THE VOICE HEARD IN THE HOLY MOUNT
2 Peter 1:12-18
UP to this point the Apostle has spoken of God’s abundant grace and the consequent duties of believers. And he has set forth these duties in the most encouraging language. He has pictured first the gift of Divine power, and the precious promises of God, whereby men may be helped to walk onward and upward; and when the labor is ended he has pointed to the door of Christ’s eternal kingdom, open to admit the saint to His everlasting rest. Now he turns to describe the duty which he feels to be laid upon himself, and faithful is he in the discharge thereof. "Strengthen thy brethren," is constantly ringing in his ears. "Wherefore," he says, "I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance of these things." He dreads that taking hold of forgetfulness-that ληθην λαβων-of which he has spoken before, and against which constant diligence is needed. So far as in him lies, the perilous condition shall come upon none of them. The verb in the best texts expresses far more than that which is rendered in the Authorized Version, "I will not be negligent." It implies a sense of duty and the intention of fulfilling it; it bears within it, too, the thought (which is strengthened by the word "always") that there may be need for such reminding, if not from internal weakness, yet by reason of external dangers. And to bring to the mind of the Churches the gracious bounty of God in Christ, and to set down the steps whereby the graces bestowed should be fostered and increased, is a subject worthy of an Apostle, a theme which no amount of exhortation can exhaust, and one which ought to prompt the hearers to gratitude and obedience.
"Though ye know them, and are established in the truth which is with you." Knowledge of things that pertain unto godliness is barren unless it be wrought out in the life. Yet knowledge and practice do not always go hand in hand. This was one of the lessons taught by Jesus as He washed the disciples’ feet: "If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them." [John 13:17] St. Peter longs that the converts should make this blessedness their own. His life’s work is to watch for them, that they be not remiss in doing. To none can such a duty more peculiarly belong than to him who holds Christ’s special commission to feed the flock. By "the truth which is with you" the Apostle appears to be alluding to the varying degrees of advancement which there must be among the members of the Churches. All have traveled some way along the road which he has shown them; all have some of the truth within their grasp. They have set their feet on the path, though they be planted with different degrees of firmness. What is needed for each and all is to press forward, not to rest in the present, but to hasten to what lies beyond. For the truth of God is inexhaustible.
Perhaps, too, he thought, as he spake of the truth present with them, that he was of necessity absent and would soon be removed altogether, and the only way by which he could serve them was by his epistle. He could never forget that among those to whom he was writing were the Galatians, over whose falling back from the truth St. Paul had so greatly lamented: who had run well, but had fainted ere the course was over; who had received some truth to be present with them, even the faith of the crucified Jesus, but had been beguiled into letting it slip. Thought of these things shapes his words as he writes, "I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance." He rejoices that they are "established," but yet sends them an admonition. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.
"And I think it right." The word marks the solemn estimate which the Apostle takes of his duty. It is a just and righteous work. Danger is abroad, and he has been made one of Christ’s shepherds. Many motives prompt him to write his words of counsel and warning. First, his love for them as his brethren, some of them, perhaps, his children in Christ. Like St. Paul, he has them in his heart. Then, he will fulfill to the utmost the charge which the Lord gave him. He is conscious, too, that opportunities for the fulfillment of his trust will soon come to an end. "As long as I am in this tabernacle," he says. It is but a frail home, the body; and with St. Peter age was drawing on. He saw that the time of his departure could not be far off, and this left no excuse for remitting his admonitions. He must be urgent so long as he can. "To stir you up by putting you in remembrance." The work of the Apostle will be thoroughly done( διεγειρειν), and be of that nature for which the Holy Ghost was promised to himself and his fellows. "He shall bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you". Thus [John 14:26] would St. Peter, like St. Paul, impart unto the converts some spiritual gift, that he, with them, may be comforted, strengthened, each by the other’s faith. So he proceeds to dwell on that Divine manifestation by which his own belief had been confirmed. And there would be memories of St. Paul’s lessons also to call to their minds, and many of these would be awakened by an appeal like this. The falling away of the Galatians had been from a different cause, but the memory of the past would warn, and might strengthen, them all in the future against their new dangers.
"Knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly, even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified unto me." Such a motive makes the appeal most touching. He will soon be removed. To this he looks forward without alarm. His concern is for them, not for himself. He regards his death as the stripping off of a dress: when its use is past it is parted with without regret. To him, as to his brother Apostle, to die would be gain. But he must have had constantly in mind the Master’s prophecy, "When thou art old, thou shalt stretch forth thine hands, and another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest not". [John 21:18] And in the word "swiftly" he ‘no doubt alludes, not only to the old age in which the end would naturally come, but also to some sharp stroke by which his departure would be brought to pass. The stretching out of his hands would be a preliminary to the prison and the cross. In the Gospel it is said that Christ’s words give the sign ( σημαινων) the indication, by what death he should die, The Apostle employs a stronger word ( εδηλωσε) here: "made it evident." The English version renders both verbs by "signify," but St. Peter’s own expression marks how growing age had made clearer to him the manner in which his death should be accomplished. And the mention of Jesus brings vividly before him the thought of the scene he is about to describe, so vividly that some of the language of the Transfiguration scene is reproduced by him.
"Yea, I will give diligence that at every time ye may be able after my decease to call these things to remembrance." Jesus is related [Luke 9:31] to have conversed with Moses and Elias of His decease ( εξοδος), which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. The word is rare in this sense, being commonly used, as in Hebrews 11:22, of the departing of the children of Israel from Egypt. But it is deeply printed in St. Peter’s mind; and he, who looks forward to drinking of his Master’s cup and dying somewhere as He died, employs the same word concerning his own end. And the word is another indication of the calm with which he can look forward to his death. As with Christ, there is no reluctance, no shrinking. The change will be but a departure, a passing from one stage to another, the putting off the worn garment of mortality to be clothed upon by the robe which is from heaven.
His letters are the only means whereby he can speak after he has been taken from them. Hence his earnestness in writing. "I will give diligence." I have urged diligence on you; I will apply the lesson to myself, and make it possible that afterwards on every occasion you may have it before you. When dead, he will yet speak to them; so that in each new trial, in each time of need, they may strengthen their faith or be warned of their danger. "At every time," he says; and thus his strengthening words of admonition are a legacy through the ages to the Church for evermore. "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables." Here the Apostle speaks in the plural number, and it may well be that he means to include St. Paul with himself and James and John. For the evidence which converted that Apostle, though not the same as that vouchsafed to St. Peter, was of the same kind. The Lord had appeared unto him in the way, had made His glory seen and felt, and fixed for ever in the Apostle’s heart the reality of His power and presence. His cry, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" came from a heart conquered and convinced. He too followed no cunningly devised fable.
By the word ( σεσοφισμενοι), which is rendered "cunningly devised" we are reminded of the ( σοφια) wisdom which St. Paul so earnestly disclaims in his first letter to the Corinthians. "I came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom," he says; "my preaching was not in persuasive words of wisdom, that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." The wisdom which he speaks is not of this world, but God’s wisdom in a mystery. [1 Corinthians 2:1-7] St. Paul also warns against giving "heed to fables, which minister questionings rather than a dispensation of God which is in faith." [1 Timothy 1:4; of. also 1 Timothy 4:7 and 2 Timothy 4:4] In another place [Titus 1:14] he calls them "Jewish fables," a name which is of the same import as the "Jewish vanities" of Ignatius, a name by which he intimates that they darken and confuse the mind. The legends of the Talmud, the subtleties of the rabbinical teaching, and the allegorizing interpretations of Philo are the delusions to which both the Apostles refer. The evidence on which they ask credence for their teaching is of another kind. "That which was from the beginning," is the testimony of another Apostle, "that which we heard, that which we have seen with our eyes, that which we beheld, and our hands handled, concerning the word of life that declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us". [1 John 1:1-3] St. Peter had seen, and so had St. Paul; and they constantly appealed to, and rested their teaching on, facts and the historic reality of Christ’s life and work. "When we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is the contrast to that mythic and allegorical teaching to which he has just alluded. From it men could derive neither help in the present, nor hope for the future. It generated superstition, and its followers believed a lie. Often it denied the continuity of revelation, and cast aside all the records thereof. Like theosophic dreams in every age, it was always unprofitable, nearly always pernicious. On the other hand, the teaching of Christ’s Apostles proclaimed a power which could save men from their sins, and imparted a hope that stretched out beyond the present, looking for the time when the Lord would reappear. All power Is given unto Christ. He is made Redeemer and Lord, and is to be at last the Judge of men. The assurance of His coming had been proclaimed by St. Peter in his former letter as a consolation under affliction. Faith, tried by suffering, will be found unto praise, and glory, and honor, at the revelation of Jesus Christ. [1 Peter 1:7] This is the climax of the glad tidings of the Gospel. But Christ comes to His people through all the days; and they are conscious of His coming, and inspired thereby and enabled for their work.
"But we were eye-witnesses of His majesty." He has already [1 Peter 3:22] spoken of the fact of Christ’s ascension; he is now about to describe what was seen on the holy mount. These things are facts and verities, and not fables. But yet there was more revealed in them than either eye could grasp, or tongue could tell. They were God’s truth in a mystery, which supplied new thought for a whole lifetime. So for "eye-witnesses" the Apostle uses a word akin to that which twice over he employs in the former Epistle [1 Peter 2:12] to describe ‘the effect which Christian lives, when fully scanned, shall have upon the unbeliever. They shall have power to stop the mouths of opponents and to win them to the faith which before they maligned. Such deep insight into the power, and work, and glory of Jesus was imparted to the Apostles at the Transfiguration. They were initiated into the wisdom of God, and henceforth became prophets of the Incarnation; they were convinced that the Jesus with whom they companied was very God manifest in the flesh. The voice from heaven proclaimed it; it was attested by the glorified presence of Moses and Elijah, and by the majesty which for a moment broke through the veil of Christ’s flesh. Later on they saw Him risen from the dead, beheld His ascension into glory, and heard from the angels the promise of His return. Not without much meaning does the Apostle use a special pronoun ( εκεινου) as he dwells on this scene of His majesty. For he would impress on his converts the identity of that Jesus whom he had known in the flesh with the very Son of God sent down from heaven.
"For He received from God the Father honor and glory." For the bright cloud which overshadowed them on the mountain-top was the visible token of the presence of God, as of old the cloud of glory had been, where God dwelt above the cherubim; while the honor and glory of Jesus were manifested when He was proclaimed to be the very Son of God. "When there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. "To express the magnificence of the glory which he beheld, the Apostle uses a word not found elsewhere in the New Testament. The Septuagint has it to describe the splendor of Jeshurun’s God, who rideth in His "excellency" on the skies. [Deuteronomy 33:26] And it is this outward brightness of the shroud of the Godhead which tells all that human powers can receive of the majesty which it hides, just as His palace, the heavens, declares constantly the glory of God. The words spoken by the heavenly voice vary here from the records of each of the three Gospels. In one case the variation is slight, but there is no precise agreement. Had the Epistle been the work of some forger of a later age than St. Peter’s, we may rest assured that there would have been complete accord with one Evangelist or the other. There is a like diversity in the records of the words of the inscription above Christ’s cross. Substantial truth, not verbal preciseness, is what the Evangelists sought to leave to the Church; and their fidelity is proved by nothing more powerfully than by the diverse features of the Gospel narratives.
"And this voice we ourselves heard come out of heaven, when we were with Him in the holy mount." We learn here why the Apostles were taken with Jesus to witness His transfiguration. Just before that event we find [Matthew 16:21;, Mark 8:31;, Luke 9:22] it recorded by each of the Synoptists that Jesus had begun to show unto His disciples how He must suffer and die at Jerusalem. To Peter, who, as at other times, was the mouthpiece of the rest, such a declaration was unacceptable; but at his expression of displeasure he met the rebuke, "Get thee behind Me, Satan." He, and the rest with him, felt no doubt that such a death as Jesus had spoken of would be, humanly speaking, the ruin of their hopes. What these hopes were they did not formulate, but we can learn their character from some of their questionings. Now, on the top of Tabor, these three representatives of the apostolic band behold Moses and Elias appearing in glory, and Christ glorified more than they; and the subject of which they spake was the very death of which they had so disliked to hear: the decease which He was about to accomplish ( πληρουν) in Jerusalem. [Luke 9:31] The verb which the Evangelist uses tells of the fulfillment of a prescribed course, and thus St. Peter was taught, and the rest with him, to speak of that death afterwards as he does in his former letter. "Christ was verily foreordained" to this redeeming work "before the foundation of the world." They heard that He who was to die was the very Son of God. The voice came from the glory of heaven; and from henceforth their hearts were still, even Peter’s voice being less heard than before. Down from the mountain they brought much illumination, much solemn pondering. We can feel why it was that "they held their peace, and told no man in those days any of the things which they had seen"; we can feel, too, that from henceforth the scene of this vision would be the holy mount. God’s voice had been heard there attesting the Divinity of their Lord and Master; the place whereon they had thus stood was forevermore Holy Ground.