Are You Talking to Me?

Jesus enters Jerusalem and immediately begins a long week of confronting a corrupt religious leadership. Jesus clears the temple, chasing out the money changers and those selling on the Temple Mount. (It would probably be worth it to go back and review the conversation surrounding the Sadducees and the corrupt priesthood.) The next morning, as Jesus reentered the city, he curses a fig tree and illustratively portrays the condemnation of religious leadership (despite what you may have been told, a fig tree never symbolizes the people of Israel; it is always used to speak specifically of leadership).

This gets Jesus in quite a bit of trouble, as he is publicly confronting and condemning a corrupt system of religious power that has its own mafia to carry out executions of its opponents. This is what will eventually get Jesus crucified; while the priesthood has to do a political dance because of the favor that Jesus carries with the people, it will eventually result in his politically forced execution.

This priesthood immediately confronts Jesus publicly about his authority, calling into question his training, rabbinical rights, and ultimately the source of his s’michaNot that this priesthood cares about rabbinical authority, but they may be trying to sway public opinion about his credibility, as well as find out who else is behind this young upstart’s ministry.

After confounding them with his response, which shows them to be trapped in a political corner, Jesus goes on the offensive (a seemingly rare move) and begins serenading the priests with parables. Jesus starts with a parable about two sons — the point of which will be to address their claim to have rights as sons of Zadok, confronting their disobedience. They are like the son who says, “I will,” but then does nothing.

But then Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard and the owner’s tenants:
“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.”
Undoubtedly, the priests hear this parable completely differently than most of our New Testament readers do. The image, of course, is pulled right out of Isaiah 5 and the vineyard is representative of God’s people. When the priests hear this version of the story, they immediately assume that the “tenants” spoken of would be the Romans. In other words, God planted His vineyard and leased it to the Romans while He is away.
“When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
Again, the setting of this parable fits perfectly with the Romans. God is coming back to receive His fruit and the Romans have mistreated His people. When the rightful “heir” — who would be, in their mind, the priesthood — arrives, they threw them out and killed them.
“When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” 
The priests are tracking with Jesus’s teaching completely. But then Jesus springs the surprise on them; he’s not talking about the Romans:
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“ ‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.
Jesus essentially says, “Forget about the Romans; you are the tenants! You’re hoarding the fruit for yourselves and not giving God what is rightfully His!”

And while all of this is a brilliant teaching on a p’shat level, I think Jesus could also be planting a remez that leads us back to Isaiah 61. This would be the second time in two chapters Jesus would reference this teaching in light of the vineyard of God being tended by strangers and foreigners. The drash would be a distinct forecast of the fall of the Sadducees and the priesthood.

Jesus tells them this parable and it says they got upset and began conspiring against Jesus. But Jesus is still talking. He isn’t done yet…


Statement of Triumph

Matthew 21 opens with one of the records of the Triumphal Entry. We’re familiar with the images of the story and we often reenact different elements during our Palm Sunday celebrations. We know the picture of Jesus making his entrance on a donkey while people wave palm branches and shout “Hosanna!”

But a little historical context will go a long way. Jesus enters Jerusalem on the week of Passover (possibly even “Lamb Selection Day”); this week is significant because of the tension of Palestine in the Roman world. This particular region was always one of the tensest areas the Romans had to control. It was the home of the only group of people who refused to worship the emperor. This band of rebels was stubborn, stiff-necked, and na├»ve.

The region was one of the hardest to govern because of this headache for the Romans. You might remember Herod giving this region to his son Archelaus who didn’t last but for a breath as ruler of the region. The ruler would have to be tough, a bulldog who knew how to collect the necessary taxes and maintain peace. Immediately after the failure of Archelaus as ruler, the Romans sent in their own guy. History knows him as Pontius Pilate. 

Now Pilate did not live in Jerusalem; Israel’s “holy city” would not be the place for a dignified Roman ruler. No, Pilate made his home in Caesarea, the immaculate city of Herod the Great, built to honor the emperor. However, the week of Passover was incredibly tense. More than a million Jews would gather in the city to celebrate a feast that remembered their deliverance from the world’s greatest superpower. The last thing Rome wanted was to let this band of rebels get all riled up after a four-glasses-of-wine party and start a revolt. 

And so every year, Pilate would head south from Caesarea to Joppa and then east to Jerusalem, entering the city from the west. He would travel with great pomp and a show of force. Soldiers, trumpeters, banners, heralds, pronouncements — and Pilate riding on a white stallion that symbolizes military conquest. You could have heard him coming from miles away. The message he wanted to send to the Jews was clear: “Don’t even think about it. Keep everything under control or Rome will crush you.”

And Pilate would stay at Herod’s palace in Jerusalem until the festivities died down.

Meanwhile, on the same week (possibly even the same day), a humble Jewish rabbi rides into Jerusalem from the east with his ragtag bunch of reject disciples.

This is the picture of two kingdoms about to collide.

Pilate on his stallion; Jesus on his donkey.
Pilate with his solders; Jesus with his talmidim.
Pilate instilling fear; Jesus pronouncing favor.
Pilate and his chaos; Jesus with his order.

Pilate with his Empire; Jesus with his Shalom.

This ultimate showdown does not go unnoticed by the Jewish people gathered there on the east side of Jerusalem. The moment Jesus jumps on a donkey, each one of them recognizes the clear connection to Zechariah, a discussion we had last year.

And so the people grab palm branches (see the account in John) and begin waving them. Why palm fronds? Because the prophecy of Zechariah ends with the vision of all nations celebrating Sukkot in Jerusalem — and Sukkot is where you wave your palm fronds. 

And they begin shouting “Hosanna!” which is Hebrew for “Lord, save us!” Why do they shout this? Because the great hymn that you sing at Sukkot is Psalm 118:

     LORD, save us!
         LORD, grant us success!

     Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
         From the house of the LORD we bless you.
     The LORD is God,
         and he has made his light shine on us.
     With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
         up to the horns of the altar.

     You are my God, and I will praise you;
         you are my God, and I will exalt you.

     Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
         his love endures forever.

Because of these passages, the palm frond had become the symbol of the Zealot party and of political revolution. According to Roman history, shaking a palm frond in public was a crucifiable offense.

The people are calling out for a revolution. They see the statement Jesus is making about kingship and they are ready for their king! They give him their support and their praise.

And Jesus cries.

We know from the other accounts that Jesus will look over Jerusalem and he will cry, saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! If only you knew what would bring you peace.”

They had forgotten part of the prophecy in Zechariah:

     Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
         Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
     See, your king comes to you,
         righteous and victorious,
     lowly and riding on a donkey,
         on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
     I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
         and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
         and the battle bow will be broken.
     He will proclaim peace to the nations.
         His rule will extend from sea to sea
         and from the River to the ends of the earth.

And I’ve always been amazed that every year, we hand our children palm fronds and have them reenact the very scene that made our Savior weep.

But this isn’t what actually haunts me. I’m sure Jesus is able to see the statement we are making with our hearts as we sing the words “Hosanna!” in spite of ourselves. I think he accepts the worship we are offering.

What haunts me is the question of which kingdom I really want.

I say I want the Kingdom of God, but I’m not sure I’m willing to pay the price. I say I love forgiveness, but there are far too many days where I find myself on the side of the road, clutching a palm frond and shouting for a revolution that comes with my kind of power and my kind of might. 

And I think we need to ask some questions, because I think our political agendas and methods would make Jesus weep. I think our thirst for power, influence, and a particular kind of security would cause Jesus to lament over our cities and our country. I think far too much of our American culture has us standing at the west side of Jerusalem, not the east.

What’s interesting is that in two of the accounts, we are told there are two donkeys, which is interesting because Jesus only rides one. And while this might be an effort to make the account line up with the prophecy of Zechariah, Jewish literature and teaching will often employ this tool as they tell stories. You may remember that Matthew has two demon-possessed men in the Decapolis; he also has two blind men receiving their healing. The rabbis tell us that a teacher will often insert an additional character into the story as a way of inviting you into a moment of decision.

In the story of the two blind men and demoniacs, you are being invited into the story. If you were the other demoniac, what would you do?

There are two donkeys in the Triumphal Entry.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem, not to conquer, but to die. He rides in to bring true peace that might last for an eternity, not a political peace that will last only for now. He rides in to restore relationships and reconcile all things, not to establish a country club.

As you watch Jesus tearfully ride to his death, you see him glance over his shoulder at the riderless donkey and you are faced with a question: Which kingdom do you really want?

He invites you to ride with him into a Kingdom that is built on different values.


The Heat of the Day

One of my favorite parables of Jesus is the story of the vineyard and the workers:
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“ ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ ”
So the story is told about this landowner who hires different groups of people throughout the day to work his vineyard. Some of them are hired early and work all day, while others are hired late and barely have a chance to start. It comes time to pay and the owner instructs the ones paying the wages to pay the ones who have worked the least first.

Now first, even though we know how this story ends, don’t race past the immediate assumptions we make about the story. They are worth wrestling with.
But then, ask more questions about this story. For instance, why would the owner START with the ones who worked the least? If he started with the ones hired first, isn’t there a better chance that he could have avoided this entire mess? Why would he do that?

No, really. Wrestle with that.

And then, Jesus delivers the end of the story:
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Now, this story is loaded with incredible implications on the p’shat level. God is inviting those who are closest to Him to learn the lesson that allows them to experience a heart change.

P’SHAT CONCLUSION: God loves to be generous and He loves to give to people who don’t deserve it.

P’SHAT CONCLUSION: God apparently wants us to have to wrestle with this and let it transform our selfishness by inviting us to join Him in celebrating His generosity, rather than getting angry.

P’SHAT CONCLUSION: The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t fair — it’s incredibly benevolent and generous.

P’SHAT CONCLUSION: It is (and will be) this way for people who we think don’t deserve it.

Now, we are still missing a large contextual piece to the “p’shat puzzle.” The phrase “borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day” is used throughout Jewish thought to express the relationship between Jew and Gentile. The Jews have carried the burden of Torah for centuries and centuries on behalf of the world, in order to show the world what God is like. It should go without saying they would expect to reap a more generous reward for their work.

And Jesus has the nerve to suggest the Gentiles might get the same blessing from God — just because He loves to be generous.

All of this is p’shat.

And the remez? Check out Isaiah 61, Jesus’s staple passage when talking about his ministry:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.


Jesus just insinuated this generosity to the Gentiles is what God has been up to since the beginning. Not only this, but the “double portion” the Jews will receive for all their work — the special blessing that is due them — is going to be the fact that God’s favor is poured out on the foreigners.

Now, for most of my readers (Gentiles), I invite you to rejoice in that amazing plan of God.

And then, I invite us all — Jew and Gentile — to consider what there is left to learn in the teaching of this parable. What do I think I’m entitled to? What are the rewards I am expecting to receive? Am I prepared to join God in handing out generosity to ALL people? And what if my “double portion” is actually going to be the blessing of my enemies?

Those who have ears, let them hear.


My Favorite Translation

I often get asked which translation I like to use for my study of the Text. There are many different ways of answering this question, but none of them truly do.

First, there is the NIV (particularly the 1984 edition, now known as NIV84). This is the translation I use the most, by far. This isn’t so much by choice as it is familiarity. I grew up with the NIV84. I hear the verses and remember my memory verses from the NIV84. I studied under Ray Vander Laan and the Bible we all used was an NIV84. Again, this decision wasn’t made because it was the “best” translation. It was made because of familiarity.

In Bible college, the accepted translation for much of our study was the NASB. In short, I hate the NASB — for many reasons, one of them would probably be my negative feelings toward homework.

I continue to be impressed by the ESV. Time and time again in my class, when I try to catch a translation error (a dangerous game to play — the people who translated the Text are not stupid), the students who have an ESV are usually sitting with the word translated correctly, foiling my plans.

All in all, I still find that the newest, updated NIV is one of my favorites. It continues to be my “go-to” Bible and probably will for some time. I do love to brush up on my Hebrew understanding by reading the Orthodox Jewish Bible (and even Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible, as well). And nothing can beat sitting down with a good cup of coffee and the Message (I prefer the “Remix” edition). And please don’t get me started with all the whiners out there who scream about “paraphrases.” It’s the art of translation, people; on some level, it’s all a paraphrase. That’s how translation works.

But that’s not what this blog post is about.

No, I want to come and publicly declare to the world what my favorite translation of the Scriptures has always been. There is one translation that has topped them all throughout my study.

My mom.

My mom has spent her entire life trying to impress what she understands about God onto her children. She has taken the commandments of God and incarnated them for the family to see. She has learned about God’s compassion and she has shown us compassion. She has learned about God’s forgiveness and she has never failed to model forgiveness to us. She has learned about God’s faithfulness and she has never ceased to be faithful.

My mom has never translated the Text from the Hebrew into the English. My mom has never parsed a Greek verb in her life.

But my mom has spent her life translating the Text for her family.

My wife has often commented at how frustrating it can be to feel so guilty that she doesn’t have time to study the Text like I do. The Jews teach that while the men of the family race off to school to learn the Text and pass it on to their families, the women are busy putting it into practice.

While I sit in my office studying the nuances of a Text that changes lives, the great women of my life have been busy living it. While I prepare to teach others, they already started teaching long ago.

So if I might take a break from our blog series, it would be worth it to pause and say thank you to my mom. You are the best translation I have ever had the privilege to experience. Thanks for your commitment. Thanks for your dedication. Thanks for never giving up on any of us — but even more importantly, never giving up on God.

Thanks, Mom. We love you.

Happy Mother’s Day.



A Naked Thing

Having already addressed the parable of the unmerciful servant back in the story of Samson, we’ll keep moving through to Jesus’s teaching on divorce. However, one thing we never did was wrestle with the remez or drash within that teaching. We do have the tools now, so I challenge you to wrestle with those questions on your own.

Jesus ends up being challenged on the issue of divorce. This is a topic widely discussed in the world of Jesus, and it is brought up more than once in his ministry. In Jesus's day, rabbinical debates were driven by two main schools of thought. One school of thought was driven by the interpretive lens of obedience (more on why and how this worked in a later post) and the voice that led this worldview was a rabbi named Shammai.

The other school of thought was driven by the interpretive lens of loving others and was led by the voice of a rabbi named Hillel. All throughout the first century, the rabbinical debates were driven by these contrasting worldviews of Shammai and Hillel. Each rabbi would be confronted on key issues of biblical interpretation: How do you read the Text on this issue? How do you read the Text on that issue?

Every time in the gospel accounts that Jesus is questioned on a rabbinical debate, Jesus sides with Hillel (and sometimes he even pushes Hillel's stance even further). This happens to be the only argument that he sides with Shammai on. What gives?

This wrestling match will actually be very important for us to properly understand a very important teaching. Divorce is obviously an important and prevalent topic in our culture, and dealing with this teaching appropriately will greatly affect people’s hearts. I have heard Jesus’s positions on divorce wildly abused and the results are incredibly destructive.

Jesus’s first response is to make sure we are getting the first things first:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Jesus responds by pointing out that God doesn’t want divorce at all; man shouldn’t be separating what God brings together. But life isn’t this easy, so — with the point being made — they press for more:
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

What most of us miss, is the context of the argument. The positions held by Shammai and Hillel were taken because of a discrepancy in the Text. Some texts apparently had Deuteronomy 24:1 reading that a man may divorce his wife for ervat dabar. However, other texts stated that the man may divorce his wife for dabar ervat. Apparently some scribe made an error and we have a rare issue within the Text. The Dead Sea Scrolls had one version and the Masoretic Text (which Christians predominately use for our Scriptures) said another.

The order of the words makes a great difference, for the word ervat means “nakedness” and the word dabar means “thing.” If the phrase is dabar ervat, then the phrase means “a thing of nakedness,” which in the Hebrew would imply sexual immorality. Therefore, Shammai claimed that a man was only permitted to divorce his wife for reasons of adultery. However, if it is ervat dabar, then it means “a naked thing,” which in the Hebrew is very ambiguous and could basically be read as “anything out of place.” Hillel took this position. His famous statement is, “If she happens to burn your biscuits in anger, you may hand her a get (divorce certificate).”

Don’t ask me to explain why the progressive, “love your neighbor” rabbi took this stance. Some historians have suggested he must have had one heck of a home life. Others have suggested that he put the responsibility of “loving” on the wife. However, it is also true that Hillel was the rabbi to argue the divorce court should be located on the farthest side of the town, so that the man’s neighbors will try to talk him out of it the whole way there.

Nevertheless, Jesus sides with Shammai and, from his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, we can deduce he taught the issue of divorce wasn’t about the man in the first place. The issue of divorce was about protecting the woman who, in a patriarchal culture, would be left with no provision, belonging, or care. It would be pushing her to the boundaries of the culture and forcing her to fend for herself, now an outsider. Notice Jesus’s words from earlier in Matthew:
“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Notice that Jesus says the man is the one committing the sin.

The disciples are beside themselves in this teaching. They respond with disbelief that Jesus would suggest the man is held to such a standard:
The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

The way of the Kingdom is the way of love. The way of love is a hard way. Marriage is the most intense experience of dying to self and serving the other.

I have heard and witnessed this passage being used time and time again to condemn divorced parties (mostly women) who were on the “pushed aside” party. We let them know with no uncertain terms that they have disobeyed God through their unacceptable divorce. May God help us to redeem the heart of Jesus in this teaching, who was not trying to establish a moral standard of holiness, but a measure of protection for those pushed to the margins.

In this very conversation, it is easy to see Jesus recognizes the reality of divorces in this life. Because we are broken and selfish and stubborn — because true reconciliation requires two willing parties — divorce will be a reality that we have to deal with. But it should not be taken lightly and it should never be used to oppress other human beings. They should be protected.

And we should help them find healing and restoration.

“Not everyone can accept this word.”

It’s a tough word.


Truth and Light

** I am completely indebted to my time with Ray VanderLaan for the insight into this teaching.

The story of the Mount of Transfiguration has been a story of great orthodox significance and personal quandary. Other than the glorification of Christ (which is an incredible moment, no doubt), this story seemed to be missing a meaningful aspect driving it like so many other stories in the gospels. Not only this, but there is a case to be made that more than one of the gospels is chiastic (I’m not completely sold on this idea, yet); if this is the case, then the story of the Transfiguration would sit at the center of those chiasms.

Nevertheless, since we’re used to asking the question, I’m sure we can waste no time in diving right in.

Let me identify the following seven characteristics in the story of the Transfiguration:

1) There is a “high mountain.”
2) There are three people taken with the leader.
3) A cloud covers the mountain.
4) Glory is on the mountain and a figure’s appearance is changed.
5) The glory “settles” on the mountain.
6) This all happens after “six days.”
7) God speaks.

Do these details remind you of any other story in the Tanakh?

These are all details that are shared in Moses’s journey up Mt. Sinai.

Enter into the story Peter’s voice, declaring a desire to build three Tabernacles.

And this is where we butcher Peter. In lesson after lesson and sermon after sermon, we talk about how Peter — the bumbling idiot — doesn’t know what to say and so he just blurts out idiotic nonsense.

Not the case here. Ironically, I think Peter knows his Text better than we do.

What is the next thing to happen in the story after Moses spends time on Mt. Sinai? They build the Tabernacle.

Whoops! Sorry Peter.

A lot of people assume God interrupts Peter in an effort to chastise his loose tongue. However, if you check your Text, you will find God never addresses Peter at all; there is simply God's voice from the cloud. Not only this, but the voice from the cloud says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased. Listen to him!” What many of us don’t realize is that God shows up and quotes all three parts of His book!

“This is my son” — Psalm 2, from the Ketuvim (the Writings)
“Whom I love … [and] I am well-pleased” — Isaiah 42, from the Nevi’im (the Prophets)
“Listen to him” — Deuteronomy 18, from the Torah

The midrash taught that when Messiah comes, one of the ways we would know it’s him is that all three parts of the Tanakh would testify about him.

I love that when God speaks, He quotes His own book. Awesome!

Now, I know it says in Luke that “Peter didn’t know what he was saying,” but that statement in the Greek can be applied in a few different ways, not to mention that the entire statement seems to be a marginal (or at least parenthetical) addition to the story itself. Not only this, but let’s talk a little about the midrash and see if you think Peter isn’t a genius (maybe without even realizing it).

The story makes a point of telling us that Jesus is seen hanging out on the mountain with Elijah and Moses. What’s interesting about that is there are lots of stories in the midrash about Messiah and Elijah being together. There are also lots of stories about Messiah and Moses being together. However, there are only two stories of all three being in the same place at the same time. One of those stories is the New Testament account(s) in the gospels. The other is a midrash that predates Jesus by about 80 years.

This particular teaching comes as a conversation surrounding Psalm 43 (and 42). In it, the Psalmist says the following:
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause    against an ungodly people,from the deceitful and unjust man    deliver me!For you are the God in whom I take refuge;    why have you rejected me?Why do I go about mourning    because of the oppression of the enemy?
Send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

As the Psalmist cries out for deliverance, he pleads for God to send him His truth and His light. Now, what is the Psalmist asking for in that? The midrash teaches that God’s truth is seen in Moses, the giver of Torah, and in the prophet Elijah, who had such great passion for truth. But who is light? Well, the midrash quotes Isaiah 42 (the same one God quoted) and says Messiah is the “Light” of God that is sent forth. So, the midrash concludes, when you are in trouble, pray for Moses, pray for Elijah, and pray for Messiah.

The next line of the Psalm says these figures will lead the Psalmist to God’s holy mountain, the place where He dwells. The word for dwell is the same root word for “tabernacle.”

Maybe “Peter didn’t realize what he was saying.” Maybe he did. But… whoa.

That’s an amazing teaching buried in the story of the Transfiguration. And while I still don’t know exactly where to land the plane (so be prepared for an awkward blog post ending), I do know there is A LOT MORE going on in this story than I ever realized. 

I do know that I need to know my Text more. So join me as I try to follow in the footsteps of a disciple who could — in the midst of seeing Moses and Elijah — have the awareness to realize he’s experiencing Text and wants to enter into the story.