It appears that some false teachers had been encouraging those to whom Peter was writing that Jesus would not return in a physical form (2 Peter 1:16-18.) Peter refers to their “cleverly devised stories” as muthoi,” from which we get our word “myth.” His purpose at this point was to establish for his readers a solid basis for believing that Christ would in fact come back to earth in an actual body. Normally, Christians turn to the resurrection as proof that Christ is alive and therefore able to return, but Peter cites his experience on the Mt. of Transfiguration. That was when Christ appeared to Peter, James and John in the radiant splendor of his eternal state. They were eyewitnesses of that visual display of the truth of the resurrection. Their experience argues the credibility of his promise to return.
The point I want to stress is the deceptive nature of heresy. If what the false teachers were saying was true it follows that believers have no basis for expecting a literal return Christ. The argument is that since such things as returning from the dead are not a part of life as we know it, any reference to them should be taken allegorically. They would say, “To state that Christ will return in bodily form is a way of emphasizing the remarkable impact of his life. It honors the greatness of his ministry. To understand it in a literal fashion misses the point.”
And so it has been argued ever since. To take the second return literally is to miss the larger truth. One needs to open the imagination to understand what the words actually intended. So goes the argument. Heresy has always preyed on the more vulnerable. When scripture speaks about rivers clapping their hands and mountains singing for joy (Psalm 98:8) we recognize the genre and don’t expect to sit in on the next concert. But in other areas it is more difficult to distinguish between literal and allegorical. People don’t normally die and return to life so an actual return of Christ is open to some alternate explanation. Peter was well aware of that so he told his readers that he and his fellow disciples had been right there on the mountain with Jesus when the transfiguration took place. With his very own eyes he saw Jesus in his glorified body. He heard the majestic voice of God announce, “This is my Son, whom I love.” What greater proof could there be that Jesus, who appeared in heaven glory in what became known as the Transfiguration, could and would return in bodily form.