Transfiguration of the Lord


It is fitting for us to know that God is incorporeal, simple and without form and that he admits of no circumscription. Although it pertains to his nature not to be able to be circumscribed, very often to help us he makes use of visions, whenever he wills. And one can see that he appears to Abraham in one way, to Moses in another and to Isaiah in yet another; likewise, he showed Ezekiel still a different appearance. Therefore, whenever you see the variety of revelation, do not think that God has many forms, but rather listen to God as he speaks through the prophet Hosea: “I multiplied the visions, and I was proclaimed in parables in the warnings of the prophets.” He said, “I adopted likenesses,” not I appeared. He fashions in a vision however it suits him. So too blessed Ezekiel, when he had at length pondered on him whom he had seen to consist of gold and fire, added as he narrated the vision, “These things are an image of the glory of the Lord.” And he did not say that he had seen the Lord or even the Lord’s glory but rather something resembling the glory of the Lord.1


He who is now despised, the same will then be our judge; think ever on him and the river of fire: “For a river of fire” we read, “winds before his face”; for it is impossible for one who has been delivered over by him to the fire to expect any end of his punishment. But the unseemly pleasures of this life do not differ from shadows and dreams; for before the deed of sin is completed, the conditions of pleasure are extinguished, and the punishments for these have no limit. And the sweetness lasts for a little while, but the pain is everlasting.2


He who was described in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar as a rock cut without hands, which also grew to be a large mountain and smashed the earthenware, the iron, the bronze, the silver and the gold, is now introduced as the very person of the Son of man, so as to indicate in the case of the Son of God how he took on himself human flesh. [This is] according to the statement that we read in the Acts of the Apostles: “You men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up toward heaven? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven shall so come in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”3


All that is said here concerning his being brought before almighty God and receiving authority and honor and royal power is to be understood in the light of the apostle’s statement: “Who, although he was in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of humankind, and was found in his condition to be as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” And if the sect of the Arians were willing to give heed to all Scripture with a reverent mind, they would never direct against the Son of God the denigration that he is not on an equality with God.4


In this verse Peter strikes out at pagans and at heretics as well. Pagans were not afraid to divinize anything they happened to like, whereas heretics, although they received the mysteries of the true God, paid no attention to the teaching of Scripture but by wrongly interpreting it did their best to twist it to suit their own falsehoods.5


The constructions of the heretics are myths and human fantasies, which Paul wants us to avoid, as he writes: “Warn a heretic once or twice, and after that have nothing to do with him.” Peter is here already starting to do battle against the heretics. To the extent that they do not possess the truth, heretics are obliged to concoct a lie by using flowery words. But we are not like that, he says, because we saw the truth with our eyes when we were with him on the mountain. Therefore we have the prophets who have proclaimed the same truth to us, and even better, as we came to behold ourselves, the Word came to us. What the prophets foretold, Christ fulfilled when he appeared. We were witnesses of this, and we heard the Father’s testimony also.6


Peter knew that Jesus received the Father’s confirmation from heaven on three different occasions, in his baptism, at his passion and on the mountain. However, this was the one which he himself witnessed.7


The light which shone on them was the light of Scripture.8


In the night of this world, so full of dark temptations, where there is hardly anyone who does not sin, what would become of us if we did not have the lamp of the prophetic word? Will this word always be necessary? No. It is only necessary until the daylight comes. Right now we have a night lamp because we are children of God, and in comparison with the ungodly, we are the very daylight itself. But if we compare what we are now with what we shall be in the future, then we are still in darkness and need this lamp.9


Why does he take only these three with him? Because each one of these three was elevated above the rest. Peter showed his preeminence by exceedingly loving him; John by being exceedingly loved by him. James showed his superiority by his ready response to his brother: we are able to drink the cup and by his works and by doing what he said. For so earnest was James, and grievous to the Jews, that Herod himself imagined that he had bestowed a great favor on the Jews by killing him.10


Do you wish to see the transfiguration of Jesus? Behold with me the Jesus of the Gospels. Let him be simply apprehended. There he is beheld both “according to the flesh” and at the same time in his true divinity. He is beheld in the form of God according to our capacity for knowledge. This is how he was beheld by those who went up upon the lofty mountain to be apart with him. Meanwhile those who do not go up the mountain can still behold his works and hear his words, which are uplifting. It is before those who go up that Jesus is transfigured, and not to those below. When he is transfigured, his face shines as the sun, that he may be manifested to the children of light, who have put off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. They are no longer the children of darkness or night but have become the children of day. They walk honestly as in the day. Being manifested, he will shine to them not simply as the sun but as he is demonstrated to be, the sun of righteousness.11


Indeed, Jesus himself shone as the sun, indicating that he is the light which illuminates every one who comes into this world. And this is the sun to the eyes of the flesh, that is the sun to the eyes of the heart. His garments are a type of his church. For garments, unless held up by the one having donned them, fall. Paul was like the lowest hem of these garments. For he himself says, “For I am the least of the apostles,” and in another passage, “I am the last of the apostles.” On a garment, the hem is the last thing and the least. Just as that woman who touched the Lord’s hem was made well, so the church which came out of the Gentiles was saved by means of Paul’s preaching.12


A voice from the cloud said, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him. I am manifested through his preaching. I am glorified through his humility. So listen to him without hesitation. He is the truth and the life. He is my strength and wisdom. “Listen to him” whom the mysteries of the law foreshadowed, of whom the mouths of the prophets sang. “Listen to him” who by his blood redeemed the world, who binds the devil and seizes his vessels, who breaks the debt of sin and the bondage of iniquity. “Listen to him” who opens the way to heaven and by the pain of the cross prepares for you the steps of ascent into his kingdom.13


Consider the details of this passage. See if you can also say this: The disciples understood that the Son of God had been speaking with Moses. It was Moses who had said of God, “No one shall see my face and live.” The disciples understood the testimony of Moses about God. They were not able to endure the radiance of the Word. They humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God.
But after the touch of the Word, they lifted up their eyes. They saw Jesus only and no other. Moses, the law and Elijah the prophet had become one with the gospel of Jesus. They did not abide as they formerly were as three, but they became one. Think of these things in a spiritual sense.14


  1. COMMENTARY ON DANIEL 7.9–10. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (pp. 229–230). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. LETTER TO THE FALLEN THEODORE 2.3. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 232). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. COMMENTARY ON DANIEL 7.13–14. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 237). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. COMMENTARY ON DANIEL 7.13–14. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 238). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. ON 2 PETER. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 139). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. CATENA. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 139). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  7. COMMENTARY ON 2 PETER. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 140). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  8. INTRODUCTORY COMMENTARY ON 2 PETER. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 140). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  9. ON 2 PETER. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 141). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  10. THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 56.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 53). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  11. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 12.37. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (pp. 53–54). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  12. SERMON 78.2. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 54). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  13. SERMON 38.7. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 56). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  14. COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 12.43. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2002). Matthew 14-28 (p. 57). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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