2 Peter 1.16-21 – Transfiguration, 23 Feb 2020
Each Sunday, you and I confidently affirm the memorial acclamation, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. But lots of people don’t believe this!
They usually have to concede that Jesus was a historical figure who was executed by crucifixion; and many secretly hope that there is a life after death and that Jesus was raised from the dead; …
but that he will come again …
for many this is just too much like a myth made up by the Christians to give them some hope for vindication of their beliefs in the future.
So today, many people have turned away from the Christian belief that there will be a second coming of Christ. And even some within the church have denied this. This was particularly the case in the New Testament church to which Peter was writing in today’s reading from 2 Peter 1:16-21.
Writing to refute this false teaching, Peters makes reference to the Transfiguration of Jesus, and it is for this reason that the reading from 2 Peter is included in the lectionary readings for Transfiguration Sunday – today.
As we heard in the Gospel passage (Matt 17:1-9) the Transfiguration is when the glory of God was revealed to three of Jesus’ disciples in an actual mountain top experience. Jesus had taken them up a mountain to pray, and there they witnessed a transfiguration, or change in Jesus’ appearance.
Theologically, we understand that this change in Jesus’ appearance was a manifestation of the union of the humanity and divinity in Christ. The resultant radiant glory that surrounded Jesus, and the voice from heaven that the disciples heard, confirmed Jesus’ authority. Also, the truth of Christ’s message was affirmed.
Now, … this Transfiguration Sunday, I don’t intend speaking, as we usually do, about how the Transfiguration confirmed and affirmed Christ’s Messiahship, how it established the link between the Old and New Covenants, how it gave us a glimpse of God’s glory, or how it provided encouragement for Jesus to go forward to the cross.
Today, I want to take up the point that Peter is making about the Transfiguration in the Epistle passage, and that is:
the Transfiguration assures us that the doctrine of the second coming of Jesus Christ is true.
First let me give you some background:
The Old Testament had looked forward to the day of the coming of God when he would reveal himself in all his glory, judge the wicked and redeem his people. However, Jesus had refused to fulfil the Old Testament promises about judging people – he put this firmly in the future. So, the early Christians learned to look forward to a second coming of Jesus as the glorious Lord who saves and judges.
Peter and the other disciples would have been teaching this doctrine. But Peter’s teaching had been criticised by some others in the church. Verses 1-3 of Chap 2 says,
‘False prophets arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. … Many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words.’
These false teachers were discrediting the disciple’s teachings. They accused Peter of fabricating the doctrines that he was preaching, particularly the belief of the second coming of Christ. They called these beliefs, cleverly (or slyly)devised myths. They were saying things like, “Don’t believe this silly nonsense, there is no future element to the gospel, look to the present and enjoy the freedom of being a Christian.”
The verses that I read from Chapter 2 indicate that the motive of the false teachers was greed and self-centredness. Rather than living a righteous life of sacrifice and service to others in the knowledge of resurrection and reward in heaven (as Peter would have preached) they wanted to enjoy the freedoms that Jesus had enabled now, in this life, without having to worry about the future. They wanted to enjoy forgiveness of sin, and the blessings of God, and to be able to just ‘eat, drink and be merry’ without the obligation of serving Christ or his church.
Now, is this any different to today? Well, I suggest no! There are many Christians today who want to enjoy all the benefits without having to commit to serving; and who seem to give no thought to the second coming of Christ when we will be called to account for how we have lived our life.
And of course we know that more and more people today are turning away from God and disparaging the beliefs of Christians, because they too see the doctrines of resurrection, judgment and eternal life as silly nonsense, or myths that are no longer credible to modern men and women.
So, you and I, along with Peter back in the First Century, are placed in the position of having to defend the authenticity of the Christian doctrines, including the doctrine of the second coming of Christ.
Now here’s the link back to today’s Gospel passage. Peter attacks the error by retelling the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. It was the most supernatural event in Jesus’ life, and more importantly, it was something of which Peter and the others were eyewitnesses.
He says in v.16, “These are not myths, because we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty’” Peter had been there and seen it with his own eyes! In the transfiguration the disciples had received a foretaste of what Jesus’ coming will be like when he returns to establish his eternal kingdom.
Could there be any better witness?
It’s like the humorous story about a policeman who arrived at the scene of an accident to find that a car had struck a telephone pole. Searching for witnesses, he discovered a pale, nervous young man in work clothes who claimed he was an eyewitness.
"Exactly where were you at the time of the accident?" inquired the officer. "Officer," exclaimed the telephone lineman, "I was at the top of the pole."
Peter and those with him were on-the-spot, personal witnesses. And it wasn’t just what Peter had seen with his own eyes, but also what he and the other disciples had heard with their ears. They heard what they believed to be the voice of God honour and glorify Jesus. Peter emphasizes that they both saw and heard. It is not simply their testimony based upon an interpretation of their encounters with Jesus - they heard that interpretation from the mouth of God himself.
So, Peter cites the eyewitness testimony of the disciples at the Transfiguration in support of the teaching of the Second Coming of Christ.
But he doesn’t stop there! In verse 19 he says, ‘we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed’. His second witnesses are the prophets, or more specifically, the word of the prophets, which was a way of referring to the Old Testament.
What the disciples saw confirms what the Prophets have said in Scripture – and vice-versa. And scripture, he says, is God’s word inspired by the Holy Spirit. So, we had better be careful that we are attentive to it, and not interpret it to suit our own purposes as the false teachers were doing.
One scripture to which Peter would have referred is Psalm 2, the Psalm set for today. In Peter’s understanding Psalm 2 supports his eyewitness testimony - and supports the teaching that he is defending about ‘… the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:16).
We know that he sees this link because in Acts 13:32-33, he says,
‘And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, … as also it is written in the second psalm, 'You are my Son; today I have begotten you.'
So, Peter sees Psalm 2 as a prophecy referring to his experience at the Transfiguration. Re-read vv.5-7 of the Psalm – can you see link? …
Conclusion and Application
So, on this Transfiguration Sunday, maybe you are aware that some of your friends and family do not believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Perhaps you too are struggling with the truth of this doctrine as more and more people today turn away from God and disparage the Christian belief in the second coming of Christ.
It is hard to stand firm when so many people think that it is all just silly nonsense and myths, and question how any modern-day person could possibly believe it, … and ridicule the Christian beliefs!
But Peter teaches us that the Transfiguration of Jesus, that he personally witnessed, assures us that the doctrine of the second coming of Jesus Christ is true. And he argues that the Old Testament prophecies support the truth of his experience at the Transfiguration, and his experience confirms what the prophets said.
Of course, we understand that what Peter saw at the Transfiguration of Christ was only a partial fulfilment of what God spoke through the prophets. It is only partial because the full fulfilment will be at Jesus’ second coming.
Meanwhile, until that day, we have to believe with our hearts, despite the evidence of our eyes. And to help us stand firm Peter encourages us to read the scriptures, because as he says in verse 19, it is for us,
‘a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day (of Jesus’ return) dawns
and the morning star rises in your hearts’.
What beautiful poetry! Peter was clearly inspired by his experience at the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain.
How wonderful it would have been to have shared that experience with Peter! But, as I have suggested in the pew sheet message, we need not limit God’s revelation to mountain top experiences – God is also in the ordinary moments. God’s light shines in the everyday. We just need to open the eyes of our heart and pay attention – to look for the miraculous as the glory of God shines through in the everyday experiences of our life.