A mosaic in the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in Israel illustrates the transfiguration of Jesus as told in Luke’s Gospel. Photo by Itamar Grinberg/Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: Dominion and glory belong to the Lord

  • August 3, 2023

Transfiguration of the Lord  (Year A) Aug. 6 (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 97; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Matthew 17:1-9) 

Violent and frightening times always give birth to new theologies, and the time of the Maccabean War in the second century B.C. was no exception. The people of Judea were being persecuted by the Seleucid Greeks of Syria, who sought to obliterate the Jewish religion, customs and traditions. Many were dying for their faith while others were more than happy to serve their new overlords.

This resulted in a crisis among the persecuted. They asked, “Is God with us or not? If God is, where is He? Why do we suffer so?” This question has often been asked throughout history, even in our own day. Daniel’s vision was in part an answer to these doubts. The vision of the Ancient of Days — God — was overwhelming. This figure radiated absolute power and glory and there was no doubt as to who was in charge and who would judge the world.

But a second figure entered the vision — one like “a son of man” — in other words, a human being. He was given dominion, glory and kingship. The expectation was that all peoples, nations and languages should serve him since he was the emissary or delegate of the Ancient of Days. As the vision continued later in the chapter, the one like a son of man destroyed the evil powers and restored the sovereignty of God.

The message was clear: stand fast, have courage, be faithful — God will set things right.

This image of the Son of Man was applied to the person of Jesus in the New Testament. It was the term Jesus used when speaking of Himself. Various verses spoke of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven to judge the living and dead. To the early Christians, it was very clear that Jesus was the one to whom the world would answer. It is very easy to be held captive by the negative images that bombard us daily. But despair is not an option. Negative forces might run amok for a time, but their days are always numbered. We should always remember to whom dominion and glory belong. 

This was confirmed by Peter in his letter — he was a witness to the honour, power and glory of Christ on the mountaintop. He heard the voice of God confirming Jesus’ status as God’s beloved son. Peter exhorted his readers to remain focused on the message delivered on that mountain and to treat it as a “lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The morning star rising in the heart is the awareness of the Lord’s presence that results from a personal encounter with Jesus.  

Some of that glory and power described by Peter was manifested in the transfiguration of Jesus. Surrounded by dazzling white light, Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah, signifying that His mission was in continuity with theirs. For a brief period of time, Jesus became utterly transparent allowing them to perceive His divinity. Peter, James and John were stunned, and Peter blurted out that they should build three dwellings or shrines on the spot in honour of the three radiant figures. But this was not only an external event, for this encounter with the light was what Peter alluded to in his letter. We are all meant to experience it.

After hearing the voice of God affirm Jesus as the beloved son, the Apostles were frightened out of their wits. Jesus had to calm their fears and order them to get up. There was work to be done, for this extraordinary event was in the context of His mission of redemption. It was not for show, and He had to warn them to remain silent about it until His mission was complete.

The Eastern Churches speak of the divinization of the believer by means of one’s encounter with Christ and the work of the Spirit. There is no need for commemorative plaques or shrines beyond our own Christ-centred lives.