The Transfiguration of Christ -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 124:494 (Apr 1967)
Article: The Transfiguration of Christ
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

The Transfiguration of Christ

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

[S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., Professor, New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

The transfiguration of Jesus Christ is one of the most astonishing and perplexing of his earthly experiences. It is the one occasion in which the bright beams of His divine glory blazed through the sackcloth covering of His humanity. It is somewhat strange, then, that commentators and preachers, usually gushing blethers, have become as Peter who “wist not what to say” (Mark 9:6).

It is also surprising to discover the omission of the theological significance of the transfiguration in the standard systematic theologies. This fact I discovered through personal experience some years ago. During a series of meetings for the ministry of the Word in the state of Pennsylvania, I had occasion to do some of my first work on this event, I asked permission of the pastor of the church in which the meetings were being held to use his very fine library, in which were a number of the standard sets, such as those of Charles Hodge, William G. T. Shedd, A. H. Strong, and others. I was not a little chagrined to learn that the transfiguration was almost completely neglected. Not a single one of the authors I consulted discussed the theological significance of that event. I was particularly embarrassed to find out that the systematic theology of Lewis Sperry Chafer, one of my own teachers, contained only unimportant references to the event and no real treatment of it. Not long ago I made mention of my experience in Pennsylvania to a group of earnest Christians in a home Bible class in Dallas, and after the meeting one of the couples came to me and said that, although they had been members of evangelical churches for years, they had thought that the word transfiguration referred to the ascension of Christ! They added that they had never heard a sermon on the event, a sentiment that I have heard expressed many times after I have preached on the subject.

It is only natural, then, to wonder a little at this neglect. Why has so little attention been given to the transfiguration? Perhaps, in the first place, it has not been thought to be as vital an event as the other crises in His life on the earth. I think that all students of His life will agree to some extent with this opinion. The transfiguration is surely not as vital as the death and resurrection of Christ. Nor can we accord it the same significance as the incarnation. I am not so sure, however, that it is not as important as the temptation, and I think it is definitely as vital as the ascension. I cannot believe, therefore, that the unimportance of t...

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