What about the Transfiguration?

by lovelylil 23 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • moggy lover
    moggy lover

    OOps... I goofed. My last sentence should read "......yet appeared in [not" is"] some way that integrates...."

    I only discovered this after I pressed the "submit" button.

    Mea culpa

  • Woodsman

    Excellent points Moggy Lover, but you failed to mention Acts 22 where Paul had a supernatural experience. Was it physical or spiritual in some way?

    Well he says he was "physically blinded" by the bright light. Also when he returned to Jerusalem he "saw" the Lord again but states he was in a trance thus showing he could recognize what was physical and what was spiritual.

    These accounts may all be pure fiction, but if not I find the physical events that occurred to be interesting.

  • Leolaia

    I can make some literary observations. In Mark, the oldest gospel, the transfiguration occurs at the mid-point and ties together the beginning (ch. 1) with the ending (ch. 15-16). Note that the voice from the cloud said "This is my Son, the Beloved" (9:7), and this reincorporates the divine confession at Jesus' baptism, "You are my Son, the Beloved" (1:11), as well foreshadows the confession by the Gentile at Jesus' crucifixion, "Truly this man was the Son of God" (15:39). This moment thus connects Jesus' baptism with his death.

    The same thing goes with the theme of Elijah. At Jesus' baptism, John the Baptist is with Jesus (1:9), and he functions a role similar to Elijah: he is the forerunner of Jesus as Elijah was of Elisha, and the moment the successor is appointed occurs at the same location for both: the Jordan River (2 Kings 2:7-8, Mark 1:9). Then at Jesus' death, the people are awaiting for Elijah to come and he doesn't (15:35-36). Both concepts (John functions the role of Elijah, Elijah is supposed to come) are combined in the transfiguration narrative; Jesus reveals that Elijah has already come and that he is John (9:13); the text is ambiguous however whether the Elijah that appears with Moses is the OT prophet or a postmortem John (since Jesus is answering in v. 13 a question posed by Peter, a question that is occasioned by the transfiguration, he does not necessarily claim that "the Elijah who is to come" is the same person as the OT prophet). Thus, we again have the baptism linked to the crucifixion.

    A third link pertains to Jesus' clothes: they become "dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher can make them" (9:2). This foreshadows the clothing of the "young man" at the tomb who wore "a white robe" (16:5), and this person recalls the "young man" when Jesus was arrested who "wore nothing but a linen cloth" who ran away naked (14:51-52). Both these statements recall the baptism in ch. 1: the river immersion that is described was done naked (they didn't have swimsuits in those days), and baptismal robes were typically white. Note also that John's clothing is described (1:6), namely animal skins, which recalls OT prophets like Elijah (cf. Hebrews 11:37), and which also recalls the mantle that Elisha receives from Elijah.

    The linkage between the baptism and death/resurrection is not accidental. This is exactly a mystical theme that is very characteristic of Mark, which elsewhere portrays martyrdom as baptism. See Mark 10:35-40, in which Jesus refers his coming martyrdom as a "baptism".

  • Narkissos

    Perhaps one might take the differences of perspective between the three Gospels into account.

    In the basic narrative (Mark) the story refers back to the baptism scene as constitutive of Jesus' secret identity as Son of God (no birth story before, same voice from heaven, v. 7), revealing it now to the three disciples (who shouldn't tell anyone, v. 9). Perhaps the climax is v. 8: "Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus." In any case I'd read it as a beautiful expression of the mystery of "identity" (especially with the three apostles watching the three-in-one, and prevented to set three separate tents for them).

    In Matthew Moses and Elijah (reverse order) stand for the "Law and Prophets" which Jesus fulfills (5:17).

    Luke psychologises the story as a revelation to Jesus, after he prayed (9:28). Moses and Elijah are "men in glory" and speak to him about "his departure (exodos), which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (31).

    In the latter cases the mystery is explained and somewhat spoiled imo.

    Why didn't John use it? Because his all-divine Jesus left no room for a particular moment of epiphany (except the cross as paradoxical "elevation")? Or (which boils down to the same) because his entire Gospel is a transfiguration?

  • lovelylil

    Good comments everyone!

    Now why is it that God's only true organization on earth cannot get any kind of descent understanding of the transfiguration but yet we apostates here have several plausable explainations? Hmm...Lilly

  • Annie Over
    Annie Over

    Matt 17:11 goes on to say .. Jesus replied, They are right, Elijah must come and set everything in order. And in fact, he has already come, but he wasn't recognized, and was badly mistreated by many. And I the Messiah shall also suffer at their hands. .. Then the disciples realized he was speaking of John the Baptist... So John the Baptist and his followers must have been the Elijah class at that time. But who was Moses? Did he represent Jesus?

  • Leolaia

    Very nice survey of the different characterizations of the transfiguration in the gospels, Narkissos. It shows that there is not a single interpretation possible when the Bible itself supplies several construals of the event. We should also not forget the version in 2 Peter 1. The interesting thing is that the transfiguration there shows a greater affinity to apocryphal Christian tradition than the canonical gospels.

    Yesterday I posted this on Jewish and Christian tradition of Elijah's ascension to heaven and future return, so it is worth reposting:

    The interpretation that Elijah was indeed carried to heaven and thus did not see death was the predominant one in the Second Temple period, and is presumed in some parts of the NT which refer to expectation of Elijah's return and which refer to Elijah's appearance during the Transfiguration (cf. Matthew 16:14, 17:3-4, 10-11, 27:47, Mark 6:15, 8:28, 9:11-12, 15:35-36, Luke 9:19, 30-33, John 1:21, Revelation 11:6). I have already referred to Malachi 4:5. There is also the Animal Apocalypse from the early second century BC, which states that Elijah was saved from his enemies by bringing him up into heaven to dwell with Enoch (1 Enoch 89:52; cf. 87:3 on the ascension of Enoch to heaven), who would both descend to the earth just before Judgment Day (1 Enoch 90:31, cf. Revelation 11:3-6, which refers to Elijah and Moses, while other sources such as the Apocalypse of Elijah refer to the two witnesses as Enoch and Elijah). Similarly, Sirach (c. 180 BC) states that Elijah "arose like a fire ... taken up in the whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses" so that he would return "to allay God's wrath before the fury breaks [i.e. Judgment Day], to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob" (48:1, 9-10). The Apocryphon of Elijah in the Dead Sea Scrolls (first century BC), tho damaged, also seems to refer to the return of Elijah "at the end" (4Q382, Fr. 31). See also Josephus, from the first century AD: "Elijah disappeared (aphanisthé) from among men," i.e. he no longer lived "among men" (Antiquities 9.2.2), which does not reflect an interpretation that Elijah was merely lifted to some other place in Israel. The first century AD Vitae Prophetarum also ends Elijah's career with his ascension in the chariot of fire (21:14-15). 4 Ezra (from c. AD 100) also states that those living at the end of the end (when the final trumpet sounds, 6:23) "shall see the men who were taken up, who from their birth have not tasted death, and the heart of man's inhabitants shall be changed and converted to a different spirit," this can only be a reference to Enoch and Elijah, and the reference to hearts being changed parallels the statement in Sirach 48:9-10 about Elijah. The Hebrew Mishnah (from c. AD 200) similarly prophesy Elijah's return, declaring that he will settle all disputes and play a role in resurrecting the dead (Eduyyot 8:7, Sotah 9:15). Finally, the idea that Enoch and Elijah were the only two people to ever escape death and who will return at the End is reported among the church fathers (cf. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 5.5.1, Hippolytus, De Antichristo, 47). In contrast to all this, I know of not a single reference to Elijah's journey up the whirlwind as a temporary sojourn to some other place in the land.
  • Narkissos

    After reading Leolaia's post, I'd just add that the connection with death / resurrection is also apparent from the immediately following dialogue:

    As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
  • Leolaia
    Now why is it that God's only true organization on earth cannot get any kind of descent understanding of the transfiguration but yet we apostates here have several plausable explainations?

    Because they are nothing but poseurs?

  • Narkissos

    Another interesting clue (at least for the original Markan story) is that both Moses and Elijah were granted a theophany on Yhwh's mountain (= Sinai).

    More generally about Elijah, have you noticed he could write posthumous letters (2 Chronicles 21:12ff)?

Share this