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From the perspective of the twelve disciples, hanging out with Jesus is a gamble that they are sure to win. After watching Him perform countless miracles and seeing how fearlessly He shuts the faces of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, they are convinced that He is the Messiah that Yahweh has been prophesying about for centuries. Yahweh was very clear that His Messiah would become king over Israel and lead the Jews into a golden age. Jesus is going to make Israel the envy of the whole world, and when He takes the throne, who will He choose to hold high ranking positions in His glorious kingdom? The twelve disciples, of course. Jesus has obviously been favoring them and He clearly considers them to be His most trusted followers. This is a very good thing. Everything is going along just swimmingly. It’s now just a matter of time until the glory starts raining down. After all, if Jesus can control the weather, drive out demons, and bring people back to life, it will be a cinch for Him to free Israel from the grip of the Roman Empire. There’s no question that the disciples have chosen well by siding with Jesus. Now if Jesus will just stay focused on the goal of glorifying Israel and restoring the Davidic line of Jewish kings, all will be well.
But Jesus isn’t staying focused. All of a sudden He seems to be going mental on them. Instead of rolling out some brilliant strategy for how He’s going to oust Rome, He’s talking about handing Himself over to the Jewish leaders in Judea who are hankering to kill Him. Jesus is even saying He must be killed—that it’s all part of some Divine plan. What on earth is He talking about? This isn’t at all what Yahweh predicted. He said His Messiah would reign in glory, not get slaughtered like some common criminal. The disciples are getting very upset. Someone has to straighten Jesus out. Peter steps up to the plate.
From then on Jesus began to tell His disciples plainly that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem, and that He would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day He would be raised from the dead.
But Peter took Him aside and began to reprimand Him for saying such things. “God forbid, Lord! This will never happen to You!”
Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s!”
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mt. 16:21-26)
We often hear Peter criticized today for the way he protests in this passage, but can you blame him? His Hero is turning suicidal on him. Up until now Jesus has been a fearless, invincible, Alpha who is always cutting someone down to size with His sharp tongue. The idea of Jesus tossing aside all of that glorious confidence and letting those creeps down in Jerusalem maul Him is too repulsive to fathom. Peter doesn’t understand this sudden change in Jesus’ mindset. None of the disciples understand. It’s like something in Jesus’ mind has just snapped.
Now this part where Jesus demands that people take up their cross is often misunderstood today. He’s talking about submission to God, not masochism. Christ is not a doormat and He doesn’t call you to be one, either. One of our main purposes for going through the Gospel books like this is to give you an accurate picture of what Jesus acted like on earth. He was not at all the gentle, humble, honey tongued flower that He’s made out to be in the Church today. The next time you hear someone going on about how Jesus was silent before His enemies and how He didn’t resist when they tortured and killed Him, remember the three years Jesus spent before that moment intentionally starting fights with the religious leaders and flinging sarcastic zingers at people. We can’t just zoom in on Jesus’ very abnormal behavior right before His crucifixion and say, “That’s how He always behaved.” And let’s not read humility into His silence, because Jesus is the antithesis of humble.
The definition of godly humility is a sincere revulsion for anyone other than God to be glorified. Humility is for humans. Glory hogging, boasting, and soaking up the admiration of others are for Gods. Our Creators are all about exalting Themselves, and Jesus wasn’t shy about flaunting His flawless devotion to Yahweh or showcasing His own awesomeness as a second God. For every time we find Jesus saying that He’s acting under Yahweh’s Authority, we find plenty of other times where He leaves Yahweh out of it and just exalts Himself. When speaking of eternal judgment, Jesus often only describes Himself as the One deciding who gets to come into Heaven and who will be thrown into Hell. When Jesus rolls out the visions in Revelation to John, He is the main Star of that show and He soaks up all kinds of accolades as He dazzles John in several different supernatural forms. So let’s not buy into these ridiculous theories that Jesus was some sweet talking pushover who just sat around blessing little children. In reality there are hardly any accounts of Jesus interacting with children in the Gospels. If our artwork about Jesus was more accurate, we’d have a lot less paintings of Him holding children in His lap and a lot more paintings of Him telling off some crowd of fuming Pharisees.
Jesus was a sharp tongued Rebel who modeled for us that serving our Gods will sometimes have nothing to do with “speaking the truth in love.” It is submission that Jesus demands from us—the kind of submission that puts no limits on how we are willing to serve our Kings. Sometimes we’ll be called on to eat abuse as Jesus did in the hands of His captors. But other times we’ll be told to go in and start fights. When Isaiah and Jeremiah stood on street corners shouting out offensive messages, they were being peace destroyers, not peacemakers. Before we can properly imitate Christ, we need to take an honest look at the model that Christ gave us. He modeled unconditional obedience and total submission to Yahweh. Today, we should be asking the Holy Spirit to help us develop these same two attitudes towards all three of our glorious Creators: Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Now Jesus knows how badly His boys are taking this news about Him handing Himself over to the Jewish authorities. He also knows that they aren’t ready to let go of the dream of Him being the glorious conquering King. Here’s where He decides it’s time to start lying to them about how soon He’ll return in glory.
“For the Son of Man will come with His angels in the glory of His Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. And I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom.” (Matt. 16:27-28)
Look up how various Bible scholars deal with this passage and you’ll find them dancing all over the place with a bunch of lame explanations for how this passage could have been fulfilled when it obviously wasn’t. You see, no one wants to man up and face the fact that our Gods boldface lie to us whenever They feel like it. What do you think Yahweh was doing when He spun out all of those yarns in the Old Testament about the earthly nation of Israel being restored to wealth, power, and glory? He knew at the time that He had no intention of ever fulfilling any of those prophecies in the way that His original audiences were expecting. When He spoke those promises, it was to raise false hopes among Jews who were very depressed about the miserable state of their homeland on earth.
Hope helps us get through hard times, and Yahweh put His faithful remnant of Jews through some very hard times in the Old Testament. It was more than a little traumatic to live in the days when Yahweh destroyed the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. When you’re a fiercely patriotic Jew and you see Yahweh scattering your fellow countrymen off to distant nations, it’s easy to sink into despair and think that Yahweh has permanently abandoned His people. When Yahweh then starts painting a bunch of pictures of Israel in glory once again, you find reason to hope. Of course that hope is never fulfilled, but if you’re keeping the right spiritual priorities, you end up in Heaven when you die and you cease to care about what is happening on earth. Over and over again, Yahweh described bringing Jewish exiles back to their homeland after seventy years of captivity and restoring Israel to some wonderful place. Most of the people who originally heard those prophecies died without ever seeing what actually happened: that the exiles Yahweh brought back were a bunch of snarky rebels who filled Jerusalem with wickedness once more. Though Yahweh spoke of His Temple being rebuilt in glory, in real life, the rebels He brought back refused to rebuild His House until He coerced them into it by raining down a bunch of hardships on their heads. Today Israel is a melting pot of many different ethnicities, and most of her people don’t care about God. Those who are still clinging to Old Covenant Judaism adamantly reject the Divinity of Christ while they dream of rebuilding Yahweh’s Temple so we can all royally insult Him by firing up the sacrificial system again and acting like the crucifixion of Christ was utterly meaningless. You’ll notice how Yahweh has been blocking all efforts to reconstruct a Temple in Jerusalem. If you think this is a bad thing, you need to think again. There’s nothing more insulting to both Yahweh and Christ than yearning for the Temple to be restored.
So then, Yahweh lied all over the place in the Old Testament, and here in the Gospels, Jesus is intentionally raising false hopes about how swiftly He’ll return. This is about accommodating His disciples’ lack of faith. If they were really grasping who He was, they wouldn’t need Him to be reigning as some earthly king in Israel, nor would they need Him to be sticking around in visible form. But they’re not grasping who He is, so the idea of His physical absence from earth is devastating to them. To counter this, Jesus tells them that His glorious Second Coming is going to happen so soon that some of them will live to see it. Of course this is an absolute crock, but it’s what the disciples need to believe right now. Jesus then decides to give Peter, James and John an extra boost by inviting them to witness His famous Transfiguration.
So what exactly was the Transfiguration? It was a big sensual show that Jesus put on to help His three closest disciples get through the horror of His upcoming crucifixion. We have to realize that to Old Covenant Jews, there was nothing in the Old Testament about the Messiah getting crucified. They didn’t read those Scriptures with our post cross bias, and at the time Isaiah spoke those famous passages about Jesus being a sacrifice for our sins, crucifixion hadn’t even been invented yet. Yahweh intentionally kept His language very vague so as to leave the true meaning of those passages extremely unclear. Yahweh also said human sacrifice was an abomination and nothing about the crucifixion of Christ by a bunch of pagan soldiers qualified as a valid sin offering according to Yahweh’s Old Covenant Laws (see How the Cross Broke the Law).
Why was Yahweh so vague about Christ’s Divinity and suicidal mission in the Old Testament? Because He didn’t want anyone in Old Testament times grasping the fact that there were any other Gods besides Him. Until Christ showed up, Yahweh claimed to be the only God in existence (see Why did Yahweh lie about being the only God in existence?). While He does drop hints about the Divinity of Jesus in the Old Testament, those hints are very few and worded in a way that would ensure they would go over the heads of monotheistic, Old Covenant believers.
To appreciate why it was so beneficial for three Jewish men to see Jesus glow brightly and show up with a couple of Old Testament figures, we have to really grasp that their dreams of Jesus ruling in glory on earth have just been brutally shattered. If Jesus isn’t going to be Israel’s awesome Savior, then what is He going to be? At this point, no one is focusing on the part about Jesus coming back to life after three days—they’re fixating on Him being publicly defeated and killed by the Jewish leaders who stand between Him and a ruling position over Israel. The point of the Transfiguration is to pull the three disciples’ minds off of this earthly king business and get them refocused on the fact that Jesus is a second All-Powerful God. The kind of magnificence He has far surpasses that of some earthly king. It doesn’t need to be some huge bummer that Jesus isn’t going to rule over the political nation of Israel because He is already the Ruler over All.
About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. And as He was praying, the appearance of His face was transformed, and His clothes became dazzling white. (Lk. 9:28-29)
This scene is filled with Jewish significance. First, the blinding light: this says “Divine” to an Old Covenant Jew. Yahweh has a long history of blinding people with His Divine radiance in the Old Testament and Jesus’ disciples are familiar enough with those accounts to immediately associate blinding light with something God-esque. If they’d associated glowing green with God, then Jesus would have glowed green. We mustn’t take this scene literally and start thinking that our Gods really are humanoids who go around blinding people. Our Gods appear to different people in different forms, and those forms often line up with cultural stereotypes and beliefs. Jesus has just crushed His disciples’ hopes that He’s going to be their heroic king on earth, so He’s now reestablishing their hopes that He is their Eternal King.
Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about His exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. (Lk. 9:30-31)
Of all the Old Testament figures, why Moses and Elijah? For the Jews, Moses symbolizes Yahweh’s Old Covenant Laws, since he is the one credited with writing the first five books of the Bible (aka the Torah). In Exodus through Deuteronomy, we find Yahweh outlining His Old Covenant with Israel. Moses is the embodiment of the Old Covenant, and also a major hero to the Jews.
Next is Elijah: the king of the prophets, and the one who everyone was expecting to literally return due to Yahweh’s prophecy through the mouth of Malachi:
“Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful Day of Yahweh arrives.” (Mal. 4:5)
It turned out that John the Baptist was the “Elijah” who fulfilled this prophecy (there’s more intentional misleading by Yahweh). But Elijah is still a great hero to the Jews.
Now today we call our collection of Scriptures “The Living Word” or “The Holy Bible.” We have two testaments: Old and New. The Jews did not. They only had the Old Testament, and they argued about how much of it should be considered Divinely inspired. The Sadducees said only the Books of Moses were valid—the books that outlined Yahweh’s Laws. Pharisees like the apostle Paul argued that all of the books which make up our modern Old Testament were valid. The Pharisees referred to the Old Testament collection as “The Law and the Prophets”. Well, who is blindingly bright Jesus chatting with in this scene in Luke? Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. These two men symbolize Scriptures to Peter, James and John. It is in their Scriptures (which were limited to the Old Testament) that they find references to a Messiah who they thought would reign in Israel. Now Jesus has shaken that belief. But now here are Moses and Elijah—the symbolic embodiment of Scripture, discussing Jesus’ Messianic assignment with Him. In other words, Moses and Elijah are publicly confirming that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.
Now of course this entire charade is being put on for the benefit of the three disciples. Jesus isn’t really looking for pointers from Moses and Elijah. The purpose of this scene is to re-confirm to the disciples that He is the Messiah. Why is it suddenly so necessary to come up with such dramatic, sensual confirmation of Jesus’ identity? Because He’s not talking like the Messiah is supposed to talk. The Messiah wasn’t supposed to be suicidal.
Peter and the others had fallen asleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with Him. As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But even as he was saying this, a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them. (Lk. 9:32-34)
This terror is a reverential fear of God. To an Old Covenant Jew, the sudden arrival of a cloud is an unmistakable signature of the mighty Yahweh. Every Jew knows that Yahweh is a cloudy kind of Guy, ever since He associated His Presence with the pillar of clouds back in Moses’ wilderness wandering days. So we’ve got Jewish symbols all over this thing. Blinding light identifies Jesus as a Divine Being. Elijah and Moses symbolize the Scriptures. Scriptures calling Jesus the Messiah confirm that Jesus is the one He claims to be. A cloud suddenly descending means Yahweh has just shown up and to be in the cloud is a jaw dropping, heart stopping “Hold on guys, we are actually in the Presence of God!!” kind of moment. The three disciples are paralyzed with terrified anticipation. No one is supposed to be able to physically survive an up close encounter with Yahweh.
Then a Voice spoke from the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One. Listen to Him!” (Lk. 9:35)
Luke, Mark, and Matthew all cover this scene. Here is Matthew’s version of Yahweh’s message:
But even as Peter spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a Voice from the cloud said, “This is My dearly loved Son, who brings Me great joy! Listen to Him!” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground.
Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” He said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus. (Matt. 17:5-8)
Here is the confirmation that surpasses all other confirmations: the mighty Yahweh has spoken from His signature cloud saying that Jesus is indeed His Chosen One. Jewish minds are sufficiently blown. We can just imagine Peter, James, and John looking up at Jesus with gaping jaws, utterly speechless and paralyzed. Remember that God doesn’t tell people not to be afraid unless He knows that they already are. Wouldn’t you be if you were in these guys’ sandals? Talk about getting your theology blasted to pieces. Two Gods? Really?? But with Yahweh confirming Jesus’ Divinity from right inside His majestic cloud, who can dare to say that it can’t be true?
Don’t miss the significance of Yahweh piping up in this scene. Until now, Yahweh is the only God Old Covenant Jews have ever known. If anyone is going to start worshiping a second God, Yahweh must personally approve of that new Deity as valid. Notice how Yahweh both confirms His personal pleasure in Jesus and commands the disciples to listen to Jesus. This is the same as saying that Yahweh and Jesus are on the same page—a multiple God page which up until now Yahweh has always condemned as the ultimate form of blasphemy. This is a picture of God breaking every rule in the book. You can take that ridiculous theory that “God would never going against His own Word” and toss it onto the trash heap. By confirming Jesus as a second Deity and commanding the disciples to accept what Jesus is saying about Himself, Yahweh is totally contradicting Himself and proving all of His previous claims about being the only God to be the mother of all lies.
When we blow past moments like this, we miss vital lessons about how our Gods operate. They are wild. They make sudden, unexpected changes. They intentionally keep us in the dark about facts that would radically change our view of reality, then They suddenly reveal those facts to us without warning. Who knew there were multiple Gods? Certainly not Old Covenant Jews. What other mind-blowing secrets are our Gods currently keeping from us? To think we know everything there is to know about our Creators is utterly foolish. No one saw Jesus coming. No one was ready for His crucifixion to be considered a fulfillment of those ancient Messianic prophecies. Jesus was a theological nightmare. For centuries, the Jews had been eagerly waiting for a human leader to restore their nation to its former glory days. What they got instead was a second God who made them realize that much of what their first God had told them was an intentional deception. Yahweh being the only God in existence? A human line of Davidic kings being restored in Israel? The Temple in Jerusalem becoming a global center of worship? All of these things turned out to be intentional deceptions on Yahweh’s part—deceptions that were extremely difficult for Old Covenant Jews to accept.
Look through the New Testament epistles and you’ll find the apostles still struggling to figure out how Jesus can be Yahweh’s equal. Such a radical concept just doesn’t fit into their theology, which is why you’ll find them constantly downplaying Jesus as a Being who is higher than an angel, yet not quite as glorious as Yahweh. Yahweh is depicted as the King, while Jesus is His top Assistant. There’s only one majestic throne, and that throne is for Yahweh. But Jesus gets to sit on Yahweh’s right hand side, which is the place of great honor. Well, no, such language isn’t correct. It’s not enough to say that Jesus is higher than the angels while you’re still implying that He’s not quite as high as Yahweh. Jesus and Yahweh are Co-Creators and Co-Kings. They are equal, They are not a pair of greater and lesser.
When you find the New Testament apostles crediting Yahweh for raising Christ from the dead (see Rom. 8:11 & Acts 2:32) realize that Christ said He raised Himself because Christ is God Almighty, not some lesser being who needs Yahweh’s help to do things.
One minute John says that we have fellowship with Yahweh and Christ in 1 John 1:3. Then he acknowledges that Christ existed from the beginning in 1 John 2:13. But then he’ll turn around and say in 1 John 5:20 that Yahweh is the only true God. What kind of doubletalk is this? Yahweh is not the only true God. Yahweh told people to listen to Jesus, and Jesus claimed to be a second God. But Old Covenant Jews can’t deal with this, so we find them putting out all kinds of contradictory teaching regarding the relationship between Jesus and Yahweh. One minute Paul describes Both as reigning, the next minute he says Christ is giving His Authority back to Yahweh so that Yahweh can be the Supreme Ruler over all. In Colossians 1:15, Paul says that Christ “existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.” In 1 Corinthians 15:28, Paul says, “Then, when all things are under Christ’s Authority, the Son will put Himself under Yahweh’s Authority, so that Yahweh, who gave His Son Authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.” What are we to make of this? Is Christ’s supremacy a temporary thing? Certainly not! Be on your guard with the New Testament apostles or they’ll transfer their theological hang ups about Christ onto you. Christ is God. Yahweh is God. The Holy Spirit is God. We have three Gods. They’re all awesome. They’re all supreme. They’re all equal to Each Other and no one is going to be setting His crown aside or surrendering His Authority to the other Two—not now, not ever. To minimize any one of our Creators is a satanic heresy.
Now according to Matthew, as Jesus and His three stunned disciples were coming down from their mountaintop experience, Jesus instructed His boys not to tell anyone about what had just happened until after He returned from the dead. No problem. If they want to talk about it, they’ll just whisper amongst themselves. The other nine disciples would probably think they were crazy if they tried to say that they saw Moses and Elijah. Or they’d be green with envy because they didn’t get to experience Yahweh’s cloud. At this point, these three men have to be walking pretty tall. After all, they were the only ones who were invited on this little trip.
Now that word has gotten around about where Jesus is, another miracle hungry mob has collected. As Jesus and His boys reach the bottom of the mountain, they find the rest of His disciples squirming uncomfortably in the midst of a tense mob. It turns out that during Jesus’ absence, a father has asked them to heal his demon possessed son. They tried and they couldn’t do it. Now they feel really stupid and a bunch of people are criticizing them. Oh good, here comes Jesus to defend them. The father turns to Jesus and tells the dramatic story of how tormented his son has been by demons who keep trying to make him kill himself. Can Jesus fix the problem? His embarrassed disciples really want Jesus to flex His miracle muscles so the whole awkward affair can be over with. The rest of the crowd is eager to see another show, and Jesus is utterly disgusted with the whole situation. When are these faithless people going to stop with the spiritual rebellion and start paying attention to what Yahweh is doing right in front of their faces? It’s right about now that Jesus is really looking forward to ascending into the sky and disappearing from view so they can all stop clawing at Him for quick fixes.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 57: The Messiah Can’t Come from Galilee
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