This is one of the more interesting passages in the Gospels, and it comes at an interesting time.
Jesus has just shattered his disciples’ ideas of what Messiah is supposed to be, and they’re wondering what in the world does all this dying and being raised from the dead is all about. For the most part, it seems, all the way until the cross, they kind of shoved it to the back of their minds and tried not to think about it. Perhaps they convinced themselves they heard Jesus wrong. Or perhaps they thought he was speaking in some kind of parable. Whatever they thought, they never really came to grips with what Jesus was telling them.
And so about a week later, Jesus tries to drive it home to three of his closest followers.
One quick note: Matthew and Mark say this event happens 6 days later, Luke says it happens about eight days later. Which is correct? There are two explanations that I’ve seen. One is that the Greek expression “about eight days later” that Luke used was a common expression that meant “about a week later.” The other is that Luke was counting partial days. He counted the day that Jesus spoke and the day of the transfiguration, while Matthew and Mark only counted the full days in between the events. We’ll see more of this when we come to the resurrection.
Anyway, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain, and while he’s praying, they either fell asleep or were on the verge of it. Because of that, they nearly missed what happened next. Jesus suddenly shines in all his glory, and Moses and Elijah both appear. And as the disciples listen in to their conversation, they hear them talking to Jesus about his impending death and resurrection. (Luke 9:30-31)
By now, the disciples are fully awake, and as usual Peter speaks up first asking if they should build shelters for Jesus and his two visitors. But at that point, a bright cloud surrounds them, and they hear a voice saying,
This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him! (Mark 9:7)
Hearing this, they fell down on their faces in terror, but then they hear another voice, the voice of their beloved Master who tells them,
Get up…Don’t be afraid. (Matthew 17:7)
And when they look up, only Jesus is there, the glory that had been shining from him faded. And as they went down the mountain, Jesus warned them not to tell anyone what they saw until he had risen from the dead.
Why did Jesus show them all this? Again, I think one reason was to impress to them that his mission was to die. But I think another reason was to impress to them that death was not the end. They had just seen Moses and Elijah. One had died, the other had been taken away in a chariot of fire, never seeing death. But both were still alive and talking to Jesus.
Even so, the disciples still didn’t understand. And as they continued down the mountain, they continued discussing among themselves what “being raised from the dead” was all about. (Mark 9:10)
But as I look back at this, the words that impress me most were the Words of the Father. “This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him.”
Sometimes, like the disciples, we don’t always fully understand the things that Jesus is trying to teach us. Later, as with the disciples, we will understand. But though there may be some time between when we hear what Jesus says and when we understand everything completely, Jesus is our Lord, sent from the Father, and we are to hear him, follow him, and obey.
How about you? Inasmuch you understand the things he’s told you, will you trust Jesus enough that you’ll hear him, follow him, and obey him in everything he says?