Radiant GloryBy Nathan Mates
Jesus's disciples, called from many walks of life, must have faced moments of dawning comprehension that this one they called 'Teacher' was more than just another religious type. They had left friends and family to follow Jesus, but there was something different about him-- he kept doing miracles. Not even John the Baptist, the other prophet that had recently been calling for repentance had done miracles. Jesus taught as one with authority, but he also healed the sick, calmed the winds on the sea [Mark 4:35-41], drove out demons, and raised a dead girl. [Mark 5:35-43]
So far, most of these miracles had been done already by the Old Testament prophets-- Elijah had raised the dead and modified the weather, Moses had healed leprosy [Numbers 12:10-16], and many other miracles. Yes, God was behind every miracle, but it almost always took a prophet for such a miracle so that God's power would be properly credited back to him. Jesus was, so far, following mostly in the pattern of the prophets centuries before. And yet, Jesus must have wanted to reveal the truth of his divinity to the disciples.
While Moses had called on God for mana, quail and water in the desert, and Elijah had made a widow's supply of oil and flour infinite during a drought, Jesus one-upped them by turning five loaves of bread and two fish into food for five thousand and twelve basketfuls of leftovers. [Mark 6:35-44 also Matthew 14:13-21] That was a miracle right in front of the disciple's eyes, one that might have opened their eyes.
Jesus wasn't done with the disciples for the day, though: "Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified." [Mark 6:45-50a]
To the disciples, several of them ex-fishermen, things were clear: nobody walked on water, so whatever they saw must have been a ghost-- but they didn't give this ghost a name. They didn't identify it as Jesus, or belonging to Jesus, but were terrified at the sight. Could they have recognized what they saw as Jesus, had it been daylight? I don't think so. The disciples had been with Jesus for months now, but unable to recognize him?
This wasn't the first time man had seen God in a form far closer to his full glory. Moses had demanded to see God's glory in its full form, and God obliged, but with some protection for Moses: "When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen." [Exodus 33:22-23] God passed by Moses, just as Jesus was about to pass by his disciples before their fright forced him to cancel the exercise.
How differently things might have gone if the disciples had recognized what God was doing in their midst and not been afraid-- recognizing that Jesus was the Son of God without more prodding and miracles from Jesus. After Moses saw God's glory and spent time with him, something had changed: "When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him." [Exodus 34:29-30] God's glory had rubbed off slightly on Moses, just like the radiant glow of a piece of iron removed from a fire.
God's Holy, radiant presence is a great way to remind people of their own sinfulness-- as Isaiah's experience recounts: "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." [Isaiah 6:5] And yet Jesus had protected his disciples somewhat from that deep conviction of sin-- they were merely afraid of what they saw, never once expressing their guilt.
The disciples did eventually "get it" during this exercise, however: "But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water." "Come," he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!" Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?" And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."" [Matthew 14:27-33]
One day, we can look forward to being able to see God face to face [Rev 21:4] without fear; his glory will be radiated from us as we bask in his light. Are you looking forward to that reality?