8 About a week after Yeshua said these things, he took Kefa, Yochanan and Ya‘akov with him and went up to the hill country to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed; and his clothing became gleaming white. 30 Suddenly there were two men talking with him — Moshe and Eliyahu! 31 They appeared in glorious splendor and spoke of his exodus, which he was soon to accomplish in Yerushalayim.32 Kefa and those with him had been sound asleep; but on becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Yeshua, Kefa said to him, not knowing what he was saying, “It’s good that we’re here, Rabbi! Let’s put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moshe and one for Eliyahu.” 34 As he spoke, a cloud came and enveloped them. They were frightened as they entered the cloud; 35 and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to him!” 36 When the voice spoke, Yeshua was alone once more. They kept quiet — at that time they told no one anything of what they had seen.
This incident follows the story of Jesus’ prophecy of his rejection, death and resurrection. Mark in his gospel established this sequence linking it to Jesus’ words about some disciples seeing the kingdom of God in this life. There seems to me little doubt that this gospel tradition does not narrate an actual event in the life of Jesus, but rather uses material from the resurrection appearances of Jesus to provide an interpretation of what is happening in the story of Jesus’ ministry. It reinforces the teaching of Jesus that successful ministry may entail opposition and suffering even if, or perhaps especially if, it represents the goodness of God.
Again Luke emphasises that Jesus is praying, so perhaps thewhole incident could be seen as the content of Jesus’ prayer: in his unity with the Father, Jesus is transformed into a source of light, is able to confer with the representatives of Israel’s Law and Prophecy, and is confirmed as God’s son, his delight, as he was at his baptism.
Details are important. Luke removes most of Mark’s description of Jesus’ changed appearance, restricting himself to saying that his face was changed and his clothing was gleaming white. These are not just matters of style, they express Luke’s desire that this should not be seen as a folk-tale, as Mark’s version might be seen, but as a crucial piece of theology that tells the reader who Jesus is, against the background of his predicted death. Jesus heavenly visitors talk with him about his forthcoming”exodus” from Jerusalem. Moses led the exodus from Egypt but never entered the promised land, dying alone outside it. Eiijah, with his prophetic mission unsuccessful, made a spectacular exodus along with a fiery chariot. Both of them therefore had experience of apparent failure and of God’s presence in their lives. This allows them to appear in support of God’s son who faces a similar struggle against his own people.
The cloud is a traditional symbol of God’s presence in a story, calling the reader’s attention to what is being said, in this case, a repetition of God’s acknowledgement of Jesus as his chosen son. Luke says “chosen” in place of Mark’s “dearly loved”, again maintaining a sober tone and a precise theology. This announcement is made for the sake of disciples who are commanded to listen to God’s Chosen One. Luke intends his readers in the Christian assemblies to hear this command as directed to them. In the midst of the uncertainities of discipleship and the threat of worldly power, they are to listen only to Jesus.
Luke scatters some big words (not evident in translation) throughout this narrative to make it less and less like a miracle tale, and more like a disciplined meditation on the ministry of Jesus.
What relevance does it have for people now?
Under pressure from Hitler many German churches in the 1930’s came to support or to excuse Nazi views and actions. Others, alarmed at this weakness came together and, under the leadership of Karl Barth, published the Barmen declaration, which rejected the notion that new truth could come from the Reich:
Jesus Christ as attested to us in Scripture is the one Word of God, to whom only we must listen, in whom only we must trust, whom only we must obey, in life and in death.
This was the origin of the so-called Confessing Church in Germany which continued to oppose Nazism and Christians who supported it, throughout the subsequent war.
The gospel writers knew that Jesus’ readiness to be unpopular and endangered would remain a radical challenge to their readers of every place and time. Luke helps his readers to enter into Jesus’ prayer and his relationship with God, so that they may listen to him only.