Transfigured Hermeneutics 10—Transfigural Interpretation

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 Bright Morning Star

Moses’ Veil
With Unveiled Faces

This is the final part of a ten part series of posts upon the Transfiguration. Within the series, I have argued for the immense significance of the event of the Transfiguration within redemptive history. I have maintained that the Transfiguration has far-reaching implications for the way that we read and relate to Scripture.

Kevin Vanhoozer writes:

The transfiguration is a mini-summa that recalls God’s presence in the history of Israel and anticipates the consummation of the covenant: the glory of God’s presence in his people and all creation. As such, it provides program notes as it were for understanding the whole narrative sweep of Scripture.[1]

The glory revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration discloses the identity of Christ and thereby the character of his mission. This is the glorious Saviour that came to earth in the incarnation. This is the glorious Son that was declared in the vision associated with his baptism. This is the glorious suffering Servant that went to the death of the cross. This is the glorious Lord that rose from the grave and ascended into the cloud that received him from his disciples’ sight. This is the glorious King that will come again to judge the living and the dead. It is in this glory that we will be caught up to dwell with him forever.

The Transfiguration is an apocalypse (an ‘uncovering’) and parousia (a ‘presence’ or ‘coming’) of the Lord Jesus Christ, anticipating his future return in that same glory, with all of the holy angels, to judge the living and the dead. All of God’s promises concerning the future kingdom are made more sure to us on account of the apostles’ witnessing of Christ’s royal majesty.

Not only does the Transfiguration manifest Christ’s identity in his earthly mission and guarantee the promises of his future appearing, it is also an event that stands as a key to the Scriptures and all of God’s earlier work in history. It is from this point that all of the threads of meaning can be tied together. The Law and the Prophets—Moses and Elijah—all witness to the glory of Christ. All of the Old Testament looks forward to, prefigures, anticipates, and foretells the ‘Exodus’ that Jesus would accomplish and fulfil in Jerusalem. This era of Law and Prophets was passing, but Jesus’ glory endures forever. The Transfiguration declares Christ to be God’s very Word, the One whom we must ‘hear’.

The Transfiguration is the unveiling of the identity of the great Actor in Israel’s history. The Son is the archetypal Prophet, the heavenly High Priest, the Messenger of the Covenant, the Angel of the Lord. It was the Son who visited Abraham at Mamre. It was the Son that Moses saw on Mount Sinai. It was the Son that Isaiah saw in his vision in the temple. All of God’s appearances to his people in the Old Testament were glimpses that culminate in the great unveiling of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ. John speaks of ‘glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.’ Paul speaks of ‘the glory of the Lord’ and ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’

The Transfiguration reveals that the glory of Christ is the beating heart of Scripture, its great Referent, its final telos.

In unveiling the glory of the Lord, the Transfiguration establishes a different way of approaching Scripture. The telos of the text of the Old Testament is now disclosed to us as it is uncovered as a mirror of the surpassing glory of Christ. The prophets speak of and anticipate this revelation of glory. The Scriptures are now seen to refer to Christ in a way we never formerly knew: he is the unknown Stranger who has accompanied the people of God to this point on our journey. We now know the point of Scripture, what it ultimately refers to. Vanhoozer proposes a model of ‘transfigural’ interpretation:

This “Spirited” referent (for this is how we should now think of the spiritual sense) is the “glory” of the literal sense: the divinely intended meaning. Typology is less a matter of sensus plenior than of sensus splendidior—the “how much more” glorious referent that the letter signifies when seen in the radiant light of the event of Jesus Christ. As the transfiguration displays the glory of the Son in and through his flesh, so “transfigural” interpretation discovers the glory of the prophetic word in the “body” of its text. De Lubac has it right: “the Old Testament lives on, transfigured, in the New.”[2]

As the veil is removed from the text and our hearts as we turn to our new covenant Lord the whole body of the Old Testament is transfigured, exposing his glory, a glory which was hidden there all along. Beholding this glory, we are similarly changed, conformed to the glorious image of the Son. In such a manner, we are brought into its narrative in a new way ourselves:

We have been transferred into the story of Jesus Christ, emplotted into his narrative, drafted into the drama of redemption. We too, the divine addressees of Scripture, are being transfigured, transcending history not in the sense of leaving it behind but of participating in the mystery—the glorious theodrama—in its midst.[3]

As those who reflect the glory and bear the image of Jesus Christ, the Glory-face of God, the glory the Scriptures declare is a glory that is ours too: ‘We too “figure” in the story.’[4] We are becoming the transfigured humanity that is the text’s telos. As we perceive the glory of the Lord in the mirror of Scripture, the Spirit of the Lord ‘inscribes’ the Word upon our hearts. By the work of the Spirit, we are now epistles of Christ, embodied proclamations of the enduring glory of his new covenant.

[1] Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering (eds.), Heaven on Earth? Theological Interpretation in Ecumenical Dialogue (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2013) 220.
[2] Ibid. 222
[3] Ibid. 223
[4] 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 Bible, Christian Experience, Eschatology, Hermeneutics, NT, NT Theology, Revelation, Scripture, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Transfigured Hermeneutics 10—Transfigural Interpretation

  1. Pingback: Whose Glory? On the Transfiguration - The Nicene Nerd

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