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Gospel of Matthew 17: 1-9 (NIV)
1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no-one except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Some Christian denominations celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord every year. These verses or parallel passages from the Gospels of Mark (9: 2-9) and Luke (9: 28-36) are read annually in thousands of churches across Australia. If you readily recognise this passage of Scripture, could it be for you that, because of familiarity, it has lost its impact?
We must not under-estimate the significance of this occasion. These nine verses describe what is possibly the most amazing single event witnessed by human beings from the creation of the earth to the resurrection of our Lord from death. As I review the Hebrew Scriptures the only other occasion that suggests similar human proximity to and witness of the glory of the Lord is in the book of the prophet Daniel. Chapter 3 describes the presence in the fiery furnace of not only Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego but also a fourth man walking around, untouched by the flames. The principal witness then was the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar.
Here, Jesus had selected three from among his chosen twelve apostles to be witnesses of the event. Why these three? We can only guess at Jesus’ reasons but that the selection was deliberate seems evident from Matthew’s later recording (26: 37) that Jesus took the same three with him deeper into the place called Gethsemane. Peter referred to this transfiguration decades later when he wrote of being “eye-witnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1: 16-18).
This event was not just a dream-like vision nor was it a divine visitation to only one person. Here Jesus permitted three of his followers to be present during an interruption to Jesus’ earthly sojourn. For perhaps only minutes, he appeared in his heavenly glory to receive into his presence the law-speaker, Moses, and prophet-exemplar, Elijah. The link between Old and New Covenants was unmistakably presented as was the unquestioned authority of the One whom the voice from the cloud called “my Son”.
His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
The divinity of the Son of Man, Son of God, was made evident to Peter, James and John. We should reflect on the import of these nine verses with holy fear.