Mountains are important to Jesus. During his earthly ministry, He would go to several different mountains for several different reasons, including His temptations (Matthew 4:1-11), His all-night prayer before selecting the Apostles (Luke 6:12-13), and to deliver the greatest sermon ever (Matthew 5-7).
But on occasion, He took three of His apostles with him – Peter, James, and John – for one spectacular event: His Transfiguration.
The meaning of “transfigure” is to “to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance to.” But while that definition tells us what occurred, it doesn’t really tell us what happened.
- His face “shone like the sun.” Remember how Moses’ face shone when he went up on Mt. Sinai to receive the Law (Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6)? Same thing here, except Jesus’ face didn’t shine because He saw God, His face shone because He is God.
- His garments became white, “as no launderer on earth can make them.” A “fuller” or “launderer” is a very specific type of trade. These weren’t men that sat around folding clothes all day, fullers were big, burly men that beat clothes pure with a gigantic club. The goal is to get them completely spotless, the way they were before the wearer got dirt all over them. As you can imagine, this would be next to impossible to achieve.
- Elijah and Moses “appeared” next to Him. Luke adds that they also appeared “in glory” and spoke to Him “about His departure which He was about to bring to fulfillment in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). Can you imagine being a fly on the wall for that conversation?
- Peter spoke up. He wanted to build three tabernacles, one for Moses, Elijah, and for Jesus. The idea is noble; who wouldn’t want to be placed in the same category as those men?
- God the Father responded. God didn’t approve of Peter’s idea. It wasn’t enough to simply build three tabernacles for all three beings since that would make them all equals. Instead, in light of Moses and Elijah, they needed to “Listen” to Jesus, since He was God’s “beloved Son.”
This is a special moment for Peter, James, and John, and it undoubtedly made an impression on them, because years later, Peter would give this moment as part of the evidence for his faith:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.”
- 2 Peter 1:16-18
It’s no accident that about a week before the Transfiguration, Jesus had asked Peter who men “say that He is,” to which Peter responded that they placed him amongst the pantheon of Old Testament figures. When asked who Peter thought Jesus was, he replied that He was the Son of God Himself (Luke 9:18-20, 28).
I’m sure that eight days later, after the Transfiguration, Peter had a whole new understanding of what he had said.
But what does the Transfiguration mean for us? It’s a great moment, to be sure, but apart from seeing the glory of God like those men did, what lessons can we take away?
We Need to See Beyond the Physical
In the moment, in the twinkling of an eye, Peter, James and John’s world was rocked. Those pancakes and sausage links they probably had for breakfast were lightyears in the past as they beheld Jesus’ exalted form feet in front of their eyes. Though they had seen a lot of amazing things in their walk with Jesus, this would be one of the greatest, by far.
What it really did was open up their eyes to a whole world that we can’t see with physical eyes. In 2 Kings 6, when Elisha is surrounded by an army of Syrians, his servant cries out in fear, only to have Elisha pray on his behalf: “Open his eyes, Lord, that he may see” (2 Kings 6:17). When he opened his eyes, he saw that the army that surrounded them was surrounded by a greater, spiritual army that he didn’t see before.
Elisha had faith in God; his servant was still convinced by what he could see. Like him, we need to open our eyes to the great spiritual reality that exists in a world that we experience – and yet don’t experience – every day. At the very least, we know that what we see and hear on this earth is only a small part of the overall picture.
We need to start seeing sin for what it truly is: putting distance between ourselves and God. We need to see Heaven for what it truly is: a destination for God’s people, not a faraway place akin to fairy tales.
We need to pray that God would open our eyes, that we would see.
God is Not the God of the Dead, But of the Living
Moses and Elijah were both dead, and had been for centuries by this point. Moses died a natural death (though his body wasn’t found) and Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind into Heaven, but on that day, both of them were standing there with Jesus.
We tend to think of someone that leaves our world as ceasing to exist, but that shortchanges eternity. They aren’t annihilated, they simply move from one type of existence to another. Two lives, separated by a physical death that acts as the gateway from one to the next.
When God tells Moses that He is the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” He doesn’t communicate it in the past tense (Exodus 3:6). In other words, God doesn’t say He “was” their God, He says He “is” their God. God is their God, and He will be your God, too.
Jesus is the One With Authority
Check Amazon’s books category and you’ll see approximately eight billion books on religion, all of which that will tell you how to get to Heaven, or some other form of it. Yet Jesus says that He is the “way, the truth and the life, and that no man comes to the Father except through [Him]” (John 14:6).
What does that mean? While those other people may have some good information from time to time, only one has the power to save your soul, and it isn’t Moses, Elijah, or some other guy. It’s Jesus.