Listen to Him!: The call to attention for disciples of Jesus

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)

At the mount of transfiguration, Jesus’ glory is revealed before the eyes of Peter, James, and John. Overwhelmed by all they are beholding, Peter offers to build a set of shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Mark tells us “[Peter] did not know what to say, they were so frightened” (Mark 9:6).

It is a great relief, then, that before Peter can go any further with his ideas, there is a divine interruption in with several accompanying physical signs. First, “a bright cloud covered them.” This cloud represents God’s presence and power, just as at the exodus God led the people with a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. Second, there is a voice from the cloud, booming through the cloud and accompanying the transfigured Jesus. Third, there is the message of that voice, which rings with dramatic power: speaking through the cloud to them, booming with this message: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5b).

The message here directly echoes the words spoken over Jesus at His baptism, with one significant addition. In Matthew 3, at His baptism, God’s voice speaks primarily for Jesus, affirming and commissioning Jesus into ministry. But here in Matthew 17, at the transfiguration, God speaks primarily for those who are with Jesus. The strong word, “Listen to Him!”, is for the disciples’ ears. They had listened to Him so well up to this point. Yet when Jesus begins to speak of going to Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise again, they wonder if their idea that He is the Messiah might be wrong. But it is precisely here that they are to listen to Jesus. Even though some of the words He speaks may confuse them, particularly the part about messianic suffering and death, they must listen most attentively here.

For it is in the suffering and dying that the meaning of Jesus as Messiah will be most truly revealed. It is as if the Father says, “Listen, watch, attend to Him. What you will hear and see will shock you, but it will shock you right into abundant life.”

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