The transfiguration of Jesus on a mountain (probably Hermon) near Caesarea Philippi is interesting, not just because of the dynamics of the supernatural involved, but because of the valuable insights that offers. It would seem that it can offer more questions than answers.
Here in one complete account are the three contributions, and what is immediately interesting is that the Apostle John, an eye witness to the event, does not not contribute to this story, (but in his epistles there is a subtle clue):
“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves, to pray.
And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white, white as light – his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.
And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him, who appeared in glory. And they were talking with Jesus, and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.
And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said.
He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, my Chosen One, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
And when the voice had spoken, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.”
Only Christ shines brightly
What has to be said immediately about this narrative is that the focus is on Christ alone, others who are in attendance are incidental. This is a crucial issue for the prophetic ministry – everything that is done and said points to us setting our devotion and focus on Christ alone, not the minister. It is not said that Moses and Elijah had any glory of their own, only Christ is referred to in this way.
Have we really seen Jesus?
The transfiguration was a spectacular and intimate moment where Christ did not so much transform into someone resplendent with glory, but there was more likely the revealing of ultimate reality. Christ was seen for a brief moment as He truly is. The veil of human carnal discernment lifted momentarily revealing the presence of Christ’s blinding glory. The response of the disciples was an understandable one, and yet so distant from the testimonies of many in the prophetic community today who, in a carefree manner talk of encountering Jesus with little or no concern. (Selah!) The disciples were terrified.
Sleep well, the glory is coming!
Peter, James and John seem to have a particular trouble keeping awake when Jesus is praying. Here, as in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus prays heavy sleep seems to descend upon them. I wonder about this. Are they describing something of the weighty presence of God that the word ‘Chabod’ (glory) refers to? This is not a normal, dozing off that might happen on Sunday morning during a particularly dull preachers droning – they were heavy with sleep. There have been times that I have felt very tired during the day, and while succumbing to sleep have had insights from God into situations that others face. It is worthwhile considering the encouragement of Joel’s prophetic word that one of the principal ways of God’s revelation to mankind, particularly the old, is that they dream dreams.
Issues at hand
The focus of this transfiguration and the conversation that Jesus has with Moses and Elijah is Jesus’ departure which was shortly to take place in Jerusalem. Nothing of the content of that discussion is reported and none of the disciples allude to it in any apparent or indirect way. But it is the focus, and the gospels are keen to show that despite all the phenomena of Jesus’ ministry, in the background all of the time is the impending suffering of the cross. We do well to consider that behind all that we see happening in the Church in terms of preaching, salvation, signs, wonders and miracles is the magnificent call for us to ensure that Christ alone is glorified in everything we do. He alone is worthy of all glory.
Holding His Presence
I relate to Peter, I think it was a clever little ploy. As the glory seemed to be diminishing and the encounter looked to be ending Peter comes up with an idea that will last an hour or so, “Let me build a tent or tabernacle for you”. The Scripture says that Peter said this, not knowing what he said.
Peter must have felt at this moment, that he had done something akin to touching the Ark of the Covenant. A sudden bright cloud overshadowed them, fear gripped them and then a voice from the Father spoke resulting in them falling on their faces, terrified. And then suddenly everything was back to the normal way of life.
Touched by Jesus
Having heard the testimonial message of the Father concerning the Son, the disciples in their terror, will no doubt have been deeply impacted by the kindness of Jesus. As they lay on their face in terror He came and touched them and reassured them to ‘rise and have no fear’. He is a very kind saviour. Strict and fair, but very good.
Complications: There is a complication with these verses to do with the presence of Moses and Elijah. Some raise the issue of Moses being dead and yet is alive and talking to Jesus. The historian Josephus tried to explain away the issue of Moses’ death by saying that Moses did not die, but just wrote that he did so that the Israelites would not idolise him. That would be deception – so we can dismiss that. We must always keep Scripture and not reasoning as the authority for what we say and do. Josephus ignored the scripture where God says, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel”. ( Joshua 1:2)
Some say that we are talking of a vision and not a real event, but this limits God’s ability to do what is beyond our comprehension.