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THE HIGH-POINT IN THE GOSPEL-HISTORY.
(St. Matt. xvii. 1-8; St. Mark ix. 2–8; St. Luke ix. 28–36.)
The great confession of Peter, as the representative Apostle, had laid the ons of the Church as such. In contradistinction to the varying opinions of even the best disposed towards Christ, it openly declared that Jesus was the Very Christ of God, the fulfilment of all Old Testament prophecy, the heir of Old Testament promise, the realisation of the Old Testament hope for Israel, and, in Israel, for all mankind. Without this confession, Christians might have been a Jewish sect, a religious party, or a school of thought, and Jesus a Teacher, Rabbi, Reformer, or Leader of men. But the confession which marked Jesus as the Christ, also constituted His followers the Church. It separated them, as it separated Him, from all around; it gathered them into One, even Christ; and it marked out the foundation on which the building made without hands was to rise. Never was illustrative answer so exact as this: On this Rock' -bold, outstanding, well-defined, immovable—will I build My Church.'
Without doubt this confession also marked the high-point of the Apostles' faith. Never afterwards, till His Resurrection, did it reach so high. Nay, what followed seems rather a retrogression from it: beginning with their unwillingness to receive the announcement of His Decease, and ending with their unreadiness to share His sufferings or to believe in His Resurrection. And if we realise the circumstances, we shall understand, at least, their initial difficulties. Their highest faith had been followed by the most crushing disappointment; the confession that He was the Christ, by the announcement of His approaching Sufferings and Death at Jerusalem. The proclamation that He was the Divine Messiah had not been met by promises of the near glory of the Messianic Kingdom, but by announcements of certain, public rejection and seeming terrible
defeat. Such possibilities had not seriously entered into their thoughts of the Messiah ; and the declaration of the very worst, and that in the near future, made at such a moment, must have been a staggering blow to all their hopes. It was as if they had reached the topmost height, only to be hurled thence into the lowest depth.
On the other hand, it was necessary that at this stage in the History of the Christ, and immediately after His proclamation, the sufferings and the rejection of the Messiah should be prominently brought forward. It was needful for the Apostles, as the remonstrance of Peter showed; and, with reverence be it added, it was needful for the Lord Himself, as even His words to Peter seem to imply: 'Get thee behind Me; thou art a stumbling-block unto Me.' For—as we have said—was not the remonstrance of the disciple in measure a re-enactment of the great initial Temptation by Satan after the forty days' fast in the wilderness? And, in view of all this, and of what immediately afterwards followed, we venture to say, ,
it was fitting that an interval of six' days should intervene, or, as St. Luke puts it, including the day of Peter's confession and the night of Christ's Transfiguration, "about eight days.' The chronicle of these days is significantly left blank in the Gospels, but we cannot doubt, that it was filled up with thoughts and teaching concerning that Decease, leading up to the revelation on the Mount of Transfiguration.
There are other blanks in the narrative besides that just referred to. We shall try to fill them up, as best we can. Perhaps it was the Sabbath when Peter's great confession was made; and the six days' of St. Matthew and St. Mark become the “about eight days' of St. Luke, when we reckon from that Sabbath to the close of another, and suppose that at even the Saviour ascended the Mount of Transfiguration with the three Apostles: Peter, James, and John. There can scarcely be a reasonable doubt, that Christ and His disciples had not left the neighbourhood of Cæsarea,' and hence, that “the mountain' must have been one of the slopes of gigantic, snowy Hermon. In that quiet semi-Gentile retreat of Cæsarea Philippi could He best teach them, and they best learn, without interruption or temptation from Pharisees and Scribes, that terrible mystery of His Suffering. And on that gigantic mountain barrier which divided Jewish and
| According to an old tradition, Christ had left Cæsarea Philippi, and the scene of the Transfiguration was Mount Tabor. But (1) there is no notice of His de. parture, such as is generally made by St. Mark;(2) on the contrary, it is mentioned
by St. Mark as after the Transfiguration (ix. 30); (3) Mount Tabor was at that time crowned with a fortified city, which would render it unsuitable for the scene of the Transfiguration.
THE ASCENT OF MOUNT HERMON.
Gentile lands, and while surveying, as Moses of old, the land to be occupied in all its extent, amidst the solemn solitude and majestic grandeur of Hermon, did it seem most fitting that the Divine attestation should be given, both by anticipatory fact and declaratory word, to the proclamation that He was the Messiah, and to this, that, in a world that is in the power of sin and Satan, God's Elect must suffer, that so, by ransoming, He may conquer it to God. But what a background, here, for the Transfiguration; what surroundings for the Vision, what echoes for the Voice from heaven!
It was evening,' and, as we have suggested, the evening after the Sabbath, when the Master and those three of His disciples, linked closest to Him in heart and thought, climbed the path that led up to one of the heights of Hermon. In all the most solemn transactions of earth's history, there has been this selection and separation of the few to witness God's great doings. Alone with his son, as the destined sacrifice, did Abraham climb Moriah ; alone did Moses behold, amid the awful loneliness of the wilderness, the burning bush, and alone on Sinai's height did he commune with God; alone was Elijah at Horeb, and with no other companion to view it than Elisha did he ascend into heaven. But Jesus, the Saviour of His people, could not be quite alone, save in those innermost transactions of His soul : in the great contest of His first Temptation, and in the solitary communings of His heart with God. These are mysteries which the outspread wings of Angels, as reverently they hide their faces, conceal from earth's, and even heaven's, vision. But otherwise, in the most solemn turning-points of this history, Jesus could not be alone, and yet was alone with those three chosen ones, most receptive of Him, and most representative of the Church. It was so in the house of Jairus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane.
As St. Luke alone informs us, it was to pray' that Jesus took them apart up into that mountain. • To pray,' no doubt in connection with those sayings;' since their reception required quite as much the direct teaching of the Heavenly Father, as had the previous confession of Peter, of which it was, indeed, the complement, the other aspect, the twin height. And the Transfiguration, with its attendant glorified Ministry and Voice from heaven, was God's answer
to that prayer.
What has already been stated, has convinced us that it could not have been to one of the highest peaks of Hermon, as most modern
"This is implied not only in the disciples being heavy with sleep, but in the morning scene (St. Luke ix. 37) which followed.
writers suppose, that Jesus led His companions. There are three such peaks : those north and south, of about equal height (9,400 feet above the sea, and nearly 11,000 above the Jordan valley), are only 500 paces distant from each other, while the third, to the west (about 100 feet lower), is separated from the others by a narrow valley. Now, to climb the top of Hermon is, even from the nearest point, an Alpine ascent, trying and fatiguing, which would occupy a whole day (six hours in the ascent and four in the descent), and require provisions of food and water; while, from the keenness of the air, it would be impossible to spend the night on the top. To all this there is no allusion in the text, nor slightest hint of either difficulties or preparations, such as otherwise would have been required. Indeed, a contrary impression is left on the mind.
• Up into an high mountain apart,' 'to pray.' The Sabbath-sun had set, and a delicious cool hung in the summer air, as Jesus and the three commenced their ascent. From all parts of the land, far as Jerusalem or Tyre, the one great object in view all their lives must have been snow-clad Hermon. And now it stood out before them—as, to the memory of the traveller in the West, Monte Rosa or Mont Blanc?—in all the wondrous glory of a sunset : first rosecoloured, then deepening red, next “the death-like pallor, and the darkness relieved by the snow, in quick succession. From high up there, as one describes it," "a deep ruby flush came over all the scene, and warm purple shadows crept slowly on. The Sea of Galilee was lit up with a delicate greenish-yellow hue, between its dim walls of hill. The Aush died out in a few minutes, and a pale, steelcoloured shade succeeded. . . . A long pyramidal shadow slid down to the eastern foot of Hermon, and crept across the great plain ; Damascus was swallowed up by it; and finally the pointed end of the shadow stood out distinctly against the sky—a dusky cone of dull colour against the flush of the afterglow. It was the shadow of the mountain itself, stretching away for seventy miles across the plain—the most marvellous shadow perhaps to be seen anywhere. The sun underwent strange changes of shape in the thick vapoursnow almost square, now like a domed temple—until at length it slid into the sea, and went out like a blue spark.' And overhead
I Canon Tristram writes : • We were ? One of its names, Shenir (Deut. iii. before long painfully affected by the rarity 9; Cant. iv. 8; Ezek. xxvii. 5), means Mont of the atmosphere. In general, our de- Blanc. In Rabbinic writings it is desigscription is derived from Canon Tristram nated as the “snow-mountain.' (* Land of Israel'), Lieutenant Conder 3 Tristram, u. s., p. 607. (Tent-Work in Palestine'), and Bädeker
• Conder, u. S., Socin's Palästina, p. 354.