The Transfiguration and The Centrality of Christ

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For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form
(Col. 2:9)

And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ
(Eph. 1:9-10)

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In our Sunday Bible study we have been going through the gospel of Mark. Last Sunday we reached chapter nine, which contains an account of the transfiguration. The passage contains much for our teaching and instruction on many different levels, and other people made some very good points coming at it from several different perspectives. I don’t intend to cover all of that, or in any way be exhaustive. I’m simply going to put down (very briefly) a few thoughts on what I see as the central teaching of the account of the transfiguration.

The transfiguration reveals who Christ is and what that means. The whole occasion culminates when God the Father says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7). The entire account enriches our understanding of what that means–what is the person and work of the Son, and what it means to listen to him. At its heart the transfiguration is about the centrality and supremacy of Christ (and by extension, his work).

Christ is revealed as one “greater than Moses” (Heb. 3:3) in the very act of his transfiguration. In Mark we read, “There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mark 9:3, NIV). This is in direct contrast to Moses who “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD” (Exodus 34:29). The face, and only the face, of Moses was radiant with a reflected glory from the Lord, which was fading away (2 Cor. 3:3). Jesus, by contrast, was transfigured in complete radiance. This was no reflected glory shining from his face, but rather a revelation of glory hidden and now revealed–his radiant glory, the Son who “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3). This was not a glory fading away, but a glory soon to be revealed in the heavenly realms with the completion of Christ sacrifice and ascension. Christ is manifested in that glory in heaven (Rev. 1:13-18) and soon to be revealed in his second coming and forever in the new creation.

The contrast here shows the indescribable difference between Moses and the one now manifested in this transfiguration. Moses reflected glory, Jesus is the source of that glory!

The supremacy and centrality of Christ is again revealed by the presence of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration. Moses and Elijah–those one might call the two great pillars of the old covenantal relationship. How easy it is to think that with Moses, Elijah, and Jesus we have the great triumvirate. That seems to be the essence of what Peter was getting at with his offer to build three shelters (Mark 9:5). With Moses, Elijah, and Jesus we have the three parts that make the whole revelation of God. We have the Law, the Prophets, and the Messiah. If only we could sit up on the mountain and listen to these three teachers. But God resoundly rebukes the mentality that the Law, Prophets, and Jesus are all part of one larger revelation of God. “This is my Son” He thunders. “Listen to Him!” All thought of Moses and Elijah as two equal parts in some “triumvirate” is completely done away with. Moses and Elijah fade away before the Son. They are not equal to the Son, and in fact their work pointed to the Son as the one to whom everyone should listen.

People even today fail to grasp the full implications of what is going on here. God isn’t just suggesting that people ought to listen to Jesus in addition to these two other men, or even as the first among three. There is a certain mentality that thinks if we could have Moses and Elijah around that would be just great–but that fails to fully appreciate the reality of Christ. Moses and Elijah, servants of God, are far less than the Son of God, and to look for the presence of Moses and Elijah is a failure to grasp the greater offering of God–His Son. Christ is not an addition which we listen to as an addendum to the Law and the Prophets. He supersedes and fulfills all that came before. Even if people do not in their thoughts and actual words desire the persons of Moses and Elijah to teach them (and so depreciate the surpassing sufficiency of Christ and His Spirit) they do the same by seeking to live by the partial revelation contained in the Old Testament or by making the Old Testament somehow equivalent to Jesus Christ in various ways–whether it be trying to live by the commandments of the old covenant or some other particular manifestation. People who live in such a manner have failed to grasp the full meaning of God’s command “Listen to my Son!”

As Moses himself said,

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

The LORD said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. (Deut. 18:15-19)

As I have already implied, we have the work of Christ also revealed in the transfiguration. Christ is the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets, and the two great figures of the Old Testament economy come here as witnesses. That fulfillment is found in Christ’s death and resurrection, as Jesus himself teaches on this occasion (Mark 9:9-13) and as Moses and Elijah speak about themselves now (see Luke 9:30-31, “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem“), hundreds of years after they walked the earth in their mortal bodies. They come here, talking with the one who is going to fulfill all that they spoke about.

Christ fulfills all Scripture, and I think the result of that is seen even in the persons of Elijah and Moses. That is, not only did the words of Moses and Elijah in their earthly ministries look forward to the work of Christ, but also the works of Moses and Elijah look forward to the work of Christ. Moses brought out the newly formed nation of Israel from Egypt, and Elijah called back a wayward and rebelling Israel, and called out the holy remnant from that depraved generation. So Christ in his work on the cross was about to call out the holy remnant from rebellious and sinful Israel and form a new spiritual people of God from the Egypt of captivity to sin. Jesus is about to do what Moses and Elijah did, only he is going to do their works infinitely better. He is the fulfillment of what Moses and Elijah looked forward to, not only in word but also in their deeds.

In the transfiguration we see who Christ is: the Son of God, the revelation of God, the fulfillment of all Scripture, the all in all (Col. 3:11). And in the transfiguration we see what Christ will do: in fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets he will be crucified and on the third day rise, drawing people from all nations unto himself. But, having now seen how the transfiguration reveals who Christ is and what he will do, I’d like to return to the question of, “What does it mean to listen to him?”

To truly hear is to obey. In the transfiguration God has called us to hear and obey Christ. If we see Christ crucified as the Son of God and yet still fail to truly listen it is to no effect. We must leave behind the “weak and miserable principles” (Gal. 4:9) and that which is “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13) and cling fast to Christ. Moses went up on a mountain and received the two tablets. The disciples went up on a mountain and were presented (though they did not know it at the time) Christ crucified and arisen, a new and living way (Heb. 10:20), founded on better promises (Heb. 8:6). This is our covenant, not written on stone but on our hearts, a glory that is not fading away. To truly hear Christ is to believe in him.

Understanding that Christ is the revelation of God, and the fulfillment of all Scripture, enlightens our eyes to a right understanding and view of Moses, Elijah, their words and actions, and those of all the servants of God throughout Scripture. Seeing Christ, we look at all of these things anew, and relate to them anew in Christ.

I have written here only briefly, and one could study the transfiguration and its implications throughout scripture in depth to great profit. In this brief moment Moses and Elijah stood witness as Christ Jesus was transformed in all his glory and God the Father came down and said, “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him!” It is staggering in its implications, and its effects reverberate throughout Scripture. I could go on and on, if I had the time and the wisdom. I could start with John 1:14, or 2 Peter 1:16-20 (which is so rich in its implications), but I will close with this,

You show that you are a letter from Christ [. . .] written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:3-18, NIV)

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Perhaps I will find time to go back over this piece later, but for now I must let it go and hope there aren’t too many errors.

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