This chapter is maybe best known for the Transfiguration. N. T. Wright does something nice here in his translation by avoiding the archaic word “transfigure” in 17:2 and he uses the more common word for the Greek word metamorpho here, “transformed.” Jesus was “transformed.” This is the same word in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, two popular verses.
Interestingly, the experience of the Transfiguration did not transform the apostles understanding about John the Baptist. Jesus used the prophetic image of “Elijah” coming again in the last days (17:11-12), but maybe because Peter, James and John has just seen the real, historical Elijah they were stuck on that one. It was not their incredible experience that changed their understanding, it was the words of Jesus that helped them realize he was really talking about John the Baptist as a “new Elijah.”
But let me tell you this. . . . Then the disciples realized that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. (17:12-13)
They were changed by words, not just an experience.
We saw this back one chapter ago, too. Jesus had told the disciples to be careful of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:5) and they thought he was talking about bread. They had had a lot of experience with bread around that time with the two miraculous feedings, but they didn’t realize what Jesus was really talking about until he spoke an explanation to them.
Then they understood that he wasn’t telling them to beware of the leaven you get in bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (16:12)
I am enough of a postmodernist to really appreciate experiences. I am a Bible student by training, but I want more than just words. I was right there in the late 1990s putting down J. I. Packer’s Knowing God and picking up Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God because I wanted more than just knowledge of God. I experience God in special ways in praise and worship, in service to the poor, and in the laughter and intimacy of true fellowship with believers.
Still there are many times that full understanding only really comes for me from the words of Jesus. My heart is made tender by experience, but the words are what create true transformation. For us today, that means an open Bible. I am so appreciative that you have decided to be a part of this reading community. I learn from you as you share, and simply the knowledge that you read (most importantly) your Bibles and (secondarily) this blog keeps me accountable and on track. Then, God does with His words what only He can do: He transforms you and me by the “renewing our our minds.”