The Transfiguration

In my last post I looked at what was actually taking place in reference to Jesus’ announcement in Matthew 16 regarding the gates of hell. Here we will look at the significance of Jesus transfiguration from two perspectives. The significance of the geographic location and the significance of the timeline in Jesus earthly ministry. 

Like the famous Schwarzenegger movie line, “I’ll be back!” or Nicholson’s “You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth!” another famous movie line came from Clint Eastwood, “Go ahead, make my day.” A line that provoked a response. This is what took place on Mount Hermon, provocation by Jesus, and a response. Understanding this requires a bit of background information. In my recent posts I referenced the descent of some of these fallen supernatural beings, principalities and powers, at Mount Hermon. This was their entry point or gateway to physicality and the further corruption of humanity.  

They had taken on flesh and interacted with humanity at Bashan/Hermon. This was their territory. In Matthew 16 Jesus had announced that He would build His church right at the gate of hell, taking back territory from them. Now Jesus goes further. Matthew 17 presents us with the transfiguration and describes it as follows.

1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Matthew 17:1–3 (NKJV)

Jesus unveiled His glory so that there was no doubt about who He was and He had a meeting with Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament. Though Bashan/Hermon is not named in the text, it is the only high peak in the area (There is presently a ski hill there that operates in the winter months).

In unveiling His glory on what the spiritual opposition considered their territory Jesus was in effect saying, “Go ahead, make my day” and stirring up spiritual opposition. Knowing the fate awaiting Him at Jerusalem, in being transfigured on Mount Hermon Jesus poked the hornets’ nest and stirred up the spiritual opposition that brought about His crucifixion, leading to His glorious resurrection.

We see the opposition intensify immediately with a counter attack. As soon as Jesus, Peter, James and John descended from the mountain they encounter spiritual opposition in the form of a failure on the part of the other apostles to deliver and heal an epileptic boy. While Jesus immediately brough healing and freedom (Matthew 17:14-18), the previously successful apostles (Mark 6:7-13, Luke 9:1-6) were puzzled by their lack of success (Matthew 17:19). The battle had intensified. In Jesus bringing healing and deliverance to the boy He demonstrated His authority and power over the increased opposition, another provocation. 

We know from Luke 9:31 that in addition to being transfigured Jesus discussed His pending death in Jerusalem with Moses and Elijah, He knew what He was doing. These events were a turning point in the gospel narrative. Jesus from here headed to Jerusalem, had His triumphal entry (Palm Sunday) followed by the rising spiritual and political opposition leading to His arrest and crucifixion. Though Jesus provoked these events to fulfill scripture and His purpose, our redemption, the principalities and powers did not understand what was happening until it was too late. Paul references this in 1 Corinthians.

6 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, 8 which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 1 Corinthians 2:6–8 (NKJV)

When Paul speaks of the “rulers of this age” he is referencing the evil principalities and powers that opposed Jesus. He uses the same language in Ephesians 6:12 describing the principalities and powers as, “the rulers of the darkness of this age”

In conclusion, Jesus provoked the conflict that led to His crucifixion because He was serving a higher purpose and seeing what needed to transpire from the perspective of His Father. In our walk we may at times need to stir things up, not for the sake of controversy but to walk in obedience. Let’s be found faithful and use our authority to demonstrate and extend His kingdom on the earth.

If you would like more information on these ideas, some of what I have written about recently is covered in the videos series below where Michael Heiser teaches on the origin and significance of what is referred to by many as the Divine Council Worldview (DCW). Dr. Heiser readily acknowledges that while these views are not well known, they are not original to him but are rooted in the extensive writings we now have from the writings of the intertestamental period and are the culture in which our faith was birthed.

Video series with Dr. Heiser teaching –

The Gates of Hell

            Here we are going to look at the famous Matthew 16 passage and the rock that the church is built upon. I will provide the traditional Protestant and Roman Catholic interpretations then show why I am convinced that both are incorrect, based on history most of us have never been taught.

18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18–19 (NKJV)

The Roman Catholic interpretation is that Peter was the first Pope and the rock the church was built upon, which is why he was given keys to bind and loose (never mind that this same authority was given to all disciples in Matthew 18:18). The general Protestant interpretation is that with Jesus’ wordplay regarding rocks Peter (petros, a rock or boulder) and upon this rock (petra, a large mass of rock) that the rock is the revelation of who Jesus is.

            To actually understand this passage, we need an Old Testament context and some knowledge of the writings from the intertestamental period. It is often said that between the Old and New Testaments there were the 400 silent years. While no scripture was written they were far from silent. A great deal was written. The writing from that period informs us about the culture and context. We will get to the significance of that after we look at the location and the timeline in Jesus’ ministry.

            The events took place in Caesarea Philippi, about a two day walk north of the sea of Galilee. On the surface this may not seem significant but in the region, there was a pagan temple known as the “Gate of Hell” at the foot of Mount Hermon (also referred to at times as Bashan). This was one region in Israel where the giants dwelt and scripture informs us that Og King of Bashan reigned over the area, ruled Mount Hermon and was a one of the giants (Joshua 12:4-5). The other significant fact is that the intertestamental writers said that Mount Hermon was where the rebellious sons of God descended to earth and had children with the daughters of men and there were then giants (Nephilim) in the earth and great wickedness (Genesis 6:1-5).

The gate of hell and Hermon were associated with rebellion. All cultural facts the disciples would have grown up knowing. Peter and Jude reference the events of Genesis 6 and quote Enoch (Jude 6, 14-15, 2 Peter 2:4). The scholarly consensus is that Enoch as we have it today was written in the intertestamental period. While it is not scripture it does inform us about the cultural context that the early church was familiar with. Beyond the first century, in the second century the early church fathers, notably Justin Martyr and Irenaeus affirmed the view of the rebellious angels producing offspring through human women (Genesis 6:1-5). Irenaeus is the author of the famous tome Against Heresies. He was a disciple of Polycarp who had been a disciple of the apostle John.  

            We are now in a position to make sense of Jesus statement “on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The gate of hell, the place where the rebellious released great wickedness, would not prevail, would not stand up against the church. Here is the Randy paraphrased version of what Jesus said, ‘Right here, at the gate of hell, on this rock, Mount Hermon, the place of the great rebellion, I am going to build my church!’ The church need not tremble in the face of hell, just the opposite.

Knowing this we can take a closer look at the Great Commission in light of what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection. Though we only have snippets of it in the gospels most scholars believe Jesus quoted Psalm 22 while on the cross. Whether He did, it certainly describes what He went through in His crucifixion. The verses below are describing what Jesus experienced on the cross and we can see the significance knowing what took place at Bashan (Mount Hermon).

12 Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me. 13 They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion. Psalm 22:12–13 (NKJV)

These rebellious spiritual beings surrounded Jesus on the cross and mocked Him thinking it was their victory when in actuality it signaled their defeat. In His resurrection Jesus demonstrated His victory over His spiritual enemies ‘bulls of Bashan’ (Colossians 2:15). Thus, when Jesus says we have authority and we are to ‘go’ and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) we can go being confident that we are helping to build the church right at the gate of hell! Like Jesus, let us be about our Father’s business.

Making Peace

In my last post I looked at wisdom, here we will look at peace coming from wisdom by focusing on two verses from a longer passage I highlighted in my previous post.

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17–18 (NKJV)

James referenced righteousness being sown by those who make peace. James didn’t reference those who maintain peace, those who seek peace or those who want peace. James spoke of those who make peace. Jesus made a similar statement.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9 (NKJV)

Understanding the role of peacemakers requires looking at the process of actually making peace and the outcome. James said that righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. The words and concepts in verses 17-18 are relational. Take the phrases ‘without partiality’ and ‘without hypocrisy.’ Here James is getting at our motivations. Being peacemakers and sowing peace requires that we be fair and just (see also Micah 6:8). That is inherent in these statements. We are also required to be merciful. In essence sowing peace is a calling to walk in integrity and compassion.

            Being a peacemaker is also a call to exercise discernment and apply wisdom from above in situations that may be fraught with conflict. Exercising discernment is also a call to walk in love.

9 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9–11 (NKJV)

After all Paul informed us that faith works through love (Galatians 5:6).

            Putting all of this together tells us two things. The first is that we can find the same message woven into the scriptures in a variety of places. The second is that we cannot walk into situations that require peace thinking we already ‘know’ no matter what information we possess. We need to seek His wisdom to navigate the situation. For example, having mediated for decades I have seen the impact of assumptions and judgments over and over. The fruit is lawsuits not peace. In my experience getting people to actually listen to one another rather than judge one another is often the path to resolution.

            If we are to respond to our calling to be peacemakers let us seek His wisdom from above and look for the fruit.

Seeking Wisdom

Scripture often highlights the importance of wisdom and Proverbs often links wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; By understanding He established the heavens; 20 By His knowledge the depths were broken up, And clouds drop down the dew. Proverbs 3:19–20 (NKJV)

3 Through wisdom a house is built, And by understanding it is established; 4 By knowledge the rooms are filled With all precious and pleasant riches. Proverbs 24:3–4 (NKJV)

As I have written before I connect these two passages to 1 Corinthians 12:28 where Paul speaks of the importance of apostles, prophets and teachers in building the church. As a practical application I regularly pray for apostolic wisdom, prophetic wisdom and teaching understanding. I see a distinction between practical wisdom, which we all should be seeking, and wisdom from above.

Over the years in conversation, I have many times made the distinction between wisdom and knowledge using the example of being on the road in the path of a moving vehicle. If I simply possess knowledge, I have the awareness that I need to move out of the way. Wisdom is moving. In our current cultural context, we know all of the things coming against the church. We need to apply wisdom to rightly respond. Yet we need more than practical wisdom. We don’t want to set aside or lose practical wisdom, we want to add to it wisdom from above.

James does two things in relation to wisdom, he exhorts us to ask God for it and he also contrasts earthly and godly wisdom, wisdom from above.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:5 (NKJV)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13–18 (NKJV)

In contrasting these two types of wisdom James provides an easy way to discern the source of the wisdom. Earthly wisdom produces confusion, is sensual (literally soulish, in Greek) and doesn’t produce peace. Wisdom from above is marked by meekness (not weakness), purity, gentleness and a willingness to not fight over the wrong things. Wisdom from above is marked by peace rather than contention.

            Now, we need to be careful to not confuse wisdom from above with passivity. Paul demonstrated wisdom from above in Galatians 2 when he publicly confronted Peter over his hypocrisy in relation to the gospel. Most of the New Testament letters are addressing issues in the church, applying wisdom from above. We are called to stand for truth. What James is getting at is not being contentious for the sake of furthering our own agenda.

Now, practical application. As I walk with Jesus, I cannot walk down the road of my culture where it is at odds with Him. This includes the current gender agenda, abortion and numerous other things. If I simply apply practical wisdom, I may speak out against them or simply refuse to endorse them. My actions may be different if I am seeking wisdom from above.

I will share a practical story I heard Steve Thompson share a few years ago. A friend of his was praying about what to do regarding an abortion clinic in his area. The Lord told him to become friends with the owner of the clinic (wisdom from above?). He reached out and began to develop a relationship. Over time he was to meet with the fellow one day and the Lord gave him a vision where he saw the man sitting at his kitchen table contemplating a plate of blue pills. When they met, he shared his vision with the man who ran the abortion clinic. The man who ran the clinic shared that he was suicidal over his lifestyle, repented, gave his heart to Jesus and closed the clinic. Wisdom from above. We may not be engaged in something this dramatic. We do however need to know how to respond to the many things we encounter in our daily walk in our culture. Let’s seek wisdom from above.