Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Further Adventures of Peter

We've seen Peter get to know Christ. We've seen him walk on water, we've seen him acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, and seen him totally slapped down by Christ for trying to turn him away from God's purpose. Now we get to see him make a total fool of himself when he probably should be reverently silent. This, my friends, is the Transfiguration (Matt. 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9).

First, a bit of technical stuff. The original Greek word, translated as transfiguration, is metamorpho, and the form actually used in the verse (Matt. 17:2) is metamorphothe (according to my room mate and good friend Mike Towsen). According to the internet, the word means to transform, to literally or figuratively metamorphose or change. It can also mean to change the outside to match the inside (which is pretty freaking sweet).

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him up a high mountain. These are the same three people he takes with him when he prays in Gethsemene. This most likely demonstrates that these three were part of an inner group within the disciples, whom Christ trusted and relied upon more than the others.

So Jesus takes these three guys with him up to the mountain and out of nowhere, "[Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him." This is pretty nuts. We, not being born and raised Jewish, don't really get the full craziness of this moment. Jesus starts shining really bright, like the sun, bringing to mind heavenly images from Daniel and Isaiah. With him is Moses, who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, who brought down the Ten Commandments, who interceded between God and Israel; and also Elijah, easily one of the most powerful prophets in the Old testament (top 2, certainly), faster than a speeding chariot, slaughterer of the priests of Baal, bringer of both drought and rain. This is HUGE, to three Jewish men born and raised in the faith.

Now, Elijah and Moses don't just stand there, but start talking to Jesus. And Luke records that they "spoke of [Jesus'] departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." (Luke 9:28). This seems very interesting, and may shed some light on what Peter says immediately following the exchange. Luke tells us that "as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you, and one for Moses and one for Elijah." Luke then explains this comment--"not knowing what he was saying." For a long time, I've thought of Peter's comment as an utterly nonsensical nonsequitor, uttered in the heat of the moment, the ultimate example of something that sounded way better in your head. And it is all these things. But I think there's something more to it.

Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking of Jesus' immanent departure, and if there's one thing the disciples clearly don't have a firm grasp on, it's what is going to happen at Jerusalem. So Peter probably doesn't understand what they're talking about--all he knows is that they're talking about Jesus leaving. Jesus, the one person he loved so much that he walked on water to try to get to him. Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, prophesied to redeem the people of Israel. And now he's going to leave? That is why, just as "the men were parting from him [Jesus]," Peter makes his move. He thinks that Jesus might leave right now. And he doesn't want that to happen yet. "Hey, isn't it great that we're all here?! Let's make you guys three tents and we can all hang out together!" It's inappropriate. It's poorly thought out. It just doesn't make any sense at all. But, once again, it tells us something about Peter. It demonstrates an eagerness to be with Jesus and an unwillingness to part from Him. Now, as we saw in Mat. 16:21-23, this desire itself can be twisted and perverted, but this time Peter is not rebuked.

I can imagine an awkward silence following Peter's remark, broken when "a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.'" The disciples, hearing this voice, after everything else that has already happened, quite sensibly fall on their faces. Imagine Peter's fear, in the sudden silence following these words from heaven, that he will look up to find Jesus gone. Imagine his relief, his incredible joy, when he feels a touch on his shoulder and hears the voice that had called him from his fishing boat say "Rise, and have no fear." And then they descended the mountain together.

This post was written in 2011. And in 2014, I published my very own book, Simon, Who Is Called Peter. It's a First-Person narration, meaning it gets you inside the head of Jesus' most notorious disciple. However, it's also extensively footnoted, referencing dozens of commentaries and scholarly works on the life of Peter. Clint Arnold, Dean of Talbot School of Theology, calls it "an account that is both faithful to the biblical text and engagingly expressed," and Darian Lockett, Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, describes it as "a comprehensive portrait of Peter that is delightfully and skillfully woven together with the fabric of the New Testament." If that sounds like something you'd like to read, check it out!

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