LUKE 9. WHO IS THIS?
Earlier in this chapter, Herod, hearing of the great works that Jesus was doing, “was very perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again. Herod said, ‘John I beheaded, but who is this, about whom I hear such things?’ He sought to see him” (vv. 7-9).
This question, “Who is this?” is central to this Gospel in general and to chapter 9 in particular. Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do the multitudes say that I am?” They answered, “‘John the Baptizer,’ but others say, ‘Elijah,’ and others, that one of the old prophets is risen again.” Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God” (vv. 18-20).
Then Jesus told the disciples what Peter’s answer implied. “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up” (v. 22). This answers the question, “Who is this?”—not by giving Jesus a title but by describing the process by which he will accomplish his work.
Now, in today’s Gospel lesson, we have the most authoritative answer to the question, “Who is this?” God says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” (v. 35).
LUKE 9:28. JESUS WENT UP ONTO THE MOUNTAIN TO PRAY
28It happened about eight days after these sayings, that he took with him Peter, John, and James, and went up onto the mountain to pray.
“It happened about eight days after these sayings” (v. 28a). Mark’s Gospel says six days, and we are not sure why Luke changes it to eight. Perhaps Luke is tying the Transfiguration to the resurrection, which occurs on the eighth day—the day after the Sabbath. Perhaps he is also tying it to the Feast of Tabernacles, where the Israelites present offerings for seven days and then have a holy convocation on the eighth day (Leviticus 23:36).
Verse 28 links the Transfiguration to the preceding passage in which Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus declares that he must suffer and die. All three of the Synoptics place the Transfiguration immediately after Jesus’ first passion pronouncement, emphasizing that the one who will“be killed, and on the third day be raised up” (v. 22) is not a random victim of violence, but is the Son of God carrying out God’s plan (v. 35).
“that he took with him Peter, John, and James” (v. 28b). In the preceding section, Jesus was with the larger group of disciples. Now he selects an inner circle of disciples to go with him, thus signaling the importance of the journey up the mountain. These three disciples were present at the healing of Jairus’ daughter (8:51). Mark 14:33 and Matt 26:37 tell us that they will also be present at Gethsemane.
Luke starts with the accounts of Mark and Matthew, which list “Peter and James and John” (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2 and 14:33), and changes the order of the names. Luke places John’s name ahead of James here and in the story of Jairus’ daughter, perhaps because Peter and John will be so closely linked later in Luke’s writings (22:8; Acts 3:1-10; 4:1-22; 8:14-25) (Culpepper, 205).
They “went up onto the mountain to pray” (v. 28c). This is more a theological than a geographical statement. Mountains are places of prayer, and it is on mountains that many significant encounters with God take place. Peter will refer to it as “the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:18). This mountain is not named, but its name is not important. The model for this encounter is Moses at Sinai (Exodus 19-32).
They “went up onto the mountain to pray,” and great things happened. “To have ‘mountaintop experiences’ it is not enough to go up on a mountain; one must go up on a ‘mountain to pray’ ” (Knox, 174). There is a sermon in these few words.
LUKE 9:29-33. THEY SAW HIS GLORY
29As he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became white and dazzling. 30Behold, two men were talking with him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31who appeared in glory, and spoke of his departure (Greek: exodon), which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they were fully awake, they saw his glory, and the two men who stood with him. 33It happened, as they were parting from him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let’s make three tents: one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah,” not knowing what he said.
“As he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became white and dazzling” (v. 29). This recalls the story of Moses, who encountered God on Sinai as a “devouring fire on the top of the mountain” (Exodus 24:17) and whose face shone brightly “by reason of his speaking with” Yahweh (34:29). Moses’ face shone so brightly that he found it necessary to wear a veil to shield people from the glare (Exodus 34:29-35).
There are many parallels between Moses in Exodus 24 and Jesus at the Transfiguration. Both incidents: (1) occur on a mountain (2) involve Moses (3) have God speaking from a cloud (4) speak of the glory of the Lord and (5) inspire fear.
Moses had prophesied, “Your God will raise up to you a prophet from the midst of you, of your brothers, like me. You shall listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15). At this Transfiguration, God confirms that the new Moses-like prophet is Jesus, saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” (v. 35). Peter will also link the Moses’ prophecy with Jesus in a sermon shortly after Pentecost (Acts 3:22).
Luke clearly understands Jesus to be a new Moses. Moses came to set the people of Israel free from slavery in Egypt. Jesus came to set people free from sin.
“Behold, two men were talking with him, who were Moses and Elijah” (v. 30). The Jewish people expect Moses and Elijah to return to usher in the messianic era.
Why Moses and Elijah? Perhaps because Israel is the people of the Law and the Prophets, and Moses was the great lawgiver, and Elijah the great prophet.
Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory” (v. 31). The glory of Moses and Elijah is not intended to compete with the glory of Jesus, which is described in much more dazzling terms, but only confirms their status as heavenly beings. The voice from the cloud speaks only of Jesus—not of Moses or Elijah—and does so only after Moses and Elijah depart.
Moses and Elijah “spoke of (Jesus’) departure (Greek: exodon), which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (v. 31). This is the only Gospel to tell us what Moses and Elijah discuss with Jesus.
This word, exodon, provides another parallel with Moses, who led the Exodus from Egypt. The exodon about which Moses and Elijah are speaking here is Jesus’ death, “which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (v. 31).
• The Exodus from Egypt was the great salvation event of the OT, freeing Israel from bondage to the Egyptians. Jesus’ exodon (death/resurrection) is the great salvation event of the NT, freeing believers from bondage to sin and death.
• The Exodus from Egypt led God’s people to the Promised Land. Jesus’ exodon leads us into the kingdom of God.
Jesus has just announced to the disciples that he “must (Greek: dei—implying the will of God) suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up” (v. 22). Jerusalem will be the place of his death, but it will also be the place of his resurrection and his ascension—events that will reveal his glory. The Transfiguration gives these three privileged disciples a preview of that glory.
“Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep” (v. 32a). The disciples will also have a problem with sleep at the Mount of Olives (22:45). In that instance, they will actually fall asleep. In this one, they are groggy but sufficiently awake to see what was happening.
“but when they were fully awake, they saw his glory, and the two men who stood with him” (v. 32b). Shortly before the Transfiguration, Jesus revealed to the disciples that “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up” (9:22). Later, after the resurrection, he will make it clear that his death was necessary so that he might “enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26).
The word “glory” is used in the Bible to speak of various wonderful things—but it is used especially to speak of God’s glory—an aura associated with God’s appearance that reveals God’s majesty to humans. Biblical writers, attempting to describe God’s glory using human words, portrayed it as “like devouring fire” (Exodus 24:17). When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God replied, “You cannot see my face, for man may not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20)—but God continued, “Behold, there is a place by me, and you shall stand on the rock. It will happen, while my glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back; but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:21-23). The point is that God’s glory is so overwhelming that humans aren’t engineered to be capable of experiencing it. An analogy might be coming into contact with a live high-voltage electrical line. It would be too much for us. We can’t deal with it.
As we might expect, “the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle” and the temple (Exodus 40:34; 1 Kings 8:11). God promises that the day will come when his glory will fill all the earth (Numbers 14:21).
Christ shares God’s glory. The glory of the Lord was revealed at his birth (Luke 2:9). His disciples, Peter, James and John, were privileged to see Christ’s glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (9:28-36). Christ’s cross was necessary so that he might “enter into his glory” (Luke 24:26; see also Philippians 2:5-11). The Gospel of John in particular speaks of the cross as Christ’s glorification (John 12:23; 13:31-32). Jesus spoke of returning “with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).
The apostle Paul notes that “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but then says, “We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
“It happened, as they were parting from him, that Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let’s make three tents: one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah,’ not knowing what he said” (v. 33). Peter is an action-man! No restraint! Action is both his strength and his weakness. At a time when anyone else would sit in stunned silence, Peter says, “Let’s make three tents!” None of the Gospels tells us why he wants to build three tents:
• Perhaps he wants to prolong the mountaintop experience—to keep Jesus safe on the mountain rather than seeing him exposed to suffering, rejection, and death (v. 22).
• Perhaps he wants to honor Moses, Elijah and Jesus—to offer them a bit of hospitality.
• Probably, he just wants to do something. An action-man needs to act!
There may be another connection with Moses at this point. As Moses led the Israelites in the wilderness, God told him to build booths in which the people would dwell for seven days (Leviticus 23:33-43). They were to do this “that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God” (Leviticus 23:43). This observance, known as the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths, started as a harvest festival, but evolved into a reminder of their wanderings in the wilderness—and their escape from slavery in Egypt—and God’s continuing faithfulness to them. Peter might be taking his idea for the three booths from the Feast of Tabernacles.
Peter’s idea goes nowhere. Luke describes Peter as “not knowing what he said” (v. 33). He considers Peter’s proposal foolish, but doesn’t tell us why:
• One possibility is that Peter is trying to prolong the mountaintop experience—to keep Jesus safe on the mountain rather than seeing him exposed to suffering, rejection, and death (v. 22).
• Another possibility is that the proposal to build three booths equates Jesus with Moses and Elijah—diminishing Jesus’ unique status as “the Messiah of God” (see Peter’s confession in v. 20).
The voice from the cloud interrupts so that Jesus never responds directly to Peter’s suggestion to build booths.
LUKE 9:34-36. THIS IS MY BELOVED SON. LISTEN TO HIM!
34While he said these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered into the cloud. 35A voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” 36When the voice came, Jesus was found alone. They were silent, and told no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.
“While he said these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them” (v. 34a). The cloud was the symbol of the presence of God at Sinai (Exodus 24:15-16; 34:5), and it symbolizes God’s presence for these three disciples. Later, at Jesus’ ascension, a cloud will take Jesus out of their sight (Acts 1:9—also written by Luke).
“and they were afraid as they entered into the cloud” (v. 34b). The disciples are terrified because they understand the cloud as the presence of God. Only the High Priest is allowed to come into God’s presence—and he only on the Day of Atonement (Hebrews 9:7). To look on God’s face is to die (Exodus 33:20). Who knows what will happen to them now that they are in God’s presence—perhaps they will die! Whatever the potential outcome, they feel unworthy to stand in God’s presence—unprepared to meet their Maker—vulnerable. It is as if they have been presented, suddenly and without warning, with their final Exam—their Really Final Exam. They are afraid.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (v. 35). Throughout this chapter, the question has been, “Who is this?” Now God provides the answer. Jesus is God’s beloved Son.
As noted above, these words form another connection with Moses, who told the people, “Yahweh your God will raise up to you a prophet from the midst of you, of your brothers, like me. You shall listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15).
The voice from the clouds echoes the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism—”You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased” (3:22). However, these words are directed to the disciples rather than Jesus (as at the baptism).
“Listen to him!” (v. 35). Jesus has told them that he will suffer and die (vv. 18-20)—and that they will also suffer and die (vv. 21-27). While Luke does not tell of Peter’s protest (see Matthew 16:22), it is clear that the disciples are not prepared to hear Jesus talk about suffering and death. They expect him to conquer—not to die.
The disciples will neither listen well nor carry out their tasks faithfully—until after the resurrection.
• They will fail to heal a boy with a demon (9:37-43).
• They will fail to understand Jesus’ warning about his betrayal (9:43-45).
• They will argue about which one of them is the greatest (9:46-48).
• They will not understand Jesus prediction of his death and resurrection (18:31-34).
• Peter will deny Jesus (22:54-62).
• They will stand at a distance while Jesus was crucified (23:49).
But God will win the victory anyway!
“Listen to him!” There is a sermon in these words. We listen to so many voices today, all of which seem wise and attractive—pundits, columnists, commentators, political analysts, religious gurus, celebrities, tempters, seducers. They promise us health, wealth, and happiness, but seldom live up to their promises and often lead people toward ruin. Is there any trustworthy voice amidst the cacophony? The voice from the cloud says that we can always trust Jesus—”Listen to him!”
• We say, “But Jesus is too idealistic to understand the bare-knuckles world in which I live!” The voice says, “Listen to him!”
• We say, “Later, perhaps, but I have other things to do right now!” The voice says, “Listen to him!”
• We say, “But I am not sure that I truly believe.” The voice says, “Listen to him!”
How many broken hearts and broken lives could be avoided if we would just listen to him! There are many people who regret not listening to Jesus. Do you know one who is sorry for having listened?
“When the voice came, Jesus was found alone” (v. 36a). Moses and Elijah, who were leaving Jesus prior to the voice from the cloud (v. 33), are gone. They are “represented in this episode… (as) foils to Jesus. Representing the Israel of old, they disappear, leaving Jesus alone” (Fitzmyer, 795).
“They were silent, and told no one in those days any of the things which they had seen” (v. 36b). The moment is over! The disciples have survived their encounter with God! The fireworks have ended. They are left with Jesus and silence. Even Peter keeps his mouth shut. They don’t tell anyone what they have seen, and that is all right. There will be a time to speak, but they are not yet ready for the witness that they will bear a few weeks later in Jerusalem (Acts 1-2).
This has been “a mountaintop experience but not the kind about which persons write glowingly of sunrises, soft breezes, warm friends, music, and quiet time. On this mountain the subject (has been) death” (Craddock, Interpretation, 135).
LUKE 9:37-43. WHEN THEY HAD COME DOWN FROM THE MOUNTAIN
37It happened on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, that a great multitude met him. 38Behold, a man from the crowd called out, saying, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39Behold, a spirit takes him, he suddenly cries out, and it convulses him so that he foams, and it hardly departs from him, bruising him severely. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, and they couldn’t.”
41Jesus answered, “Faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42While he was still coming, the demon threw him down and convulsed him violently. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
43They were all astonished at the majesty of God.
See Mark 9:14-29 and Matthew 17:14-20 for parallels. Mark, the shortest Gospel, gives the most complete account of this exorcism.
“It happened on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, that a great multitude met him” (v. 37). The contrast between the mountaintop and the base of the mountain could not be sharper. At the top of the mountain, they found themselves in the presence of God, who testified to the divine status of his son, Jesus. At the base of the mountain, they find themselves confronted by a great crowd and a distraught father who pleads for his son, who is possessed by a demon.
“Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child” (v. 38). Not only is the father distraught because his son is suffering, but his situation is made even more difficult by the fact that this is his only child. The family lineage depends on this child. The parents, in their old age, will need the child’s support. The father has sought help from Jesus’ disciples (v. 40), and has surely availed himself of other potential remedies as well. Nothing has worked. The father is desperate, but has not given up. He places great hope in Jesus.
“Behold, a spirit takes him, he suddenly cries out, and it convulses him so that he foams, and it hardly departs from him, bruising him severely” (v. 39). Luke, the first-century physician, describes the problem as demon-possession. To twenty-first century ears, the symptoms sound like epilepsy.
“I begged your disciples to cast it out, and they couldn’t” (v. 40). Jesus gave the twelve “power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases” (9:1). Why should they have problems with this demon? Jesus answers that in the next verse.
“Faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here” (v. 41). Jesus’ words echo Moses’ reproach of Israel, and provide one more link between Moses and Jesus (Deuteronomy 32:5—see also Numbers 14:27; Isaiah 65:2). Jesus’ reproach says that the disciples’ failure is due to their own faithlessness and perversity—implying lack of faith.
Certainly, their faith has waned more often than it has waxed. When a storm threatened their boat, Jesus asked, “Where is your faith?” (8:25). Later, however, they succeeded in “healing everywhere” (9:6). When Jesus commanded them to feed a great crowd, they responded, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we should go and buy food for all these people” (9:13). Now we learn that they have also failed to heal this boy (v. 40).
“While he was still coming, the demon threw him down and convulsed him violently” (v. 42a). The demon makes a desperate last attempt to control the boy. These convulsions demonstrate graphically the problem that the father has described.
“But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father” (v. 42b). Where others failed, Jesus prevails. We see that yet today. Christ has transformed more lives than we can count.
“They were all astonished at the majesty of God” (v. 43). The crowd, having just seen the child’s convulsions, cannot help but be impressed with the miracle of this healing.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2007, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan