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.