“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Monday, December 8, 2008

Matthew 17:1-8: "Listen to Him!"

3.3.2 “Listen to him”

In contrast to Mark and Luke, Matthew “reserves the experience of awe on the part of the disciples until immediately after the words ‘Hear ye him.’ It is the divine word which is awesome” (Davies and Allison 703). In its broader context, this passage in Matthew includes sayings of Jesus that shed light on the Father’s imperative “listen to him.” In 16:21 Jesus tells the disciples that he must suffer and die, and that he will then rise from the dead. Peter rebuked Jesus for this (v. 22), to which Jesus responded, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v. 23). Peter’s mistake is certainly understandable in light of Jewish thought at the time, which had no place for a suffering Messiah. In his book Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross, Martin Hengel writes that “A crucified messiah, son of God, or God must have seemed a contradiction in terms to anyone, Jew, Greek, Roman, or barbarian” (Hengel 10). After foretelling his death, Jesus tells his disciples that in order to follow him, each must take up his cross and die to himself. At the same time, he foretells the coming of the Son of Man into his kingdom “in the glory of his Father” (vv. 26-27). Jesus, then, sees his suffering and death as a necessary precondition for his glory, and his glory as the inevitable fruit of suffering. Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus during his transfiguration “of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).2 Even in his glory Jesus anticipated the cross. Christ’s baptism in Matthew 3 presented a symbolic picture of his coming death and resurrection; here we have a foretaste of glory in a similar passage, but the importance of suffering and death as part of the story remains powerfully present. Both suffering and glory are fast approaching in Matthew’s account.

In this light, Peter’s desire to remain on the mountain seems a very similar mistake to his response to Jesus in 16:22; this time he is interrupted by the Father. Jesus’ emphasis on suffering must be heeded. The word translated as “listen” functions in other places more as a command to obey (Davies and Allison 703; cf. Matthew 18:15-16). If this meaning is intended, the Father’s words may be a veiled command that the disciples follow Christ in being willing to suffer, as he described in 16:24-25.

The words “listen to him” may also have been spoken and/or written in light of Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18, where the Lord says of the prophet like Moses, “You must listen to him” (Davies and Allison 702, Carson 386). This would confirm Jesus’ status as the prophet like Moses and as the “new Moses.”...

2 The word “departure” is exodos (Stein 284); it seems, then, that Luke also sees Jesus as a type of Moses since Moses returns to the “holy mountain” to discuss the “new exodus.”

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