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

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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.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 60: The Transfiguration of our Lord, Year C (February 14, 2010) February 5, 2010

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The Transfiguration of our Lord

The Sunday of the Transfiguration of Jesus stands in a strategic position in the church year. In one sense, it brings to a conclusion the Epiphany season. In the past six weeks, we have read and studied passages from the New Testament that revealed the person and work of Jesus as the presence and power of God. For the next six weeks, we will focus on Jesus’ path to Golgotha where he will suffer and die at the hands of the religious and political leaders. The story of the Transfiguration connects to the Epiphany season because it tells about God’s direct revelation of Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. It points forward to the cross in precisely the same words that define for the apostles who Jesus is. Looking back and stretching forward, this Sunday announces the person and purpose of Jesus and the majesty of God.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 60: The Transfiguration of our Lord, Year C.


Psalm 99
Like Psalms 47, 93, 95-98 this psalm acclaims the Lord as king and invites worshipers to extol the divine name in the temple. Unlike those psalms that base YHWH’s kingship on the act of creation, this one focuses more on history, even mentioning Moses, Aaron, and Samuel by name. That those heroes of the past cried out to the Lord and the Lord answered their prayer gives hope to all worshipers who cry out in the present. Such hope is confirmed by the description of YHWH as “lover of justice.”


Exodus 34:29-35
Having given for the second time the Ten Words on stone tablets, God manifested the divine presence by the brightness of Moses’ face, so that others might know the source of the commandments.

In chapter 24 God instructed Moses to ascend the mountain to receive the tables of stone upon which God had already written the commandments. When Moses finally descended the mountain and discovered then the golden calf that Aaron and the others had made, Moses smashed the tablets in his hands. In the earlier part of our present chapter, God invited Moses back to the mountain where the Lord announced a new “ten words,” the so-called Ritual Decalogue, and on this occasion, Moses wrote down the words over a forty-day period of fasting.

Key Words
Vv. 29, 30, 35. qāran ‘ôr pānāyw = “the skin of his face sent out rays”: The verb qāran derives from the noun qeren = “horn”; the Vulgate took the word literally and described horns coming out of Moses’ head, thus the portrayal by many medieval artists. The word, however, does appear in the sense of “rays of light” and indicates a theophany at Habakkuk 3:4: “His (God’s) brightness was like the light, rays flashed from his hand.”


2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2
In contrast to the veil that remains over the face of Moses and over those who hear the law of Moses, the Lord removes the veil from believers and reveals to us the glory of the Lord.

At the beginning of chapter 3, Paul sets forth the differences between the old covenant through Moses and the new covenant God established in Jesus Christ that far exceeds the former one in splendor and therefore in permanence.


Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)
In response to the discussion about the identity of Jesus, God announces from a cloud on the mountain that Jesus is his Son, his Chosen, and that the disciples should listen to him.


Having his identity and destiny revealed to the select disciples, Jesus demonstrated the power and reign of God by exorcising an unclean spirit from a boy and restoring him to his father.

Points of similarity with Mark 9:2-9 and Matthew 17:1-8
(1) The context following the questions about the identity of Jesus, beginning at Luke 9:18
(2) The entourage of Jesus, Peter, James, and John
(3) The event on a mountain
(4) The change of Jesus’ appearance
(5) The appearance of Moses and Elijah
(6) Peter’s proposal to build three booths
(7) An overshadowing cloud
(8) The voice of God from the cloud
(9) The announcement “This is my Son…; listen to him”
(10) The silence of the disciples about what they had seen

Points of difference from Mark and Matthew
v. 28 “Now about eight days after these sayings” (perhaps via Lev. 23:33-36) “and went up on the mountain to pray”
v. 29 “And as he was praying”
vv. 31-32 “who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep but kept awake, and they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were departing from him,…”
v. 33 “not knowing what he said” (similar in Mark but omitted in Matthew)
v. 35 “my Chosen” rather than “Beloved” (Matt and Mark)
v. 36 Silence commanded by Jesus in Matthew and Mark

Key words
V. 28. to oros = “the mountain”: Consider Luke’s “theological geography” in the following passages: Luke 3:5 (OT quote); 4:29; 6:12; 8:32; 19:29 (Olives), 37 (Olives); 21:21 (plural), 37 (Olives); 22:39 (Olives); 23:30.

V. 28. proseuchomai = “pray”: Jesus in prayer: 3:21 (at his baptism); 5:16 (in the wilderness); 6:12 (on the mountain); 9:28, 29 (on the mountain); 11:1 (in a certain place); 22:41, 44 (at the Mount of Olives; Jesus instructing his disciples about prayer: 6:28; 11:2; 18:1, 10, 11; 20:47; 22:40, 46.

V. 31. exodos = “departure”: only here in NT; The word appears in LXX of Israel’s salvation from Egypt (Ps. 104:38; 113:1) and euphemistically of death (Wisdom of Solomon 3:2; 7:6).

V. 31. doxa = “glory”: Luke 2:9, 14, 32 (all in reference to the Lord/God); 4:6 (offered by Satan to Jesus); 9:26, 31, 32; 12:27 (of Solomon); 14:10 (honor accorded a guest); 17:18 (praise to God); 19:38 (praise to Jesus at entry into Jerusalem); 21:27 (the splendor of the coming Son of Man); 24:26 (the glory of Christ following suffering).

V. 35. ho eklelegmenos (a verbal adjective of eklego ) = “the chosen”): This form of the word appears only here in the NT. Other forms of verb in Luke: 6:13 (Jesus chooses 12 apostles “on the mountain”); 10:42 (Mary chooses to be taught by Jesus); 14:7 (guests choose the places of honor). In the LXX the verb exelexato refers to the Lord’s choosing the one “who is his, who is holy, and will cause him to come near to him” (Num.16:5: the one so chosen was Moses). At Isaiah 42:1 the Greek has the noun eklektos and the parallel is pais mou rather than huios mou as here; the reference is to the Servant of the Lord. Eklektos is used for the only “Jesus” in the Old Testament, i.e., Joshua, at Numbers 11:28. At Luke 23:35 Jesus is mocked at the cross by those who challenge him to save himself “if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One”; there, too, the noun form eklektos is used. At the baptismal announcement Luke (3:22) follows Mark in using agapētos (“beloved”).

V. 35. akouete autou = “listen to him”: The words are identical to those that describe the one Moses promised at Deut. 18:15. He said that the Lord would “raise up for you a prophet like me from among you … you shall listen to him.”

V. 37. “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain”: Luke places the miracle of Jesus’ rebuking the unclean spirit on the day following the transfiguration event. That detail is not mentioned in Mark’s version; neither is the discussion between Jesus and the disciples on the way down the mountain (Mark 9:9-13). Here, the descent from “the mountain” leads to the clamor of the crowds to meet their needs. The sequence sounds like that in chapter 6 where after commissioning the twelve “on the mountain,” “Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place,” where the crowds met them (6:12-19). Note the comparison and contrast with the first lesson about Moses’ descent from the mountain.

V. 41. hō genea apistos kai diestrammenē = “O faithless and perverse generation!”: Luke writes several times of Jesus’ teaching about “this generation” (11:30-51), including “this generation’s rejection of Jesus (17:25). The description “faithless generation” appears on Jesus’ lips in the same story at Mark 9:19, but the addition of “perverse” seems to originate from Deuteronomy 32:5 (LXX).

V. 42. epetimēsen de ho ‘Iēsous tō pneumatic tō akathartō = “But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit”: The verb “rebuke” is a technical term in the Bible. The only legitimate subject of the verb is YHWH in the OT and Jesus in the NT. The object of the verb is always some expression of chaos that stands in the way of God’s plans for the orderly rule of the kingdom. In the OT, the representatives of chaos are the sea, monsters of the sea, and Satan. In the synoptic gospels, such representatives of chaos are the sea, demons and unclean spirits, and Satan in the form of Peter.

V. 42. kai iasato ton paida kai apedōken auton tō patri autou = “and he healed the boy and gave him back to his father”: The sequence is similar to Elijah’s raising from the dead the widow of Zarephath’s son (1 Kings 17:23) and to Jesus’ raising from the dead the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:15). In each case, as here, the on who worked the miracle “gave him back” to his mother or father. The healings result in the restoration of relationships. Immediately following this scene, Jesus tells his disciples of his impending arrest (vss. 43b-45).

V. 43. epi tē megaleiotēti = “at the majesty of God”: The Greek word appears at 2 Peter 1:16 as a reference to the transfiguration event and the words God spoke on the mountain. The people saw in Jesus’ act of rebuking the work and power of God.

Wrestling with the Word, episode 9: Transfiguration of our Lord, year B (Feb. 22, 2009) February 3, 2009

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Transfiguration of our Lord

The Transfiguration of our Lord occurs at a strategic place in the church year. On the one hand, it closes the Epiphany Season in which we focused on the various ways Jesus is revealed–as the Son of God with authority to preach and teach, cast out demons and heal the sick. Our gospel readings for the past two months have taken us through the first chapter of Mark.

We are about to embark on the season of Lent. During this time, we focus, on the one hand, on walking with Jesus through his sufferings to his tragic and untimely death. On the other hand, we celebrate that we confess our faith in the Lord who walks with us in our sufferings–physical and emotional, spiritual and social We worship a living Lord who knows intimately the sorrows we experience. “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.”

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 9: Transfiguration of our Lord, Year B.


2 Kings 2:1-12
For some unwritten reason the Lord took Elijah the prophet up to heaven in a whirlwind, leaving behind the prophetic successor Elisha to carry on his work.

The first chapter of 2 Kings places the prophet Elijah squarely once more within the context of history, for it describes the role he played in dealing with Ahaziah, King of Israel. Having suffered a serious accident, the king sought healing from the Canaanite god Beelzebul, but Elijah prevented the mission from taking place. As a result, three regiments of fifty men each, sent to bring Elijah to court, were destroyed by fire from heaven. Finally, after hearing Elijah’s prophecy that the king would surely die, Ahaziah expired, paving the way for  Jehoram to succeed to the throne.

Key Words
Vv. 3, 5.  hechešû = “be silent”:  the curious command might be related to the controlling of the chaotic waves at Ps. 107:29. The order seems to have become part of Jesus’ responsibility in the NT when he silences the demons/unclean spirits and the storm (see Mark 1:25; 4:39).

V. 8.  wayyakkeh ‘et-hammayim wayyēchātsû hēnnā wāhēnnā = “and he struck the waters and they were parted to the one side and to the other”:  cf. the parting of the “sea” by Moses at Exod. 14:22, and of the Jordan by Joshua at Josh. 3:17 and by Elisha at 2 Kings 2:14.

V. 11.  wayya`al ’ēlîyāhû base‘ārâ haššāmāyim = “and Elijah went up in the cloud (to) heaven”:  Until this point in the Bible the only one who has gone up without record of his dying is Enoch (Gen. 5:24). Mystery over Moses’ actual death arose because no one knows where his grave is located (Deut. 34:6). Because of these peculiarities regarding their deaths, Enoch, Elijah, and Moses came to play important roles in later apocalyptic expectations.


Psalm 50:1-6
The psalm appears to form part of a liturgy in which the Lord comes into the presence of the people during worship, perhaps even a specific festival, in order to judge their sins and to promise ultimate salvation. These introductory verses describe a theophany, that is, a God-appearance, in terms of the customary signs and wonders. In verse 5 the Lord refers to the covenant with the people made with a sacrifice (perhaps a reference to the blood spilled and sprinkled at Mount Sinai at Exodus 24:3-8).


2 Corinthians 4:3-6
While Satan has blinded the eyes of unbelievers from seeing God’s light in Christ, God has manifested the divine glory in the face of Christ to those whom God sends to proclaim the word.


Mark 9:2-9
After hearing a variety of understandings about the identity of Jesus, God settles the issue by announcing that Jesus is God’s “beloved Son” and does so in such a way that all the expectations about who Jesus is come together in an unexpected way.

Beginning at 8:27 Jesus raises questions to his disciples about his own identity in terms of (1) what do the crowds say about him (vv. 27-28, (2) what do the disciples themselves say about him (v. 29), and (3) what does Jesus say about himself (v. 31). Discussion and debate ensue over the necessity of Jesus’ suffering, and so Jesus proceeds to talk about discipleship in terms of bearing the cross. Now occurs the answer to the question in terms of what God says about him.

Key Words
V. 2.  kai meta hēmeras hex = “and after six days”: At Hos. 6:2 the expression “after two days” is synonymous with “on the third day.” If “after six days” is the same as “on the seventh day,” we have here a poetic expression that indicates the climactic act to some preceding activity (see Gen. 2:2; Exod. 24:16; Josh. 6:15).

V. 2.  oros hypsēlon = “a high mountain”:  a technical term in the LXX for mountains or hills or even sanctuaries which serve as holy places, points of contact between heaven and earth. Such mountains are sometimes called the “navel of the earth”  (see Judg. 9:37; Ezek. 38:12). At 2 Peter 1:17-18 the author speaks of “the holy mountain” as the one on which the transfiguration occurred.

Mountain functions in the Bible, especially Sinai/Horeb and Zion
Invitation (Exod. 3:2-3; 19:20; 24:1-2, 12-14)
Theophany signs (Exod. 3:1-6; Exod. 19:16-17; 20:18; Isa. 6:1-8 )
Revelation of divine name (Exod. 3:1-17)
Revelation of divine will (saving at Exod. 3; commandments at Exod. 20)
“On that day” (Isa. 2:2-4)
Eating and drinking (Exodus 24:9-11; Deut. 12:7; 14:26)
“On that day” (Isa. 25:6-8 )
Commissioning (see Exod. 3:10; Ps. 2:6; Mark 3:13-19)

V. 2.  metemorphōthē = “he was transfigured”:  compare the change in Moses’ face as he spoke with God on Mount Sinai (Exod. 34:29-30), causing Moses’ to put a veil on his shining face (see the second assigned lesson for the day from 2 Cor. 4:3).

V. 4.  “Elijah with Moses”:  the only two persons with whom God spoke directly on Mount Sinai/Horeb (Exod. 24:19ff; 34:10-28; 1 Kings 19:15-18). Further, the OT tradition allows the hope that the two will reappear by raising questions about each of their deaths. Elijah’s assumption into heaven (2 Kings 2) and the unknown site of Moses’ burial (Deut. 34:6) contributed to this tradition. At 9:12-13 Jesus tells his disciples that Elijah must come before the end to prepare all things. Indeed, he has already come (apparently in John the Baptizer), setting the stage for the suffering of the Son of Man. John the Seer apparently alludes to this tradition in referring to the “two witnesses” of the end time (Rev 11:3). Their appearance here confirms that the end time has already begun in Jesus. Note that in the LXX there is “Jesus” on the mountain also at Exod. 24:13.

V. 5. poiēsōmen treis skēnas = “let us make three booths”: Peter’s remark seems to relate to the Festival of Booths but the intention is not clear. Or he might have considered the appearance of Elijah, Moses, and Jesus (the Messiah) indicates the kingdom has come on earth and that the three need somewhere to live. Yet, Mark suggests in the next verse that he did not know what he was saying.

V. 6. ou gar ēdei ti apokrithē, ekphoboi gar egenonto = “for he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid”: Through Mark’s Gospel runs a theme called “the incomprehensibility of the disciples” (see 4:41; 6:51-52; 8:32; 14:40). He had not yet received the message of the event.

V. 7.  “a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud”:  note the similarity with the Sinai tradition at Exod. 24:15-18. At Exod. 40:34, the cloud is related to glory of the Lord, both indicating God’s presence at the tent of meeting/tabernacle.

V. 7.  houtos estin ho huios mou ho agapētos, akouete autou = “This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him”:  The secret is out! Not only the unclean spirits and demons know who Jesus is. The first part of the announcement “you are my Son” confirms Peter’s confession (8:29) that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah (see Ps, 2:7). The combination “beloved son” (huios agapētos) appears in the LXX only to define Isaac at the point at which he is to be sacrificed (Gen. 22:2, 12, 16), thus confirming Jesus’ contention that he is the one who must suffer and die (8:31). The third part “listen to him” alludes to Deut. 18:15 and thus confirms the popular view that he is the eschatological prophet like Moses. That we understand the identity of Jesus on the basis of God’s revelation is demonstrated further by Martin Luther’s teaching about the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed.