Heaven appears to those on earth at the transfiguration of Jesus
This event follows a week or so after the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Peter’s declaration, in answer to Jesus’ question, “You are the Christ!”. Jesus teaches the disciples about self-denial and His coming rejection and death at the hands of the religious leaders – and also resurrection. He tells them that some will live to see the kingdom of God come in power – possibly what follows next, but more likely the pivotal point of His death, the Resurrection, Ascension and then the Pentecost outpouring. Three disciples accompany him up the mountain where they experience the dazzling glory of God which gives them an insight into heavenly events that accompany what happens on earth.
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them.
“A high mountain” – unknown, but possibly Mount Hermon, although tradition points to Mount Tabor.
3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.
This radiant glory is a glimpse into the ‘other world’ of Jesus, who set aside His divine nature so that He could incarnate God for us by being born as man, Philippians 2:6-7. However, this glimpse is a reminder that in the background to the incarnation, Jesus always was, and is, fully God – and therefore almost impossible to see in the brightness of the glory surrounding Him.
4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Elijah and Moses had both individually met with God on Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb. The only other place in Scripture where Moses and Elijah are mentioned together, is at the finale of the OT in the passage about turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, Malachi 4:4-6.
For further study, read Exodus 24, 1 Kings 19:8-18
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Peter may have reacted unthinkingly in line with the tradition of the Feast of Tabernacles, Leviticus 23:42. Despite having in the past week recognised Jesus as Messiah, he is confused at this point and treats them all as equals.
6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Elijah, representing the Prophets, and Moses, representing the Law, are talking with Jesus, demonstrating the Jesus is greater than either of them and representing the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, 1 Kings 19:8, Exodus 24:1, 9.
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Cloud symbolises God’s presence in protecting and guiding, Exodus 16:10, 24:15-18, 33:9-10
“Listen” carries the meaning of willingness to act on what is heard.
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
“Son of Man” is the title Jesus most often applied to Himself and not used by anyone else. It is a messianic title and a response to Peter, who has just acclaimed Him as the Christ (or Messiah). The Son of Man in Daniel is a heavenly figure who is given glory, authority and sovereign power by God, Daniel 7:13-14.
After the resurrection was the time for the disciples to tell everyone – when Jesus’ finished work had been demonstrated.
God speaks to us – but the lesson of this event is that He speaks of what we are ready to believe. He speaks into our readiness to hear. In this instance, Peter, James and John were a little inner circle among the twelve disciples. Among the first to be called, they were possibly at a slightly higher level of faith than the others at this point. Peter, who was on one hand quick to receive, but on the other not so good at consolidating it or processing it, has already come out with his “You are the Christ!” statement.
Our heartfelt expression of praise for who God is – not to be confused with thanksgiving for what He has done – is for us a way into God’s presence and encountering Him. We need to put down whatever else we may be carrying, and bring our faith to focus on the might, majesty, mercy and mystery of God, as transcendent and “other”.
God is also immanent, meaning evident and involved in our world, incarnated in Jesus and in a lesser way, incarnated in all of us who carry the smile and the love of Jesus around with us. But the Transfiguration showed the window of heaven being momentarily opened – and in that, God is “other” and awesome.
For reflection or discussion
This was an encounter with God beyond the scope of imagining for most of us. Could you imagine being in a situation where you draw so near to God that His glory becomes real to you?
Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11