As I was waiting in the grocery line recently, the annual magazine featuring the question: “Who is Jesus?” caught my attention. N. T. Wright observes that these special edition magazines indicate that fascination with the Jesus question is alive and well (Wright 2019, 175). But instead of falling for sensationalistic journalism, I encourage you to turn your attention to the truth of the Gospels this Lenten season as they authoritatively answer this salient question.
At the turning point in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up a high mountain (possibly Mount Hermon, see picture) where they catch a glimpse of his identity (Luke 9:28-36; Stein 1992, 287). For the attentive reader, the Transfiguration features significant Old Testament connections that paint a vivid picture of Jesus. In what follows, I will highlight four key Old Testament links that help us grasp Jesus’ identity and mission.
New Moses (v. 29)
First, Luke 9:28 says that “as he (Jesus) was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white” (v. 29 ESV). This depiction echoes Exodus 34:29-35 which states that Moses’ appearance “shone because he had been talking with God” (Stein 1992, 284; Ex 34:29 ESV). By comparing Moses’ and Jesus’ experiences on the mountains, Luke wants the reader to see that Jesus is both like and unlike Moses in important ways—Moses only “reflected” God’s presence, Jesus is God himself (Beale and Gladd 2020, 115).
New Exodus (vv. 30-31)
Next, Luke says that “Those who appeared (Moses and Elijah) in glory were speaking of his exodus, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31 My Translation). Not only do these Galilean fishermen catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, but they also hear him converse with central characters of their Scriptures about the event that would transpire in Jerusalem. Most English translations render the Greek word, exodos, as “departure.” Although the term can simply refer to one’s death (Liefeld 1984, 927), in this context there is a clear connection to the Exodus in the Old Testament (Liefeld 1984, 927). With the backdrop of the new Moses motif, it makes theological sense to understand Jesus as leading a “new exodus“ (Carson 2018, 1845).
Jesus leads his people out of spiritual “bondage” through his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension (Stein 1992, 284-285; Carson, 2018, 1845).
New Sinai (v. 34)
Third, as Peter offered to construct shelters (the Greek term can be translated tabernacles), the text says that “a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud” (Luke 9:34 ESV). When Moses was on Sinai “the cloud covered the mountain” (Ex 24:15 ESV). The text also says, “Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain” (Ex 24:18 ESV). Note that Luke not only describes the cloud as “overshadowing” the group, but that “they entered the cloud.” This is a clear allusion to God’s divine presence on Mount Sinai.
It is also worth noting that Luke describes the cloud with the property of “overshadowing.” This same Greek term is featured in Exodus 40:35. “And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (ESV). Just as the cloud is the sign of God’s presence at Sinai and in the Tabernacle, it is also the sign of God’s presence on Hermon (Pao and Schnabel 2007, 311).
Suffering-Servant King (v. 35)
Fourth, God speaks from the cloud, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him” (Luke 9:35 ESV). Each phrase in the Father’s declaration has significant connections to the Old Testament.
Sonship language in the Old Testament often strikes a royal tone. One of the most significant sonship references is found in Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you” (ESV). The New Testament frequently draws upon this royal Psalm to refer to Jesus. This Psalm finds its fulfillment in the person of Jesus as the true King.
In addition to the language associated with David, the language of “Chosen One” finds a connection to Isaiah 42:1. Jesus is the “Servant” who will “bring forth justice to the nations” (Is 42:1 ESV). Later descriptions of the servant in Isaiah reveal that this servant gives his life for the forgiveness of his people’s sins (Isaiah 53:7-8).
Listen to Him
Finally in Deuteronomy 18:15, the Lord promises that he would send a “prophet” in the likeness of Moses, and “it is to him you shall listen” (Deut 18:15 ESV). The call to “listen” to Jesus harkens back to the promise annunciated in Deuteronomy and reiterates the already stated concept of Jesus as a new Moses figure leading a new exodus.
What All this Means
Jesus’ ministry cannot be understood apart from the Gospels, and the rich nuances of the Gospels are missed if the Old Testament is neglected. In the Transfiguration episode, we see the convergence of many key Old Testament texts that weave together a beautiful and multifaceted tapestry of Jesus’ identity. As God incarnate, Jesus is the new Moses who leads his people out of spiritual bondage. He does so as the Servant who gives his life for the forgiveness of his people’s sins and as the resurrected King. So, who is Jesus? Allow the Gospels to amaze you with their answer this Lenten season.
If you would like to explore the connections between the Old and New Testaments, I highly recommend the following study Bible:
Carson, D. A., ed. NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018.
Beale, G. K., and Benjamin L. Gladd. The Story Retold: A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020.
Carson, D. A. “The Gospels and Acts.” In NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible, edited by D. A. Carson. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018.
Liefeld, Walter L. “Luke.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
Pao, David W., and Eckhard J. Schnabel. “Luke.” In Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 251–403. Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007.
Stein, Robert H. Luke. Vol. 24. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992.
Wright, N. T., and Michael F. Bird. The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019.
Cross References from Nestle, Eberhard, Erwin Nestle, Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger. The Greek New Testament. 28th ed. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2015.
About the Author
Tucker Anderson has served at Calvary Church since 2015. He is a graduate of Bethel Seminary and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His passion is helping people develop a biblical worldview by understanding the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament.