DMin Course - PW 813

NT Testament Exegesis & Sermon Design

Dr. John Alsup

Exegesis Notes - Matthew 17.1-9




A. Comparison of texts: One key word is the different translations of "dwellings" - shelter, tents. Whatever the case, it appears to be some structure of sorts. Tent (or tabernacle) in the OT was symbolic of God's presence. Nearly all texts use the word "vision" in verse 9.

B. Textual Criticism: v. 6 oi maJhtai epesan epi proswpon - "the disciples fell to the ground" while other translations render it more accurately "fell on their faces." This is an interesting word used here because we don't usually associate worship with fear, as it says, kai ejobhJhsan sjodra - "and they were overcome by fear."

C. Rough Translation of text: 1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he changed in appearance right in front of them, and his face shone like the sun, and 9 his garments became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with them. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord it is good for us to be here; if you want, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covered them with a shadow, and from the cloud came a voice saying, "This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him." 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground on their faces and were overcome with fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, and said, "Stand up and don't be afraid." 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus by himself. 9 While they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the son of man has been raised from the dead."


A. Genre: This is clearly a narrative form of probably an old story or stories. It has OT parallels with both Moses and Elijah. The story shares common elements in these OT narratives. Therefore, it seems, that Matthew is using a familiar story to his audience and applying it to Jesus, rather than Moses or Elijah. And he gives it a rather peculiar twist - instead of retelling these stories, he merely has them present in his retelling of the story centered not on them but on Jesus.

B. Personal interaction/questions & observations: Then the question for me is why Matthew would retell this story. What is her trying to convey to his readers about Jesus? Why does he use similar language that we read in the baptism narrative? Is this another commissioning?

C. Organization: This story should not be taken as an historical event, as is a common tendency. If it is taken literally, it isn't consistent with the previous and following pericopes. Rather, I think Matthew inserts this story as an affirmation of the messianic hopes fulfilled in Jesus.


A. Immediate context - preceding/following pericope: The context of this story is important in understanding - or at least trying to understand - its meaning. Based on its situation in the text, it appears that Matthew is instructing the disciples. The transfiguration is found in between two pericopes about the impending death and suffering at Jerusalem (16.21 and 17.12). This journey that begins in Caeserea Philippi (16.13) and ends with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (21.2) is the setting for the gospel narrative that is about Jesus' journey towards death. And this is not just any death, but it is the death that will define who he is and also the life of discipleship.

B. Organization of the whole: At first glance it might seem that this story does not fit within the gospel texts surrounding it, but its placement here can be interpreted in at least two ways. First, in the midst of the texts about suffering, the story of Jesus' glory foreshadows the resurrection triumph. Second, it affirms Jesus' connection with the history of biblical faith (Moses & Elijah) and how God's promise of deliverance will once again be revealed in Jesus.

C. Issues of authorship: Matthew retells this old familiar story with Jesus as its center and connects it the Jewish faith tradition in the persons of Moses and Elijah. This is not to say that Matthew presents a typology with these two, but merely connects Jesus as messiah with the OT faith and hope.


A. Primitive Christianity: This story is found in both Mark and Luke, and in 2 Peter. Mark's gospel doesn't say that they fell down and worshiped him. Luke's gospel doesn't have them falling asleep and differs in other details. 2 Peter mentions the story almost parenthetically in reference to Peter's witness to the glory of God revealed in Jesus.

B. Old Testament & Judaism: As mentioned above, this story has parallels with stories about Moses and Elijah. This story connects Jesus with these OT characters and thus to the history of God's working through his chosen ones.

C. Hellenistic World: It was typical to associate great leaders with deity. Roman rulers were often given divine titles and in some instances demanded allegiance. This would create competition with rulers. Jesus appears as one sent from God, and as one called the son of God.


A. Summary of salient features: This story lies in the middle of passages that deal with the ministry of Jesus and his impending journey toward Jerusalem, and thus his impending crucifixion. Nestled in this context, this story can mean that God will glorify Jesus in this death. At the same time, the allusions to Moses and Elijah remind us of God's work of salvation and deliverance. What is ironic in this gospel is that both are accomplished in the death of Christ. Of course, there is also foreshadowing of how this death is glorified - in the resurrection.

B. Smooth translation: Another we can see this in our own contexts is varied. We can know that in the midst of our discipleship, God's deliverance is with us in Christ. We can also know that in the ordinary experiences of life, God's presence comes to us in both mysterious and glorious ways, ways we cannot always explain. There is an element of mystery in this story in the ways that it stands on its own in the text and how it leaves one asking questions, or perhaps as the witnesses may have asked, "What just happened here?"

C. Hermeneutical bridge: Therein lies the bridge for us. God's mysteries are still being revealed to us today. In ways we cannot explain, God comes to us in ordinary events and reveals the extraordinary. The ways we witness and experience this allows us to be encouraged. Perhaps only in hindsight, we can know that we truly been in the presence of God. This presence transforms us - even transfigures us - into something we were not and allows us to go into the future renewed by God's mysterious moving in our midst.


A. Description of audience: This text falls on the last Sunday before the Lenten season, a time of reflection and penance. In the midst of the solemnity of the season, this text reminds us of the glory that is yet to be revealed, and better still, how it is being revealed in the here and now for us. It reminds us that in death and in life, God is with us and gives us glimpses of his mystery and glory.

B. Intended goals for the address: This sermon can be a good lead in for Lent by reminding the people that the season, though solemn and reflection, is also about God's glory in the Christ of Easter.

C. The Address