“Satan on the Mountain of Transfiguration”

This is bit of a follow-up to my last post in which I introduced you to the Schilder trilogy of sermons on the passion of Christ, Christ in His Suffering, Christ on Trial, and Christ Crucified. In the first sermon in the series, “Satan at the Pulpit of the Passion,” Schilder rightly argues that, just as much Satan’s encounter with Jesus in the wilderness, the exchange in Matthew 16 between Jesus and Peter also constitutes a temptation for Christ, as Peter attempts to deter him from his set purpose to go to Jerusalem and there offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The second sermon in the series is entitled, “Satan on the Mountain of Transfiguration.” The transfiguration takes place approximately one week after the previous interchange between Jesus and Peter. Now, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him and leads them in an ascent up a high mountain. On this mountain Jesus is transfigured, and two Old Testament figures, Moses and Elijah, appear alongside Jesus. What is especially important to note here is that even though Jesus is transfigured so that his face shines like the sun, and his clothes become brilliantly white, the topic of conversation among the three men is not his glory as such, but rather his crucifixion. Luke relates that these three men, Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, talk, not about glory, but about the cross. They talk about Christ’s “departure” (Greek exodus) which he himself “was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” Meanwhile, Peter, apparently unaware of this conversation because he had been sleeping, upon awakening, declares that they ought to put up three shelters (KJV “tabernacles”) for Jesus and his two guests, apparently in order to preserve this glorious moment. So while Peter is talking about glory, Jesus is talking about the cross.

Schilder understands this too to be a temptation for Jesus. There was, indeed, something wrong with what Peter expressed. Luke himself tells us that Peter “did not know what he was saying.” Schilder, taking his cues from the text, and discussing the various suggestions as to what was wrong with what Peter said, then writes as follows:

The fact remains that Peter’s proposal was sinful. And the sin in it was this: he wanted to perpetuate the sheer bliss he saw. By that desire he was registering exception to the great theme Christ and His guests were discussing. Elias and Moses were placing the cross before Christ, were confronting Him with death. And in this awful hour Simon Peter wanted to cling to this dazzling crown, wished to possess forever this translucent beauty, to hold eternally this lavishment of light. Sun, he would pray, stand still beneath this mountain, and, thou moon, be fixed forever over this billowy refulgence of glory.

While Christ, and that in the very atmosphere of heavenly light and life, chooses voluntary death and hell’s darkness, that satan of flesh and blood comes up to hinder Him and say: Master, prolong this hour of life and light; make the moment eternity; let us forget the world and its people, forget the temple, the myriad millions of men, forget Israel and the deep, dark valley of human suffering; come, consummate the present bliss; say to this passing moment: Ah, still abide, thou art so fair.

It would be unsympathetic in us to suppose that Peter’s desire did not constitute a very real temptation to Christ’s human spirit. His perfect humanity loved the light and longed for the life abundant. His soul, too, had it but for a moment severed itself from its official calling, would have yearned to eternally retain this heavenly vision. Therefore Peter’s words were so characteristically those of a satan, a tempter. If the Saviour had, even in His thoughts, wanted to escape from the avalanche of suffering God was to loosen over Him at Gethsemane and upon Golgotha, He would have proved unfaithful to His office; such an attitude would have put a breach into the course of His obedience, and we all would have been lost with Him. Christ glorified after the cross, that is God’s triumph. But a Christ who could have wished to be glorified before the cross would have been a victory for Satan.

Perhaps Schilder is a bit too speculative here. But only a bit. Peter, the one whom Jesus addressed as Satan only one week before, has not yet managed to cast off his satanic role.

Even today, there are so-called Christian preachers and scholars who see no connection between Christ’s death on the cross and our salvation, our redemption, our forgiveness from sins. They argue that Christ’s death was actually unnecessary. Christ did not come to die. It is the incarnation that is important, not his death on the cross. Jesus only came to teach and preach the message of the kingdom of God, and his death was simply the inevitable but unfortunate result of evil human reactions to that preaching. There was no divine necessity in the death of Christ. It was not planned by God. It was no part of God’s purpose. The death of Christ was an unforeseen blip, a hiccup in the Messianic program, and Jesus and his Father somehow made the best out of a bad situation. And Christ’s death certainly has no connection to the forgiveness of sins.

Unfortunately, there are many who are taken in by this preaching and have begun to swallow this line of thinking. But the reaction to this temptation must be just as strong and decisive as Jesus’ own reaction was. The temptation must be recognized as satanic. And to all those so-called Christian preachers and scholars who are pushing this thesis, the only appropriate response is to say, as strongly and vehemently as possible, “Get behind me, Satan!”

Jerry Shepherd
Lent 2016
February 15, 2016

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