Written Once…Lived Forever: Excellent—Befitting Greatness

When his second epistle was written, Peter was aware that his time of service on earth would shortly be over and that he would depart to be with Christ (1:13, 14). He must have been an old man, because the Lord Jesus had said to him, “when thou shalt be old” (Jn 21:18), and aware that his strength was diminishing.

In the light of this it was necessary to confirm that the apostles had “not followed cunningly devised fables” when they “made known the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:16). There had been many unforgettable moments in the life of this old spiritual warrior, but one such now came before him. After Israel had decisively rejected the Christ and He had told His disciples of His coming death, He took Peter, James, and John up to the mount where He was transfigured before them (Mt 17:1-8). The unique, overwhelming splendor and the brilliant glory on which these three privileged men gazed were never forgotten and Peter, years later, brought the scene before his readers.

Such was the brilliance of the glory on which Peter looked that he used a word to describe it which is translated “excellent” and found only here in the N T. But he did more than see that day; he also heard a voice. Eye saw, ear heard, and the impact touched his heart. The voice came from the excellent glory and declared, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him.”

Excellent is one of a few compound words in Scripture that begin with “mega.” Even apart from that, it stands alone. The voice came from heaven, the glory was unique and demanded a unique description. Vine states that the word “signifies magnificent, majestic, that which is becoming to a great man, from mega, great and prep, to be fitting or becoming,” thus “fitting one who is great.” It was used in the papyri to denote one of high influence and rank. Rienecker and Rogers write, “As preparations were made for the reception of a Roman senator in Egypt the instructions were, ‘Let him be received with special magnificence.’”

Yet more can be seen in the words “excellent glory.” Jews used the phrase to refer to God. He was indeed the “Excellent.” The cloud that overshadowed the transfiguration mount would remind the disciples of the cloud in which the glory of the Lord appeared when the manna was about to be given (Exo 16:10). It would recall the cloud that covered the Tabernacle as the glory of the Lord filled it when the work of construction was complete (Exo 40:34). The “bright cloud that overshadowed them” (Mat 17:5) which formed the excellent glory was symbolic of the presence of God.

Would the minds of these men not go back to another mountain, another cloud, and another occasion when a voice was heard? When the Law was given at Horeb, there was a “thick cloud upon the mount” (Exo 19:16) and Israel heard “the voice out of the midst of the darkness” (Deut 5:23). The effect of this was to strike terror into their hearts and they cried, “If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die” (Deu 5:25). Their plea to Moses was, “Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say” (Deut 5:27).

But now three men hear the voice of God. “There was borne along by the sublime glory such a voice” (K. Wuest); there was “uttered to Him by the magnificent glory” (W. Kelly). Out of that glory and borne along by that glory came the voice of God, no longer accompanied by the smoke and thunders of Sinai. This voice did give not commandments to obey, but pointed to the One Who kept the Law. Rather than set out what man must do to please God, this voice directed attention to the One Who pleased God in every way. The first laid out requirements man could not satisfy; the second spoke of One Who satisfied the Father completely. What a contrast! Honor and glory were His from the Father. Alford comments, “Honor in the voice which spoke to Him. Glory in the light that shone from Him.” The face that shone as the sun, the raiment that was white as the light (Mat 17:2), “excceding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them (Mark 9:3), were manifestations of His glory and of His Father’s full joy in Him.

Four things were confirmed to the apostles on that memorable day. First, it was a foretaste of His coming glory. They had seen His majesty, the magnificence and regal splendor that befitted the King. In this the writings of the O.T. prophets were confirmed; Peter had seen the visible proof of a coming kingdom when he beheld the royal majesty of the One Who would occupy the throne. Second, it was the confirmation of heaven’s approval. His rejection by Israel was not due to His failure. The Father was well-pleased with Him and one of the consequences of that was that God’s timetable and purpose had not altered. Israel’s rejection did not annul God’s promise. Third, it was the declaration of His unique relationship. He was the Father’s beloved Son and His conduct, rather than being one of failure, had given intense pleasure to His Father. Fourth, it confirmed His present authority as the One to Whom they must listen, as must we today.

Little wonder that there was a unique word to describe, as excellent, the glory that they had seen. As we approach the throne of grace, let us be thankful that Horeb’s fire and thunder do not repel us. The work of the One Who is the Father’s beloved Son ensures that we can approach with reverence but not with terror. Let us be thankful for the commendation that came from the excellent glory.