In one of the most spectacular scenes from the New Testament, Jesus is visibly transformed before the eyes of three choice disciples, Peter, James, and John. In this event, traditionally referred to as, “The Transfiguration,” the veil of Jesus’ humanity, while still true and real, is visibly pulled back while the very glory of God manifests itself in his very person. While the synoptic gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) all include some form of visible change, Matthew claims that Jesus face was shining as bright as the sun itself. Also, Moses and Elijah, the great stalwarts of the Old Testament Law and Prophets, were there, bearing witness to the mission of Jesus the Christ. Can you imagine the splendor and the glory of that moment?
Here was the man that these disciples have followed for nearly three years. They have seen him hungry, thirsty, and weary. They have seen him laugh and shed tears; they have seen him as the true Son of Man. Yet here before them is Jesus, their Rabbi and Master, glorified, shining like the sun, his clothes brighter than any bleach could make them. Then the voice of God himself is heard declaring, “this is my beloved Son, listen to him!” I’m sure in that moment, the three disciples must have thought, “this is it! The Kingdom of God is here!” They surely must have thought that they were going to come down from the mountain, ride into Jerusalem and usher in the reign of David forever.
How disappointing it must have been to them when suddenly, the light is gone, the cloud departs, and there stands their teacher, Jesus, as that same humble Rabbi.
With all of the glory and the tremendous spectacle that surrounded this wonderful event, you would expect much to be made of it. How surprising is it then that Jesus instructs his disciples to, “tell no one”? Immediately following this event, each gospel records that Jesus again predicted his coming suffering and death on the cross.
Peter apparently wished to go ahead and dwell on the mountain of glory for a little while. He offers to build three tabernacles or booths; one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But even in that blundering attempt to say something in light of the glory of the moment, Peter is interrupted by a voice from Heaven; the very voice of God the Father.
And what does God the Father say? Does he provide explanation for the event? Pronounce some sort of blessing on those present?No. Now, we’ve seen the Father manifest himself from Heaven in the glory of a cloud before. At Jesus’ baptism, the heavens were opened and the Father said to Jesus, “you are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” A similar statement is made here on the mountain of Transfiguration with one slight adjustment.
Instead of a general pronouncement of pleasure with his Son, God the Father commands the disciples, “listen to Him.”
Why, in the midst of such dazzling visual spectacle would God command the onlookers to “listen”? It seems like much could be gleaned from the visual manifestation going on right before their eyes, but God knows that this vision will fade and the glory of the moment will subside. What then? Does that mean that God has left? That he has forsaken Jesus and his mission? By no means; but only that there is more to the mission and work of Jesus than to dwell happily in a tent on a mountain of glory. The Father stresses to these feeble and terrified disciples, “listen to him!”
Now we know that it takes a bit more time, even beyond witnessing the resurrection for the disciples to “get it.” In fact, it really doesn’t occur to them until the day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit is poured out on them, empowering them for the ministry ahead.
Post Pentecost and after many years of ministry, the Apostle Peter recalls this glorious scene:
“For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”- 2 Peter 1:17-18
Here, Peter is recounting the scene on the mountain of Transfiguration. He recounts the glory that was manifested in Christ and even the voice that came from Heaven from God the Father. But does he then rest his case? Does he point to a previous personal experience and claim that as the source of his faith? Not at all; but he goes on saying:
“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (v.19).
Beyond the glory of the Transfiguration and all that Peter had been an eye-witness to in the earthly ministry of Christ; he points to something, “more fully confirmed,” namely, “the prophetic word.” Can you imagine seeing all that Peter has seen, even witnessing the resurrected glory of the Messiah, and then suggesting that there is something, “more sure,” or “more fully confirmed” in the Word of God? But that’s exactly what he says.
Our own personal knowledge and, “experience,” can never serve as the source of spiritual and religious authority. As bright and glorious as those events might happen to be, we can look to Peter who saw something even greater than that but still chose to rely and to tell others to rely on the Word of God; something more brilliant and sure than any experience of glory.
There’s a lot of clamor in the modern evangelical church concerning, “renewal movements,” “fresh moves of God,” “anointings,” and so called, “revivals.” People are willing to go here, there and everywhere, sometimes traveling thousands of miles to go to a place, a human establishment, in order to, “catch the fire,” from any number of self-proclaimed, “revivals.” The evidence of such, “fire,” can range anywhere from the fairly humble manifestations of tongues and trembling to full-fledged animal noises and, “holy laughter.” Such remarkable, and perhaps even uncontrollable manifestations, may seem like a tremendous manifestation of the presence and glory of God by his Spirit. Little doubt or criticism is often incorporated into such events and would probably just be viewed as a lack of faith that might even prohibit the Spirit from moving.
But what does Peter say? It seems that beyond any modern forms of, “glory,” whether animal noises or laughter, Peter would be able to trump them all. Not only did they walk beside the very Son of God for three years, witnessing numerous healings, exorcisms, and resurrections. Not only did Peter himself see the glory of Christ on the mountain of Transfiguration; but he beheld the risen and glorified Christ even as he ascended to reign at the right hand of the Father. If anyone could boast about some past experience of glory… it was Peter! But he does not. Instead he points to something much more ordinary sounding- words.
Sure, we live in a, “visual society.” A society that values, above all, the sensational, the glorious, and the, “entertaining.” So we indeed find it very hard to stomach the notion that God might manifest his glory in simple, common words. But he has. he has spoken to us through the the living Word, Jesus Christ, as well as the written Word through the Prophets and Apostles. “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent word!”
So is it any surprise then that God’s intention is not for Peter, James, John, or us to dwell on the glory of the mountain, but to “listen,” to the words of his most dearly-beloved Son, Jesus Christ? Because the true glory of God rests there- we need look no further.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” – Romans 1:16