The average man in the pew would define the parousia — the coming of the Lord — as the literal, bodily coming of Jesus on clouds, with angels and the sound of a trumpet at the end of time and destruction of the material universe. This literalistic concept is deeply ingrained in the modern believer. This is unfortunate since this is not the Biblical definition.
The New Testament gives us a very specific definition of the parousia, but what they saw was not what the religious world believes or teaches about the coming of the Lord.
The Power and the Parousia
In 2 Peter 1:16-18 the apostle refutes the scoffers who denied the parousia (2 Peter. 3:2), "we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty." In speaking of the parousia he then recalls the Transfiguration scene of the Gospels, Mat. 17/ Mk. 9/ Lk. 9. Clearly, Peter viewed the Transfiguration "as a vision of the advent of the kingdom at the end."
In both 2 Peter chapter 1 and 3, Peter is answering the charges of the scoffers. Since Peter says the Transfiguration was a vision of the parousia, if we can define more clearly what the Transfiguration entailed, then we can better know what it was the scoffers were denying and what Peter was describing in his language of 2 Peter 3.
What Was Not Seen
Before proceeding to describe what Peter and the other disciples saw on the Mount it may be of significance to describe what they did not see.
First, the disciples did not see a vision of the destruction of material creation. The traditional view of the Parousia insists that Jesus’ Second Coming is to destroy the earth and all the physical universe, yet where is such a thing in the vision on the Mount?
Second, there is no record that the Transfiguration scene included a vision of a literal gathering of every individual of every nation into one geographical location. Yet we are told this is integral to the final judgment.
Third, we have no indication that the disciples heard the sound of the Arch-Angel’s Shout, or the sound of a literal Trumpet blowing.
Fourth, there is absolute silence about the disciples seeing a vision of a resurrection of physically dead human corpses coming out of the terra firma.
Fifth, and this is devastating, the disciples did not see a vision of the restoration of national Israel, restored to her land, with a rebuilt temple, and renewed animal sacrifices.
Make no mistake, the disciples did see a vision of the Parousia. The Transfiguration was to Peter the proof positive ("we have the prophetic word made more sure" (2 Peter 1:19), of the yet future to him — Parousia of Jesus Christ! But what Peter and the disciples and the traditional views of the Parousia do not agree. When we concentrate on what they did see we find the true Biblical definition of the Parousia.
What the Disciples Saw
On the Mount the disciples were amazed to see Jesus’ countenance changed into a glorious appearance so bright they could not gaze upon him. Then, incredibly, Moses and Elijah appeared with the Lord. What an awe inspiring vision!
Peter was so moved by the occasion that he offered: "let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" (Mathew 17:4). It does not take much to understand the significance of Moses and Elijah.
Moses was the Lawgiver "par excellence." Elijah was the very epitome of the Old Covenant prophets. Ramsey correctly notes: "by appearing together Moses and Elijah sum up the entire drama of the old order from its beginning to its end; the one is the predecessor, the other is the precursor of the Messiah." Peter’s suggestion that tabernacles be made for the three suggests that Peter conceived of Jesus, Moses and Elijah as equals. But this was not to be.
Matthew tells us, "While he (Peter, DKP) was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, `This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’" What is it that Peter and the other disciples are seeing? To borrow the words of Boobyer "the Transfiguration was a divine confirmation of the Messianic status of Jesus in the form of a visionary forecast of the parousia of Jesus — that moment when his divine Sonship and Messianic glory would be displayed in all their majesty as he came from heaven." But, contra Boobyer, we believe the contextual definition of the parousia — the time of the revelation of the Sonship and Messianic Glory of Jesus — was not perceived by Peter or the other writers as an "end of time event."
Both Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus (Luke 9:30-31), but the glory of Jesus out-shined the glory of those two grand spokesman of the Old Covenant. There could be no mistake. The Father removed Moses and Elijah, Jesus alone remained and the Father’s voice clarified the issue, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: Hear Him!" What Peter and the other disciples witnessed was the passing of the Old Covenant Glory and the establishing of the surpassing New Covenant Glory of Jesus. Now let us bring 2 Peter 1 back to the discussion and formulate our argument for simplicity and ease of understanding.
In 2 Peter 1 the parousia was still future to the apostle. But Peter said the Transfiguration made the prophetic word, i.e. the prediction of the parousia, more sure — established it beyond doubt, for on the Mount they saw a vision of the parousia. Therefore the Biblical definition of the Parousia of Jesus is the complete transformation from the Old Covenant World of Moses and Elijah to the New Covenant World of Jesus.
The Already But Not Yet Transformation
It must be noted that what the disciples saw — the transformation from the Old to the New Covenant had not yet been accomplished. This will have to be admitted even by those who believe the Old Law passed at the Cross. Jesus had already taught that the Old System could not pass until it was all fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18). But Jesus’ very presence signaled that the time of fulfillment had come (Mark 1:15; Galatians 4:4) — the New Age had broken into the Old but was not fully revealed and perfected. The disciples were living in the times — the last days — foretold by the prophets and all things predicted would be fulfilled before the Parousia (Acts 3:19-26). The transition from the Old to the New was taking place at that time and "the revelation (apokalupsis) of Jesus Christ" in his New Covenant glory would be at the fall of Jerusalem.
It is traditionally argued that the Old Covenant was fully removed at the Cross. This misguided concept fails to read the passages of appeal closely. Paul very clearly does not say the Law was removed at the Cross. He says the obligation to keep the Law was removed for those coming into Christ (Romans 7:1-4; Colossians 2:12-16, etc.). But the apostle is equally emphatic that the Law itself was in the process of passing away.
2 Corinthians 3: From Glory to Glory
In this great text Paul calls the Old Covenant the "Ministry of Death" (v. 7). It was the letter that "kills" (v. 6), and was the "ministry of condemnation" (v. 9). By way of contrast he calls the New Covenant that which gives life (v.6), the ministry of righteousness (v. 9), and much more glorious (v. 11). In verses 11f the apostle uses the present tense to describe the then present passing of the Old Law: “if what is passing away is glorious." In verse 12 he speaks of that passing: "therefore having such hope." Now
since hope involves that which is unrealized, and since Paul speaks of the passing of the Law as a hope, then the Law had not yet passed.
Our opponents insist that this hope was being spoken of from the Old Covenant perspective and not from Paul’s chronological perspective post Cross. This is clearly false since Paul said, "since we have such hope we speak boldly unlike Moses." Paul clearly delineates between himself and Moses. He did not say that the passing was from Moses’ perspective. He said it was unlike Moses. Further, notice verse 15, "for the same veil remains unlifted." Paul is speaking of his time — the time when the hope for the passing of the ministry of death was real and imminent.
Finally, read 2 Corinthians 3:18 about the contrasting glory of the Old and New: "we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory." Please take note of the present tense. The transformation from the glory of the Old to the glory of the New was in process — it was not a completed process as Paul wrote years after the Cross.
One reason we must see the transition from the Old to the New as an on-going process , is because that transformation was a "last days" work of the Spirit.
In Ezekiel 37:14f Jehovah promised to raise Israel from the dead (v. 14), establish a new everlasting covenant with her (v. 26), when "David" would be her king (v. 24), and God’s Tabernacle would be among the people (v. 27). The inextricable link between the miraculous work of the Spirit and the transformation between the Old Covenant and New cannot be overlooked in this regard. This is so because Paul in 2 Corinthians 3 said the change from glory to glory was being accomplished "as by the Spirit of the Lord" (3:18). The Holy Spirit had been given as the earnest of the change from an earthly house to the building of God "a house not made with hands" (2 Corinthians 5:1-6), i.e. the New Tabernacle as promised by Ezekiel. The chart will illustrate the parallelism between Ezekiel’s promise and Paul’s teaching.
|Ezekiel 37||2 Corinthians 3|
|Promise of resurrection||deliverance from ministry of death, the law that killed, to New Covenant of life, 3:6, 8|
|Promise of a new covenant,||Promise of a new covenant, 3:6|
|"David" to be king,||Jesus as Lord and Christ, 3:16|
|Promise of a New Tabernacle, vs. 26||Promise of a New Tabernacle, 5:1-|
|Tabernacle to be eternal,||Tabernacle to be eternal, 5:5|
|Work accomplished by the Spirit, vs. 14||Work accomplished by the Spirit, "the Earnest" 5:5|
Manifestly Paul has Ezekiel’s prophecy in mind as he writes his second epistle (2 Corinthians 6:16). What is equally evident is that the inspired writers did not have an "end of time" scenario in mind. Covenantal change is what is at stake.
As William Bell has noted, "it is important that one place the Holy Spirit in the right time frame because in so doing, one will also define the time of covenantal transformation, i.e. from the ministration of death to that of life. How can one teach that the Old Covenant was fulfilled at the cross before the Holy Spirit was ever poured out? Again, Paul teaches that it was through the Spirit that they were transformed. How can one infer that the Spirit was given before the Cross? Such directly contradicts John 7:38, 39, and Peter’s declaration on Pentecost that the prophecy of Joel relative to the Spirit had only then begun to be fulfilled. How can the Holy Spirit perform the work of transformation from a covenant that had ceased to exist? Yet this is what one must believe to accept the doctrine that the cross marked the end of the (old, DKP) covenant." Thus, as the disciples on the Mount saw Jesus’ glory transcend that of Moses and the Prophet, they were seeing it before it actually took place.
What they were seeing was a vision of the Parousia (2 Peter 1:16) and of the transformation from the Old Covenant to the New. The Parousia was still future to Peter (2 Peter 1:1-19). Therefore, that Covenantal transformation was still on-going, yet future to Peter. The Cross initiated the transformation. The Holy Spirit vitalized it. The Parousia consummated it.
That the transformation from the Old to the New was not completed at the Cross is confirmed in 2 Peter 1:16. Peter said they had the prophetic word, i.e. the Old Covenant prophetic corpus of the coming of Messiah in glory, made more sure by what was seen on the Mount. He added, "you do well that ye take heed as unto a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts." (my emp.) Just as Jesus said the Old Covenant would continue until it was all fulfilled (Matthew 5:17-18), Peter affirmed the continuing validity of the Old Covenant until the Day of the Lord.
Peter told his readers to take heed to the Old Covenant until the coming of "the Day," and this "Day" can only be when "the parousia hope (2 Peter 3:2), which some spoke of with disdain, would be fully vindicated." If that Parousia has not yet taken place it must of necessity be true that the Old Covenant has not yet passed since it is undeniable that what the disciples saw on the Mount was a vision of the passing of the Old Covenant System! But as Max King says, "Where is the proof that the Old Testament prophecy serves as a light that shines throughout the Christian age (which would be the ‘dark place’) until finally the day dawns, and the day star arises? What is `better’ about a New Covenant that is so dark that it needs the light of Old Testament prophecy until finally there is the dawning of a new day in another age to come? Is this what is meant by Christ’s `more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was based upon better promises?’"
What we have seen then in this first installment about the Transfiguration is how that scene defines the parousia. Peter tells us the Transfiguration was a vision of the parousia. But the Transfiguration was not a vision of the end of time and destruction of material creation. The Transfiguration was a vision of the passing of the glory of the Law and Prophets and the full establishment of the New Covenant Glory of Jesus. This definition of the parousia has devastating ramifications for the traditional views of eschatology.
Attempts have been made to counter the force of Jesus’ prediction of his coming in his generation by claiming that Transfiguration was the fulfillment of Matthew 16:27-28. In our next article we will see if the Transfiguration was the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise or if it confirmed that promise.
G. R. BEASLEY-MURRAY, JESUS AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD, EERDMAN-PATERNOSTER PRESS, 1986)189. THE QUESTION IS, WHAT END IS IN VIEW IN THE TRANSFIGURATION? THE TRADITIONAL ASSUMPTION IS THAT IT MUST BE AN "END OF TIME." WE SHALL ATTEMPT TO SHOW THAT THIS IS INCORRECT.
ARTHUR MICHAEL RAMSEY, THE GLORY OF GOD AND THE TRANSFIGURATION OF CHRIST, LONGMANS, GREEN AND CO. 1949)114.
G. H. BOOBYER, ST. MARK AND THE TRANSFIGURATION STORY, EDINBURGH, 1942, P. 29.
SEE FOR INSTANCE BURTON COFFMAN, COMMENTARY ON GALATIANS, EPHESIANS, PHILIPPIANS, CO
LOSSIANS, ABILENE CHRISTIANS UNIVERSITY, 1977) 382F, FOR A GOOD EXAMPLE OF THE VIEW THAT THE LAW WAS REMOVED AT THE CROSS.
WHAT IS IT CALLED WHEN ONE IS DELIVERED FROM DEATH TO LIFE? YES, RESURRECTION! THUS, IN 2 CORINTHIANS 3 RESURRECTION IS VERY MUCH PRESENT! AND WHEN THE DISCIPLES SAW JESUS’ GLORY TRANSCEND THE GLORY OF THE OLD COVENANT "LAW AND PROPHETS" THE IDENTICAL THOUGHT IS IMPLICITLY PRESENT.
WILLIAM BELL, “WHEN WAS THE LAW OF MOSES FULFILLED?,” LIVING PRESENCE, WARREN, OHIO, MARCH, 1995
BOOBYER, TRANSFIGURATION, P. 46.
MAX KING, THE CROSS AND THE PAROUSIA, WRITING AND RESEARCH MINISTRY, PARKMAN ROAD CHURCH OF CHRIST, WARREN, OHIO, 1987)671.