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Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration

Julian Spriggs M.A.

When we read the gospels today, we read them with the benefit of hindsight. We know the end of the story - the cross and resurrection, and the significance of these in bringing salvation to the world.

In order to understand what is happening in the gospels, we need to try to recreate the original events in our minds, and see them from the perspective of the twelve disciples and other eyewitnesses to Jesus and his ministry. None of these people knew the end of the story, and had particular expectations of what they thought the future would bring.

Because of this, they often misunderstood, or could not accept what Jesus said about himself. They often reacted in ways that seem strange to us. It is easy for us today to think they were being slow to understand. It is important that we do not criticise them or point the finger, with the superior or even proud attitude of wondering how they could be so slow or stupid.

The big question

Throughout the four gospels run the big questions of ‘Who is this Jesus?’ and ‘What did he come to do?’

As we read the accounts, we can observe the disciples wrestling with these questions, as they try to decide whether Jesus was the Messiah, the anointed one God had been promising for hundreds of years. It seemed to them that some of the actions and words of Jesus fitted their expectation of him being the Messiah, while other things he said and did confused them. To put it in modern wording, he ticked some of the boxes but not others.

This big question was asked directly after Jesus had calmed the storm in the Sea of Galilee. The disciples were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?’ (Mk 4:41).

The big secret

In Mark’s Gospel there is an interesting and sometimes rather puzzling theme. It is seen in the following examples: The man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit was calling out that he knew Jesus was the Holy One of God. Jesus rebuked him, saying ‘Be silent, and come out of him.’ (1:26-27). The cleansed leper was sternly warned not to say anything to anyone (1:43). After raising the daughter of the synagogue leader from the dead, Jesus strictly ordered them that no one should know about it (5:43). In the account of the transfiguration, Jesus again ordered his disciples to tell no one about what they had seen (9:9).

This is often known as ‘the Messianic secret’. Jesus performed actions that demonstrated he was anointed by God and worked in the power of God, such as healing diseases, feeding multitudes in the desert, casting out demons, and showing power over nature. However, when people began to say who he was, he told them to keep quiet. We would naturally think that Jesus would want people to know that he was the Messiah, but instead, he silenced them.

Peter’s confession

Soon before the transfiguration, Jesus had asked his disciples about who he was. On the way to Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mk 8:27). In reply, they gave the popular understanding of who Jesus was: John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets (8:28).

Jesus then asked, “But who do you say that I am?”, and Peter answered, “You are the Messiah” (8:29). After giving the correct answer, it is surprising that Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him (8:30). Again, there is an example of the ‘Messianic secret’.

Instead of congratulating Peter on giving the correct answer, he gives the first prediction of his suffering and death. “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said this quite openly.” (8:31-32). This was the first time that Jesus predicted his suffering and death, which would have come as a great shock and surprise to his disciples. He repeated this prediction at least twice more, sometimes briefly and sometimes in more detail (9:31, 10:33-34).

In response, Mark notes that Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him (v32b). The actual words of Peter are not recorded, so it is a matter of speculation about what Peter said to Jesus.

The response of Jesus was to rebuke Peter publicly. “But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” (v33).

The popular expectation of the Messiah was of a political or military figure, a glorious conquering hero on a white horse who would deliver Israel from the Romans. He would be rather like Judas Maccabaeus, who led the Jews into victory over the Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucids during the inter-testamental period. The disciples would also have this understanding, which would explain why Peter responded in the way he did. In popular understanding there was no possible way that the Jewish Messiah will suffer and die, and particularly not by crucifixion. According to the law of Moses, anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse (Deut 21:23), and it was unthinkable for them that the Messiah would come under God’s curse.

Jesus had to re-educate his disciples about the true nature of the Messiah, that instead of glory now, the cross must come first, as the way to glory is through suffering and death. There will be suffering first, then glory, for Jesus and for his disciples. They too have to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him (v34).

Peter’s confession marks a turning point in the ministry of Jesus in all three synoptic gospels, but is particularly evident in Mark’s Gospel. Before this, Jesus focussed on his public ministry in and around Galilee, demonstrating the coming of the kingdom of God, healing the sick, casting out demons, as well as teaching the crowds about the nature of that kingdom. After Peter’s confession, the emphasis changes away from the crowds as Jesus spends more time with his disciples preparing them for his suffering and death in Jerusalem.

The Transfiguration

Six days after Peter’s confession is the transfiguration, through which the disciples are privileged to see a preview of Jesus in his glory, and hear the Father’s acknowledgement of his Son (9:2). It is only the inner group of three disciples, Peter James and John who receive this revelation.

Jesus took his disciples to a high mountain. Mountains were frequently significant places of meeting with God in the OT, including Sinai and Zion. There is an important theme in the OT of God’s holy mountain. Sinai was where Moses and Elijah both received a vision of the glory of God, known as a theophany.

Jesus was transfigured (Gk ‘metamorphosed’) before them (v2b-3). Jesus was transformed in their sight as the veil of his humanity was briefly lifted allowing them to see the dazzling white of the glory of the divine Jesus. They were allowed to see Jesus as he will be once he ascended to heaven. Jesus is described in a similar way in the Book of Revelation (eg. Rev 1:13-16), and this is the glorified Jesus of the age to come at the time of the consummation of the kingdom.

Elijah and Moses then appeared and were talking with Jesus (v4). Moses is the representative of the Old Covenant, the giver of the law. Elijah is the representative prophet who will come before the day of the Lord (Mal 4:5). Their appearance is a sign of the coming of the end of the age.

Peter makes a rather impetuous response to their appearance, wanting to make three dwellings (tents, Gk ‘skene’) for Jesus, Moses and Elijah (v5). It is interesting to consider why he said this. He probably thought that the appearance of Moses and Elijah was the sign that the end of the age had come now, the time of the second exodus and the eternal Sabbath rest. He assumed that God would now need another tabernacle where he could dwell in his glory and communicate with human beings. Again Peter’s thought was of glory now. He had not accepted and had filtered out of his mind what Jesus had predicted about his suffering and death only a few days earlier.

A cloud then overshadowed them (v7), and from this cloud God spoke. On the OT, God often spoke from a cloud, as on Sinai (Ex 24). A cloud was often part of the theophany. As at his baptism (1:11), God again affirmed that Jesus was truly his Son, both in glory and in suffering. The disciples are urged to ‘Listen to him!’. They are to listen to his prediction of glory, and his prediction of his suffering which must come first. Jesus has come as the divine Son of God, God’s anointed Messiah, but also as the suffering servant of Isaiah (Is 52-53).

Moses and Elijah then disappear, leaving the focus solely on Jesus (v8). Again Jesus then orders them not to tell anyone about what they had seen on the mountain until after he had risen from the dead (v9).

On their way down the mountain, they ask Jesus about the relationship between Elijah and John the Baptist (9:12-13). This is a controversial topic and is discussed in more detail on another page on the website.

Over the following chapters, Jesus repeats the predictions of his suffering, but it is clear that the disciples had serious problems in accepting or understanding what he said. Their focus remained on the expectation of glory for Jesus and themselves. Later Jesus challenged them when they had been arguing over which of them was the greatest (9:33-34). James and John were rebuked for asking for the best seats to the right and left of Jesus in glory (10:37), and the other ten were angry with James and John - perhaps because they wanted the best places but James and John asked first.

The predictions really only became clear to them after the cross and resurrection, but particularly following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Peter's speech (Acts 2).

In conclusion, for Jesus the cross comes before the glory, but this is also true for his disciples and those who follow him through history, including today.

Message of the Kingdom

It is important for us to understand the nature of the coming of the kingdom of God. The expectation of the disciples was of the glory of the kingdom now, without the suffering. They expected Israel to become great and powerful, the hated Romans and other foreign powers overthrown, and the Messiah ruling in Jerusalem like King David.

However the kingdom came in a completely different way. Jesus came as the anointed Messiah, fulfilling the predictions of the prophets. He demonstrated the coming of the kingdom through miraculous signs, healings and casting out of demons. However he brought the kingdom through his suffering and death. The problem of sin had to be dealt with. Jesus was lifted up on the cross and came under God’s curse. In this way he took the penalty for all sin and rebellion past, present and future. He was the atoning sacrifice of Is 53, giving his life so those who believe in him can be forgiven and experience the blessings of the kingdom.

He was raised, showing that the power of death has been broken, and that new life has come. However, we still wait for the consummation of the kingdom. We are still waiting for him to come in his glory at his second coming. In this life, we can experience the blessings of the Gospel, including salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation with God and each other. However we are still living in a fallen world in fallen human bodies subject to sin and suffering. We need to keep the tension between the ‘Now’ and the ‘Not yet’.

One day Jesus will come in glory, as previewed in his transfiguration, when we will also be glorified with him.

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

New Testament History

Articles which give additional information about the history and culture of the first century, giving helpful background knowledge for the Gospels and Paul's travels.

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey.

More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Early Church Fathers

These are a series of pages giving biographical information about some of the more significant early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian, as well as some important groups and events in the first centuries of the church.

Artifacts in the British Museum relevant to Biblical studies

These are a series of pages describing artifacts in each gallery of the British Museum, which have a connection with the Bible.

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Historical documents

These are a series of pages containing historical documents which give helpful information for Biblical studies. These include Hittite suzerainty treaties with a similar structure to the Book of Deuteronomy, different lists of the New Testament books and quotations from Josephus and other ancient writers.

Life Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.