[This article is reprinted from our best-selling book ADVENTIST TOMORROW—Fresh Ideas While Waiting for Jesus by Jack Hoehn. Details on how to order your own copy are shown elsewhere on this page.]
People knew Jesus. They knew his mother. They had seen him grow up in Nazareth. His followers knew him–a fantastic young man, riveting, unpredictable, and full of promise yet unfilled. He was exciting. But they had no real idea who that “great guy from Nazareth” was. Their understanding of Jesus did not need to be improved, deepened, or polished. Their understanding of Jesus had to be completely changed, turned on its head, erased and rewritten starting all over again—their Jesus had to be transfigured.
In the last verse of Matthew 16 Jesus promised that some then standing beside him, would
“not taste death before they [see] the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
— Matthew 16:28 NIV
The very next verse records the fulfillment:
After six days, Jesus…led them up a high mountain…. There he was transfigured before them. — Matthew 17:1-2 NIV
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’s kingdom comes. The moon is not turned to blood. There is no cleansing of the sanctuary either on earth or in heaven before Jesus’s 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.” — Matthew 13:13 NIV
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.”1 Matthew just says, “up a high mountain.” Luke says, “up on a mountain to pray.” Mark 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.
“Who do the people say I am?” “Some … say Elijah, and still others that
a prophet of old has arisen.” — Luke 9:18-19 NIV
But seeing Jesus as a lawgiver like Moses or a miracle worker like Elijah was not enough to bring about the kingdom of God.
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus….
— John 1:17 NIV
In the war against sin, Moses’s Old Testament laws identified sin. But sin identified is not sin destroyed. Something beyond law was needed, and that something is the truth about grace, or graceful truth. Law identifies sin, but grace and truth destroy sin, for “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more.”2
Yes, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed”3 will not be practiced by members of God’s kingdom. But even those “caught in the very act” of immorality can be told by Jesus something different than could be said by Moses or Elijah—”neither do I condemn you.” The right to condemn has been taken away from the Old Testament, severely limited in the new kingdom to “the one sinless among you; let him cast the first stone.”4 Gracious truth replaces rigid laws. Mockery will no longer be met by angry bears from the woods.
Many religions still long for an Elijah or Mohammed or John Brown to return with fire, or gunfire, to purify this sinful world. Impatiently, they nudge their God to make himself known with power politics, amazing miracles, forcefully banning both abortion and birth control, punishing the immoral with sickness and plagues, winning elections by hook or crook to get the “right people” in as their severe judges. They long for power to compel but undervalue the gracious power of forgiveness.
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.…
— Luke 9:54-55 NIV
Even Jesus’s disciples still didn’t understand who he was and what his kingdom would be, but in just six days, when they see Jesus in a new light, they will finally see the Son of Man come into his kingdom.
Power and Authority
Not all 12 of the disciples were ready to change, and some were left below. Change takes time, so Jesus selects those capable of change and they climb with Jesus the high and holy mountain of transfiguration. They drop to the ground and begin to pray, and then it happens.
the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling…5
–as no fuller on earth can whiten them. 6
Jesus’s clothes had never been to a launderer (fuller); his garments had not been bleached; his disciples had never seen him clothed like this before. And it was not just his clothes, but there appeared to them to be a new look, a new face on their Jesus. The disciples now see Jesus as never before.
But yes, ah-ha, to their relief here comes Moses and there, look, it’s Elijah! Now their Jesus was going to have status. No longer was Jesus just “that guy from Nazareth”; he was being endorsed by the best that Old Testament religion had to offer. The authority of Mosaic law and the power of the man who calls down fire from heaven have come to endorse their Jesus. The disciples want the world to know this. 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! Although awed and somewhat afraid they still cry out,
“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.” — Mark 9:5 NLT
Fear of Change
It is natural to fear change, especially 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, the power of law, the security of having rules. We yearn for power; who wouldn’t want to be able to call down fire from heaven? Or to ride up to heaven in a chariot of fire?
Miracles can authenticate us. If Ellen White can hold a heavy Bible in her female teen-aged hands in a way that no strong man can hold;7 if she can go into prolonged visions without breathing;8 if wild horses are tamed by her visitations;9 then, surely, we Adventists are a special people with a powerful message. We eagerly search for a pale light shining from an upstairs bedroom of Elmshaven10 to give us comfort in the night.
But Ellen Harmon White herself had to see a different view of God before she could serve him. “My views of the Father were changed.”11 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.”12
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.”13
Really, sir? Let’s not “promote new understanding” of truth? Unless our Adventist understanding of the primacy of Jesus over all prophets, including Ellen White, changes, the warning of Jesus is that we too may “die in our sins” and our eyes may miss seeing “the kingdom of heaven.”14
As for Peter, James, and John, with religious conviction they fall “on their faces and [are] greatly afraid.”15 Then the voice from heaven removes Moses and makes Elijah disappear. Their old ideas of Jesus are forever changed, and they see that Moses has no authority to offer Jesus. Elijah has no power to bestow on him. Jesus alone is the truth. The pillar of cloud that led Moses and the pillar of fire that came down on Mt. Carmel’s sacrifice envelops them all. Moses and Elijah disappear as the voice commands:
“This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him…”
When they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.
Then Jesus came over and touched them.
“Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”
— Matthew 17:5,8,7 NLT
Martin Luther in translating Matthew 17 uses for “transfigured” the German verklärung, from a root meaning “to purify,” “clearness,” as in clarification. Who Jesus was, and what his kingdom was to be, needs to be cleared up or 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 or 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 450 men who happened to be priests of the discredited Baal. Was this God’s plan? Or was this Elijah’s fear? Perhaps it was Satan who prompted this to prevent his former lackeys from converting to the religion of YAHWEH?16
Even today some Christians 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”—they need to see their Jesus transfigured.
Other Christians need to let Moses’s simplified creation story in Genesis grow big enough to encompass all the great events God has designed to make earth a suitable home for us. We need to give back all science to Jesus to let him rule unlimited by Mosaic presuppositions. Moses’s account, while instructive, is not comprehensive. Elijah’s miracles in manipulation of nature are not the answer for scientists today. Jesus claims the creation of heaven and earth as his own. He cannot be limited by Moses’s week. Moses gave us principles of creation, but the details are not found in Genesis. Nature, the laboratory, the microscope, the radioisotopes, the geologic columns may be released from bondage to Genesis and given back to be reinterpreted by Jesus.17
Other Christians who have read condemnation of the prostitution of boys in religion or commerce as condemning those born with sexual inversions—we need to re-study our Bibles.18
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 found in Jesus.19
If your Jesus is a leading supporter of your nation in Front and Ahead of All Other Nations–you need to let him be transfigured as the king of every kindred, tongue, and beloved nation: Rohingya, Sudanese, Iranians, North Koreans, Chinese, Germans, French, Russians, English, Africans and all.20
If your Jesus is a health- and wealth-promoting Jesus, protecting your position of privilege—you need to let your Jesus be 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 will die in your sins.”
— John 8:24 NLT
Let us leave our inherited and inculcated opinions, our cultural bends and biases, our Adventist traditions. Let us begin to be dazzled by seeing afresh the truly gracious kingdom of God before we ourselves must taste death. Let the voice from heaven focus us on a new understanding of Jesus; let Jesus be transfigured, purified, clarified in our understanding.
What will Adventist Tomorrow be? Graceful, gracious, lovingly truthful, and bravely unafraid of transfiguring our old understandings of Jesus, learning new methods for dealing with sin, with a newer, brighter, higher, holier-than-we-ever-appreciated-before transfigured Jesus.
As they teach us in the One Projects:21 Jesus only. Jesus all. Jesus full-stop.
[This chapter, Jesus Alone, is just 7 pages of the 225-page book. Some of the other chapters are referenced in the Endnotes
below. You can order your own complete copy as a paperback or electronic Kindle version. See details elsewhere on this page or go directly to Amazon.com ADVENTIST TOMORROW by Jack Hoehn.]
- 2 Peter 1:18. Paraphrased from Romans 5:20.
- Colossians 3:5.
- John 8:7-11.
- Luke 9:29 CSV.
- Mark 9:3 KJ2000.
- https://www.lineagejourney.com/episodes-season-2/elmshaven-visions-andgrandchildren/ details the bedroom light was “a pure white cloud edged with deep pink.”
- Life Sketches of James and Ellen White (Battle Creek, MI: Seventh-day Adventist Publishing Association, 1880), 160.
- Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, Book 1 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1958),
- Ted N.C. Wilson, Adventist Review Online, https://www.adventistreview.org/churchnews/story6380-good-fruit-leaders.
- Ellen G. White wrote this of all human leaders in 1907: “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.’” MS 89-1907, 17.
- Matthew 17:6.
- Scripture reminds that “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17 NASB). 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.
- Creationism will be discussed in detail, in the chapter beginning on page 168.
- Sexuality will be discussed in detail, beginning in the chapter on page 113, “Naked and Not Ashamed—Adventist Sex.”
- See chapter “Not a Rib,” beginning on page 108.
- The next chapter begins discussions on Jesus and political questions.
- The “One Project” was a series of meetings held for Adventists between 2010 and 2020 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 the opinions of Adventist authority figures diminish by focusing on Jesus. https://the1project.org/ was the original One Project. (Adventist Today offered a similar gathering when the original took a pause at https://atoday.org/at1/.) May there be many others.
Jack Hoehn is a retired physician living in Walla Walla, Washington. His recent book is ADVENTIST TOMORROW—Fresh Ideas While Waiting for Jesus. This book, available in electronic (Kindle) and paperback form from Amazon.com, is the most successful book Adventist Today has published to date.