Saturday, March 02, 2019

Notes on Luke 9:28-36

Luke 9:28-36 is the gospel lesson for tomorrow, Transfiguration Sunday. If these help you with your thoughts in preparation for worship, that's great. (I don't claim to be a scholar, by the way.)

28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.

Matthew and Mark say that it was “six days” after. Augustine and other church fathers said that this resulted from rendering the count differently. “Eight days” seems to carry a theological point.

Nonetheless, it signals that what follows should be read in light of three things: Peter’s confession of Jesus (9;18-20); Jesus foretelling His death (9:21-22); and Jesus’ discussion of cross-bearing by disciples (9:23-27). Death (or departure or exodus) and how it can be squared with messiahship and glory constitute the theme.

Peter, James, and John: the inner circle of the inner circle.

Jesus goes to the mountain to pray. In Luke, major new events in Jesus’ ministry always are introduced in prayer.

29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.
Several commentators have pointed out that Luke, probably writing to Gentile Christians, did not use metamorphoo, because of its use in Hellenistic mystery religions.

While the three sleep, the full glory of Jesus’ radiance is seen in His communion with the Father (Hebrews 1:3; John 12:45).

30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.

I believe that the "glorious splendor" that envelops Moses and Elijah comes from Jesus.

They’re talking with Jesus.

31 They spoke about his departure,[a] which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.

Of course, departure here in the Greek is exodos. The original exodus involved passing through the wilderness and the waters into the promised land. Jesus’ departure will be similar: cross and resurrection. This term is used, I believe, only four times in the New Testament: three times in the gospels and once, significantly, by Peter of his own death (2 Peter 1:15). Jesus’ departure is His baptism (Luke 12:50).

“he was going to bring to fulfillment”: Jesus, in His sovereignty as God, was going to accomplish His exodus at Jerusalem. No matter the pretensions of human beings, Jesus was always in control of His mission. It’s what He had His face set to do (Luke 9:51).

32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.

It’s hard here not to think of the disciples asleep in the garden of Gethsemane. A lack of wakefulness always threatens their lives with God.

The three saw “his glory,” Jesus’ glory, “and the two men standing with him.”

33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)

Peter turns to religion. He wants to capture the holiness, rather than be swept up into the holy. It sounds so pious. But God’s glory can’t be contained.

Nor are Moses and Elijah to be put on par with Jesus.

34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.

The cloud (the nephele) brings the presence of God, as in the Old Testament. The three are afraid to enter this realm of God, though Peter had thought to capture it. This surfaces the difference between religion (Peter’s booth proposal) and faith (God sweeping us into His kingdom).

35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”

This reminds the reader/hearer of Jesus’ baptism and the voice that only He heard at the time. The voice then effectively announced the start of Jesus’ public ministry. Now, the voice prefaces Jesus’ movement toward Jerusalem (9:51) and His identity as the Messiah Who suffers (Luke 9:18-22). This is a word of assurance to be recalled after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
In Luke, there is no admonition from Jesus to not speak of the incident. At present, the three apostles have no bucket or category into which to place it; that won’t happen until Jesus’ death and resurrection show them what Jesus’ exodus entails.

Besides, there is such a thing as numinous awe, the overwhelming sense of being in the presence of God. Words fail. At the moment when Peter saw Jesus in His full glory, he blubbered the first thing that came into his head. It was both inadequate and heretical. He still didn’t understand Jesus’ deity. Silence was the appropriate response.

How little the three and the entire twelve understand is made clear in their argument over which one of them was the greatest in 9:46-48. No one who has come to understand Who Jesus is could possibly consider themselves “the greatest.” The transfiguration then, is like a time-released bomb that will detonate again and again in the lives of those who follow Jesus. His departure--cross and resurrection--were always part of the plan, for Him (9:22) and for those who follow Him (9:24). The path of glory goes through the cross, not around it.

[I'm pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

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