<< Matthew XVI: Thou Are the Christ: The Transfiguration >>
FIND on the map where the Jordan rises. This mountain near by is Mount Hermon, standing high against the blue sky. The snow-banks on the mountain melt in the warm sun, and the water finding its way in among the rocks, bursts out at the foot of the mountain in fine great streams. One of these springs to the northeast of Hermon sends a beautiful fresh river into the desert to water the gardens of Damascus. A river on the west of Hermon, the Hasbany, runs down to join the streams from two other springs, at Dan and Banias, and forms the Jordan. The river then winds southward through a green valley and marshes of papyrus till it spreads out in the pretty Lake Huleh, called in the old time the waters of Merom.
The spring at Banias comes from the foot of the bare cliffs of Hermon, and the streams dash down among thie rocks watering the thickets of poplar, the great oaks, the orchards and gardens, the wild roses, and the vines of elematis which festoon the trees. Once a large town stood here. In the old time the spring was sacred to the Greek god Pan, and the city was called Paneas. To-day it is called Banias. In the Gospel time it belonged to the district of Herod’s son Philip. He enlarged and adorned the place and called it Caesarea in honor of Caesar, and he added Philippi to distinguish it from another Caesarea on the Mediterranean shore. The Lord once visited this beautiful region where there is so much water and where flowers are so plentiful. We read that He left Galilee and came with His disciples into the coasts of Csesarea Pliilippi.
Did most people who saw the Lord know that He was very unlike other men? Some did not, but those who knew Him best, felt the Divine love in His works, and they believed although He was so unlike the king whom they had looked for, that He was the Christ, the Anointed, the long expected Messiah; for all three names mean the same. Here, near Caesarea Philippi, Peter, speaking for the disciples, confessed their belief in the Lord. The fact that the Lord is not a mere man, but “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” is the rock on which the Christian Church stands firm.
When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.—Matthew XVI. 13-28.
There were soon to he hard trials for the disciples. Their Master would be taken and crucified. To strengthen them in the trials which He knew were coming, the Lord let the three disciples who knew Him best see something of His Divine glory, He led Peter and James and John into a high mountain apart, probably to some part of Mount Hermon. It was perhaps afternoon as they left the people below and the noisy town, and climbed to this quiet place. The rich valley, with its springs and river and lake, lay below in the lengthening shadows. The rocky ridges of the mountain stood around with their banks of snow. The Lord was praying; the three disciples were heavy with sleep. Suddenly they were awake and their eyes were opened into heaven. Two angels were talking with the Lord, Moses and Elias. They saw the Lord’s face shining as the sun, and His raiment white as the light. A bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice out of the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him;” and the disciples fell upon their faces. A touch aroused them, and looking up, it was Jesus, the same Friend they had always known. “Arise,” He said, “be not afraid.”
The Lord charged the three disciples not to tell as yet what they had seen. But must not what they saw that night have strengthened them and others in the hard times which followed! Perhaps the disciples could not have remained firm in their belief in their Master and have strengthened their brethren, when the Lord was taken and condemned and crucified, but for the memory of His glory on the mountain.
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.—Matthew XVII. 1-13
Author: William L. Worcester 1904
Transfiguration of the Lord >> “He was not regenerated as a man, but was made divine, and this from the most essential divine love, for he was made divine love itself; what his form then was, was made apparent to Peter, James, and John, when it was given them to see him, not with the eyes of the body, but with the eyes of the spirit; namely, that his countenance shone like the sun (Matt. xvii. 2); and that this was his divine human, appears from the voice which then came out of the cloud, saying, ” This is my beloved son.” That son is the divine human. A. C. 3212. The Word in its glory was rep. by the Lord when he was transfigured. By his face, which shone as the sun, was rep. his divine good; by his raiment which was as light, his divine truth; by Moses and Elias, the historical and prophetical Word, by Moses, the Word which was written by him, and in general the historical Word, and by Elias the prophetical Word; by the bright cloud which overshadowed the disciples, the Word in the sense of the letter; wherefore out of this the voice was heard, which said, ” This is my beloved son, hear ye him,” for all declarations and responses from heaven are constantly delivered by means of ultimates, such as are in the literal sense of the Word, for they are delivered in fulness from the Lord.” S.S. 48. E. Swedenborg
A high mountain apart >> An elevated and hidden spiritual state
Peter, James, and John >> Faith in the Lord, love of neighbor and deepest love for Him
His face did shine as the sun >> The glory in which the Lord appears to angels >> His interior state was that of the Spiritual Sun expressing Divine Love and Wisdom
Raiment white as the light >> The Divine Truth shining from Divine Love
Thick cloud which shrouded the Lord’s presence on Mount Sinai >> Obscure knowledge of the Lord of which the children of Israel at that time were capable
A bright cloud overshadowed them >> Divine Knowledge
Moses and Elias >> “As by Moses was represented the Lord as to the historic Word, and by Elias the Lord as to the prophetic Word, therefore when the Lord was transfigured, Moses and Elias were seen talking with Him.” E. Swedenborg
The Lord spoke to the disciples of John the Baptist as they came down from the mountain and showed His power to cast out devils at the mountain’s foot >> Practice of repentance causes the inspiration of the interior state to be brought down and made powerful in the external life
MISSION TO THE GENTILES.
HE left Capernaum, and departed into the neighboring coasts of Tyre and Sidon ; finding in this Gentile country the acknowledgment that the God of Israel was the living God, from Whom the Gentiles had the crumbs of heavenly knowledge on which they subsisted ; finding also that the evils of the church were destroying the Gentile affection for the truth of the church, which was restored by His presence and His Divine fulfilment of the Word.
Once more He returns to the other side of the sea of Galilee, recovering the lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, quickening all the natural powers of mind and body to know and serve and glorify the God of Israel.
Once more He fed a multitude upon the mountain slope in Bashan. But it appears to have been a multitude gathered from the Gentile cities of Decapolis, not as before following from Gennesaret. With five loaves and two fishes He before had filled five thousand men, leaving twelve baskets full of fragments representing the abundance of truth of happy life that He could open to those that had the Word. But they were so full of worldly expectations and desires, that they rejected Him Who brought them only the bread that came down from heaven. But now of the Gentile multitude He fed four thousand with seven loaves and a few little fishes, and they took up of the fragments that were left, seven baskets full. It was a different reception of the truth of heaven now, both with the disciples who had passed through the former temptation and been warned by it, and by the more simple Gentile people who partook with them. The seven loaves are such truth of heaven as brings the Sabbath state of conjunction with the Lord after temptation. The four thousand are those who can receive the good of heaven from the Lord as well as the truth about it. The seven baskets left are the holy memories of such communion with the Lord.
Not to Capernaum, but to “the coasts of Magdala” Jesus now turned, meeting there the Pharisees with the Sadducees representatives of the pride of holiness and the worldliness of the Jews. They knew the signs of the sky, and could discern the red sky of the evening from the red and lowering morning; but the state of the church they could not discern. The reddening of the sun by the evening exhalations of earth might mean only the normal state of external enjoyments following the labors of the day. But the morning sky red and lowering, ready to precipitate when the sun lifted the heavy air, meant the filling the interiors of the mind with the world and self instead of the Lord and heaven. This they took for a day of beauty, when really the storm of judgment was close at hand. Jonas was a sign to them that the truth was now to be preached to the Gentiles for their salvation, while the Jews would be left desolate and angry.
With a word of warning to His disciples, this part of the story closes. They were to shun all thought of eminence, either spiritual or natural, as His disciples. The good that He gave, both spiritual and natural, was abundant for all. It was intended for uses to all, and not for the exclusive eminence of any one.
THE FULNESS OF THE DIVINE IN THE NATURAL LIFE.
IT is probable that at this point, when the work in Galilee was drawing to a close, occurred the visit to Jerusalem at the Feast of Tabernacles. In this feast was celebrated the full ripening of the fruits of the year, especially of the oil and the wine. It represented the ripening of the regenerate life, especially as to its wisdom of charity and of the mercy of the Lord. In the Lord the observance of it was a representative of the ripening of the Divine Human life, and the preparation to reject that which had been only the means of receiving and maturing the Divine. It marks the beginning of the last winter of His life, which ended with the cross, the resurrection, the ascension.
With all this fully in view, He returned to Caesarea Philippi, under the slopes of the noble Hermon, whose snows are the source of the Jordan, and in some sort typify the formulas of the Ancient Church, whence flow the cleansing waters of the letter of our Scriptures.
There Peter renewed and deepened the confession called forth by the stilling of the sea, saying, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And the Lord, accepting this as the truth, and the foundation of His church, nevertheless added the needed forewarning of suffering and death before the Divine presence with men could be perfect. He added also that a similar loss of the natural life all must endure who would be His disciples.
Then up into the high mountain He led His three disciples, that they might see there the ripening Divine Human which was His inner self, and needed now not much but the rejection of the finite body to be the presence of God with men.
The mountain, no doubt, was Hermon, the southern terminus of the Anti-Lebanon range. The meaning of this range seems to be closely related to that of the Lebanon, whose forests of cedar it probably once shared. In relation to Palestine when occupied by the Jewish Church, it seems to stand for the wisdom of the Ancient Church in its relation to the letter of the Jewish Scriptures on a much higher level than the Jewish Church, but now to it a memory of representatives and formal precepts, whence most of its laws and ceremonies were derived. Whether that be so or not, the high mountain on earth represents a high mountain in heaven ; which at that time could be no other than the mountain of the Ancient Heavens. To open the eyes of the disciples to see Him there was to cause them to see Him as the angels of these heavens saw Him, His face shining as the sun, and His raiment white as the light. The appearance of Moses and Elias with Him shows that it was as the Word fulfilled that He so appeared, that it was the fulfilling of the Word that had made Him what He was; and it was that fulfilment of the Word which as to its interiors did shine as the sun, and as to its exteriors was white as the light.
The faith of the early church, represented by Peter, was delighted with such glimpses as they had of the Lord’s fulfilment of the Scriptures, and would have made them permanent if they could. But they were not prepared for the opening of the spiritual sense; nor for the acknowledgment of the Lord as the Sun of heaven, the God of heaven and earth. They descended into the letter, whence once more, as at the baptism, came the voice, ” This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” Even this is more than the church has been able to receive or bear ; and in Infinite gentleness the Lord has touched them, and they have known Him as Jesus only.
It was an astonishment to the disciples, and brought up the doubt that Elias must first come. The answer is that the letter of the Word must indeed first be established ; and those who reject that will reject the Lord, but those who receive that will receive the Lord ; for He is the Word.
Under the mountain they met the multitude, and the father whose son was lunatic and sore vexed, possessed of a devil whom the disciples could not cast out. The father is the good of the former representative church, watching anxious over the truth of the new Christian Church. That truth almost from the beginning has been lunatic and sore vexed, falling oft into the fires of self-love and oft into the waters of faith alone. And the church has not been able to set it right because of her lack of faith in her Lord as the God of heaven and earth. With even the rudiments of such faith, the mountain of self might be removed, and the sense of living from the Lord alone might come ; and no good would be impossible. Howbeit this was not to come for long ages, until the church should be humbled by prayer and fasting. In a larger sense the love of being one’s own had come upon the race as a child, and was not to be cast out by faith like that of the apostles, nor by any less faith than that the Lord is our Heavenly Father, God Himself with us. And this must have its roots in the desire to be wholly His, and not one’s own.
Again the Lord speaks of His own death, which was necessary in order that nothing might limit the presence and work of the Divine Love in Him.
He acknowledges indeed that the truth by which His Human was re-formed to be the habitation of God with men, was learned from the Word and the church by His natural love of learning. The fish He permitted to pay tribute for Him. But He was now the Son of God, the love itself of God with men, and needed not to be redeemed by the truth. Author: JOHN WORCESTER
Pictures: James Tissot —-Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum