Let’s talk about a bizarre story from the Gospels. I wrote about this last year on my Medium blog, but it’s one of those stories that no matter how many times you turn it and look at it and relook at it and look at it again and again and again … there’s always something else to discover, something else to learn.
It’s a WEIRD story, by the way - let’s talk about the Transfiguration of Jesus.
About a week prior to when this story took place, Peter had declared his belief that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus then uttered that famous phrase to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” And then a week later (when our story takes place) Jesus took Peter, James, and John up onto a high mountain where the Bible tells us that …
“Jesus was transfigured before them, and His clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
As if that’s not weird enough, the Bible tells us that suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and then proceeded to have some kind of conversation with Him.
Understanding the symbolism of what’s going on here is VITAL to understanding the rest of the story.
Jesus, the Messiah.
Moses, the Law Giver (the guy who wrote down the 10 commandments and is credited with having a hand in the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).
Elijah, the Prophet.
Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus on the mountain weren’t merely 2 big names from the Old Testament who happened to pay Jesus a little visit, but were 2 Old Testament figures who represented 2 very, very important pieces of Jewish history:
And so what we need to remember and realize when we read this story is that in the life of a Jew everything (and I mean EVERY.THING.) hinged on these 2 things, represented in these 2 individuals – the Law and the Prophets contained the commands of God, the promises of God, the words of God.
Nothing was more important.
Nothing was held closer to the heart.
Nothing was more central.
Nothing was more sacred.
And so when Moses and Elijah (the Law and the Prophets) appear with Jesus (who Peter earlier said was the Messiah).
Peter does the only thing he could think of – he offers to build 3 houses …
One for Jesus, the Messiah.
One for Moses, the Law.
One for Elijah, the Prophets.
… So that the 3 can be comfortable, sheltered, protected, and take all the time they need to be together.
Before Peter could do anything, the Bible says that a cloud overshadowed them and a voice came from the cloud declaring, “this is my beloved Son; listen to Him”; and then as Peter looked around he saw no one left except Jesus.
Moses, the Law, was gone.
Elijah, the Prophet, was gone.
Only Jesus, the Messiah, was left.
What do we make of this story? What does it mean? Why is it significant? Why has this story been passed down for the last 2,000 years?
Here’s something interesting that Brian Zahnd brings up in his book, Sinners In The Hands Of A Loving God. He says that Moses and Elijah were kind of like the moon and the stars for the Jewish people in that they provided just enough light for the Jews to see and make their way through the dark of their surrounding pagan world.
Moses told them how to live.
Elijah and the prophets called them out on their mistakes, spoke about their need for repentance, and told the Jewish people how to change and move forward.
When Jesus came along, He was like the sun that eclipsed the moon and stars and provided all the light and all the understanding necessary by not merely telling people how to live, but by modeling the very life and character and being of God – a life of love, grace, forgiveness, and radical inclusion … the kind of life that was accessible to be lived by everyone, everywhere.
To put it bluntly, I think this episode in the Gospels of Jesus being transfigured is there to remind us that as much as we might think it is and as much as tradition has told us that it is … the Old Testament (the Law, the Prophets, etc.) is simply not on par with Jesus.
I just said that.
One more time:
The Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets, is NOT on par with Jesus.
Zahnd argues in his book, and I think he’s 1000% spot on, that the Bible is not a flat text where every passage and every idea and every word carries the same weight. It’s just not. How can it be? And if you doubt that or if that makes the religious spirit in you twitch, just remember that the Bible itself shows us this when Jesus says things like, “you have heard it said (in the Law and the Prophets, in Moses and Elijah), ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
In other words …
Moses and Elijah said THAT.
I tell you THIS.
Jesus (the sun) challenged many of the ideas of Moses and Elijah (the moon and the stars) and brought the brightest of all lights that would forever light the way of how to live as reflections of the Divine on this earth, as people who bring a little bit of heaven to earth every single day with every single word we speak and every single action we make.
And so with all of that said, here’s the main point I want to make today – when it comes to the Bible, every passage is NOT an equal playing field. The words and life of Jesus sit high above everything else and therefore …
… CanNOT be used or quoted in an effort to silence Jesus. Did you get that? Read it again: as Christians we are not allowed to cite Moses, Elijah, Paul, etc. in an effort to shut Jesus up. We need to learn how to read the Bible from the perspective of Jesus in the Gospels as opposed to trying to read the stories of Jesus in the Gospels from the perspective of the rest of the Bible.
Because Moses said that adulterers were to be STONED.
When the Pharisees brought Jesus a woman who was caught in adultery, Jesus said that the person who had never sinned should throw the first stone and then He sent that woman home.
In other words, Moses was wrong and Jesus was right.
Elijah called down FIRE from heaven on the prophets of Baal.
When Jesus’ disciples suggested that they do the same to the Samaritans, Jesus said NO.
Likewise, Elijah was wrong and Jesus was right.
In those (and other) cases the sun eclipsed the moon and the stars. Where the Law and the Prophets emphasized an angry, vengeful spirit that originated in an angry and vengeful God, the Messiah declared that no such God existed, ever existed, or ever would exist and therefore such an angry and vengeful spirit needed to be bound and exercised out of this world so that room could be made for the loving, forgiving, and radically inclusive Spirit of Creator of all things to come and make His home in you and me.
“THIS is my beloved Son; listen to Him!”, God says. He doesn’t say listen to some of Moses and some of Elijah and some of Paul. He doesn’t say pick and choose from the 3 because they’re all on equal ground. NO. He says, “LISTEN TO JESUS” and if …
The moon and the stars.
The law and the prophets.
Moses and Elijah.
… Say something that doesn’t quite line up with the sun, the Messiah, Jesus … then Jesus wins.
One of the things I’m most adamant about in this season of my life is the topic of hell. I’ll address it in a few weeks on a deeper level, but I really think we need to rethink how we read Jesus’ words about hell as well as what we do with other Biblical references about hell because when I look at the life of Jesus I …
… see so much as even a hint of Jesus threatening to throw people into a place of eternal torture where they are excluded from God’s table, written off, and told that all hope is lost. In essence, that’s what the doctrine of hell teaches.
It says that hell is a place of eternal separation from God. It’s a horrendous place of fire and demons and screaming and crying and pain as person after person after person who hasn’t believed the right things about Jesus is relentlessly tossed there to spend all of eternity.
Throw whatever Bible verse you want at me, fine. But if I read that verse though the lens of the life of Jesus … something has to give. Such a hopeless, vile interpretation of the verse doesn’t work. Jesus says everyone is welcome, everyone has a place, and hope is never lost and so God forbid we ever quote a verse from the Old Testament or New Testament or wherever in an effort to shut Jesus up. Jesus won’t be shut up, and Jesus will not be silenced. If something else in the Bible says something different than what Jesus’ life said, then it’s wrong.
Plain and simple.
As Zahnd says, Jesus is what God has to say, Jesus is the face of God. And since Jesus lived a life of love and forgiveness right up until His very last breath when He shouted forgiveness of His enemies from the cross … then that is who God is, it’s what God has to say.
Love. Grace. Mercy. Forgiveness. Open arms. And hope – lots and lots of hope.
Much love to you, my friends.