Part II: The Mount of Transfiguration and the New Covenant
When Jesus took his disciples up the high mountain, God also came in a thick cloud just as at Sinai. Just as God spoke to Moses so that the people could hear and believe him, God also spoke to Jesus so the disciples could hear and believe him. This was a greater affirmation for Jesus here than for Moses at Sinai. He demonstrated not only that he spoke with Jesus, but also that Jesus was his Son with whom he was pleased—a reiteration of the affirmation from Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3. He directly commanded them to “listen to him.” The writer of Hebrews puts forth this comparison: whereas Moses served as the type and initial mediator of worship between God and his people, Jesus became the great High Priest and eternal mediator of worship. Moses was the type and Jesus was the fulfillment, even as Sinai was the old covenant shadow while the transfiguration reflected a new covenant reality—all of God’s people could now behold the glory of God in the face of Christ.
The Mount of Transfiguration reveals the greater glory of the new covenant and its central figure. Jesus took his disciples up a mountain to pray and they returned having experienced a far greater manifestation of the presence of God. While more clarity came later, they experienced a revelation of the experience God’s people would have in worship under the new covenant. They experienced far more than any before them and in some ways more than any on earth would have after them. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the earthly priest (e.g., Moses as a type of Christ) supernaturally appeared, but then disappeared, because the greater priest had come. Rather than a priestly representative who would enter God’s presence on behalf of the people, the disciples were worshipers who encountered the glory of God directly in the face of Christ. Additionally, while the effects of Moses’ encounter with God’s glory would have to be veiled and ultimately fade, the effects of the disciples’ encounter with God’s glory was with unveiled faces and would grow continually brighter until the day of their own glorification when they would go to the place where Jesus intercedes and finally worship face to face. The ultimate goal and fulfillment of the new covenant they glimpsed on the mountaintop that day was the work of internal transformation that leads to external encounter in the presence and glory of God.
While Moses had to veil his face until the glory faded because the people were afraid, the disciples for a brief moment saw the veil pulled back revealing the glory that the Israelites could not look upon. Moses experienced a fading glory on behalf of the people, but the disciples experienced an eternal glory that had previously been hidden from their understanding, but would ultimately become their eternal reward because of the gospel. This reward would be shared with all those who embrace the gospel. The Israelites feared the glory they beheld but the disciples longed to look deeper and longer. The glory of God as displayed in Christ is both accessible because of the gospel, and it is captivating. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This external experience of the disciples at the transfiguration is a type of first fruits and preview of the gospel and the internal worship in spirit and truth that it allowed. Today’s worship points toward the final fulfillment of something akin to what the Mount of Transfiguration displayed. The events and truths of the gospel are irrevocably connected to this type of worship experience. When they are emphasized, their design by God is to “reveal the glory of Christ.”
Implications for Worship
R. Kent Hughes in his commentary on Mark states regarding the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration:
For a brief moment the veil of his [Jesus’] humanity was lifted, and his true essence was allowed to shine through. The glory which was always in the depths of his being rose to the surface for that one time in his earthly life. Or put another way, he slipped back into eternity, to his pre-human glory. It was a glance back and a look forward into his future glory.
The glory revealed in this experience, and in the kind of worship that this experience foreshadowed, is a revelation of the glory of God in Christ, who is now the central figure of worship. He is not just the access for worship as its great high priest and the mediator of the greater covenant, but he is also the object of worship and the worshiper’s eternal reward. The desire in worship should now be to enjoy the glory found in Christ. In John 17:3 Jesus states, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” One day the veil of this life will be removed forever and God’s people will know even as they are now fully known. Until that day of unhindered access to the full knowledge of God, worship in this life allows glimpses into this ultimate reality. This has a profoundly transformative effect upon man. It rightly orders things for man because it operates upon the affections to restore the image he was created to have. This process continues “from one degree of glory to another” until we are “conformed into the same image.” This was the experience of man in the garden before being affected by sin. This is what God intended for man by creating the Garden and setting man in the midst of it to enjoy the glory of God unhindered.
This is what the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration foreshadowed. It was a foretaste of the resurrection’s triumph and a preview of what worship would be when Christ, who had come to serve as the one true mediator between God and man, destroyed the veil. Worship now reveals transforming glory as it had always been intended to do. At the blazing center of new covenant worship is Christ and his gospel.
This is the second part of a 5 part series. Come back next week for Part III. Click below to see the first part.
Dr. Scott Connell is Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership; Program Coordinator, Worship and Music Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, KY.