I had never noticed before now that the account of the Transfiguration in the Second Letter of Peter does not mention Moses and Elijah. Did the Transfiguration exist independently before Mark got ahold of it? And if so, what purpose did it serve.
2 Peter is addressed to those who have lost confidence in the imminent parousia of Jesus (following Duane Watson in the NIB). Epicureans believed that God was so perfect as to be absolutely unmoved by this world: God’s providence and judgment of this world were unthinkable. They considered the Stoics’ ideas of providence and the dissolution of the world in fire to be “cleverly devised myths.” The author of 2 Peter would have to argue that the prophecies purported to show the imminence of the parousia not to be open to individual interpretation. The transfiguration in 2 Peter looks like an enthronement of Jesus on the throne of judgment. We saw it with our own eyes, so it can’t be wrong. It has the feel of a resurrection appearance, and the language is similar to Romans 1, in which Paul claims that Jesus was established as the Son of God through the resurrection from the dead. Promises previously through prophecy in holy scripture, establishment as son of God in power, holiness, are all themes common to Romans 1 and 2 Peter 1. In Luke, it is at the ascension that Jesus takes the throne. For 2 Peter, it is the resurrection (if that is what this account is).
The transfiguration, then, establishes Jesus as judge, and assures us of God’s providence and judgment. Contra the Epicureans, what we do here does not go unnoticed by God, and so the importance of living with self-control, mutual affection and love (all good Stoic qualities). Abrogating that “glorious majesty” for ourselves gets us in trouble. Hymn 580, v.3, catches it well: We have ventured worlds undreamed of since the childhood of our race; know the ecstasy of winging through untraveled realms of space; probed the secrets of the atom, yielding unimagined power, facing us with life’s destruction or our most triumphant hour.