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“And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
On this last Sunday after the Epiphany, we celebrate with great joy the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Transfiguration of Our Lord is the annual feast celebrating Jesus’ stunning change of appearance while in the presence of Peter, James, and John. In our Gospel, Matthew writes, “[Jesus] was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light” (17:2). At that moment, Moses and Elijah appeared and they were talking with Jesus about His imminent departure, literally His exodus. Peter, misunderstanding the meaning of this manifestation, said, “Lord, it is good that we are here,” and then he offered to “make three tents,” one each, for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
A bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5). When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces in awe, but Jesus encouraged them to stand and “have no fear.” “And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only” (Matthew 17:8).
This event is alluded to in the Epistle for this day, 2 Peter 1:16-21, in which Peter states, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty,” and “We were with Him on the holy mountain.” The Transfiguration revealed Christ’s glory prior to the Crucifixion. It also anticipated His Resurrection and Ascension, and so completes the themes of epiphany or revelations into the person and work of Jesus Christ, prefiguring the glorification of the human nature in Christ.
When we think of the Transfiguration, we must above all consider what experiencing this miracle meant to the three men who were there to witness it. That is the clue to what it means to us. You see, this miracle didn’t end simply with Jesus saying, “Don’t tell anyone.” He added, “Tell no one until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 17:9).
Peter, James, and John saw Jesus shine on the mountain not for His own sake, but for theirs and yours. The glory that lit up the sky that night is a glimpse of the glory He came to impart to you. The glory that shone from His body is the glory that He came to give to you, to your very body, at the Resurrection! The glory of His body that day will be your own when He raises you from death.
In order for that to happen, Jesus came down one mountain and began to walk toward another, from Tabor to Golgotha. From “this is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” to “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Because this is how Jesus would bring glory to your body, rescuing you from death and the steely grip of sin—by trading places with you, by owning your shame, by dying lost and alone. He dies your death to give you His life. He bears your shame to give you His glory. That’s how much He loves you!
As Peter writes this Epistle, it is more than thirty years since Jesus was raised from the dead. He and the other apostles have been preaching Christ crucified for over three decades. They have been also preparing God’s people for Christ’s return on the Last Day. Everything the early Christians believed had this as its future horizon. The time is coming when what had begun with Jesus—His life, death, resurrection, and ascension—would be completed at His return.
In the Transfiguration is that the “inner circle” disciples saw the future of Christ’s dwelling with humanity (hence the request to build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah) and now in our Epistle, a confident Peter speaks about the coming future, which is as certain as Christ before his eyes on Mount Tabor.
Now the time of Peter’s own “departure” is drawing near. In fact, Jesus had warned him of this very thing before His ascension: “‘Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you to where you do not want to go.’ This [Jesus] said to indicate by what kind of death [Peter] was to glorify God” (John 21:18-19).
It seems that Peter had received a recent update to the timetable, and he wants his readers to recall what they had been taught, as he writes in the verses immediately preceding our text: “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:12-15).
It was important to Peter to be sure that his readers would be able to hold on to the truth which he had taught and to be sure they are certain outcomes. The death of an apostle must not mean the decline of the apostolic faith. They have a King, Jesus, and Jesus is in charge of the present, leading it to its assured future, as certain as Christ is Himself the security of a resurrection to come and the transformation of all who are united to Him. The Transfiguration means no one must wait in uncertainty and darkness for the Morning Star to (re)appear.[i]
Again, Jesus has already been revealed to Peter, James, and John as they stood with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration. This story, Peter insists, is not a “cleverly devised myth.” Presumably, by this stage in the early Church, some of the opponents of the faith were scoffing at the extraordinary tales going around about Jesus. Peter insists it is the truth and, like the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Transfiguration is a fact.[ii]
The apostles could look back on the entire scope of biblical prophecy and see how, in retrospect, it all made sense in light of the Messiah, Jesus. Therefore, what Peter is saying is the stories of Jesus, reaching a climax in the extraordinary revelation of glory in His Transfiguration, mean one can now read the entire Scriptures knowing the end from the beginning, and see with God-given hindsight how everything came rushing together at the point where the Messiah emerged. Jesus taught this in Luke 24:25-27, 44-47 and John 5:39-40, among other places.
The revelation of God’s glory in Him goes closely with the promise that we too will come to “share in the divine nature.” Paul affirms this in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Here is the apostolic teaching of the transfiguration of our humanity on the Last Day: “For those whom [God] foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).
As he wrote this Epistle, Peter was addressing a new situation that had emerged, for which no ancient Jew possessed a roadmap. Everything had been straining forward to the day when God’s glory would be revealed, the “Temple” (that is, the Church in which the Son and Spirit dwell) would be rebuilt, and the Messiah would appear to save His people. The apostles testified that it had happened: The coming of Jesus the Son was the fulfillment of all those promises and prophecies, types and covenants. His Resurrection and, as Peter asserts here, His Transfiguration proved it.[iii] The challenge now was no one imagined there would be a further period of time between the advent of God’s Messiah and the Last Day, but here it was dragging on.
Peter directs confused Christians to the timeless truths and the righteous rock of written Scripture. At a time when many people claimed to be speaking for God, it was reassuring to know that there was a written, unshakable source of spiritual information and authority. Peter writes: “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).
Satan is the prince of darkness and father of lies, and everybody who works for him knowingly or unknowingly spreads his darkness. In Satan’s darkness some people are proud of their own goodness, hostile to the idea of needing a Savior, and satisfied that they can figure out right and wrong by themselves. Some in the darkness feel despair and fear, knowing that they are evil, but not knowing there is a Savior for them. And some simply do not care about spiritual things; apathy rules their hearts. Like animals, their highest concern is in satisfying their appetites. Satan uses false teachers to push Christians into all kinds of darkness.
God’s written Scripture will never lie; it is absolutely dependable; we can lean our lives on it. The best way for Christians to grow in their certainty of what they believe is to go back to God’s written Word. The ugly things that fly out of the gates of hell itself cannot prevail against the Gospel of Christ. Peter says that God’s Word is a light that shines in a dark place. It illuminates our minds and hearts, setting us free from the darkness of sin and death. We do well to pay attention to that Word, for it alone drives back the darkness and confusion of it all.
As the Word does its work, day dawns and night fades away. Peter’s letter would soon be added to the body of written Scripture, and through the miracle of the Word of God, all readers may experience the Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John. The glory that shone from Christ and the majestic glory of the Father now shine in us. The long wait of the human race for a Savior is over—the day of grace is dawning. As Zechariah, ecstatic at this demonstration of God’s faithfulness, said to his miracle infant, John (the Baptist): “[Jesus will] give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:77–79).
In popular astronomy, the planet Venus is sometime called the morning star. It is, of course, not a star at all. But it catches and reflects the sun’s rays just before dawn, and its light is a sure sign that night is almost over and the day is at hand. This expression “morning star” likely arises from Numbers 24:17, where Balaam, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, speaks about a star that will come forth from Jacob and a scepter that shall rise out of Israel. Jesus calls Himself the bright Morning Star in Revelation 22:16. Likewise, Malachi 4:2 speaks of the coming Day of the Lord as the advent of “the sun of righteousness,” like a sunrise.
Jesus’ coming to our world signals that the power of the night of sin, sickness, death, and hell have been broken and will soon be over. His Word reflects His light. His people wait longingly for the full revelation of the Son of God when He returns to take us home. As we wait, we do well to pay attention to the prophetic, inspired Word of God. In that Word we find hope, comfort, and light. Indeed, in Christ, the Morning Star, we have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.
Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[i] 1517 | Craft of Preaching, https://www.1517.org/craftofpreaching.
[ii] 1517 | Craft of Preaching, https://www.1517.org/craftofpreaching.
[iii] 1517 | Craft of Preaching, https://www.1517.org/craftofpreaching.