17:1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.
17:2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.
17:3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
17:4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
17:5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
17:6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.
17:7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
17:8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
17:9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised
from the dead.”
Up until this moment, the disciples had known for Jesus to be a teacher, a healer, or even a prophet along the lines of Elijah or Jeremiah. However, it was not until now that His true identity was being revealed. He was and is the true son of God and the true Savior of the world.
The point of this passage is to simply and by faith, accept and believe who Jesus Christ is. Peter was one disciple who often acted out in impulse and here we see him attempting to try and preserve this moment. This is a reaction that perhaps many of us may have had if we too were witnesses to what was going on. Peter in his excitement, with being a witness to something beyond our capability to understand, wants to do something instead of being still and silent. God then interrupts Peter’s rant, in order to pronounce who Jesus and to do the only thing that is important, which is to listen to Him.
Jesus was above all the prophets and His disciples would now know all of what He had said about Him being the son of God to His death on the cross to be true. This was a defining moment for His followers because now they would see that this perfect, powerful son of God, would have to pay the penalty for all of humanity’s sin.
At the end of this scene, the disciples are left in awe and more importantly are left seeing Jesus Christ alone. He is all they need and He alone is what is necessary to bring about the work of Salvation.
Jesus Christ is the only loving Savior who is able to forgive our sins, heal our wounds, and bring us true hope and joy. When Moses and Elijah faded away, this passage shows that He is always with us and will never leave us.
Some have theorized that the transfiguration story was a later addition to the gospels and that it was designed to retro-actively ascribe divinity to Jesus, in light of the later revelations of the Gospel of John who was much clearer about the nature of Jesus. However, I would argue that this story is one of the older stories in the history of gospel writing.
The disciples of Jesus were often thick-headed and misunderstood the message of Jesus. They did not understand his objective or who Jesus actually was. In fact, the Gospel of Mark created an entire motif of this characteristic of the disciples. It is this motif and another (the Messianic secret) that one could easily tell that this story must have also appeared in the gospel of Mark. Mark’s gospel was the only gospel to feature these two characteristics repeatedly. This means that the transfiguration story is one of the oldest stories to be recorded about Jesus. It appears in Mark’s gospel and shows no signs of a later addition.
Perhaps, the hardheadedness of the disciples is why Jesus took them up on the mountain. Here Jesus would demonstrate to them (in a way that was reminiscent to the theophany before Moses on Mt. Sinai) that Jesus was more than a prophet. He was more than a man. He was God in the flesh. Yet, despite being one with the Father in heaven, Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone about what had happened on the mount. At least not until he is resurrected.
So, what can we learn from the Transfiguration of Christ? I believe the first thing is that it’s OK to not have all the answers. Even the disciples struggled to understand the nature of Christ. Secondly, even in our not understanding Christ is calling us to the mission with him. He is calling us to be bearers of his light; the same light of God that shone on him the day he was transfigured.