Sunday, April 07, 2019

Come Follow Me - Matthew 16–17; Mark 8–9; Luke 9

Come Follow Me - Matthew 16–17; Mark 8–9; Luke 9

Previous blog post on this lesson found here:

Image result for mount of transfiguration

The Signs of the Times

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the smoke from the temple fires would be observed as it rose in the sky. It would be a predictor of how much rain would fall in the following year. Much rain was a blessing to the poor, but not for the rich (who feared their crops and fruit trees would be washed out by too much flooding). The Jews were constantly looking for the signs regarding planting and harvest.

Jesus obviously was a threat to the two major factions of Judaism: Pharisees and Sadducees, because they came together as a group to test Jesus. These two groups were fierce competitors, having a constant balance of power between themselves. They differed on many important doctrines: resurrection, the temple, oral vs written teachings, how strictly to observe the teachings in scripture, etc.

Here, they ask Jesus for a sign. Why? Had he not performed one sign after another for the previous year or so? The Pharisees and Sadducees had been present for many of his miracles. Yet, like those of the 5000 he fed (previous lesson), who then asked for a sign, they would not be satisfied with anything Jesus would do. Had he provided a miracle, they would only have said it was from Satan (as they previously had done).

In desiring a "sign from heaven" they were looking for a very big miracle, that could not be caused by faked. While Jesus had performed earth bound miracles, he had not shown power over the heavens (Joshua stopping the sun, Elijah calling fire from heaven, Moses darkening the sun for a day). Even in Elijah's day, many saw the fire, but did not remain committed to the worship of Jehovah. Israel saw Moses' great miracles, but still disbelieved. Only a conversion of the Spirit can make a lasting difference.

In saying there would be no more signs, except the sign of Jonah (Jonas), Jesus was explaining in a cryptic form that he would resurrect.  The Benson commentary tells us:

A wicked and adulterous generation — As if he had said, Ye would seek no further sign, did not your wickedness, and your love of the world, which is spiritual adultery, blind your understanding. There shall no sign be given, but — of the Prophet Jonas — Or the miracle of Christ’s own resurrection, a sign greater than any of those showed by the ancient prophets and messengers of God, and consequently a sign which proved Jesus to be superior unto them all.

Thou Art the Christ

Matthew notes, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God," while in Mark, Peter simply says, "Thou art the Christ." Finally, Luke has Peter profess, "the Christ/Messiah of God." While each makes a slightly different statement, they all verify that Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah. Matthew's statement, however, adds an additional note of understanding--the Messiah was not just an angel prophesied by Daniel, but was the actual son of Heavenly Father!  Establishing a literal sonship relationship with God, was something that Jews of Jesus' day were not ready to understand. Scholar Margaret Barker, in her book, "The Great Angel, A Study of Israel's Second God"  we learn that ancient Israel did understand that God (Elohim or El Elyon) was anthropomorphic (man-like) and he did have a divine son (Yahweh). In declaring Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Peter was establishing Jesus' true role as Israel's second God, the literal son of Heavenly Father - restoring an ancient belief that was long lost by Israel as they combined Judaism with Hellenistic (Greek) and other beliefs.

In restoring this understanding of God and Christ, we could only then understand our relationship with God, as taught by Jesus. We call him "Our Father in Heaven" because He IS our father! As with Jews and traditional Christians today, the concept of God being a physical being that understands and loves us and truly made us in His image, has been lost. Again, a restoration of this important teaching had to occur, this time through the prophet Joseph Smith.

For most Bible believers today, God is a nebulous spirit that neither feels nor is moved. For many Christians, God has already chosen his elect, not because of their righteousness, but because God simply chose them. God, for many of them, is not a loving Father, but a monarch who chooses on a whim who will be saved and who will burn in hell. He is Aristotle's Unmoved Mover for much of Christianity. He can act,  but not be influenced by any of his creation. He is also believed to be of a different substance than his creation, meaning his creation can never be like him.

However, with Peter's confession, we see a different view of God. What is more perfect and correct: God as a Spirit that is disconnected to man; or Christ who has a physical body, who weeps with those who suffer, and is impacted by his creation?

Jesus is the "Son of the Living God!" God has offspring!  Jesus only does those things he sees God do, and so in Jesus loving and caring and weeping for mankind, we know that God is not the Unmoved Mover, but the Most Moved Mover. As Jesus has a body and spirit, so too does God. As Jesus has invited us to be the children of God, even as he is, so it is.  These truths were restored in Jesus' mortality and in our day through the Restoration. Without such understanding, our relationship with God could not truly be understood. And as Jesus explained, Peter's witness did not come through the philosophy of the times, but through revelation from God.

Mount of Transfiguration

Jesus promised Peter to give him the keys of the priesthood/kingdom. With this power, he would be able to seal and loose things on earth and in heaven. This bestowal of power would soon come, as Matthew 17 tells us concerning the Mount of Transfiguration.

As Jesus, Moses and Elias/Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple to give him the keys of the priesthood (D&C 110), so these appeared before Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration.

In chapter 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees insisted upon a "sign from heaven," but received no such sign. However, Peter, James and John did receive such a sign from heaven. Jesus was transfigured. Moses and Elijah appeared from heaven, and in a cloud they heard the voice of God proclaiming that Jesus is his Beloved Son. Signs follow those who believe.


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