The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE DESCENT: FROM THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION INTO THE
VALLEY OF HUMILIATION AND DEATH
(St Matthew 17:1-8; St. Mark 9:2-8; St.
THE great confession of Peter, as the representative Apostle,
had laid the foundations of the Church as such. In contradistinction to the
varying opinions of even those best disposed towards Christ, it openly declared
that Jesus was the Very Christ of God, the fulfilment of all Old Testament
prophecy, the heir of Old Testament promise, the realisation of the Old
Testament hope for Israel, and, in Israel, for all mankind. Without this
confession, Christians might have been a Jewish sect, a religious party, or a
school of thought, and Jesus a Teacher, Rabbi, Reformer, or Leader of men. But
the confession which marked Jesus as the Christ, also constituted His followers
the Church. It separated them, as it separated Him, from all around; it
gathered them into one, even Christ; and it marked out the foundation on which
the building made without hands was to rise. Never was illustrative answer so
exact as this: 'On this Rock' - bold, outstanding, well-defined, immovable -
'will I build My Church.'
Without doubt this confession also marked the high-point of the
Apostles' faith. Never afterwards, till His Resurrection, did it reach so high.
Nay, what followed seems rather a retrogression from it: beginning with their
unwillingness to receive the announcement of His decease, and ending with their
unreadiness to share His sufferings or to believe in His Resurrection. And if
we realise the circumstances, we shall understand at least, their initial
difficulties. Their highest faith had been followed by the most crushing
disappointment; the confession that He was the Christ, by the announcement of
His approaching Sufferings and Death at Jerusalem. The proclamation that He was
the Divine Messiah had not been met by promises of the near glory of the
Messianic Kingdom, but by announcements of certain, public rejection and
seeming terrible defeat. Such possibilities had never seriously entered into
their thoughts of the Messiah; and the declaration of the very worst, and that in
the near future, made at such a moment, must have been a staggering blow to all
their hopes. It was as if they had reached the topmost height, only to be cast
thence into the lowest depth.
On the other hand, it was necessary that at this stage in the
History of the Christ, and immediately after His proclamation, the sufferings
and the rejection of the Messiah should be prominently brought forward. It was
needful for the Apostles, as the remonstrance of Peter showed; and, with
reverence be it added, it was needful for the Lord Himself, as even His words
to Peter seem to imply: 'Get thee behind Me; thou art a stumbling-block unto
me.' For - as we have said - was not the remonstrance of the disciple in
measure a re-enactment of the great initial Temptation by Satan after the forty
days' fast in the wilderness? And, in view of all this, and of what immediately
afterwards followed, we venture to say, it was fitting that an interval of
'six' days should intervene, or, as St. Luke puts it, including the day of Peter's
confession and the night of Christ's Transfiguration, 'about eight days.' The
Chronicle of these days is significantly left blank in the Gospels, but we
cannot doubt, that it was filled up with thoughts and teaching concerning that
Decease, leading up to the revelation on the Mount of Transfiguration.
There are other blanks in the narrative besides that just
referred to. We shall try to fill them up, as best we can. Perhaps it was the
Sabbath when Peter's great confession was made; and the 'six days' of St.
Matthew and St. Mark become the 'about eight days' of St. Luke, when we reckon
from that Sabbath to the close of another, and suppose that at even the Saviour
ascended the Mount of Transfiguration with the three Apostles: Peter, James,
and John. There can scarcely be a reasonable doubt that Christ and His
disciples had not left the neighborhood of Cæsarea,1
and hence, that 'the mountain' must have been one of the slopes of gigantic,
snowy Hermon. In that quiet semi-Gentile retreat of Cæsarea Philippi could He
best teach them, and they best learn, without interruption or temptation from
Pharisees and Scribes, that terrible mystery of His Suffering. And on that
gigantic mountain barrier which divided Jewish and Gentile lands, and while
surveying, as Moses of old, the land to be occupied in all its extent, amidst
the solemn solitude and majestic grandeur of Hermon, did it seem most fitting
that, both by anticipatory fact and declamatory word, the Divine attestation
should be given to the proclamation that He was the Messiah, and to this also,
that, in a world that is in the power of sin and Satan, God's Elect must
suffer, in order that, by ransoming, He may conquer it to God. But what a
background, here, for the Transfiguration; what surroundings for the Vision,
what echoes for the Voice from heaven!
1. According to an old tradition, Christ had left Cæsarea Philippi, and the scene of the Transfiguration was Mount Tabor. But (1) there is no notice of His departure, such as in generally made by St. Mark; (2) on the contrary, it is mentioned by St. Mark as after the Transfiguration (ix. 30); (3) Mount Tabor was at that time crowned by a fortified city, which would render it unsuitable for the scene of the Transfiguration.
It was evening,2
and, as we have suggested, the evening after the Sabbath, when the Master and
those three of His disciples, who were most closely linked to Him in heart and
thought, climbed the path that led up to one of the heights of Hermon. In all
the most solemn transactions of earth's history, there has been this selection
and separation of the few to witness God's great doings. Alone with his son, as
the destined sacrifice, did Abraham climb Moriah; alone did Moses behold, amid
the awful loneliness of the wilderness, the burning bush, and alone on Sinai's
height did he commune with God; alone was Elijah at Horeb, and with no other
companion to view it than Elisha did he ascend into heaven. But Jesus, the Saviour
of His people, could not be quite alone, save in those innermost transactions
of His soul: in the great contest of His first Temptation, and in the solitary
communings of His heart with God. These are mysteries which the outspread wings
of Angels, as reverently they hide their faces, conceal from earth's, and even
heaven's vision. But otherwise, in the most solemn turning-points of this
history, Jesus could not be alone, and yet was alone with those three chosen
ones, most receptive of Him, and most representative of the Church. It was so
in the house of Jairus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in the Garden of
2. This is implied not only in the disciples being heavy with sleep, but in the morning scene (St. Luke ix. 37) which followed.
As St. Luke alone informs us, it was 'to pray' that Jesus took
them apart up into that mountain. 'To pray,' no doubt in connection with 'those
sayings;' since their reception required quite as much the direct teaching of
the Heavenly Father, as had the previous confession of Peter, of which it was,
indeed, the complement, the other aspect, the twin height. And the Transfiguration,
with its attendant glorified Ministry and Voice from heaven, was God's answer
to that prayer.
What has already been stated, has convinced us that it could
not have been to one of the highest peaks of Hermon, as most modern writers
suppose, that Jesus led His companions. There are three such peaks: those north
and south, of about equal height (9,400 feet above the sea, and nearly 11,000
above the Jordan valley), are only 500 paces distant from each other, while the
third, to the west (about 100 feet lower), is separated from the others by a
narrow valley. Now, to climb the top of Hermon is, even from the nearest point,
an Alpine ascent, trying and fatiguing, which would occupy a whole day (six
hours in the ascent and four in the descent), and require provisions of food
and water; while, from the keenness of the air, it would be impossible to spend
the night on the top.3
To all this there is no allusion in the text, nor slightest hint of either
difficulties or preparations, such as otherwise would have been required.
Indeed, a contrary impression is left on the mind.
3. Canon Tristram writes: 'We were before long painfully affected by the rarity of the atmosphere.' In general, our description is derived from Canon Tristram
('Land of Israel'), Captain Conder ('Tent-Work in Palestine'), and Bädeker-Socin's Palästina, p. 354.
'Up into an high mountain apart,' 'to pray.' The Sabbath-sun
had set, and a delicious cool hung in the summer air, as Jesus an the three
commenced their ascent. From all parts of the land, far as Jerusalem or Tyre,
the one great object in view must always have been snow-clad Hermon. And now it
stood out before them - as, to the memory of the traveller in the West, Monte
Rosa or Mont Blanc4
- in all the wondrous glory of a sunset: first rose-colored, then deepening
red, next 'the death-like pallor, and the darkness relieved by the snow, in
From high up there, as one describes it,6
'a deep ruby flush came over all the scene, and warm purple shadows crept
slowly on. The sea of Galilee was lit up with a delicate greenish-yellow hue,
between its dim walls of hill. The flush died out in a few minutes, and a pale,
steel-coloured shade succeeded. . . . A long pyramidal shadow slid down to the
eastern foot of Hermon, and crept across the great plain; Damascus was
swallowed up by it; and finally the pointed end of the shadow stood out
distinctly against the sky - a dusky cone of dull colour against the flush of
the afterglow. It was the shadow of the mountain itself, stretching away for seventy
miles across the plain - the most marvellous shadow perhaps to be seen
anywhere. The sun underwent strange changes of shape in the thick vapours - now
almost square, now like a domed Temple - until at length it slid into the sea,
and went out like a blue spark.' And overhead shone out in the blue summer-sky,
one by one, the stars in Eastern brilliancy. We know not the exact direction
which the climbers took, nor how far their journey went. But there is only one
road that leads from Cæsarea Philippi to Hermon, and we cannot be mistaken in
following it. First, among vine-clad hills stocked with mulberry, apricot and
fig-trees; then, through corn-fields where the pear tree supplants the fig;
next, through oak coppice, and up rocky ravines to where the soil is dotted
with dwarf shrubs. And if we pursue the ascent, it still becomes steeper, till
the first ridge of snow is crossed, after which turfy banks, gravelly slopes,
and broad snow-patches alternate. The top of Hermon in summer - and it can only
be ascended in summer or autumn - is free from snow, but broad patches run down
the sides expanding as they descend. To the very summit it is well earthed; to
500 feet below it, studded with countless plants, higher up with dwarf clumps.7
4. One of its names, Shenir (Deut. iii. 9; Cant. iv. 8; Ezek. xxvii. 5) means Mont Blanc. In Rabbinic writings it is designated as the 'snow-mountain.'
5. Tristram, u.s., p. 607.
6. Conder, u.s., vol. i. p. 264.
7. Our description is based on the graphic account of the ascent by Canon Tristram (u.s. pp. 609-613).
As they ascend in the cool of that Sabbath evening, the keen
mountain air must have breathed strength into the climbers, and the scent of
snow - for which the parched tongue would long in summer's heat8
- have refreshed them. We know not what part may have been open to them of the
glorious panorama from Hermon embracing as it does a great part of Syria from
the sea to Damascus, from the Lebanon and the gorge of the Litany to the
mountains of Moab; or down the Jordan valley to the Dead Sea; or over Galilee,
Samaria, and on to Jerusalem and beyond it. But such darkness as that of a
summer's night would creep on. And now the moon shone out in dazzling
splendour, cast long shadows over the mountain, and lit up the broad patches of
snow, reflecting their brilliancy on the objects around.
8. Prov. xxv. 13.
On that mountain-top 'He prayed.' Although the text does not
expressly state it, we can scarcely doubt, that He prayed with them, and still
less, that He prayed for them, as did the Prophet for his servant, when the
city was surrounded by Syrian horsemen: that his eyes might be opened to behold
heaven's host - the far 'more that are with us than they that are with them.'9
And, with deep reverence be it said, for Himself also did Jesus pray. For, as
the pale moonlight shone on the fields of snow in the deep passes of Hermon, so
did the light of the coming night shine on the cold glitter of Death in the
near future. He needed prayer, that in it His Soul might lie calm and still -
perfect, in the unruffled quiet of His Self-surrender, the absolute rest of His
Faith, and the victory of His Sacrificial Obedience. And He needed prayer also,
as the introduction to, and preparation for, His Transfiguration. Truly, He
stood on Hermon. It was the highest ascent, the widest prospect into the past,
present, and future, in His Earthly Life. Yet was it but Hermon at night. And
this is the human, or rather the Theanthropic view of this prayer, and of its
9. 2 Kings vi. 16, 17.
As we understand it, the prayer with them had ceased, or it had
merged into silent prayer of each, or Jesus now prayed alone and apart, when
what gives this scene such a truly human and truthful aspect ensued. It was but
natural for these men of simple habits, at night, and after the long ascent,
and in the strong mountain-air, to be heavy with sleep. And we also know it as
a psychological fact, that, in quick reaction after the overpowering influence
of the strongest emotions, drowsiness would creep over their limbs and senses.
'They were heavy - weighted - with sleep,' as afterwards at Gethsemane their eyes
Yet they struggled with it, and it is quite consistent with experience, that
they should continue in that state of semi-stupor, during what passed between
Moses and Elijah and Christ, and also be 'fully awake,'12
'to see His Glory, and the two men who stood with Him.' In any case this
descriptive trait, so far from being (as negative critics would have it), a
'later embellishment,' could only have formed part of a primitive account,
since it is impossible to conceive any rational motive for its later addition.13
10. St. Matt. xxvi. 43; St. Mark xiv. 40.
11. The word is the same. It also occurs in a figurative sense in 2 Cor. i. 8; v. 4; 1 Tim. v. 16.
12. Meyer strongly advocates the rendering: 'but having kept awake.' See, however, Godet's
remarks ad loc.
13. Meyer is in error in supposing that the tradition, on which St. Luke's account is founded, amplifies the narratives of St. Matthew and St. Mark. With Canon Cook
I incline to the view of Resch, that, judging from the style, &c., St. Luke derived this notice from the same source as the materials for the large portion from ch. ix. 51 to xviii. 17.
What they saw was their Master, while praying, 'transformed.'14
The 'form of God' shone through the 'form of a servant;' 'the appearance of His
Face became other,'1516
it 'did shine as the sun.'1718
Nay, the whole Figure seemed bathed in light, the very garments whiter far than
the snow on which the moon shone19
- 'so as no fuller on earth can white them,'20
'white as the light.' And more than this they saw and heard. They saw 'with Him
two men,'22 whom, in
their heightened sensitiveness to spiritual phenomena, they could have no
difficulty in recognising, by such of their conversation as they heard, as
Moses and Elijah.23
The column was now complete: the base in the Law; the shaft in that Prophetism
of which Elijah was the great Representative - in his first Mission, as
fulfilling the primary object of the Prophets: to call Israel back to God; and,
in his second Mission, this other aspect of the Prophets' work, to prepare the
way for the Kingdom of God; and the apex in Christ Himself - a unity completely
fitting together in all its parts. And they heard also, that they spake of 'His
Exodus - outgoing - which He was about to fulfil at Jerusalem.'24
Although the term 'Exodus,' 'outgoing,' occurs otherwise for 'death,'25
we must bear in mind its meaning as contrasted with that in which the same
Evangelic writer designates the Birth of Christ, as His 'incoming.'26
In truth, it implies not only His Decease, but its manner, and even His
Resurrection and Ascension. In that sense we can understand the better, as on
the lips of Moses and Elijah, this about His fulfilling that Exodus:
accomplishing it in all its fulness, and so completing Law and Prophecy, type
14. On the peculiar meaning of the word morfh
comp. Bishop Lightfoot on Philip. pp. 127-133.
15. St. Luke.
16. This expression of St. Luke, so far from indicating embellishment of the other accounts, marks, if anything, rather retrogression.
17. St. Matthew.
18. It is scarcely a Rabbinic parallel - hardly an illustration - that in Rabbinic writings also Moses' face before his death is said to have shone as the sun, for the comparison is a Biblical one. Such language would, of course, be familiar to St. Matthew.
19. The words 'as snow,' in St. Mark ix. 3, are, however, spurious - an early gloss.
20. St. Mark.
21. St. Luke.
22. St. Luke.
23. Godet points out the emphatic meaning of oitineV in St. Luke ix. 30=quippequi: they were none other than.
24. St. Luke.
25. In some of the Apocrypha and Josephus, as well as in 2 Pet. i. 15.
26. eisodoV, Acts xiii. 24.
And still that night of glory had not ended. A strange
peculiarity has been noticed about Hermon in 'the extreme rapidity of the
formation of cloud on the summit. In a few minutes a thick cap forms over the
top of the mountain, and as quickly disperses and entirely disappears.'27
It almost seems as if this, like the natural position of Hermon itself, was, if
not to be connected with, yet, so to speak, to form the background to what was
to be enacted. Suddenly a cloud passed over the clear brow of the mountain -
not an ordinary, but 'a luminous cloud,' a cloud uplit, filled with light. As
it laid itself between Jesus and the two Old Testament Representatives, it
parted, and presently enwrapped them. Most significant is it, suggestive of the
Presence of God, revealing, yet concealing - a cloud, yet luminous. And this
cloud overshadowed the disciples: the shadow of its light fell upon them. A
nameless terror seized them. Fain would they have held what seemed for ever to
escape their grasp. Such vision had never before been vouchsafed to mortal man
as had fallen on their sight; they had already heard Heaven's converse; they
had tasted Angels' Food, the Bread of His Presence. Could the vision not be
perpetuated - at least prolonged? In the confusion of their terror they knew
not how otherwise to word it, than by an expression of ecstatic longing for the
continuance of what they had, of their earnest readiness to do their little
best, if they could but secure it - make booths for the heavenly Visitants28
- and themselves wait in humble service and reverent attention on what their
dull heaviness had prevented their enjoying and profiting by, to the full. They
knew and felt it: 'Lord' - 'Rabbi' - 'Master' - 'it is good for us to be here'
- and they longed to have it; yet how to secure it, their terror could not
suggest, save in the language of ignorance and semi-conscious confusion. 'They
wist not what they said.' In presence of the luminous cloud that enwrapt those
glorified Saints, they spake from out that darkness which compassed them about.
27. Conder, u.s. vol. i. p 265.
28. Wünsche (ad loc.) quotes as it seems to me, very inaptly, the Rabbinic realistic idea of the fulfilment of Is. iv. 5, 6, that God would make for each of the righteous seven booths, varying according to their merits (Baba B. 75 a) or else one booth for each (Bemid. R. 21, ed. Warsh. p. 85 a). Surely, there can be no similarity between this and the words of Peter.
And now the light-cloud was spreading; presently its fringe
fell upon them.29
Heaven's awe was upon them: for the touch of the heavenly strains, almost to
breaking, the bond betwixt body and soul. 'And a Voice came out of the cloud,
saying, This is My Beloved30
Son: hear Him.' It had needed only One other Testimony to seal it all; One
other Voice, to give both meaning and music to what had been the subject of
Moses' and Elijah's speaking. That Voice had now come - not in testimony to any
fact, but to a Person - that of Jesus as His 'Beloved Son,'31
and in gracious direction to them. They heard it, falling on their faces in
29. A comparison of the narratives leaves on us the impression that the disciples also were touched by the cloud. I cannot agree with Godet, that the
question depends on whether we adopt in St. Luke ix. 34 the reading of the T.R. ekeinouV, or that of the Alex. autouV.
30. The more correct reading in St. Luke seems to be 'Elect Son.'
31. St. Matthew adds, 'in Whom I am well pleased.' The reason of this fuller account is not difficult to understand.
How long the silence had lasted, and the last rays of the cloud
had passed, we know not. Presently, it was a gentle touch that roused them. It
was the Hand of Jesus, as with words of comfort He reassured them: 'Arise, and
be not afraid.' And as, startled,32
they looked round about them, they saw no man save Jesus only. The Heavenly
Visitants had gone, the last glow of the light-cloud had faded away, the echoes
of Heaven's Voice had died out. It was night, and they were on the Mount with
Jesus, and with Jesus only.
32. St. Mark indicates this by the words: 'And suddenly, when they looked round about.'
Is it truth or falsehood; was it reality or vision, or part of
both, this Transfiguration-scene on Hermon? One thing, at least, must be
evident: if it be a true narrative, it cannot possibly describe a merely
subjective vision without objective reality. But, in that case, it would be not
only difficult, but impossible, to separate one part of the narrative - the
appearance of Moses and Elijah - from the other, the Transfiguration of the
Lord, and to assign to the latter objective reality,33
while regarding the former as merely a vision. But is the account true? It
certainly represents primitive tradition, since it is not only told by all the
three Evangelists, but referred to in 2 Peter i. 16-18,34
and evidently implied in the words of St. John, both in his Gospel,35
and in the opening of his First Epistle. Few, if any would be so bold as to
assert that the whole of this history had been invented by the three Apostles,
who professed to have been its witnesses. Nor can any adequate motive be
imagined for its invention. It could not have been intended to prepare the Jews
for the Crucifixion of the Messiah, since it was to be kept a secret till after
His Resurrection; and, after the event, it could not have been necessary for
the assurance of those who believed in the Resurrection, while to others it
would carry no weight. Again, the special traits of this history are
inconsistent with the theory of its invention. In a legend, the witnesses of
such an event would not have been represented as scarcely awake, and not
knowing what they said. Manifestly, the object would have been to convey the
opposite impression. Lastly, it cannot be too often repeated, that, in view of
the manifold witness of the Evangelists, amply confirmed in all essentials by
the Epistles - preached, lived, and bloodsealed by the primitive Church, and
handed down as primitive tradition - the most untenable theory seems that which
imputes intentional fraud to their narratives, or, to put it otherwise,
non-belief on the part of the narrators of what they related.
33. This part of the argument is well worked out by Meyer, but his arguments for regarding the appearance of Moses and Elijah as merely a vision, because the former at least had no resurrection-body, are very weak. Are we sure, that disembodied spirits have no kind of corporeity, or that they cannot assume a visible appearance?
34. Even if that Epistle were not St. Peter's, it would still represent the most ancient tradition.
35. St. John i. 14.
But can we suppose, if not fraud, yet mistake on the part of
these witnesses, so that an event, otherwise naturally explicable, may, through
their ignorance or imaginativeness, have assumed the proportions of this
narrative? The investigation will be the more easy, that, as regards all the
main features of the narrative, the three Evangelists are entirely agreed.
Instead of examining in detail the various rationalistic attempts made to
explain this history on natural grounds, it seems sufficient for refutation to
ask the intelligent reader to attempt imagining any natural event, which by any
possibility could have been mistaken for what the eyewitnesses related, and the
There still remains the mythical theory of explanation, which,
if it could be supported, would be the most attractive among those of a
negative character. But we cannot imagine a legend without some historical
motive or basis for its origination. The legend must be in character - that is,
congruous to the ideas and expectancies entertained. Such a history as that of
the Transfiguration could not have been a pure invention; but if such or
similar expectancies had existed about the Messiah, then such a legend might,
without intentional fraud, have, by gradual accretion, gathered around the
Person of Him Who was regarded as the Christ. And this is the rationale
of the so-called mythical theory. But all such ideas vanish at the touch
of history. There was absolutely no Jewish expectancy that could have bodied
itself forth in a narrative like that of the Transfiguration. To begin with the
accessories, the idea, that the coming of Moses was to be connected with that of
the Messiah, rests not only on an exaggeration, but on a dubious and difficult
passage in the Jerusalem Targum.3637
It is quite true, that the face of Moses shone when he came down from the
Mount; but, if this is to be regarded as the basis of the Transfiguration of
Jesus, the presence of Elijah would not be in point. On the other hand - to
pass over other inconsistencies - anything more un-Jewish could scarcely be
imagined than a Messiah crucified, or that Moses and Elijah should appear to
converse with Him on such a Death! If it be suggested, that the purpose was to
represent the Law and the Prophets as bearing testimony to the Dying of the
Messiah, we fully admit it. Certainly, this is the New Testament and the true
idea concerning the Christ; but equally certainly, it was not and is not, that
of the Jews concerning the Messiah.38
36. On Ex. xii.
37. Moses and the Messiah are placed side by side, the one as coming from the desert, the other from Rome. 'This one shall lead at the head of a cloud, and that one shall lead at the head of a cloud, the Memra of Jehovah leading between them
twain, and they going' - as I would render it - 'as one' (Ve-innun mehalkhin kachada), or, as some render it, 'they shall walk together.' The question here arises, whether this is to be understood as merely figurative language, or to be taken literally. If literally, does the Targum refer to a kind of heavenly vision, or to something that was actually to take place, a kind of
realism of what Philo had anticipated (see vol. i. p. 82)? It may have been in this sense that Fr. Tayler renders the words by 'in culmine nubis equitabit.'
But on careful consideration the many and obvious incongruities involved in it seem to render a literal interpretation well nigh impossible. But all seems not only plain but accordant with other Rabbinic teaching (see vol. i. p. 176), if we
regard the passage as only indicating a parallelism between the first and the second Deliverer and the deliverances wrought by them. Again, although the parallel is often drawn in Rabbinic writings between Moses and Elijah, I know only one passage, and that a dubious one, in which they are conjoined in the days of the Messiah. It occurs in Deb. R. 3 (seven lines before the close of it), and is to this effect, that, because Moses had in this world given his life for Israel, therefore in the Æon to come, when God would send Elijah the prophet, they two should come, keachath, either 'together' or 'as one,' the proof passage being Nah. i. 3, 'the whirlwind' there referring to Moses, and 'the storm' to Elijah. Surely, no one would found on such a basis a Jewish mythical origin of the Transfiguration.
38. Godet has also aptly pointed out, that the injunction of silence on the disciples as
to this event is incompatible with the mythical theory. It could only point to a real event, not to a myth.
If it is impossible to regard this narrative as a fraud;
hopeless, to attempt explaining it as a natural event; and utterly
unaccountable, when viewed in connection with contemporary thought or
expectancy - in short, if all negative theories fail, let us see whether, and
how on the supposition of its reality, it will fit into the general narrative.
To begin with: if our previous investigations have rightly led us up to this
result, that Jesus was the Very Christ of God, then this event can scarcely be
described as miraculous - at least in such a history. If we would not expect
it, it is certainly that which might have been expected. For, first, it was
(and at that particular period) a necessary stage in the Lord's History, viewed
in the light in which the Gospels present Him. Secondly, it was needful for His
own strengthening, even as the Ministry of the Angels after the Temptation.
Thirdly, it was 'good' for these three disciples to be there: not only for
future witness, but for present help, and also with special reference to
Peter's remonstrance against Christ's death-message. Lastly, the Voice from
heaven, in hearing of His disciples, was of the deepest importance. Coming after
the announcement of His Death and Passion, it sealed that testimony, and, in
view of it, proclaimed Him as the Prophet to Whom Moses had bidden Israel
hearken,39 while it
repeated the heavenly utterance concerning Him made at His Baptism.40
39. Deut. xviii. 15.
40. St. Matt. iii. 17.
But, for us all, the interest of this history lies not only in
the past; it is in the present also, and in the future. To all ages it is like
the vision of the bush burning, in which was the Presence of God. And it points
us forward to that transformation, of which that of Christ was the pledge, when
'this corruptible shall put on incorruption.' As of old the beacon-fires,
lighted from hill to hill, announced to them far away from Jerusalem the advent
of solemn feast, so does the glory kindled on the Mount of Transfiguration
shine through the darkness of the world, and tell of the Resurrection-Day.
On Hermon the Lord and His disciples had reached the highest
point in this history. Henceforth it is a descent into the Valley of
Humiliation and Death!