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The Father Bears Witness to the Son

General Audience — May 27, 1987

—    Mystery of trinitarian life
—    Depth of God's self-revelation
—    Transfiguration

The Gospel—and the whole New Testament—bear witness to Jesus Christ as Son of God. This is a central truth of the Christian faith. Professing belief in Christ as Son "of the same substance" as the Father, the Church follows faithfully this Gospel witness. Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the strict and precise meaning of the word. He is therefore generated in God, and not created by God and subsequently accepted as adopted Son. This testimony of the Gospel (and of the whole New Testament) on which the faith of all Christians is based, finds its definitive source in God the Father who bears witness to Christ as his Son.

We already spoke about this in the previous reflection in referring to the texts of the Gospel according to Matthew and Luke. "No one knows the Son except the Father" (Mt 11:27); "No one knows who the Son is except the Father" (Lk 10:22).

This unique and fundamental testimony which flows from the eternal mystery of the Trinitarian life is particularly expressed in the Synoptic Gospels, first of all in the account of Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, and then in the account of Jesus' transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Both events deserve attentive consideration.

1.  Mystery of trinitarian life

In Mark's Gospel we read, "In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, 'You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased'" (Mk 1:9-11). According to Matthew's account, the voice from heaven directs its words not directly to Jesus, but to those who were present at his baptism in the Jordan, "This is my beloved Son" (Mt 3:17). In Luke's text (cf. Lk 3:22) the tenor of the words is identical with that of Mark.

We are therefore witnesses of a trinitarian theophany. The voice from heaven, which addresses the Son in the second person, "You are" (Mark and Luke), or speaks of him in the third person, "This is" (Matthew), is the very voice of the Father, which in a certain sense presents his own Son to those who had come to the Jordan to hear John the Baptist. Indirectly he presents him to the whole of Israel. Jesus is he who comes in the power of the Holy Spirit, the anointed of the Holy Spirit, that is, the Messiah, the Christ. He is the Son with whom the Father is well pleased, the beloved Son. This predilection, this love, suggests the presence of the Holy Spirit in the trinitarian unity, even though in the theophany of the baptism in the Jordan this is not yet sufficiently clear.

The testimony contained in the voice from heaven occurred precisely at the beginning of the messianic mission of Jesus of Nazareth. It will be repeated at the moment which precedes the passion and the paschal event which concludes his entire mission—the moment of the transfiguration. Notwithstanding the similarity of the two theophanies, there is a clear difference, which derives mainly from the context of the narratives. At the baptism in the Jordan Jesus is proclaimed Son of God before the entire people. The theophany of the transfiguration was made solely to some chosen persons; not even the apostles were introduced as a group, but only three of them, Peter, James and John. "(After six days)...Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves; and he was transfigured before them."

This transfiguration was accompanied by the apparition of Elijah with Moses, and they were talking to Jesus. When the three apostles overcame their fright at such an event, they expressed the desire to prolong it and to continue gazing at it ("it is good for us to be here"). Then "a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, 'This is my beloved Son; listen to him'" (Mk 9:2-7). This is Mark's account. Similarly in Matthew, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him" (Mt 17:5). In Luke, however, "This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!" (Lk 9:35).

The event described by the Synoptics took place when Jesus had already made himself known to Israel through his signs (miracles), his deeds and his words. The Father's voice is as it were a confirmation from on high of that which was already maturing in the consciousness of the disciples. Jesus desired that on the basis of his signs and words, faith in his divine mission and sonship should be born in the consciousness of his hearers in virtue of the intimate revelation granted to them by the Father himself.

2.  Depth of God's self-revelation

Particularly significant from this point of view was Jesus' reply to Peter after his profession of faith near Caesarea Philippi. On that occasion Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 16:17). One knows how important Simon Peter's profession was. For it is essential to know that the profession of the truth about the divine sonship of Jesus of Nazareth—"You are the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of the living God"—comes from the Father. Only the Father "knows the Son" (Mt 11:27), only the Father knows "who the Son is" (Lk 10:22), and only the Father can convey this knowledge to humanity. This is precisely what Christ says in his reply to Peter. The truth about Christ's divine sonship uttered by the apostle, and first matured within him in his consciousness, comes from the depth of God's self-revelation. In this moment all the analogical meanings of the expression "Son of God," already known in the Old Testament, are completely transcended. Christ is the Son of the living God, the Son in the proper and essential meaning of this word—he is "God from God."

3.  Transfiguration

The voice which the three apostles hear during the transfiguration on the mountain (which later tradition identifies with Mount Tabor) confirms the conviction expressed by Simon Peter in the vicinity of Caesarea (according to Mt 16:16). In a certain sense it confirms "externally" what the Father has already "revealed internally." If the Father now confirms the interior revelation about Christ's divine sonship, "This is my beloved Son, listen to him," it seems that he wishes to prepare those who had already believed in him for the events of the Passover which is drawing near, for his humiliating death on the cross. It is significant that "as they were coming down the mountain" Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead" (Mt 17:9, also Mk 9:9; and to a certain extent Lk 9:21). The theophany on the mountain of the transfiguration of the Lord is thus situated in relationship with Christ's paschal mystery.

Following this one can understand the significant passage of John's Gospel (12:20-28) which recounts a fact which occurred after the raising of Lazarus, when on the one hand admiration for Jesus increases, and on the other, the threats confronting him become more dangerous. Christ then speaks of the grain of wheat which must die in order to produce more fruit. Then he concludes significantly, "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Then a voice came from heaven, 'I have glorified it and I will glorify it again'" (cf. Jn 12:27-28). This voice expresses the Father's reply which confirms Jesus' previous words, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (Jn 12:23).

The Son of Man who is approaching his paschal hour is precisely he of whom the voice from on high proclaimed at the baptism and the transfiguration, "My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased...the chosen...." This voice contains the witness of the Father to the Son. The author of the Second Letter of Peter, gathering together the personal testimony of the chief of the apostles, writes to strengthen the Christians in a moment of harsh persecution. "(Jesus Christ)...received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the majestic glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,' we heard this voice from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain" (2 Pet 1:16-18).