Entering the cloud in Luke 9:34 is similar to Moses entering the cloud in Exodus 24:18. But, unlike at Mount Sinai, the heavenly voice at the transfiguration does not continue to speak, and does not deliver an extended message, parallel to the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. Instead, the voice directs the disciples’ attention to Jesus and his speech: “listen to him.”
Theophany in the Earthly Life of Christ
The Gospels give us records of the life of Christ on earth. His life brings to fulfillment the entire spectrum of theophanies and appearances of God in the Old Testament. Temporary appearances give way to the climactic, permanent appearance. God became man in the incarnation.
The presence of God that people experience throughout Old Testament times comes to fulfillment in the presence of God in Christ. Christ is “Immanuel,” “God with us” (Matt. 1:23), manifesting God’s presence at the climax of history.
Granted that God is present throughout the Gospels, we can still take note of the fact that God brings about a few special times in which his presence is manifested in particularly striking ways.
Miracles Connected with the Birth of Jesus
We see miracles taking place in connection with the birth of Jesus. The central miracle is the miracle of the incarnation itself. God came to us and became man (“Immanuel”). It is fitting that a number of other miracles cluster around this central event. They underline the importance of the incarnation.
Miraculously, Zechariah becomes unable to speak (Luke 1:22), then his speech is restored (v. 64) and he prophesies concerning his son John and the Messiah (vv. 67–79). In this context, these miracles serve as a special manifestation of the presence of God, causing the people to be in expectation concerning John (vv. 65–66).
The star that appears to the wise men anticipates the rising of the glory of God in the person of Christ (Isa. 60:1). The miracles associated with Christ’s birth are only the beginning. All the miracles recorded in the Gospels highlight the presence of God in various ways.1
The presence of God that people experience throughout Old Testament times comes to fulfillment in the presence of God in Christ.
The Baptism of Jesus
The baptism of Jesus contains phenomena associated with a theophany:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16–17)
“The heavens were opened,” implying that there was a vision of God’s special presence in heaven. The Spirit of God appeared “descending like a dove.” And there came a voice—the divine voice.
Such a theophany is fitting to prepare the way for the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. The Father authenticates the Son in his role as messianic Savior. The Spirit comes to be with him and empower him. The voice, by picking up on themes from Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1, indicates that Jesus brings the messianic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. These events set the stage for understanding that the Father is present in the Son through the Holy Spirit in all of Jesus’s ministry.
Walking on Water
When Jesus walks on water, the experience should remind the disciples of the Old Testament passages that indicate God’s control over the sea (Ex. 15:8; Pss. 29:10; 107:23–32). Jesus’s appearance is like a theophany of God in which he appears over the sea:
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Gen. 1:2)
“. . . who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea.” (Job 9:8)
You trampled the sea with your horses, the surging of mighty waters. (Hab. 3:15)
Similar patterns are found elsewhere in the Old Testament (Pss. 77:19; 107:25–30). Against the Old Testament background, the fact that Jesus walks on water underlines Jesus’s divine identity and his divine power to subdue all chaos and opposition.