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. Lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them. Their eyes were covered by a cloud, in order to inform them, that they were not yet prepared for beholding the brightness of the heavenly glory. For, when the Lord gave tokens of his presence, he employed, at the same time, some coverings to restrain the arrogance of the human mind. So now, with the view of teaching his disciples a lesson of humility, he withdraws from their eyes the sight of the heavenly glory. This admonition is likewise addressed to us, that we may not seek to pry into the secrets which lie beyond our senses, but, on the contrary, that every man may keep within the limits of sobriety, according to the measure of his faith. In a word, this cloud ought to serve us as a bridle, that our curiosity may not indulge in undue wantonness. The disciples, too, were warned that they must return to their former warfare, and therefore must not expect a triumph before the time.
And, lo, a voice from the cloud. It deserves our attention, that the voice of God was heard from the cloud, but that neither a body nor a face was seen. Let us therefore remember the warning which Moses gives us, that God has no visible shape, lest we should deceive ourselves by imagining that He resembled a man, (Deut. 4:15.) There were, no doubt, various appearances under which God made himself known to the holy fathers in ancient times; but in all cases he refrained from using signs which might induce them to make for themselves idols. And certainly, as the minds of men are too strongly inclined to foolish imaginations, there was no necessity for throwing oil upon the flame. This manifestation of the glory of God was remarkable above all others. When he makes a cloud to pass between Him and us, and invites us to himself by His voice, what madness is it to attempt to place Him before our eyes by a block of wood or of stone? Let us therefore endeavour to enter by faith alone, and not by the eyes of flesh, into that inaccessible light in which God dwells. The voice came from the cloud, that the disciples, knowing it to have proceeded from God, might receive it with due reverence.
This is my beloved Son. I willingly concur with those who think that there is an implied contrast of Moses and Elijah with Christ, and that the disciples of God’s own Son are here charged to seek no other teacher. The word Son is emphatic, and raises him above servants. There are two titles here bestowed upon Christ, which are not more fitted to do honour to him than to aid our faith: a beloved Son, and a Master. The Father calls him my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, and thus declares him to be the Mediator, by whom he reconciles the world to himself. When he enjoins us to hear him, he appoints him to be the supreme and only teacher of his Church. It was his design to distinguish Christ from all the rest, as we truly and strictly infer from those words, that by nature he was God’s only Son. In like manner, we learn that he alone is beloved by the Father, and that he alone is appointed to be our Teacher, that in him all authority may dwell.
But it will perhaps be objected, Does not God love angels and men? It is easy to reply, that the fatherly love of God, which is spread over angels and men, proceeds from him as its source. The Son is beloved by the Father, not so as to make other creatures the objects of his hatred, but so that he communicates to them what belongs to himself. There is a difference, no doubt, between our condition and that of the angels; for they never were alienated from God, and therefore needed not that he should reconcile them; while we are enemies on account of sin, till Christ procure for us his favour. Still, it is a fixed principle that God is gracious to both, only so far as he embraces us in Christ; for even the angels would not be firmly united to God if Christ were not their Head. It may also be observed that, since the Father here speaks of himself as different from the Son, there is a distinction of persons; for they are one in essence and alike in glory.
Hear him. I mentioned a little ago, that these words were intended to draw the attention of the Church to Christ as the only Teacher, that on his mouth alone it may depend. For, though Christ came to maintain the authority of the Law and the Prophets, (Matth. 5:17,) yet he holds the highest rank, so that, by the brightness of his gospel, he causes those sparks which shone in the Old Testament to disappear. He is the Sun of righteousness, whose arrival brought the full light of day. And this is the reason why the Apostle says (Heb. 1:1) that God, who at sundry times and in various ways spoke formerly by the Prophets, hath in these last days spoken to us by his beloved Son. In short, Christ is as truly heard at the present day in the Law and in the Prophets as in his Gospel; so that in him dwells the authority of a Master, which he claims for himself alone, saying, One is your Master, even Christ, (Matth. 23:8.) But his authority is not fully acknowledged, unless all the tongues of men are silent. If we would submit to his doctrine, all that has been invented by men must be thrown down and destroyed. He is every day, no doubt, sending out teachers, but it is to state purely and honestly what they have learned from him, and not to corrupt the gospel by their own additions. In a word, no man can be regarded a faithful teacher of the Church, unless he be himself a disciple of Christ, and bring others to be taught by him.
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.
The voice from heaven (v. 5)
Just as at Jesus’ baptism, there is a voice that speaks from the glory, out of a cloud, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ This voice echoes 3:17, but develops our understanding further, as we realize that the beloved Son is the prophet who was to come into the world. The voice from heaven, therefore, serves to show that Jesus is one with the prophetic tradition represented by Moses and Elijah, but that he is also the consummator of that tradition. He is, in fact, the last prophet.
The descent from the mount of transfiguration serves to highlight other issues. The true meaning of Elijah’s appearance is emphasized by Jesus as he identifies Elijah with John the Baptist (vv. 9–13). Jesus still wishes the disciples to keep the events they have witnessed secret. The time for proclamation and publication will come, but is not yet. The unexplained question lingers in the minds of the disciples—why is the coming of Elijah a matter of rabbinic teaching? Jesus’ answer is that the prophecy concerning the coming of Elijah was fulfilled in the appearance of John. And just as Elijah and John were cruelly mistreated in the world, so, too, will Jesus be.
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.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 2, pp. 313–315). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.