November 21, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 17:9-13 following the transfiguration.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Then the disciples asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
Jesus tells us here that his transfiguration was a vision, a kind of internal seeing or vivid imagining. The Oxford English Dictionary defines vision as “something which is apparently seen otherwise than by ordinary sight, especially an appearance of a prophetic or mystical character, or having the nature of a revelation supernaturally presented to the mind either in sleep or in an abnormal state.” What Peter, James, and John had experienced was a revelation while in a kind of suspended state of mind. Evidently, all three had the vision simultaneously as the power of God captured their awareness. They were coming down from this high, this altered state, coming down from the mountain.
Jesus was revealed to them as the Son of God. Elijah had indeed come again in the person of John the Baptist. But John and Jesus were not the embodiments of what the Jews anticipated. Historians believe that some 200,000 Jews had been killed in various rebellions before Jesus arrived on earth. Consequently, they yearned for liberation, for retribution, for bestowal of power upon God’s chosen people. They read into the scriptures meaning that supported this deeply held belief. John and Jesus didn’t conform to this belief and, thus, were rejected.
Peter, James, and John had a vision of Jesus’ resurrection and would not be able to fully comprehend that until after Jesus rose from the dead. That’s why Jesus told them not to tell anyone of their vision; they didn’t yet have a complete understanding of what it meant. The kingdom of God was not to be brought about through power and a conquering hero; it was to be brought about by living with compassion toward others and treating all with justice. It meant the acceptance of suffering and willingness to sacrifice selfish desires. Nobody would be able to grasp that until after Jesus’ death and resurrection and, even then, only a handful at first.
I think that Jesus took his closest three disciples with him so that they would corroborate the vision they saw after his resurrection. Had he taken only one, it would have been easy to dismiss the transfiguration as the wild-eyed fantasy of a fanatic. The witness of three made it more plausibly acceptable. The three in repeated conversations could support and bolster one another, flesh out details, and consider how to tell others most effectively. We need each other in this way, to be able to come to a more complete and true understanding of God and His will. Except for His Son, no other single person has the faculties by himself to discern. No one has the mind of God. We should beware of those who claim they do, people like Jim Jones or David Koresh or Fred Phelps. They are false prophets and the instruments of evil.
God told Peter, James, and John simply, “Listen to him.” In Jesus’ words we can learn God’s will for us and His vision of the kingdom.