Think back just three years ago from right now. What were you doing? What was happening in your life in late January of 2015? That isn’t really very long ago, is it? If you’re like me, it seems more like months ago than three years ago.
Three years – that is the total time of Christ’s public ministry and the time that the disciples were exposed to this greatest experience of their lives. It must have been a whirlwind sort of adventure. Going from mere fishermen (thinking of Peter, James and John specifically) to becoming foremost witnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Christ – that was a lot to absorb.
Throughout the gospel narratives we see the disciples struggling to take it all in and rightly understand everything. Of course, it could not all be understood until it was all over. This was especially true of the atoning work of the cross.
At the transfiguration, Jesus pulls back the curtain a bit so that these three disciples can see the bigger picture of his glory. Moses represented the beginning of the nation – the giving of the Law and the exodus from Egypt through the Passover. And Elijah was the eschatological (last times) figure of the nation, stated in Malachi that he would return before the great and terrible day of the Lord. (In the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark, it is clear from the words of Jesus that this was fulfilled in John the Baptist.)
All in all, this was a profound experience for these three disciples. It would deeply affect them, though the full significance was not understood until later. This experience surely bolstered their lives and their ministries in the future: James as the first Christian martyr, Peter as the rock upon which the church would be built, and John as a foremost leader and the writer of his gospel, letters, and the Revelation.
Yes, the transfiguration experience was surely confusing. The statement of Peter to put up shelters is a bit cryptic, probably being a desire to continue in the moment and have the heavenly visitors stay.
The voice coming out of the cloud – clearly that of God – contains the same authenticating words as at the baptism of Jesus. “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Yes, it was all confusing and too much to comprehend. What the disciples needed for that moment was to be reminded to listen to what Jesus said.
Now there is a timeless truth if ever there was one! In the confusion, listen to Jesus. That’s what you really need. Maybe you didn’t need that message today quite as much as I have needed it. Listen. Obey. Stay the course. Be faithful. Trust and move forward.
Luke 9:28 – About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.