry with his disciples, teaching them about his forthcoming death and resurrection (16:21-23) and about the necessity of cross-bearing by his disciples (16:24-28).

Parallel Passages:  Mark 9:2-9; Luke 9:28-36

Key Words
V. 1.  kai kath’ hēmeras hex = “and after six days”:  The temporal expression is identical to that used at Mark 9:2; Luke differs in using hōsei hēmerai oktō = “about eight days.” The formula used in Mark and Matthew seems, on the basis of Hos. 6:2 (“after two days”//”on the third day”), to mean “on the seventh day.” That expression in the OT is a literary device for indicating the climax to whatever action has preceded it “for six days” (Gen. 2:2; Exod. 24:16; Josh. 6:15-16).

V. 1.  eis oros hypsēlon = “to a high mountain”:  In LXX the expression indicates to a “holy mountain” for some group of people.

V. 2.  kai elampsen to prosōpon autou = “and his face shone”:  Recall Moses’ shining face as he descended from Mount Sinai at Exod. 34:29-35; of the Risen Christ see Rev. 1:16.

V. 4. ei theleis = “if you wish”:  This addition to Mark’s version makes the disciples (and Peter in particular) look less foolish.

V. 5.  houtos estin ho huios mou ho agapētos = “This is my Son, the Beloved”:  On the first part of the announcement see Ps. 2:7 (“You are my Son”); on “beloved son” see Gen. 22:2, 12, 16).  On the whole expression, see Matt. 3:17 where the announcement is made at Jesus’ baptism to Jesus himself (Mark’s version) or possibly to others (Matthew’s version).

V. 5.  en hō eudokēsa = “in whom I am pleased”:  The words recall Isa. 42:1 where the expression refers to the “servant” of Second Isaiah, probably Israel in exile.  The expression is an addition to Mark’s announcement at the Transfiguration, but both Mark and Matthew use it at the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:5; Matt. 3:17).

V. 5.  akouete autou = “listen to him”:  The divine command echoes Deut. 18:15 which would confirm the opinion on the part of the people that Jesus is somehow the prophet “like Moses” that God promised to the people.

V. 7.  egerthēte kai mē phobeisthe = “Rise and do not fear”:  The word “rise” frequently describes Jesus’ resurrection and that of his disciples at the last day (see 17:9).  Its use here is expected on the basis of Jesus’ statement in v. 9.