Peter’s Response

This coming Sunday is the 2nd Sunday of Lent in Lectionary Cycle C taken from the Gospel of Luke 9:28-32 describing the Transfiguration of Jesus.

Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying.” (vv.32-33)

As before, Peter again responds, again without a full understanding.  Consider Peter’s proposal to make three tents (skēnḗ; also “booth” or “tabernacle”). What did he intend? It has been variously understood as traveler’s hut, the “tent of meeting” where God spoke with Moses outside the camp (Exod 33:7), a more formal tent used in the Festival of Booths (cf. Lev 23:42–43; Zech 14:16ff), and even as the Jerusalem Temple tabernacle.  It is this last image that Luke may have in mind as background – notwithstanding Peter’s intention.  It is the Temple tabernacle where the Shekinah, the fiery cloud that symbolized the continuing presence of God among the people, dwelt over the ark of the covenant.  The response to Peter’s proposal is three-fold (Boring, 364)

  1. The heavenly cloud of God’s presence appears, as on the tabernacle of Moses’ day and the later Temple. As of old, the heavenly voice comes from the cloud, and the God who had previously spoken on Mount Sinai only to Moses speaks directly to them. The heavenly voice speaks in exactly the same words as at the baptism (see 3:17), confirming the identity and mission of Jesus declared there, and confirming the confession Peter himself had made in the preceding scene (16:16).
  2. Although three transcendent figures are present, the heavenly voice charges the disciples to hear Jesus. As in the Shema (Deut 6:4), “hear” carries its OT connotation of “obey” and is the same command given with regard to the “prophet like Moses” whom God would send (Deut 18:15; cf. 13:57). The disciples are fearful in response to the theophany, as in Exod 34:30; Dan 10:9; and Hab 3:2 LXX.
  3. Jesus comes to them and they see no one but “Jesu… alone.” To focus all attention on Jesus and to distinguish him from Moses and Elijah, who have now disappeared, Luke has subtly rewritten Mark so that the word alone might stand here as the emphatic closing word of the scene. The heavenly visitors depart, but Jesus stays—Jesus alone. Without heavenly companions, without heavenly glory, he is the “tabernacle” (skene), the reality of God’s abiding presence with us (cf. 1:23; 28:20). The disciples descend from the mountain into the mundane world of suffering and mission, accompanied by Jesus, God with us.

Peter has only partially grasped the significance of the event. He wants to freeze the moment and commemorate the place, but faithfulness will require following Jesus to the cross, not commemorating the place of the transfiguration, which—fittingly—is not named in any of the Gospels.

Voice from the Cloud. 34 While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” 36 After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.  

Clouds also serve in Luke and Acts as in other biblical accounts to manifest and conceal the presence of God (Exod 16:10; 19:9; 24:15–18; 33:9–11). Daniel foresees that the Son of Man will come to the Ancient of Days with the clouds of heaven (Dan 7:13). So, too, Jesus would be taken up in a cloud (Acts 1:9) and return on the clouds (Luke 21:27; cf. 1 Thess 4:17; Rev 1:7; 14:14).

Culpepper [206] writes: “As at Mt. Sinai, a cloud overshadowed them, and God spoke from the cloud (Exod 19:16–20). The voice from the cloud speaks the climactic affirmation of Jesus’ identity in this section of the Gospel: ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ The pronouncement echoes two verses from the OT. Psalm 2:7, ‘You are my son;/ today I have begotten you,’ was also echoed at the baptism of Jesus (3:22). Isaiah 42:1, which is one of the servant songs, reads, ‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold,/ my chosen, in whom my soul delights;/ I have put my spirit upon him;/ he will bring forth justice to the nations.’ Earlier, at the baptism of Jesus, the voice from heaven had spoken to Jesus alone: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’ (3:22). Now, the divine voice pronounces the fullest answer to the question of Jesus’ identity to this point in the Gospel. Jesus is both the unique son and the chosen Servant in whom God delighted and through whom God would bring salvation to the nations.”

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