While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."
In Matthew's gospel reading today, the writer uses a familiar motif in the Old Testament (OT). The cloud image played a significant role in the OT narratives. A pillar of cloud guided the Israelites on their way towards the promised land (Ex. 13:21). God revealed his glory to Aaron by speaking through a cloud (Ex. 16:10). Moses entered a cloud as he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights (Ex. 24:18). There is also an image of a dense cloud: "The LORD said to Moses: I am coming to you now in a dense cloud so that when the people hear me speaking with you, they will also remain faithful to you" (Ex. 19:9).
What's important here is to reflect on how the cloud used in Exodus' and Matthew's gospel differentiate. In Exodus, when God speaks, his voice comes through a dense cloud. In the New Testament (NT), the cloud is bright. The luminous cloud perhaps emphasizes that God is ready to reveal his full glory to the world through his Son, Jesus. Furthermore, in Exodus, the Israelites only hear God through the opaque cloud. However, in Matthew's s gospel, the disciples see and hear God speaking through his Son, Jesus. The revealed glory of God through Jesus inspired the disciples to prostrate themselves with fear.
The significance of Moses and Elijah, who also had some cloud experiences, is to recognize these OT figure's relevance in our spiritual roots as we focus on Jesus. Moreover, the book of Hebrews said, "In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe" (Heb. 1:1-2). Therefore, the prophets in the OT served a purpose. Now we must prostrate ourselves before Jesus, similar to the disciples. God's voice thunders through Jesus, fearing no evil because God's mercy and grace lead us to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Author: Michael P. Howard, M.A.