The implications of the Transfiguration, 1:16-21
In this short epistle, Peter sets out to defend his teaching on the return of Christ. In the passage before us he makes two points: First, he reminds his readers that he was an eyewitness to the transfiguration where the glory of the coming Christ was on display; Second, he points out that not only did he witness the transfiguration, but that his prophetic interpretation of the event should be viewed as Spirit-guided divine revelation.
v16. With regard the coming of Jesus, the prophecies communicated by Peter are not carefully contrived fictions, but are based on an eye-witness account.
v17-18. Peter now recalls the transfiguration event, recorded in all three synoptic gospels, where he, with James and John, saw Jesus transfigured before their very eyes. At this event they witnessed the presence of Moses and Elijah in discussion with Jesus, and heard the words of Jesus' divine investiture: "This is my Son, the beloved and only one in whom I have found my delight", William Barclay.
v19. Rather than cleverly contrived myths, Peter's teaching, concerning the coming day of Christ's return, is prophetic in nature and should be given due consideration while all await this coming day. Prophecy, whether it be from Peter, the other apostles, or the Old Testament prophets, is "the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts", Eugene Peterson.
v20-21. Peter now states an important fact about genuine prophecy, whether sourced from the Old Testament, or from Jesus' apostles as they play their part in the formation of the New Testament. Divine prophecy is formed under the inspiration of God; "no prophecy of Scripture derives from the prophet's own interpretation", Richard Bauckham. Peter is, in a sense, answering the question, why value prophetic utterances, particularly his own interpretation of the transfiguration event. His answer is "prophecy is not a product of the prophet, [rather] prophecy is a product of God through the Holy Spirit", Peter Davids.
An authentic word from God
How wonderful to have actually seen the divine radiance of Jesus on the day of his transfiguration, to have witnessed with Peter, James and John, something of Christ's glorious majesty. As Peter writes this letter he looks back on the transfiguration, and there is one truth, in particular, that he takes from it.
What Peter witnessed on the day of transfiguration in a way prefigured the glory and majesty of Christ on the day of his coming. It's often said that Paul the apostle witnessed that very majesty when he saw the risen Christ on the Damascus road. The vision was so otherworldly that it blinded him. So, for Peter, the transfiguration provided him with a glimpse into the wonder of the coming day of glory.
In this letter Peter confronts those who question his second-coming preaching. He makes the point that he was an eye witness of the transfiguration and that his prophetic status gives weight to his authoritative interpretation of Christ's "power and coming." In making this point he reminds us of the authority of Scripture. Whether it be the Old Testament or the New Testament, what we have is a recorded account of God's intervention in human affairs, along with an interpretation of that intervention. Of course, recorded history and interpretation often merge and so history often drifts into theology. The classic example of this is the creation story where Christians to this day debate whether it is a record of events, or a theological interpretation. This same type of question is sometimes applied to the resurrection of Jesus. Is it history or theology? Is it a record of the miraculous raising of the crucified Christ, or is it an affirmation of a belief in the new life that is found in Christ? Paul settles the matter when he says that if Christ did not rise we, of all people, are most to be pitied. So, when it comes to the resurrection, it is both history and interpretation.
Peter tells us that both the record of events in the scriptures, and the interpretation of those events, is not a product of the Biblical authors' creativity, but rather that their ideas were impelled by the Holy Spirit such that what they communicated had its source in God, cf. v20-21. Today we would simply say that they were inspired and for this reason their collected works, the Bible, deserves our careful attention.
So then, given that the Bible is the Word of God when rightly interpreted, "you will do well to attend to it."
1. What does Peter take from his experience of the transfiguration of Christ?
2. Why should Peter's readers "pay attention" to his words?
3. What do we mean when we say the Bible is inspired?
4. What do we mean when we say the Bible is the Word of God when rightly interpreted? Discuss.
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