“Listen to Him” (Matthew 17)
By Kyle Rapinchuk
I was recently reading a translation of the gospels that translated Jesus Christ as Jesus the Messiah. I like this change because we often miss the significance of the name Christ, reading it almost like an English surname for Jesus. But despite this common misunderstanding, I think we usually remember the kingly role of Jesus. The book of Hebrews then reminds us that Jesus is not only a king, but also the priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (cf. Psalm 110). But often we miss the significance of the fact that Jesus was and is the promised prophet of Deuteronomy 18. Maybe this is because other religions claim Jesus as a prophet, but not the Son of God, so we mistakenly throw out the true claims with the untrue ones. But the Gospel of Matthew makes clear that Jesus is the prophet of Deuteronomy 18 (see also Peter’s sermon in Acts 3).
In the Old Testament, God promised to raise up a prophet like Moses from among the people with whom He would, like He did with Moses, speak face to face. When this prophet showed up, the command to the people was simple: Listen to him! In the rest of the Old Testament, the closest thing we see to Moses is Elijah, but by the end of the Old Testament, the Israelites were still looking for both their Messiah and their prophet. In Matthew 17, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a mountain where he is transfigured. Appearing with him are none other than Moses and Elijah, marking already the prophetic nature of Jesus’ ministry. But it doesn’t stop there. God’s voice thunders from heaven–“This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” As God declares once again that Jesus is the Son (highlighting not only his divine nature but also his kingly role–e.g. Psa 2; 2 Sam 7), he also gives the same command that was to accompany the prophet like Moses.
I have always found it interesting that so many people proclaiming the gospel jump so quickly to Jesus’ death. Certainly it is enormously important. But Jesus spent over 30 years on earth, and probably 3 years of visible public ministry, for a significant reason. At least one of the many reasons why, I suspect, relates to his role as prophet. Jesus taught a great many things to a great many people in that time, and many of those words are recorded in the gospels. I wonder, with all of this witness to the ministry of Jesus, have we followed this simple command of the prophet God promised long ago? “Listen to him.”