Hope–Christ’s Future Return: a Reflection on Matthew 17:1-29 and 2 Peter 1:16-21
The transfiguration tells us who we are and to whom we belong. It calls us to enter the deep realities and relationships of the people with whom we worship, live, and serve. Martin Thielen writes, “Faith practices, and not just faith beliefs, contribute to our contentment as believers.” The transfiguration reminds us that Jesus’ first coming was true, that he is God, and his future return is immanent.
In Matthew 17:1-29, we have a real event with real people involved in a surreal kind of situation, the transfiguration. What Peter, James, and John see is not Jesus becoming something else, but a pulling away of the veil of humanity. They see the divinity of Jesus. Peter, James, and John see God. At the transfiguration, Peter suggests the building of three dwellings: one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Peter remembers the Tent of Meeting. The Tent of Meeting was where Moses met with God and represented direct communication with God. Peter wanted a place to meet with God.
Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing when defining moments occur. September 11, 2001; the resignation of President Nixon; the landing of Apollo 11 with the first two humans on the Moon and man’s first to step onto the lunar surface; and the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dwight M. Lundgren, Director of National Ministries for the American Baptists USA, writes, “We all have experiences that anchor our lives, shape our values, and define our commitments.” Peter had an experience with God at the transfiguration and tried to capture it permanently in tents to remember.
Peter’s memory of the transfiguration like our memory of God’s activity in our lives informs hope. The text in 2 Peter discusses the glory of God that followers of Jesus will experience when Jesus returns…at the Second Coming. 2 Peter 1:16-21 makes two points regarding the fact of Christ’s future return. First, Jesus will return in glory. The debate in this regard focuses on the truth of prophecy juxtaposed to mythology. Peter addresses the charge that the second coming of Christ is clever myth by shoring up the truth of divine revelation. The prophets told of Jesus’ first coming. The Father revealed Jesus in glory at the transfiguration. And the New Testament proclaims the future return of Christ. Second, God inspires prophecy. Prophets do not speak on their own accord. They are inspired by God. Mythology is not inspired by God. Mythology is designed by human to explain human experience. Prophecy is a form of God speaking into human experience.
Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, San Diego, relates the following personal story:
Anxiously anticipating the quite premature delivery of our triplets, I will never forget the moment that the doctor looked at me and announced, “They’re all alive!” It was not a foregone conclusion (at least for one of them) and until that report, my wife and I were in suspense. All of the wishful thinking—even from certified medical professionals—could not alleviate that suspense, turning possibility into actuality. I could believe all I wanted in a successful delivery, but I had no promise to rely on, either from God or the doctors, and the intensity of my believing it had nothing to do with the state of affairs. My confidence developed entirely on the words that the doctor uttered. Similarly, the gospel is news because it reports a completed event. Faith does not make something true, but embraces the truth.
The transfiguration gives us hope that whatever happens in your life, God is in control. Because God does what God has promised. The glory of God inhabits everyday life; stealing in, interrupting, and startling us. The Table demonstrates that reality. Others can see God’s glory in us, recognize God’s love at work, and see Jesus. The Christian life is a matter of choosing to believe that we are chosen. Are you ready for Jesus’ future return?
Martin Thielen, Searching For Happiness (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016), 128.
Dwight M. Lundgren in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 446.
My thinking in this paragraph has been informed by the writing of Pheme Perkins, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary, First and Second Peter, James, and Jude (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1995), 172-177.
Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2009), 123-124.
Some ideas in this paragraph are adapted from a sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. A.K.M. Adam. The sermon referenced is on the Transfiguration found in Flesh and Bones (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001), 13.