The Transformation of Jesus to the Christ

In my last post, I wrote about how the disciples and Paul knew Jesus was the Christ, the son of God. Both the disciples and Paul knew Jesus was the Christ, not from knowledge of scripture, but by revelation from the Father who is in heaven. This leads us to another question.

What does it mean that  to know that Jesus is the Christ?

To know Jesus as the Christ means that we know Jesus as he really is. In other words, we know Jesus’ true self. To know Jesus as the Christ means we no longer know him as a poor Jewish man considered to be a rabbi who lived 2,000 years ago in the Roman empire. Instead of seeing Jesus, we see the Christ in whom is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, rich nor poor. Jesus’ true self was none of these things. His true self was the Christ. The Christ is the image of God. The Christ is exact representation of God’s character and nature. The Christ is the son of God.

In 2 Corinthians 5.16, Paul said, “Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” To say that we once knew Christ according to the flesh is to say that we once knew Christ as Jesus. But, we no longer know Christ by the flesh, by Jesus. We now know Christ as the true self hidden behind or under the flesh of Jesus.

What does it mean that the flesh, Jesus, hid the true self, Christ?

We have tended to think of the flesh as the natural, physical body as opposed to the spirit our soul of a person. However, I believe this makes a mess of what Paul meant and what all scripture, all sacred text (Jewish, Christian, or otherwise) actually is trying to say.

The flesh is our personality. It is our view of the world that has been shaped by nature and nurture, genetics and the events that have happened to us. While I don’t have the space of skill to go through it all, in some sense, the flesh is a combination of the defense mechanisms that we have built up to protect ourselves from the world around us.

In Philippians 2, the Christ took the form of a slave and the likeness of a man. That’s not what the Christ truly was. Rather, the Christ took the form of Jesus. Or, as John 1 says, the Word, which is to say the Christ, became flesh, which is to Jesus the person or personality we know as Jesus, and dwelt among us.

Therefore, to know Jesus as the Christ the personality, the flesh, that is Jesus has to be removed. When Jesus is removed, then we know the Christ. When we no longer see a poor, Jewish man, then we see the Christ.

How is that we no longer see Christ after the flesh?

How is it that we see no longer Jesus but the Christ?

Jesus was transformed or transfigured.

The personality, the flesh, of Jesus was transformed into the Christ.

In my last post about the disciples knowing Jesus as the Christ, I focused on Matthew 16..13-20. In this passage, Jesus asked the disciples who he was. Peter answered, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said Peter was blessed because the Father in heaven, not flesh and blood, had revealed this to him.

But, look at what happens next.

It was from the moment that the disciples declared that Jesus was the Christ that Jesus began to teach them that he had to go to Jerusalem, suffer, be killed, and rise on the third day (Matthew 16.21-23). It’s fascinating that Jesus never taught this to the disciples until they could declare that he was the Christ.

However, Peter refused to accept this. He rebuked Jesus for saying that he had to suffer, be killed, and rise on the third day. Peter thought that this could not be true of the Messiah, the Christ, the son of God. Of course, Jesus corrected Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Immediately after this (Matthew 16.24-28), Jesus told the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” In other words, if you wan to follow Jesus, then you are going to have to go through the same thing that Jesus went through.

The very next thing in Matthew is the transformation or transfiguration of Jesus. Matthew 17.2-5 says, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here, If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and Elijah.’ He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.'”

Jesus was transfigured or transformed. To be transformed means to change in composition or structure, to change the outward form or appearance of, to change in character or condition. In Matthew 17, Jesus was changed into a face that shone like the sun with clothes that became white as light. Jesus told Peter, James, and John not to speak of this vision until he was raised from the dead. I take this to mean that what is described is not literal but metaphorical, symbolic.

What does it mean that Jesus was transformed into a face shining like the sun with clothes as white as light?

I believe it means that the disciples got a vision, a foretaste of Jesus as his true self, the Christ, before he actually went through his transformation. The personality of Jesus was removed and they saw the Christ, the amazingly bright, pure light of God that had been hidden underneath the personality of Jesus. The poor, Jewish man had been removed and the Christ shined forth.

Peter, James, and John had conceived of Jesus as a rabbi, a teacher, of the law and prophets. Hence, in the vision of transformation Moses and Elijah appear. But, Jesus was not this personality. So, when the three disciples try to fix Jesus as a rabbi and teacher of Jewish law, Moses and Elijah disappear. The personality of Jesus was removed so that the disciples could see the true self, the Christ, hidden behind Jesus. Therefore, the voice from the cloud tells the three disciples to listen not to the Jewish rabbi that they knew but his son with whom he was well pleased.

The transformation of Jesus to the Christ came about through his suffering, death, and resurrection. This had to happen so that everyone could know Jesus the poor, Jewish man as the Christ, the son of God. This is what Jesus was trying to tell the disciples once they had identified him as the Christ. But, even though the disciples had identified Jesus as the Christ, they rebuked Jesus for it. They didn’t want Jesus to be transformed. This is why Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan.” It is the accuser (Think our ego) that doesn’t want our personality, our defense mechanisms, to be killed so that our true self can come through. Again, this is why Jesus said the disciples were not about the things of God but the things of man.

Jesus also told the disciples that just as he had to suffer, die, and rise from the dead, which is to say be transformed, that they would to if they wanted to follow him. To be transformed like Jesus to the Christ was the only way to truly follow Jesus.

We once knew Jesus after the flesh, the personality, as poor, Jewish man that was a rabbi. But, now we know him that way no longer. Instead, we know him as the Christ, the son of God.

Jesus was transformed into the Christ through his suffering, death, and resurrection.

How Did the Disciples and Paul Know that Jesus Was the Christ?

In my last few posts, I have written about the distinction between Jesus and Christ in the gospels. While the gospels seem to be about Jesus, they are ultimately accounts about Jesus as the Christ.

How did the disciples come to know that Jesus was the Christ?

The letters of the New Testament focus almost exclusively on the Christ. Even when the name Jesus is used it is tied to the Christ. Most of these letters were written by Paul, who was thoroughly trained in the scriptures.

How did Paul come to know that Jesus was the Christ?

Let’s start with the disciples.

As is commonly known, the disciples were not men studying to become rabbis. In other words, they were not students of the law and the prophets, which is to say the scriptures. Instead, the disciples were uneducated men. Acts 4.13 says that the rulers, scribes, and elders “perceived that they [specifically Peter and John in this case] were uneducated, common men.” While we don’t know what each disciple did, some were fishermen, another was a tax collector, and another was a zealot, which was not a profession per se but did describe what Simon was about perhaps is closest to some political activists today.

So, if Jesus’ disciples were not students of the scriptures, then how did they come to know Jesus as the Christ?

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus asks the disciples, “But, who do you say that I am?” But, I want to focus on the account in Matthew 16. Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Was Peter able to name Jesus as the Christ because he had read the scriptures and logically reasoned out that Jesus was the Christ that the law and the prophets had foretold would rescue Israel from its exile?

Was Peter able to name Jesus as the Christ because he had a teacher who instructed him in the idea and belief that Jesus was the Christ?

The answer to both questions is no.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”

Flesh and blood means that no person revealed to Peter and the other disciples that Jesus was the Christ. Further, I think we can understand Jesus as saying that nothing that flesh and blood has done, including writing the scriptures, revealed to the disciples that Jesus was the Christ.

I believe we are safe in taking Jesus’ statement this far because in John 5.39-40 Jesus said to students of scripture, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The scriptures indeed bear witness about Jesus as the Christ, but the scriptures do not reveal Jesus as the Christ to you. For the only way to see Jesus as the Christ in the scriptures, which in the Bible means the Old Testament, is to have already had Jesus revealed to you as the Christ.

Matthew specifically records Jesus saying that it was not flesh and blood that revealed Jesus as the Christ, but it was the Father who is in heaven revealed this to the disciples. Jesus elsewhere says that the kingdom of heaven is within you. So, the Father that reveals Jesus as the Christ was in the disciples. And, if it wasn’t flesh and blood that brought about this revelation then it must have been spirit, or the Spirit. That the Spirit is the one who reveals Jesus as the Christ to the disciples fits with many other scriptures where Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will be our teacher who will bring to our remembrance everything Jesus said and no one is need of a teacher because they have the Holy Spirit. And, the Holy Spirit speaks of Christ only.

So, the disciples had Jesus revealed to them as the Christ by the Holy Spirit not the scriptures or the Bible.

It was only after this revelation that they were able to go back to the scriptures and see where they prophesied about the Christ (see Luke 24).

Interestingly, the disciples’ revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, occurred in Caesarea Philippi. Notice the word caesar there? That’s because the city received this name in AD 14 in honor of August Caesar. It was at this time that Caesar Augustus’ image was put on coin with the title “Son of God” on it. So, do you think that the revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the son of God, taking place in Caesarea Philippi has special significance? I sure do.

Surely, it must have been different for Paul who was a great student of the scriptures. If anyone could have reasoned Christ from the scriptures it would have been Paul. In Philippians 3.4-6, Paul said, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law blameless.” Surely, if anyone could have known the Christ through flesh and blood and the scriptures then it would have been Paul.

Yet, Paul was admits that flesh and blood caused him to be nothing but a persecutor of the church, which Paul understood to mean that he was a persecutor of Jesus Christ himself.

So, if all of Paul’s scripture knowledge did not reveal Jesus as the Christ, then how did Paul know that Jesus was the Christ?

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.” (Galatians 1.11-17)

How was Jesus revealed as the Christ, the son of God, to Paul?

It pleased the Father to reveal the Christ, his Son, to Paul. Once again, the Father revealed Jesus as the Christ.

Further, Paul says that what he preached, Jesus as the Christ, was not man’s gospel. Paul did not receive this revelation from any man.

Nor was Paul taught this revelation of Jesus as the Christ. Paul studied in Gamaliel, one of the most famous rabbis in Israel. Yet, despite all of Gamaliel’s scripture knowledge, he did not teach Paul that Jesus was the Christ. Paul did not learn that Jesus was the Christ from scripture. In fact, because of his scripture knowledge, which only puffed Paul up with pride, Paul became a persecutor of the church and the Christ. Despite what many Christians believe, scripture knowledge without a prior revelation of the Christ by the Holy Spirit leaves us proud and zealous, persecutors of those who truly know the Christ.

To receive revelation of Jesus as the Christ, Paul did not consult with anyone. Again, no man, no flesh and blood can cause you to know Jesus as the Christ. Nor did Paul go to Jerusalem to see the apostles. Going to the religious center of the world to learn from who already knew Jesus as the Christ was not have Jesus was revealed to Paul as the Christ.

What did Paul do instead?

He went away to Arabia. Paul went into the desert. He went into what is a dry and lonely place. It was in this dry, lonely place that Paul could clearly hear from God that Jesus was the Christ. Interestingly, Paul went to Arabia. There are some that believe this means that Paul went to Mt Sinai where the law was given. Why would Paul go there? He went deep into the place that his whole life was based upon and he allowed God to turn it upside down.

So, Jesus is revealed as the Christ by the Father in heaven through the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts.

This revelation does not come through scripture. In fact, it is only after this revelation has occurred within us that we are able to see Jesus as the Christ in scripture. The New Testament, which we call scripture, reveals that those who rely on scripture without this prior Holy Spirit revelation of Jesus as the Christ become persecutors of the church, who are those to whom the Holy Spirit has revealed Jesus as the Christ.