26. Life of Jesus: Caesarea Philippi & Transfiguration
Course: New Testament Survey - Gospels
We need to look today at the turning point in the ministry of Jesus and if you have your synopsis, turn with me to page 149. The turning point in the ministry of Jesus involves a place called Caesarea Philippi. There were, in the time of Jesus, a lot of cities called Caesarea. People named cities after Caesar to kind of butter him up to be his patron and so forth and so on.
Now, there was a Caesarea on the coast of what we call Israel today somewhere, oh, say half way between the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem. There was a – a Caesarea – a very famous Caesarea built by Herod the Great. Herod was a gr – fantastic builder. He built – of course, he rebuilt the temple to make it a – one of the wonders of the world in a way, and he built fortress cities, Herodium and Macias across the Jordan River. Uh, he built the city Caesarea. Really, a marvelous job of engineering. Uh, that part of Israel and the – the west – eastern part of the Mediterranean, has no really good harbors. So, he had to build a man-made harbor, and what he did was he constructed barges, and he put them in the proper places and then sunk them with cement, and the cement was kind of a very high-tech cement t – it would harden under water, and then they would build on top of those and it became a major city and the major port all the time, that if you were going from east, uh – from west to east, you would usually land at Caesarea. Paul was in prison there for a couple of years you might remember.
Caesarea Philippi – it's called Caesarea Philippi to distinguish Herod's Caesarea from Philipps Caesarea. Herod's Caesarea was this major port city. Caesarea Philippi is located elsewhere. This one compared to Herod the Great's Caesarea on the Mediterranean, this is located north of the Sea of Galilee on the slopes of the largest mountain in the area, Mount Hermon. Now, this event is associated with this place, and it must be historical because we know of nothing in the whole history of the early church that says anything about Caesarea Philippi. It is a meaningless s – city as far as the early church is concerned. The only thing we know about Caesarea Philippi in Christian materials is this event.
So, if you make up stories, you usually don't make up stories about irrelevant cities, you make them up of major cities that play a role in the early church, and attempts have been made to say, "Well, this story was built around Caesarea Philippi because there – later on there was a great Christian community there." We don't know that. We don't know anything about Caesarea Philippi. So, i – it lends historicity to, uh – to the account because of its being such an unknown place as far as the early Christian church was concerned.
Now, it's the turning point in Jesus' ministry for three reasons. If we look at the account of Peter's confession following the Markan account on 149, "And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi and on the – the way, he asks his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" He – they'd been with him for a while and wants to find out what is your personal understanding of who I am. So, when he says, "Well, who do men say that I am," they respond in line 10, "Some say John the Baptist." Others say, "Elijah," and others, "one of the prophets,” and he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." and he charged them to tell no one about him. So, what we have here is, for the first time, the disciples actively concluding that Jesus is the Messiah. He had been with him long enough. They – Jesus now draws out, "Well, who do you think that I am?" They say he is the Messiah.
Now, about 20, 30 years ago in biblical scholarship it's rather interesting that Verse 30 was understood as a rebuke of Jesus to Peter in the sense that, don't tell me your, uh – you, uh – that I'm the Messiah. That's nonsense and he charged them, "Don't tell anyone this silly stuff or anything like that." Well, it's an amazing thing that no one until 30 years ago except these scholars ever understood the verse this way. Isn't it amazing for nearly 2,000 years, people have read this verse. They've read it just the opposite way in Matthew, in Mark and in Luke.
Now, it doesn't make any sense that Mark would want you to understand that Jesus is not the Christ. It is not the way you would start out by – the book by beginning, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the son of God." So, everybody is intended to understand that this is the correct understanding, but now, he – why is it that he charges them to tell no one about him? Well, he's been doing this all the time in Mark. Throughout Mark, we have what we call the Messianic Secret. Don't tell people, and when we looked at the title, Christ, we realized that that title wa – was so inflamed in meaning. It had us associated with such revolutionary kind of war-like uh, attitudes and understandings that it is not a title Jesus could use openly. So, what Jesus is saying to Mark is – to – to Peter, "Don't tell anyone."
Now, in the Matthean account, Peters says, "You're right. Blessed are you for this has come from the father." In other words, the conviction of my being the Christ has been given to you by God himself." So, the first thing is that we have here now, for the first time, the recognition by the disciples and the open confession, "You are the messiah."
Then if you go to 8:31 across the page on 151, we read, "And he began to teach them that the son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days, rise again," and he said this plainly. Now, there have been hints of Jesus talking about things about a bridegroom. The bridegroom being taken away, and he can't rejoice in that day, so there will come a time of mourning, but nothing explicit about his death up to this point – nothing at all – and so, he now begins to share, "You know that on the Messiah, let me tell you what my job is. This is what I plan to do. I'm going to go to Jerusalem, and there they will kill the son of man." So, he begins to teach concerning his death, and he began to teach them Mark 8:31. Matthew makes this even more explicit. "From that time, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day, be r – be raised."
So, nothing so far has been shared by Jesus about his forthcoming death – nothing about his resurrection as a consequence. So, this begins a new period of his teaching ministry. He actively now begins to teach them concerning these future events. So, it's a new time in his teaching ministry, and, furthermore, he begins focusing less on the crowds and more on the disciples. He tends to focus more upon them.
T. W. Manson writes in The Teaching of Jesus, "The most obvious and striking division in Jesus' ministry is that marked by Peter's confession. It has long been recognized this is – this event marks a turning point in the life of our Lord." What is perhaps no so clearly recognized is that it marks the close of one period and the beginning of another one in the teaching. All right, now, so the turning point, they recognize his as the Christ. He begins to teach about his death, and he begins to concentrate more and more on the disciples. There is the statement not to tell anyone. We have looked at that on several occasions already in the ministry, the Command of Silence, and the response of Peter after 8:32 probably bears witness why he tells him, "Don't tell anybody."
After Peter recognizes him as the Christ – and this comes from God – when Jesus talks about his death, Peter takes him and rebukes him, and when Jesus sees that the disciples are noticing this, he says to Peter, "Get behind me Satan, for you are not on the side of God but of men." So, even Peter himself doesn't understand the messiahship of Jesus. So, how in the world can you publicly claim to be a messiah if those who have been with you for weeks and months don't understand it either, and the historicity of this event to – to me is also strengthened by the fact that I don't think anybody in the church would have made up a story in which they called Peter Satan as this way. Get behind me Satan. There has to be a historical event behind this that causes these words, not just the early church making it up.
Now, the famous rock saying in Matthew 16:17 and following has been one that um, all through the history of the church has had tremendous, tremendous consequences. After Jesus confess that – Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, we read in Verse 17, line 22, on page 150, "And Jesus answered, Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah" – "Blessed are you Simon Bar, son of Jonah" – of John – "for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my father who is in heaven." Clearly, Matthew sees the confession of him as the Christ as positive and correct, and "I tell you" – now here's the verse that causes so much trouble in the history of the church – "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven," and then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. Marks equivalent, "And he charged them to tell no one about him," can't be a rebuke of his being the Christ. "Don't tell anybody about who I am." That's – that's what Mark is saying, so it's certainly not a – a rebuke of Peter, but – but like a Matthew acknowledgement of its truthfulness.
Now, if you were reading a commentary on Mark's – up to say 50 years ago, and you wanted to know if it was a Protestant or a Catholic scholar who wrote the commentary, all you'd have to do is to turn to Ma – Matthew 16, Verses 17, 18 and 19, and if they said that the rock referred to as Peter, then it would have been, you know, a Roman Catholic scholar, and if it was the confession that he was the Christ, then it would be a Protestant. It – it was that clear. Now, there might be some weird exception, but, you know, 99 and f – 44 – 100% of the time, and that's usually enough to be pretty universal. It's a kind of a scary thing that if y – you know, if y – you say the Bible is the final authority, when you read the Bible and you're a Protestant, you always come up with a Protestant conclusion, and if you're a Catholic, you always come up with a Roman Catholic conclusion, and that – that – that's frightening. That really is.
Uh, now, for the Roman Catholic argument, the term Petros the rock and Petra – these are the Greek, "And on this rock, I shall build my church" – you have Petros, the name – "On this rock I will build my church" – that's the Greek. If we go back to the language, however, in which Jesus spoke the word Kaiafas would have been used for both Peter and rock. They would be absolutely no difference. So, Protestants have often said, "Well, see, there's a different word being used for the rock here, and it's not Peter. It's the rock of his confession," because it's not Petros but Petra. Uh, whereas if you back to the Aromatic, you can say, "Well, no, the Roman Catholic point is that it's exactly the same. That's the point. It's the exact same name or word."
The difference in Greek, as far as I know, is simply because Petros is male and, therefore, masculine, and the w – word rock is always feminine and that – that's why the – the endings are different. That – that – that's the way the words are. The name is male, uh – masculine – rock – the word is feminine. So, I don't think you can make much of a distinction here. I think uh, it's a – it's a pure pun on the name of Peter and you can't distinguish between them and say, "Well, what we're talking about on the rock, that Jesus is going to build the church is really different. Uh, if you go back to the actual words of Jesus in Aromatic, it would be no difference at all.
So, what do we do with it? Well, first of all, there are a number of things that you have to wrestle with, and one is, what does the New Testament teach about Peter and his leadership of the church? Well, he is a leader in the Book of Acts, isn't he? I mean, when you think of the leading apostle, who comes to mind? It's not Thomas or Bartholomew. It's Peter and in the Book of Acts, who speaks up at Pentecost? It's Peter and through him, the gospel comes to the Jewish nation and a great event, the Pentecost, takes place.
Who is the first gentile to be one and who wins him? It's Cornelius and Peter wins him to the Lord, and there's the instrument there. So that the – the leadership of Peter is such that I – I think that Jesus is referring in some ways to the leadership role that he will have in the disciple – in the future of the disciples' ministry.
Having said that, there is nothing here about a successor of this Peter. There is nothing here about a kind of papal role or anything like that. He is simply the leader much like a – a chairman of the board of deacons is the leader of the other deacons. My own – my own view is that I think this is a pun and play on Peter's name. You're – you're – you're Peter and you're gonna be the rock that will help the church to get established. That is a long, long – an infinite distance from the Roman Catholic view that makes him into a Pope, and then the kind of reasoning – they say, "Well, if P – if God made Peter the fir – the Pope, doesn't it seem reasonable that after his death, there would be another one who would succeed him," and I'd say, "Yeah, it doesn't seem reasonable to me. It – it doesn’t seem reasonable at all." Nothing's said here. There's nothing about uh, papal's succession or anything of this – this nature, and if you look at the way he leads the church, it is not by arbitrary decisions. It's by his leadership in the role of the ministry and preaching. It's through his preaching ministry that he leads them. It's not that he make pontifical dec – uh, decisions of one sort of another. In fact, very quickly, the leadership o – of the church sh – shifts over to James, the brother of our Lord, who – whom now there is this interesting ossuary that uh, may very well go back to – and be the actual ossuary in which the bones of James, the brother of our Lord, was contained for many, many, many centuries.
All right, let me just read to you something from Donald and Guthrie. I think he has a good point. He says, "It's impossible to discuss here had the problems that have been raised concerning this statement, but the crux of the matter is the interpretation of the word rock as Peter himself intended, or is it his confession? In favor of the former – that's Peter – is the play on Peter's name. There's a pun here. "Thou have Petros and on this Petra, I will build my church. Thou a Kaypha. On this Kaypha, I will build my church." If the former is correct, it can only draw attention to the important place, which Peter would occupy in the coming church, and one, you may recall, it was through his preaching that both the first Jews and the first gentiles became Christians. "Nevertheless, a church which was to withstand the gates of Hell as Jesus predicted would need a surer foundation than the unstable Peter. He would further be given the promise of the keys of the kingdom, which carried with it the power to bind and loose." This must be understood in conjunction with a similar injunction in Matthew 18:18, which is addressed to all the disciples.
When Peter is told that he – he has, "the keys of the kingdom of God and that it would be bind and loose and so forth, it – it would be bound and loose in heaven," that same exact saying as found later in chapter 18 in Verse 18, and it's given to all the disciples. So, even though if you looked at medieval art – I mean, i – if you walked ever, uh – look at medieval art and paintings and you wanted to figure out who is whom, if you want to know who Judas is, he usually has a bag of money in his hands. If you want to know who Peter is, he has a set of keys, and if you want to know who John is, he has a loving look or something like that, or uh, and so forth, and if Thomas, he questioning or something – of – of nature, but Peter has these keys, but the keys are given to all of the apostles in 18:18.
So, yeah, I – I don't see any reason p – personally why I cannot allow Peter to be the rock Jesus is referring to here, but if this is that important, why is it only referred to once in all the scripture? Now, this is not a question heard in the nunix [ph] but I always tell people, "Look, the things that are important that God wants us to know, he repeats many, many times, and, therefore, if you want to know what's important, what is frequently repeated?" This occurs once – only once. It can't be the key of the ecclesiology.
Now, that doesn’t mean I don't believe this passage is true. I don't think you have to go to that extreme. It doesn’t mean that I have to deny that Peter is the rock being referred to here. I am simply denying that this being true doesn't have anything to do with the Doctrine of the Papacy that it has been built on, that this is – this is not a – in any way a strong enough foundation for the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church's Papacy and leadership of a pope and a continual pope thereafter. It's just not true, but that doesn't mean I have to react to the other extreme any more than to say, "I know in Roman Catholic circles, Mary is venerated. Being a Protestant, I have to minimize her goodness." No, you don't have to do that either. You don't have to try to put down Peter because he's such a big icon in the Roman Catholic tradition. He's a big icon in my tradition and your tradition as Baptists. So, we n – our theology shouldn't be so permanently a reacting against but trying to find out what the text is about.
All right, as to the historicity, I already referred to the fact that the obscurity of the event proves the historicity of what took place there. Closely connected with this event, is the next event of the transfiguration on page 153. The event is associated with one of the few really precise kinds of temporal designations, and after six days – Matthew says, "And after six days" – and Luke, for some reason has, "Now, about six days – a – about eight days after" – there's no contradiction in those. I mean s – about eight days – six days – that – the – there's no con – conflict in this, but why Luke does it this way, whether he wants to be more inclusive including the days, then the counting of time is exclusive by Matthew and Mark, I don't know what's going through their minds, but the transfiguration is intimately associated with something. Six days after something this event takes place. Well, six days after what, and the only other event that's intimately connected in some ways, are the events of Caesarea Philippi.
So, time wise, six days after what h – Peter's confession and Jesus' teaching about his forthcoming death six days after that, we have this event on the trans – of the transfiguration, where Peter, James and John are with Jesus, and they are on, according to Mark 9:2, a high mountain – high mountain. Now, what mountain? Okay? Suggestions: Mount Tabor is the traditional site. There's a beautiful church there. Uh, Mount Tabor is southwest of the Sea of Galilee and a flat plain. It's kind of a – a rounded mountain about 1,000 feet up there. Uh if you go there, you have a beautiful overview of the area, um, and there's a – there's a beautiful garden and church there marking the traditional site.
Mount Carmel has been suggested but that's way on the other side, uh, of the plain. You have to go all the way through the Mediterranean Sea. It's the site, of course, where Elijah does battle with the priest of Vale, and then there's Mount Hermon, where Caesarea Philippi is located on the lower slopes of this, and it really is a high mountain – 9,100' high – snowcapped much of the year around. Uh, in favor of Mount Herman, is its being close to Caesarea Philippi and it being a really high mountain. Nothing is in – really in favor of Mount Carmel.
One of the things against Mount Tabor is that, apparently, it was the seat of a Roman garrison. In other words, there was a Roman garrison up there because, from the height, you could overview any of the activity below. It doesn't look like that's the kind of place where Jesus probably would have been able freely to go up or want to go up on that way. We talked about – so i – if you're looking for the mostly likely historical site, I would think it's Mount Hermon, which is a high mountain and is near to the preceding event, but what's interesting is not a single gospel writer is interested in telling exactly where it is. It's not where it is that's important for him – it's what happens. They all proclaim what happened on the high mountain but you don’t need to know which is the high mountain because all you're gonna do is make a shrine out of it anyhow later on.
The temple tie, we had six days, and at this event, some – three specific things take place. First of all, Jesus is transfigured. Then Elijah and Moses appear, and there is a voice that comes from heaven. So, those three events are all looking on the Mount of Transfiguration. Transfigured – the Greek word is metamorphoo. You get metamorphosis or something like that – a transfiguration. Elijah and Moses appear talking to him. Luke adds that they talk about his future death, and then there's a voice that comes from heaven.
The transfiguration is really more for the intention of the disciples than it is for Jesus. There's a sense in which what the baptism meant for Jesus, the transfiguration would mean for the disciples. Notice, first of all, how in the various verses, who the chief people are that are involved here. In 9:2, "He was transfigured before them." Then you go to Verse 4, "Then a voice comes from heaven and there" – actually, not yet though – excuse me – "and there appeared to" – not him but – "them," Elijah with Moses – and they were talking to Jesus.
Then when you get to 9:6, "They were exceedingly frayed." Verse 7, "And a cloud overshadowed them and a voice came out of the cloud, 'This is my beloved son. Listen to him.'" The voice is not directed to Jesus. At the baptism in Mark, "You are my beloved son," but here it is, "This is my beloved son," and Verse 8, "Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only." So, the transfiguration is really focusing on the disciples and what they are seeing far more than anything else that seems to be present. It's not so much something that, uh – it's for the sake of Jesus, but it's for the sake of the disciples.
Now, the disciples present air and if you look at 9:6, you have Peter saying something, um – Verse 5 actually – "Master, it is well that we are here. Let us make three booths. One for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah, for he did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid."
Uh, we talked about Peter being the leader of the disciples. Here with James and John, this takes place and Peter is the spokesman. Why he speaks, that's the kind of leader he was or maybe James said, "Well, he said you were the – the rock. You talk" – something like that, and he's far from infallible when he – when he speaks.
Now, a lot of discussion is going on. Exactly what was the mistake that Peter made? Was he trying to prolong this experience which can’t be prolonged by making booths so that they call – could all encamp up there and have a great religious retreat and drag out and not go home that weekend or something like that. Uh, we don't know, but that there is a mistake is the fact that a voice from heaven comes and says, "This is my beloved son." Now, I think that is what indicates what the mistake is. Let's build three booths – one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah – and the voice says, "No, this one's my son," and it's a Cristological mistake in that he equates the three together, and the voice from heaven says, "You can't equate them together. This is my son. He is different. He is unique. He is distinct," and so this is the error of Peter when he equates Jesus with Elijah and Moses.
Now, we talked about the tie with the events of Caesarea Philippi, and the temple tie does that, but the voice from heaven also does that. For instance, when the cloud overshadows them, the voice says, "This is my beloved son," that's the rebuke of what Peter has just said. "Let's make three tabernacles; one for each of you," but the last part of the voice's message is, "Listen to him." Now what has taken place on the Mount of Transfiguration that would cause the need of God to say to the disciples, "Listen to him"? Where have they not been listening? Now, if you go back to the previous event, which this is connected with, Peter did not listen to him. Right? Remember when he talks about his death? Peter does not listen. He rebukes him, and I think here, what we have to understand is the command, "Listen to him," is a rebuke of the fact that when Jesus talked about his death in Jerusalem and his resurrection, Peter was not listening to him, and now the voice affirms that he is indeed the son. The confession of Peter was correct. He's the Christ, the son of God, and because of that, they should listen to what he says about his mission. They should listen to the fact that he is indeed the Christ, the son of God.
So, both the temporal tie and the voice from heaven, I think, require you to understand the transfiguration and the events of Caesarea Philippi being not only connected chronologically but one being a commentary on the other. There's a sense in which the transfiguration is a commentary that confirms the confession of Peter and also, Jesus teaching about his death. "You listen to him now." They are very closely connected. I think sometimes we treat them very independently, but they really belong together – all right – in the mind of the Evangelist.
Now, exactly what took place in the transfiguration, and it's – when Jesus is transfigured, how would you try to explain that? Uh, what kind of phenomena is this? Generally, there have been two main attempts to explain that and one is that the preexisting glory of the one who emptied himself taking the form of a servant breaks through, and this is the kind of thing that John refers to in John 1:14, "And we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten son of God full of grace and truth." Some have suggested that is a possibility. Others have said that this is a preview of his future glory. They saw a preview of the future glory coming through here, and remember in chapter 8, Verse 38, Jesus speaks of the son of man coming in his glory with his father and the ho – with the holy angels.
In Second Peter interprets it that way. In Second Peter 1:16 to 18, Peter writes, "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to the power and the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ, but we were eye witnesses of his majesty. We did not make up myths when we told you about the future glory of the coming of the son of man. We were eye witnesses of his majesty. We already saw some of that glory." Then he goes on, Verse 17, "For when he received honor and glory from God, the Father, and the voice was born to him by the majestic glory. This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased. We heard this voice born from heaven, for we were hi – with him on the holy mountain." So, here Second Peter sees this as a reference to the future coming glory of Jesus at the second coming, and if anything, I think that's – that would be far better explanation that the previous one I think uh, in light of Second Peter me – being explicit.
There's also one other thing that makes me think that this refers to the future glory. In 9:1 on page 152, there is a verse that is very troubling in one sense in trying to understand it. We read, "And He, Jesus, said to them, 'Truly I say to you, there are some of – there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that this kingdom of God has come with power." Matthew has, "Truly I say to you, there are some standing who will not taste death before they see the son of man coming in his kingdom," and these verses may best be – better be interpreted at least with regard to a foretaste of the future glory of the coming son of God, and they were going to see that, and they saw it right after that at the transfiguration.
So, I see that the event of the transfiguration is a precursor – a glimpse – a preview of the future glory of the son of God much like Second Peter 1:16 to 18 understands it.