Thursday, August 18, 2011

Matthew 17:1–13

Matthew 17:1–13 (ESV): The Transfiguration


In this passage Jesus takes three of his disciples—Peter, James, and John—up onto a high mountain, where he is “transfigured” before them. That is, they were able to see him in his glory, not just as a human man, as they’d been used to seeing him. Then, while he was transfigured, Moses and Elijah appeared with him, and talked to him.

The disciples don’t even know what to say; Peter offers to set up three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. (It doesn’t say so in Matthew, but in the parallel passage in Mark 9:2–8 (ESV) it’s made clear that Peter was terrified.) But even while Peter is still speaking a voice comes from above, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (verse 5 (ESV)).

This is too much for the disciples who fall down on their faces in terror, but Jesus comes and touches them and tells them to have no fear and to get up. When they do, he’s alone, and looking like a human again.

They go back down the mountain, and Jesus commands them not to tell anyone what they’ve seen until he is raised from the dead. The disciples then ask Jesus a religious question: why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first? Jesus answers that Elijah did come, but they didn’t recognize him and “did to him whatever they pleased”—and that he will also certainly suffer (verse 12 (ESV)). The disciples understand that when Jesus said Elijah already came he was talking about John the Baptist.


This is an interesting passage partially because of how extraordinary it is. Jesus is transfigured into his Godly appearance, Moses and Elijah appear (the ESV Study Bible points out that Moses and Elijah would have represented the law and the prophets, respectively), and once again Jesus commands his disciples not to tell anyone what they’ve seen.

When Peter offers to set up three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, he wasn’t just saying any random thing that came to his mind (as I’d always thought he was), he was offering to make some kind of a memorial for the occasion. At least that’s what the good ol’ ESV Study Bible says; I assume there’s some Jewish tradition behind this.

In this passage Jesus again mentions his resurrection from the dead, but this time the disciples don’t question him on it. They do, however, go off on a tangent, asking about Elijah; I wonder if they’re trying to change the subject. They prove by their actions later on that they still don’t understand that Jesus has to die and be raised from the dead, but Peter was rebuked pretty harshly when he tried to argue against Jesus on this, so I wonder if the disciples still doubt the idea of Jesus dying (let alone being raised from the dead), and are instead just trying to avoid the topic.

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