The gospel of God (Matthew 17:5)

Recognize God’s gospel?

Did God announce the gospel? What does it sound like when he proclaims it? God’s gospel is a thing (Mark 1:14; Romans 1:1; 15:16; 2 Corinthians 11:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 8-9; 1 Peter 4:17).

If you think the gospel is God making a statement about you (“I forgive your personal sins” or “I justify you”), then God didn’t. But if the good news is God’s appointment of Jesus as Lord, this is God proclaiming the gospel:

Matthew 17 5 And a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (NIV)

This is God’s gospel, his joyful announcement of rescuing the world from oppression under sin and death to be his kingdom, formed in the Son he loves, a world reunified in the leader God was pleased to appoint.

Actually, the transfiguration was a limited preview of God’s gospel announcement. Jesus still had to face the cross before God’s big announcement to the world:

Matthew 17 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Jesus used the language of Daniel 7. It’s unsafe to be like a son of man (a human) in a world where rulers come to power by tearing each other apart like beasts (animals). Daniel was referring to foreign rulers crushing God’s people, but Jesus applied it to the Jerusalem rulers killing God’s anointed (16:21). So, Jesus understands that the son of man must be raised from the dead if earth’s enduring sovereign (the Ancient of Days) is to give him the kingdom.

So, the transfiguration was a preview of God’s gospel. The audience was limited to a few who already recognized Jesus as the Son anointed to reign with his Father’s authority (16:16). And Jesus placed them under an NDA until God made his gospel announcement to the world — by raising him from the dead.

The resurrection is God’s big gospel announcement to the world, God’s good news proclamation of his Son as our Lord. That’s how Romans 1:1-4 introduces God’s gospel:

the gospel of God … regarding his Son … who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord [i.e. King Jesus our ruler].

Peter recognized Jesus as Lord, and he was eager to serve his king. He offered to erect shelters for the king and his guests. A king who wanted to be served might have felt honoured by such a suggestion. But it’s rather comical to offer shade to a king who is shining like the sun (17:2).

God’s people hadn’t listened. They hadn’t listened to Moses. Or Elijah. “You must listen to him,” said Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). “Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation” repeated the prophets (Isaiah 51:4).

To listen to a king is to heed him, to recognize his authority and live as the community under his kingship.

“Listen to him” is God’s gospel call. Recognizing our king is what changes our status:

Romans 10:9–13
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”  12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile — the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 

God’s gospel is not a proclamation of our failure before him (our sinfulness). It is the proclamation of his Son as our ruler, with the call, “Listen to him!” This is the gospel we’re called to proclaim.

Our status changes as we return to God by recognizing and heeding his anointed. In trusting his Christ with our allegiance, we enter life under his kingship. In participating in the life of the Son he loves, we find ourselves in the one who pleases the Father. It is no longer I who live, but the transformative life of God’s anointed in me (Galatians 2:20).

There’s no better news for the world than God’s gospel. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests (Luke 2:14).

Open Matthew 17:5.

What others are saying

Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 123–124 (emphasis original):

resurrection … also means at the same time the transfiguration of the humiliated and crucified Jesus into the glory of God. Transfiguration means both a glorifying and a transformation.

The story of the transfiguration in the synoptic gospels (Mark 9:2–9; Matt. 17:1–9; Luke 9:28–36) describes what is meant by the word. The story of what happened on the mountain is to be understood as something that anticipates the disciples’ Easter experience. The glorification of Jesus in the eternal presence of God is told in the form of a theophany. His form begins to shine in a supernatural light.

Paul tells us what is meant by transformation in Philippians 3:21, when he says that ‘our lowly body will be like his (Christ’s) glorious body’. What is meant is a change in the body’s form: a change from the form of humility, marked by sin and death, to the form of glory, liberated from sin and death, marked by the inexhaustible, creative livingness of God. Resurrection is therefore either to be understood as Christ’s bodily metamorphosis, or it is not understandable at all. The Old Testament idea of the resurrection of the dead already resists every form of spiritualizing reinterpretation. The eschatological ‘work’ of the Holy Spirit is physical resurrection, physical transfiguration, and transformation of the physical form of existence. It is from the transfigured humanity of the risen Christ that the Holy Spirit proceeds. It is through this that the Spirit is mediated. The One who is physically transfigured, transfigures physically, as the first-born, his brothers and sisters, who are made in the same form as himself.

The expression glorification is also used for Christ’s resurrection, by John especially: the raising of Jesus from the dead is his glorification in a twofold way. He is exalted to be Lord of the dawning kingdom of God; and he is transfigured into the Lord of the coming glory of God (1 Cor. 2:8). The coming glory of God therefore already shines on the face of Christ, lighting up the hearts of men and women, as the light shone in darkness on the first day of creation (2 Cor. 4:6). God the Father glorifies Christ the Son through his resurrection, while the Son glorifies the Father through his obedience and his self-surrender. The event of their mutual glorification is the work of the Holy Spirit.

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Author: Allen Browne

Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia

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