Transfigured Hermeneutics 7—The Bright Morning Star

A few months ago, I started a series over on Reformation21 on the subject of Transfigured Hermeneutics. For various understandable reasons, following a change in editorial direction for the site, they have decided not to run the final four parts (although various posts of mine will still appear there from time to time). For this reason, I am completing the series on my own blog. You can catch up on the first six parts here:

Transfiguration and Exodus
Transfiguration as Theophany
Jesus as God’s Glory Face in John’s Gospel
The High Priest and the New Temple
The Climactic Word

The following is the seventh part.

This is the seventh of a ten part exploration of the meaning of the Transfiguration and its significance for Christian theology and scriptural reading. Within previous posts, I discussed the relationship between the Transfiguration and the events at Mount Sinai. In the post preceding this one, I argued that, at the Transfiguration, Jesus is presented as God’s great and climactic Word to humanity. Within this post, I will turn to explore the relationship between the Transfiguration and the parousia.

Each of the accounts of the Transfiguration is preceded by a statement that some of those hearing Jesus’ words will not taste death before they see the kingdom (‘see the kingdom of God’—Luke 9:27; ‘see the kingdom of God present with power’—Mark 9:1; ‘see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom’—Matthew 16:28). What is meant by the ‘kingdom’ is presumably to be appreciated in light of the verse that precedes it: it is the coming of the Son of Man in his own and the Father’s glory. These statements are connected to the Transfiguration accounts that follow by the time reference with which those accounts begin.

A connection between the Transfiguration and the parousia—the glorious final appearing of our Lord—is a natural one. Meredith Kline writes:

When Christ’s parousia is spoken of as a revelation in glory, as it is repeatedly, what is in view is the specific idea that Jesus is the embodiment of the theophanic Glory of God revealed in the Old Testament. Jesus so identifies his parousia-Glory when he says the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father (Matt. 16:27; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26). Of the same import is the fact that the major features of the Old Testament Glory-cloud phenomenon reappear in the delineation of the glory of Jesus’ parousia. It is an advent-presence amid clouds and accompanied by the heavenly army of angels.[1]

At the Transfiguration, Jesus is present and manifest in this dazzling royal splendour, unveiling his Glory-face before which the world will stand in judgment, appearing in his Father’s glory. The connection between Transfiguration and parousia is most striking in Peter’s account of the event in his second epistle:

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For he received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…[2]

Here Peter explicitly and expressly connects Transfiguration with parousia. The Transfiguration is the unveiling of Christ as the majestic king, and of his kingdom rule in his Father’s glory (echoes of Psalm 2, as a fulfilled prophecy, should probably be heard in the Transfiguration account). The Transfiguration, Harink argues, is a proleptic apocalypse, much as that experienced by John on Patmos, or Saul on the road to Damascus.[3] ‘Because the apostles … at the transfiguration have, for a moment, already seen and heard Jesus Christ enthroned at the end of the ages in his divine majesty and glory, they are now also already certain … that he will in fact come to judge the earth and its inhabitants and set up his eternal reign over all things and all peoples.’[4] The Transfiguration is a guarantee of the coming realization of all of the prophetic promises—‘the prophetic word made more sure.’

It is also important to recognize that, for Peter, the parousia is framed less by the times and dates for some future divine action than it is by the person of Jesus Christ: the parousia is the coming revelation of the glory of Christ, a glory that he already possesses and which Peter saw for himself. What we look forward to is not so much a series of eschatological events but the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, as Peter proceeds to argue in verses 20-21, the Transfiguration serves to validate and confirm the prophetic word of Scripture, demonstrating that it is not of human origin or will, but given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. In the Transfiguration both the unifying origin and referent of the prophetic word of Scripture is disclosed. The Scriptures find their coherence in their common Spirit-inspired witness to and revelation of the glory that is seen in Jesus Christ.

The prominence that the Transfiguration is accorded within the second epistle of Peter merits closer attention. In his commentary upon the epistle, Douglas Harink suggests that, for 2 Peter, it is the Transfiguration, rather than the cross or resurrection, that ‘is put forward as the decisive christological event.’[5] This revelation of the glory of Christ is the revelation of the ‘final truth and reality of all things.’[6] The same light that first illumined the world (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4-6), the light that will dawn in the coming final day, is the light witnessed on the holy mountain. Harink remarks:

By recalling the glorious apocalyptic event of the transfiguration of our Lord, Peter directs a strong word against the theological rationalisms, reductionisms, and relativisms of his age and ours. While he offers a vigorous apologia for the truth of the gospel, he does not appeal to a foundation in universal rational first principles, available to everyone everywhere, or to an a priori universal religious sense, variously modified by historical and cultural experience—the standard post-Enlightenment modes of apologia for religious truth. Instead, Peter goes directly to his and the other apostles being eyewitnesses of an apocalypse of the truth of Jesus Christ. That apocalypse of the truth of all things is itself the origin and criterion of all claims about God and the beginning and end of all things.[7]

In the Transfiguration we witness the dazzling uncreated light that pierces and consumes the shadowy illusions of the darkness of the present age. Peter’s vision of future judgment in 2 Peter 3 entails a sort of ‘transfiguration’ of the world before the light of its glorious Lord, its bright morning star, whose coming day will dawn. ‘The transfiguring judgment and new creation that Peter envisages in 2 Pet. 3 amount to nothing less than God’s act of dissolving all other rational or ordering principles (the stoicheia; 3:10, 12) of the world and recreating the world in conformity with the truth of Jesus Christ.’[8]

In my next post, I will move to a discussion of the Apostle Paul’s exploration of themes of transfiguration in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4.

[1] Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999), 121-122
[2] 2 Peter 1:16-19
[3] Douglas Harink, 1 & 2 Peter [Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible] (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2009), 155
[4] Ibid. 156
[5] Ibid. 21
[6] Ibid. 156
[7] Ibid. 158
[8] Ibid.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in 2 Peter, Bible, Eschatology, Guest Post, Hermeneutics, Luke, NT, NT Theology, The Gospels, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Transfigured Hermeneutics 7—The Bright Morning Star

  1. Pingback: Transfigured Hermeneutics 8—Moses’ Veil | Alastair's Adversaria

  2. Pingback: Transfigured Hermeneutics 9—With Unveiled Faces | Alastair's Adversaria

  3. Pingback: Transfigured Hermeneutics 10—Transfigural Interpretation | Alastair's Adversaria

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