Jesus Is What God Has To Say

>TRANSFIGURATION

Jesus Is What God Has To Say
Brian Zahnd

One of the most mysterious aspects of the Transfiguration is the appearance of Moses and Elijah — these two giant figures from the Old Testament — conversing with a glorified Christ. Of course Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the Prophet are representative figures signifying the Law and the Prophets. On Mount Tabor, Moses and Elijah are summoned from the Old Testament past to give their final witness.

The goal of the Law and the Prophets was to produce a just and worshipping society. Jesus and his kingdom is where that project finds its fulfillment. The new society formed around Jesus was what the Law and the Prophets were aiming for all along. The Transfiguration is where Moses and Elijah find their great successor. The Transfiguration is where the Old Testament hands the project of redemption over to Jesus. The Transfiguration is where the old witness (testament) yields to the new witness (testament.)

But initially Peter misinterpreted what the presence of Moses and Elijah meant.

Peter’s first impulse was to build three memorial tabernacles on Tabor, treating Moses, Elijah, and Jesus as approximate equals.

But Peter’s idea received a strong rebuke when the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!”

Jesus is the true and living Word of God. Jesus is what the Law and Prophets point toward and bow to. Jesus is what the Old Testament was trying to say, but could never fully articulate. Jesus is the perfect Word of God in the form of a human life. God couldn’t say all he wanted to say in the form of a book, so he said it in the form of Jesus. Jesus is what God has to say!

The Law and the Prophets were the lesser lights in the pre-Christ night sky. They were the moon and stars. Israel could grope forward by their soft light; the Hebrews could navigate through the pagan night by constellations. In a world of Stygian darkness, the moonlight and starlight emanating from the Torah and the Prophets made all the difference.

But with Christ, morning has broken, the new day has dawned, the sun of righteousness has risen with healing in its rays. Now the moon and the stars, Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets are eclipsed by the full glory of God in Christ!

The Old Testament is not on par with Jesus. The Bible is not a flat text where every passage carries the same weight. This is why Jesus says, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” When the church tries to embrace Biblicism by giving the Old Testament equal authority with Christ, the Father thunders from heaven, “No! This is my beloved Son! Listen to him!

So if Moses says to practice capital punishment, to stone adulterers and other sinners, God says, “Listen to Jesus!” And Jesus says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

If Elijah calls down fire from heaven to burn up his enemies, God says, “Listen to Jesus!” And Jesus says, “Love your enemies.”

The Pharisees in their desire to condemn sinners to death can quote the Bible and cite Moses. But Jesus says something else.

James and John, in their zeal to go “shock and awe” on the Samaritans and call down fire from heaven, can quote the Bible and cite Elijah. But Jesus says something else.

Moses says this. Elijah does that. But Jesus says and does something completely new and different.

And what does God say? Does God instruct us to find a “healthy balance” between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus? No! God says, “Listen to my Son!”

If we want to rummage around in the Old Testament and drag out Moses or Elijah or Joshua or David to “balance out” what Jesus teaches about peacemaking and enemy-love, we are trying to build an Old Testament tabernacle on the holy mountain of Christ’s glory and God says, “No!”

The role of the Old Testament is to give an inspired telling of how we get to Jesus. But once we get to Jesus we don’t build multiple tabernacles to “balance out” Jesus. Jesus is greater than Moses. Jesus is greater than Elijah. Jesus is greater than Biblicism. Moses can stone sinners and Elijah can burn up enemies, but for a Christian that doesn’t matter. We follow Jesus.

It’s not “Biblical principles” that we seek, but the truth of Christ.

It’s not “Biblical justice” that we pursue, but Christlike justice.

It’s not “Biblical manhood” that men should aspire to, but Christlike manhood.

It’s not “Biblical womanhood” that should inform women, but the light of Christ.

Wars of conquest, violent retribution, the institution of slavery, and women held as property are all “Biblical.” But when placed in the light of Tabor they must be renounced. What was once acceptable in the dim light of Moses and Elijah is now rejected in the light brighter than the sun shining from the face of Christ.

Today Moses and Elijah (the Law and the Prophets) do one thing: They point to Jesus!

I’m a Christian, not a Biblicist. Yet I love the Old Testament. I read it everyday. I call it Scripture. Sacred Scripture. But I never read it without Jesus. Jesus is my sponsor for admission to the Old Testament. (Why else would a Gentile read ancient Jewish Scriptures?) I don’t read the Law and the Prophets by the light of Moses and Elijah; I read the Law and the Prophets in the light of Christ. So if Moses instructs capital punishment and Elijah models violent retribution, I remember Mount Tabor…

“A voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son, listen to him!’ And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.” –Mark 9:7, 8

The final testimony of Moses and Elijah is to recede into the background so that Jesus stands alone as the full and true Word of God.

Jesus is what God has to say!

BZ

(This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday in Western churches. The artwork is Transfiguration by Libuse Lukas Miller.)

Here is a picture I took of the Monastery on Mount Tabor when Peri and I were there last year.

IMG_3480

  • Steve Perrins

    Inspired!

  • Wonderful post, reminiscent of a wonderful sermon. Thanks!

  • David Lindsay

    Brian:

    Wow – you shared the best message I have ever heard on the transfiguration !
    It makes the event come to life with new meaning.

    Thanks for sharing such an inspiring word.

    Dave

  • JK

    These words rattle around my head and feed my soul.
    Thank you for your keen eye and faithful preaching.

  • ERSchindler

    So well put! Many, many thanks!

  • Thank you so much for this post. It certainly helps to clarify understanding.

  • This is a fantastic post, Brian. Thank you.

  • Jeanne Villamil

    This is so beautiful, not because it is written so well, but for the truth that it declares. 30 years a Christian and i am only now truly discovering the TRUE gospel. What does that say about the church? Lord have mercy. So many years of unrest and unease and something “not quite right” deep in my soul. LET THERE BE LIGHT! Shine Jesus! Shine your truth on this weary soul!

  • jim

    Bless you and your insight.

  • Douglas Hartwell

    I contend that the ‘Bible’ does not claim to be the ‘Word of God’ but John clearly states that the ‘Word of God’ became flesh and dwelt amoung us.

  • Judy B Shaw

    Such a wonderful post, my husband I both appreciate it so greatly. I also noticed in the daily office today that “the sacred writings are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus…” Paul writing to Timothy obviously about the OT. 2Ti 3:15.

  • Chris Hipsher

    Thank you for a great inspirational post

  • Fred Harrell

    City Church San Francisco will hear this on Sunday and I promise to give you full credit! 😉 Really really wonderful Brian. Thank you.

  • Joshua Morrison

    “The Old Testament is not on par with Jesus. The Bible is not a flat text where every passage carries the same weight. This is why Jesus says, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…” When the church tries to embrace Biblicism by giving the Old Testament equal authority with Christ, the Father thunders from heaven, “No! This is my beloved Son! Listen to him!””

    When Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘X’, but I say to you ‘Y'” is not a reference to the Old Testament, but Rabbinic Oral and Talmudic Written Tradition. No where in the Scriptures do you ever find, “Love your Neighbor and Hate Your Enemy.”

    At no time does Christ Jesus ever say, or imply that the OT is lesser or wrong. The OT is all the First Century Christians had. The Epistles were written to correct misunderstandings of the OT and the Apostolic Teaching. The Gospels and Acts were written to preserve the history of the events that had transpired for a new generation of Christians.

    Jesus is the one who gave us the OT as the Word pre-incarnate, and that word from Christ is of equal authority. I do not deny that the OT points to Christ, the OT is also where we learn how to love God and our Neighbor. Christ’s response here is crucial…

    “35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.””

    The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Matthew 22:35–40.

  • “Eye for eye” is Torah. (Ex. 21:24, Lev. 24:20, Deut. 19:21) Jesus upon his own authority dares to issue a new law replacing the Sinai dictum. “Turn the other cheek.” Commensurate violence of the Torah is replaced by the nonviolence of the Sermon on the Mount. This is radical. This is Jesus.

  • Joshua Morrison

    Thank you for replying Pastor Zahnd, I appreciate you taking the time.

    When someone slapped you in the Greco-Roman World that was a grave public insult, NOT a physical assault. So the command is, take the public office and do not retaliate in like kind.

    The Violence of the Torah is not replaced, for several reasons.

    1.) Roman soldiers and officers that became Christians were told to “Go and Sin no more.” they were not told to cease being soldiers or Centurions.

    2.) Jesus himself instructed the Apostles to arm themselves with swords.

  • Joshua,

    I’ve written at length on Jesus and violence. Principally in my book “A Farewell To Mars.”

    Blessings to you.

    BZ

    http://www.amazon.com/Farewell-Mars-Evangelical-Pastors-Biblical/dp/0781411181/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423860339&sr=8-1&keywords=zahnd

  • michaeldanner

    Amen!

  • Herm

    Pastor Zahnd you wrote, “Jesus is what God has to say!” as it is written in John 1:14-18

    There is even greater good news: None of us have been left orphans to have to scholarly figure all this out lost in the Bible, Old or New Testament. All of us, today, can know the Word, share with the Word, share the Word with others who do not know the Word, and know for certain what God has to say as our Rabbi’s disciples, as children of God to inherit eternal life. How? John 14:15-21, John 15:18-27, John 16:12-15, Luke 24:46-49 (“clothed with power from on high”)

    “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12 … this is the Moses and Elijah we can know, love and honor by doing accordingly in relationship with all others.

    Brian, you are right on in all that you wrote. In addition, the Gospel fulfilled is to actually hear and learn from what God has to say bound as one in reciprocal love by the mutual Advocate in all of God’s and our receptive hearts and minds.

    Pastor Zahnd you truly do minister to my childish scratches, bumps, and bruises. Thank you for sharing the Truth in your heart and mind with us all!

  • Christ is supreme. The Old must be understood in light of the New. And Jesus taught, ” 36 Then He spoke a parable to them: “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old one;[d] otherwise the new makes a tear, and also the piece that was taken out of the new does not match the old. 37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.[e] 39 And no one, having drunk old wine,immediately[f] desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.’”[g] Luke 5

  • Ed

    Great article (though Elijah called down fire on the sacrifice, then personally killed the prophets of Baal).

  • Dear Ed,

    Read 2 Kings 1:1-14 🙂

    BZ

  • charlesburchfield

    hi herm! wonderful to see you post here today! there is a lot of light here i think! Happy valentines day!

  • Herm

    You too! There is much sincerity and love here!

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  • Edmond M. Khoury

    Old and New! Both point to Jesus. The Old need to be read in the light of the New. Very good article. Blessings

  • IMO, Peter received a much stronger rebuke when Jesus told him to “get behind me, satan,” i.e., “adversary,” than when his Father said: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!”

  • Man, this, this is the stuff.

  • carolann eddington

    Yes!

  • Jim G.

    What does Mt 19:1-9 (Mk 10:1-12) and most of the epistle ‘Hebrews’ tell us about the OT?

  • Hythem Shadid

    I think there are a few more cracks in a cornerstone of 2000 years of man made biblical theologies that conventienty neutralized the teachings of Jesus for us. Now what do we do ?
    Thank you for challenging us to reassess some of our most basic presuppositions.

  • Stunningly argued! thank you so much!

  • Fauno

    with an unbridled enthusiasm zeal in being christocentrics we ended up by missing the point… Always… It’s sad…

  • Spot on! However, the problem is that more than 90% of those under 35 have never read ONE single Gospel. They have a patchwork mental image of Jesus built on second hand information. We have been challenging this age group to examine the primary source documents about Jesus. They are almost always willing to do so!
    Ron Peacock

  • Rodger Ward

    Take a close look at the only time Jesus ever told his disciples to arm themselves with swords. (luke 22)
    – They said they found two, and he said that was enough.
    – Jesus said they needed swords so it could fulfill the prophecy that he would be numbered with transgressors.

    Two swords was hardly enough to defend themselves against an army or start a revolution, but it was just enough to accuse Jesus of being a revolutionary when brought before Rome. He didn’t want them to fight, but he needed Rome to think he was going to in order to fulfill prophecy.

    Then take into account that a little later during his arrest, Peter pulls out one of these swords to defend Christ and Christ rebukes him, harshly. … and then heals the person Peter attacked.

    I hardly think Christ was telling Christians to arm themselves for self-defense. Not after an entire ministry of telling them to love their enemies and to be prepared for a life of suffering and persecution. It had one specific purpose, and that was to fulfill prophecy, to bring him before the Roman Empire as a threat.

  • jack

    EncourGing! From sydney. Keep preaching brother.

  • Greg Best

    Thank you, BZ. I hope and pray that this will be taught in more American megachurches.

  • Good article but I think it is “idealistic.” If I get mugged, “What would Jesus do?” If a terrorist nation is planning to nuke mine, “What would Jesus do?” If someone blows up my “towers,” “What would Jesus do?”

  • Dan Rozema

    Just read this again for the first time. What a wonderful teaching!

  • Lyle Enright

    As a new finder, let me say that I find this moving and inspirational, and a vantage which renews my love for the full narrative of Scripture and the necessity of seeing it as such. I clicked over here from your article on reading Scripture from a Jewish, marginalized perspective instead our privileged, imperial position and I thought it was excellent.

    So, expressing my (almost) complete agreement with everything you’ve said, I’ll air my one caveat here (which I’m sure has been answered below but I’m writing a seminar paper, so forgive my impatience):

    What do you do with Christ’s insistence that “not one letter shall disappear from the Law”? It seems to me that a displacement of the Law, which you seem to be arguing for here, and a revision or reformation, are two very different things. Does Jesus replace the Law, or is Jesus our necessary mediator and interpreter of that Law–our “High Priest” as Hebrews calls Him?

    My reading of Scripture takes me to the latter end, which you might very well agree with, but I still wanted to ask.