The Terror Of The Father
While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and behold, a voice out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” And when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were much afraid. (17:5–6)
A third confirmation of Jesus’ deity was the terror caused by the intervention of the Father while Peter was still speaking. Through the form of a bright cloud God overshadowed the three disciples and spoke to them in a voice out of the cloud. To the testimony of the transfiguration itself and the testimony of the two Old Testament saints was now added the surprising testimony of God the Father.
Throughout the wilderness wanderings of Israel the Lord manifested Himself through “a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way” (Ex. 13:21; Num. 9:17; Deut. 1:33). Isaiah predicted that “when the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, then the Lord will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy” (Isa. 4:4–5). In his vision of the last days John “looked and behold, a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head, and a sharp sickle in His hand. And another angel came out of the temple, crying out with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Put in your sickle and reap, because the hour to reap has come, because the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ And He who sat on the cloud swung His sickle over the earth; and the earth was reaped” (Rev. 14:14–16).
Out of such a bright cloud the Father overshadowed Peter, James, and John, and spoke to them in an audible voice, … saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” The Father spoke almost identical words at Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:17), and during Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem-but a few days before His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion-the Father again publicly and directly declared His approval of the Son (John 12:28).
In calling Jesus His Son, the Father declared Him to be of identical nature and essence with Himself (cf. John 5:17–20; 8:19, 42; 10:30, 36–38). Scripture frequently refers to believers as children of God, but they are adopted children, brought into the heavenly family only through the miracle of His grace (Rom. 8:15, 23; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). Jesus is the essence of divine nature, as the apostles repeatedly emphasize (see Rom. 1:1–4; 2 Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:3; 1 John 1:3; 2 John 3).
In calling Jesus His beloved Son, the Father declared not only a relationship of divine nature but a relationship of divine love. They had a relationship of mutual love, commitment, and identification in every way.
In saying, “with whom I am well-pleased,” the Father declared His approval with everything the Son was, said, and did. Everything about Jesus was in perfect accord with the Father’s will and plan. Compare John 5:19; 8:29; 10:37–38; 12:49–50.
Then, directly addressing the three disciples, perhaps Peter in particular, God said, “Listen to Him!” He was saying, in effect, “If My Son tells you He must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die, believe Him. If He tells you He will be raised up on the third day, believe Him. If He tells you to take up your own cross and follow Him, that is what you are to do. If He says He will come again in glory, then believe Him and live accordingly.”
The outspoken, brash Peter and his two companions now knew they stood in the awesome presence of Almighty God. As would be expected, when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were much afraid. Peter was probably so utterly traumatized that he promptly forgot about his presumptuous suggestion to build the three tabernacles.
The combined awareness of the Lord’s grace and His majesty, His love and His justice, His friendship and His lordship should cause a kind of spiritual tension in every believer. On the one hand he rejoices in his loving fellowship with the Lord because of His gracious kindness, and on the other hand he has reverential fear as he contemplates His awesome holiness and righteousness. As the believer walks in obedience to God, he experiences the comfort of His presence. But as he walks in disobedience, he should feel the terror of that same presence. Proverbs declares that spiritual wisdom begins with the fear of God (Prov. 9:10).
Sinful men in the presence of a holy God always want to hide. Before the Fall, Adam and Eve had uninterrupted fellowship with God, but after they sinned the relationship was vastly changed. When “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, … the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8). When Isaiah beheld the divine majesty and glory that surrounded the heavenly throne, he cried out in great fear, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). As he stood in the presence of perfect holiness, the sense of his own utter sinfulness overwhelmed him. Daniel was likewise terrified when the Lord spoke directly to him after his vision of the ram, goat, and little horn (Dan. 8:15–17).
5 The “cloud” is associated, in both the OT and intertestamental Judaism, with eschatology (Ps 97:2; Isa 4:5; Eze 30:3, Da 7:13; Zep 1:15; cf. 2 Bar. 53:1–12; 4 Ezra 13:3; 2 Macc 2:8; b. Sanh. 98a) and with the exodus (Ex 13:21–22; 16:10; 19:16; 24:15–18; 40:34–38). Of the synoptists, only Matthew says that the cloud was “bright,” a detail that recalls the Shekinah glory. The latter eschatological associations (Lk 21:27; 1 Th 4:17) show Jesus in his role as the one who succeeds Moses, the eschatological prophet; the former associations (Ps 97:2 et al.) assure us that Jesus is the messianic King whose kingdom is dawning. But as Liefeld (“Theological Motifs,” 170) points out, common to both sets of passages and to others as well is the more fundamental idea of the presence of God.
It is uncertain whether epeskiasen means “enveloped” (NIV) or “overshadowed” (cf. Ex 40:35). What the Voice from the cloud says is largely a repetition of 3:17, an apparent mingling of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1, stressing that Jesus is both Son and Suffering Servant. This is the high point of the narrative (cf. S. Pedersen, “Die Proklamation Jesu als des eschatologischen Offenbarungsträgers,” NovT 17 : 241–64). (Mark omits the allusion to Isa 42:1; but both Matthew and Luke, not to mention 2 Pe 1:17, attest the connection in different ways; cf. Gundry, Use of the Old Testament, 36–37.) But if Matthew 3:17 identifies Jesus, this verse in its context goes further and places him above Moses and Elijah.
The additional words “Listen to him”—an allusion to Deuteronomy 18:15—confirm Jesus is the Prophet like Moses (Dt 18:15–18; cf. Ac 3:22–23; 7:37). This does not mean Jesus is another prophet of Moses’ stature but the eschatological Prophet patterned on Moses as a type; for, as Liefeld has suggested (“Theological Motifs,” 173), Moses’ primary role here is typological, whereas Elijah’s, not explained until vv. 9–13, is eschatological. As Moses’ antitype, Jesus so far outstrips him that when Moses is put next to him, men must “listen” to Jesus, as Moses himself said. The climax of biblical revelation is Jesus, the Son and Servant whom God loves and with whom God is well pleased. Even Moses and Elijah (the Law and the Prophets) assume supporting roles where he is concerned. This confirms our interpretation of 5:17–48; 11:11–15.
17:5. Peter’s offer was interrupted by the appearance of the Father himself. There is a connection between the cloud’s appearance and the Father’s voice and Peter’s offer to build the shelters. Matthew says the cloud enveloped them while he [Peter] was still speaking. God recognized Peter’s good intention in wanting to honor Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but he corrected Peter’s misperception by elevating his Son above the others.
In addition to Jesus’ dazzling transformation and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, the awesome display drew to its climax as the cloud of the Shekinah glory came down and the voice of God spoke from the cloud.
The cloud was bright, with the same glory that shone from Jesus, face and clothes, reminding us of the cloud of God’s presence during Israel’s wanderings (Exod. 13:21–22), and his indwelling of the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34–38) and the temple (1 Kgs. 8:10–13).
The Father’s words were identical to those spoken at Jesus’ baptism (3:17, see comment there), with the addition of Listen to him (the Greek present imperative, which means “keep on listening” or “always listen”). When the Father affirmed Jesus as his Son, the disciples gained a better idea of Jesus’ true identity—the glorious and suffering Messiah. When the Father expressed his love for his Son, the disciples had a more complete idea why Jesus was pleasing to the Father. He had been and would be obedient to the Father, even to death.
The command to the disciples was “Listen to him,” elevating the word of Jesus above the words of Moses and Elijah. Indeed, Moses himself commanded God’s people to heed the prophet “like me” who would come (Deut. 18:15). This reminds us of Jesus’ repeated challenge, “He who has ears, let him hear” (11:15; 13:9, 43). The disciples had heard all of Jesus’ teachings, but the “ears” of their hearts were not fully open to the meaning of what had been revealed to them.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 17:3–5). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 438–439). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 269–270). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.