Adventist Tomorrow #8: Transfiguration—Seeing the Real Jesus Brings His Kingdom
by Jack Hoehn | 2 September 2018 |
There is a confluence of ideas coming from within and without the Seventh-day Adventist church, that suggest places this church can go with its theology and mission. Jack wants to talk with you about the need for a new understanding of Jesus necessary even for apostles. And for us if we wish to see the Kingdom of Heaven quickly, before we die. (Jack’s previous 7 topics in this series (9 articles) can be found here, Adventist Tomorrow.)
The 17th chapter of Matthew records a story of sixth-day Adventists.
In the last verse of Matthew 16 Jesus promised that some then standing beside him “would not taste death before they saw the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.” The very next verse records the fulfillment coming just 6 days after the stunning promise.
“After six days, Jesus…led them up a high mountain. And he was transfigured before them.”
The Son of Man comes in his Kingdom when the disciples see their Jesus in a new light. There is no falling of the stars before Jesus’ Kingdom comes. The moon is not turned to blood. There is no cleansing of the sanctuary either on earth or in heaven before Jesus Kingdom comes. It does not take 2300 days or weeks or months or years. It comes after just six days, as soon as his disciples see Jesus in a new light. The Kingdom of God comes with a change in how they see their Jesus.
Jesus complained of the religious that “seeing they do not see…hearing they do not hear” and now his closest disciples must see what they had not seen before, must hear what they had not heard before; their perception of Christ was to be changed, their Jesus was to be transfigured.
How High and Holy Is That Mountain?
The mountain of the Transfiguration is not known. Peter later calls it in memory “the holy mountain.” Matthew just says “up a high mountain.” Luke 9 says “up on a mountain to pray.” Mark 9 repeats that it was “high.” How high was the change in Jesus his disciples needed to see? Their Jesus needed to be raised up higher than Sinai where humans were given wise rules. Their Jesus needed to be raised up higher than Mt. Carmel where amazing displays of power came on demand.
The disciples needed to climb a very high and holy mountain; they needed to overcome previous low and limited views of Jesus. Their understanding of who Jesus was and what his Kingdom was about had to be transfigured.
“’Who do the people say I am?’
‘Some … say Elijah, and still others that a prophet of old has arisen.’”
But seeing Jesus as a new lawgiver like Moses or a bigger miracle worker than Elijah does not bring about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God will come when we see the newer, higher vision of who Jesus is. When our ideas of Jesus are changed, his Kingdom can come.
Graceful Truth Disarming Sin
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus…”
In the war against sin, Old Testament law identified sin. But sin identified is not sin destroyed, and laws against sin are now being surpassed by Graceful Truth. Imperfections of behavior in how we live are still there, but now these faults and failings slip kindly and gently into forgiveness by Christ. It is still true that we are rebels burdened with selfishness and easily abuse others. It is true we are broken, stained by acquired and hereditary sin. Filthy rags bedeck our best moments. But the greater, more gracious Truth is that standing below three crosses on Calvary those burdens easily and without complaint slip off our shoulders. Law identifies sin, but grace and truth destroy sin and “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.”
Yes, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” will not be practiced by members of God’s kingdom. But even those “caught in the very act” of immorality can be told by this newly understood Jesus, “neither do I condemn you.” The right to condemn others is severely limited in this Kingdom to “the one sinless among you, let him cast the first stone.” Graceful Truth replaces behavior laws, and condemnation is notable by its absence. Jesus alone is permitted to condemn.
Many religious long for an Elijah/Mohamed/John Brown to return with fire (or gunfire) to purify this sinful world. Impatiently they nudge God to make himself known with power politics, amazing miracles, forcefully banning abortion and birth control, punishing atheists and immorality with sickness and plagues, winning elections for their version of “right” made so by carnal might. They long for “Power in the Blood” but not the gracious power of forgiveness. Their fear of the Lord comes from Mt. Carmel-style power–win Heaven like a Marine, shun Hell like a coward. And quickly, while probation lingers, for their Lord’s patience wears thin, and their day of wrath comes and they have compiled an arsenal to make sure it does.
“Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom–but we preach Christ.”
“Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
“When the disciples… saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them…”
Disciples Didn’t Understand
The best of Jesus disciples didn’t yet understand him. They had encountered God since childhood and heard about him from Scripture. In their villages and towns, family and religious taught them what patriarchs and prophets, seers, visionaries, and holy men had said about God. Jesus’ disciples were prepared for another lawmaker like Moses or a second force like Elijah. Even after his cross
“they gathered around him and asked him,
‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'”
But Jesus testified that “his Kingdom is not of this earth,” and yet in just six short days, if disciples can view Jesus in a new light, the Son of Man comes in glory to a visible Kingdom.
Power and Authority
Not all the disciples are ready to change, but some climb with Jesus the high and holy mountain of transfiguration. Suddenly, while praying, “the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became dazzling.” “As no fuller on earth can make them,” according to Mark. Jesus’ clothes had never been to a launderer (fuller), his garments had not been bleached, his disciples had never seen him clothed like this before. It was also a new face for Jesus; their perception of who Jesus was is forever changed.
But yes, ah-ha, to their relief there comes Moses and there is Elijah! Now their Lord was going to have status. No longer was Jesus just “that guy from Nazareth,” but he was being endorsed by the best Old Testament religion had to offer. The authority of Mosaic Law and the power of the man who flies to heaven in a chariot come to endorse Jesus.
The disciples want the world to know this about their Jesus. They long to establish this wonderful event. They want a monument, they want temples, they wish this day to be remembered ever after. Jews would then listen to Moses; Greeks and Romans would bow to the power of Elijah. And Jesus and his disciples would no longer be the men from nowhere talking about nothing. How wonderful to be part of a religion of authority and power!
“…it’s wonderful for us to be here!
Let’s make three shelters as memorials–one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Fear of Change
Scripture says of the disciples that during the transfiguration, “they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid.” We fear religious change. We like the Jesus we were comfortable with, the one we thought we knew before. We like the authority of the Old Testament; we appreciate the power of law, the security of having rules. We yearn for Old Testament powers; who wouldn’t want signs and wonders, miracles?
If Ellen White can hold a heavy Bible in her teen-aged hands in a way that no strong man can hold; if she can go in visions without breathing; if wild horses are tamed by her visitations; then, surely, we Adventists are a special people with a powerful message. We eagerly search for a pale blue light shining from an upstairs bedroom of Elmshaven to give us comfort in the night.
But Ellen White herself had to see a different view of God before she could serve him. “My views of the Father were changed.”  And she much later advised her church, “We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed.”
A church administrator recently stood before 1,600 young Adventists and warned, “Let’s not invent or promote new understanding of the foundational biblical truths that were entrusted to us from heaven itself at the formation of this great Advent movement.”
Really, sir? Let’s not promote new understandings of truth?—unless our Adventist understanding of the primacy of Jesus and the complete subordination of the greatest prophets and miracle workers who ever lived, we too shall “die in our sins” and our eyes will not “see the Kingdom of Heaven” in our lifetimes.
Peter, James and John fall with previous religious convictions “on their faces and were greatly afraid.” The Voice from Heaven removes Moses and makes Elijah disappear. Their idea of Jesus is forever changed, and the disciples see that it is no longer Authority and no longer Power that will be seen in his Kingdom. Moses has no authority to offer Jesus, Elijah has no power to bestow on him. Jesus himself is the Son of God and Jesus’ message is gracious truth alone.
The cloud that led Moses and the pillar of fire that came down on Mt. Carmel envelops them, and Moses and Elijah disappear as the Voice commands:
“This is my beloved
(this is my son who brings me joy).
Hear ye him.”
“and they saw Jesus alone.”
“Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said.
“Don’t be afraid.”
Martin Luther in translating Matthew 17 uses for “transfigured” the German verklárung, from a root meaning to purify, clearness, as in clarification. Who Jesus was, and what his kingdom was to be, needs to be clarified. Our understanding needs to be purified from Old Testament residuals of law and punishment, from beliefs based on coercion or manipulation by signs and wonders.
Jesus needs to be purified, clarified, brought into clearer focus; he must be transfigured. We inherit a dusty Jesus. The clip-clop of small donkey’s hooves, the tinsel from Christmas customs, the clear place of violence used for good causes that comes from Old Testament heroines and heroes (Jael and Jehu, anyone?) has dusted and dimmed our understanding of Jesus. A wiser Moses, a more powerful Elijah might fit our wishes, but we need to climb the holy mountain of change and understand that Jesus isn’t another Moses nor another Elijah. We don’t understand Jesus by Moses; we judge Moses by Jesus. We don’t take Jesus to be a more cunning Elijah, we forgive Elijah for not being more like Jesus. After Mt. Carmel, Elijah supervised the murdering of the priests of Baal. Was this God’s plan or Elijah’s fears? Perhaps it was even Satan’s urging to prevent his former lackeys from converting back to the religion of Yahweh?
Christians who think that the Gospel message is “Come to Jesus, who loves you so much, because if you don’t come to him you will burn forever in hell”–need to see their Jesus transfigured.
Christians need to let the Genesis creation story grow big enough to encompass all the great events God has designed to make earth a suitable home for us and his Son. We need to give back true Science to Jesus to let him rule the facts, not limited by religious pre-suppositions. Moses’ story of creation, while instructive, is not comprehensive. Elijah’s miracle manipulations of nature are not the answer. Jesus claims the creation of heaven and earth, all of it, as his own. He has given us principles of creation in scripture, but the details are to be found not in the Bible, but in nature, in the laboratory, under the microscope.
Christians who read condemnation of Old Testament or New Testament abuse of boys in religious or sensual prostitution as condemning those born with sexual inversions–need to have their Bible reading transfigured, clarified, refocused. They need to consider the chastity, purity, and love that same-sex marriage offers those so born as part of the true and gracious plan of homosexual salvation. Christian same-sex marriage can be an ally to, not an enemy of, marriage.
If your Jesus is a male headship, female subordinating god–you need to let him be transfigured into the gracious truth of the gender equality Jesus.
If your Jesus is a leading supporter of the USA–you need to let him be transfigured into the king of every kindred, tongue, and nation: Rohingyas, Sudanese, Iranians, North Koreans, and all.
If your Jesus is the health- and wealth-promoting Jesus of preservation of privilege–you need to let your Jesus become clarified as the best friend a poor man ever had and the most challenging advisor any rich man ever knew.
No Transfiguration, No Kingdom
Jesus said it:
“Unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you too will die in your sins.”
Leave our inherited and inculcated past opinions, our bends and biases we have indulged since childhood, and begin to be dazzled by seeing the truly gracious Kingdom of God before we ourselves must taste death.
“For not with sword’s loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums,
but with deeds of love and mercy, the Heavenly Kingdom comes.”
What will Adventist Tomorrow be? Graceful, gracious, lovingly truthful, and bravely unafraid of transfiguring our old understandings of Jesus, our new methods for dealing with sin, with a newer, brighter, higher, holier-than-we-ever-appreciated-before transfigured Jesus. As they taught in the One Project, Jesus, Only, Full-stop.
 And Mark 9 and Luke 9 (who says “about 8 days”)
 (Matthew 17:1,2)
 (Matthew 13:13)
 (2 Peter 1:18)
 (Luke 9:18.19)
 (John 1:17)
 (Romans 5:20)
 (Colossians 3:5)
 (John 8:7.11)
 (1 Corinthians 1:22,23)
 (John 4:48)
 (Luke 9:54,55)
 (Acts 1:6)
 (John 18:36)
 (Luke 9:29)
 (Mark 9:3)
 (Mark 9:5)
 (Matthew 17:6)
 Life Sketches of James and Ellen White, page 160.
 Selected Messages Vol1, page 37.
 N.C. Wilson, Adventist Review Online, https://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story6380-good-fruit-leaders.
 Ellen G. White wrote this of herself and all human leaders in 1907: “God cannot glorify His name through His people while they are leaning upon man and making flesh their arm. Their present state of weakness will continue until Christ alone shall be exalted; until, with John the Baptist, they shall say from a humble and reverent heart, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Words have been given me to speak to the people of God: “Lift Him up, the Man of Calvary. Let humanity stand back, that all may behold Him in whom their hopes of eternal life are centered.” MS89-1907.17
 (Matthew 17:6)
 (Matthew 17:7)
 Scripture reminds that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17). So what Elijah did is not always what God wanted done. Jesus on the other hand did not have a fallen nature like ours and what he did always reveals the Father to us.
 For a change in understanding the Bible texts about male on male sex I suggest careful study of The Bible, Christianity, & Homosexuality https://www.amazon.com/Bible-Christianity-Homosexuality-Justin-Cannon/dp/1438249616/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1513806170&sr=8-1&keywords=Justin+R.+Cannon6
 (John 8:24)
SDA Hymnal #619.
 The “One Project” was a series of meetings held for Adventists between 2010 and 2018 to be a transfiguration experience of meeting Jesus as the prime factor in their faith. It was to most who attended a modern transfiguration where we let pastors, prophets, priests and administrative popes slip away by focusing on Jesus and being renewed by letting him be the reason for our religion. Not surprisingly those protecting religious authority and their own organizational importance or those deeply involved in promoting law based religions and miracle based faith took steps to officially restrict the scope of this movement that God intended to purify and strengthen Adventism. Even after the last meeting had closed they published (https://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story6027-an-invitation-to-uplift-jesus) a petulant attack using inconsequential ideas and arbitrary check lists of questionable validity against the One Project and its young pastors. Doing this after the last One Project meeting had closed reminded me of the church authorities in 1428 digging up Wycliffe’s bones and burning them 43 years after his death!
Jack Hoehn is a frequent contributor to both the print and online versions of Adventist Today. He has served on the Adventist Today Foundation board since 2012. He and his wife Deanne live in Walla Walla, Washington. He has a BA in Religion from Pacific Union College, and an MD from Loma Linda University. He was a licensed minister of the Adventist church for 13 years when serving as a missionary physician in Africa.