When Jesus began to teach, speaking about himself, that “the Son of Man must suffer many things (…) and that he must be killed” (Mark 8:31), the disciples were disappointed and heartbroken. They had not yet understood the true meaning of the Messiah’s coming, which for them signified an earthly monarch who would deliver the people of Israel from the Roman Empire. Jesus’ words of suffering and death drove them into perplexity and sadness.
Nonetheless, suffering was coming, and they needed strength and perseverance to get through it. They were probably thinking that the only reality on the horizon was shame and sorrow. So the Lord Jesus does something extraordinary. He takes Peter, James and John to a high mount and allows them to see His glory.
In Matthew 17.2 we read: “There he [Jesus] was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light". The verb indicates a transformation, a radical change on the form. His divine and human nature have not changed, but its outward appearance was transformed. Jesus at all times possessed the glory and attributes of God, but that glory was covered by his body. On that mount they were privileged to glimpse the revelation of the nature of Christ.
I like the way J. C. Ryle comments on that: “The corner of the veil was lifted up, to show them their Master’s true dignity. They were taught that, if He did not yet appear to the world in the guise of a king, it was only because the time for putting on His royal apparel was not yet to come” (Expository Thoughts on the Gospel: St. Matthew, 64).
For what purpose did they see even for a short time this glory? The purpose was to encourage and sustain the disciples' faith, confirming that Jesus was the Messiah and that death must be faced in order to experience glory.
Afterwards, there is another extraordinary event. “Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus”. (Mt 17:3) Here we have two important men from the history of Israel. Moses, who had taken the Law to the people, represented the Law of God. Elijah, through whom God spoke directly to the people, represented the Prophets.
What were they talking about? Luke 9:31 answers that they “were talking of his death which was about to take place in Jerusalem”. The disciples needed to understand that Christ really needed to die; death was not an obstacle to the Kingdom, but part of a plan. There was no better way to ensure that than through the testimony of Moses and Elijah.
In the midst of this wonderful experience, Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters/tents —one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (Mt 17:4). His first reaction was the desire to build three tents. However, in our Christian lives, there is a time when quietness is necessary, a time for nothing else but contemplation, adoration and meditation.
Can you imagine the scene? Jesus was shining like the sun, Moses and Elijah appeared in glory, and Peter wants to build tents. I’m not sure about you, but I would not want to work on a lawsuit or prepare an oral statement if I were on that mountain – unless Jesus requested, of course.
I think we have deeper explanation about Peter’s reaction. He said: “It's good to be here”. He wanted this all-glorious moment to last. He didn't want to go down the Mount and face the same battles and pressure; The truth is he wanted to avoid suffering, for Jesus and for himself. Building the tents was a plan for the Kingdom to be established immediately. "Oh, forget the cross, let's stay here and settle the Kingdom."
I suppose that none of us think like this: “Well, I'm glad my vacation time ends tomorrow, I’m tired of having barbecue or knowing beautiful places. I’m so excited to study for new exams”. We also want, as much as possible, to avoid the problems that our profession, our ministry and daily life bring us, don’t we? As W. Barclay affirms: The Mountain of Transfiguration is always more enjoyable than the daily ministry or the way of the Cross. But the Mountain of Transfiguration is given to us only to provide strength for the daily ministry and to enable us to walk the way of the Cross” (Mateus, 592).
Finally, I want so share three practical applications:
1. Remember the majesty of Christ and His promises.
The glory that the disciples saw on the mount will be fully revealed when the Son of Man come on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. (Mt 24.30) I pray that this passage of the transfiguration fill our hearts with hope, because for all who trust in Jesus an everlasting joy is reserved.
2. Dedicate time in your daily life for meditation and devotion to God.
There is a time for action, for building tents, for lawsuits, for studying for exams, but there is also a time for silence and contemplation. The time of your devotion to God will strengthen you to follow the path of the cross. I am convinced that fellowship and prayer with like-minded lawyers, through LCF for instance, has a powerful effect on overcoming our everyday challenges.
3. There is still a lot of work ahead.
When they came down the Mount, there was a paralyzed boy to be healed, hopeless people who needed to hear about salvation, persecution by the Pharisees and other complex situations. The manifestation of Christ's glory on the Mount equipped the disciples to face it all.
One day the Kingdom will come fully and we will have a glorified body like Jesus. Until then we are called to face injustice, to help the poor and vulnerable, to preach the gospel. May the glory of Christ strengthen us to persevere and give us peace along this journey.