10 May 2014

2 Peter 1:16-18

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” (vv. 16-17)


Eyewitness testimony was important in the ancient Near East. In Jewish law cases judges often required the testimony of two male eyewitnesses before making a decision. This may be the reason that the author of 2 Peter uses the plural pronoun "we" in verse 16. The readers of the epistle can trust the good news about Jesus Christ because it comes from eyewitness testimony. The writer and his coworkers were eyewitnesses to the "majesty" of Jesus Christ's living power and transforming work among them. What they convey is not a fairy tale or a myth, but an account of God's majesty in Jesus Christ. As John Wesley wrote in his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament: "But if what they advanced of Christ was not true, if it was of their own invention, then to impose such a lie on the world as it was ... was the greatest folly that men could have been guilty of." The gospel (good news about Jesus) they preached was not a supreme lie, but the truth for which they would risk their lives.

The specific reference to the transfiguration of Jesus Christ in verses 17 and 18 is significant. The author recounts the transfiguration, in which the "glory" of Christ was revealed to Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:1-9). In the story of the transfiguration, the three companions of Jesus saw their teacher's appearance change as "his face shone like the sun, and his clothing became dazzling white" (Matthew 17:2). Then Moses and Elijah appeared and conversed with Jesus (Matthew 17:3). The disciples were witnesses to the honour and glory given to Jesus by God the Father. They heard the great voice saying, "This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" (Matthew 17:5). The experience overwhelmed the disciples, whose awe and fear are highlighted in the text (Matthew 17:6).

The general tradition about the transfiguration is it foreshadows two events. The first is the resurrection of Jesus (see A Word in Time for 2 March 2014), the event in which the early Christians would invest their hope. The transfiguration also points to the majesty the world will see when he comes again in glory. The readers of 2 Peter can look forward to the day when Christ will vindicate their suffering. They will see him in his glory, as Peter, James, and John saw him on the holy mountain. Such promises would reassure a vulnerable community of believers that the writer's message of salvation is trustworthy. The passage encourages the readers to persevere as faithful witnesses so they may share in the glory of Christ.

To Ponder

  • What does the word 'glory' mean to you?
  • How important is it to you that the biblical texts are written by eyewitnesses to Jesus?
  • What experiences have profoundly transformed your life?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Cindy Wesley

Cindy Wesley is the director of studies at Wesley House in Cambridge. She is responsible for the life of the chapel and for advising students about their courses and modules.