King’s Cross 10

When I was in college my pastor encouraged me to read G. Campbell Morgan’s The Crises of the Christ, and I did. It was in that book that I first learned to ask the question: Why was Jesus transfigured? Was it for the disciples? for himself? I do not know recall how he answered, but I think he offered a case for the transfiguration being for Jesus. Every time I read the transfiguration story (Mark 9:2-8) I ask those questions all over again.

What about you? Why was Jesus transfigured? Was it for Jesus or for the disciples or for both?

So I was glad to see that in Tim Keller’s newest book, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus, that question is asked all over again. Keller’s answer is that it was both for Jesus and for the disciples.

The text will be after the jump, and you can read it there. Keller emphasizes something vital in this text: the glory of God descends as it did on Sinai, and makes us think if this is Moses all over again. No, Jesus is superior to Moses — and to Elijah. Jesus produces the glory (Moses absorbed and then reflected it); Jesus is the glory of God in human flesh. And the disciples are in the presence of God’s glory and do not die.

Here is where Keller then goes.

What happened to James, Peter and John was that they experienced worship.

“Worship is a preview of the thing that all our hearts are longing for, whether we know it or not” (115). In this Keller reflects the very common view of worship in that it refers to the experience of standing in God’s presence.

They had experienced the kind of presence of God that put suffering and worry and fear into a new location. That loving enveloping presence of God’s glory was an experience of the approval of God. “How are you going to get more of that kind of approval?” Worship, says Keller (118).

“It is an experience of collective worship that they are going to need for what’s ahead.”

He combines this with the next episode that suggests that “repentant helplessness” is needed to gives access to God’s presence, and holiness won’t give it to us.

But also then for Jesus: “On the mountain, God was strengthening him for his mission, for the infinite suffering he would endure” (121).

2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

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  • Jerry

    It’s too bad the transfiguration is often ignored in preaching and teaching. I remember very little of it growing up but hopefully the lectionary emphasis is changing that. I agree that the transfiguration was for both Jesus and the disciples. Luke has Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus about his “departure.”

  • Richard

    I’ll keep this discussion in mind as I prepare for covering the Transfiguration in a couple Sundays from the pulpit.

  • Albion

    Scot: I’m wondering if you see a need for approval as a part of worship. How does Keller get that from this passage?

    Seems like God addresses the disciples, not Jesus, and I see nothing to suggest that this was a preparation for “infinite suffering.” It seems directed at the disciples (though there is certainly encouragement for Jesus in God announcing his love for him). It reveals Jesus for who he is in his relation to God. That seems to be an encouragement. Interesting that Peter is simultaneously afraid and wanting to stay right there. I wonder what his reaction was after God spoke!

  • Dana Ames

    As a recovering perfectionist, the idea of “getting approval” makes me narrow my eyes and ask, “What does he mean by that?” I trust Keller’s integrity. And there are reasons why I’m not a Calvinist.

    Here is some Orthodox thought about the meaning of the Transfiguration:

    We believe the Transfiguration occurred 40 days before the Crucifixion, but we celebrate it in the summer, on August 6, when the first fruits are beginning to be harvested. There’s a connection to the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement as well, which comes at about the same time of year: this is what the deliverance that God accomplished through the Cross and Resurrection leads to. Every Sunday and every Feast in Orthodoxy has echoes of Pascha.


  • CO Fines

    “In this Keller reflects the very common view of worship in that it refers to the experience of standing in God’s presence.”

    Whereas Matthew 17:6 reflects the Bible’s common view of worship, “When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.”

  • Scot, I love G. Campbell Morgan. I have read many of his books…I may have to revisit them, it has been many years.