Fear Not: Jesus and the Transfiguration

Fear Not: Jesus and the Transfiguration

Fear Not: Jesus and the Transfiguration.

“The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. ‘Get up!’, he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.” (Matthew 17:6-8).

There was a time when Jesus told His disciples that some of them would be eye witnesses to the glory of Christ in His Kingdom. (Matt. 16:28). Six days later His prediction came true as Jesus led Peter, James and John to a lonely mountaintop, probably Mt. Tabor. The three disciples were intently watching as Jesus’ appearance was transformed into pure radiance. His face shone brightly like the sun, and His clothes became luminescent, whitened by divine uncreated light. For the three disciples, the curtain between the two kingdoms was parted, and they were privileged to sneak a glimpse of the glorified Christ, the Christ who is full of light, surrounded by light, pulsing with light. To make matters more astounding and  miraculous, they then witnessed Jesus having a conversation with Moses and Elijah, the two greatest prophets in Hebrew history.

Here were three spiritual men, representing the living Word, the written Word (the Torah), and the prophetic Word. They appeared to be discussing the expected exodus of Jesus from this world, Jesus’ coming Passion, His suffering and death. The topic of conversation was the messiahship of Jesus. This makes sense, since Moses predicted the coming of the great divine Prophet in Deuteronomy 18, and an Elijah-like prophet would foretell the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5, 6). These central biblical figures, one divine and two human, were talking about Jesus’ messianic mission yet to be completed.

How did the disciples know that these two men were Moses and Elijah? We don’t know for sure. Maybe it was deduced by their conversation, or maybe the Holy Spirit simply revealed it to them there at the scene. And where did Moses and Elijah come from? Maybe they had been recalled from the Kingdom, and then were sent back after the conversation. Or maybe they were raised bodily from the grave just for this special occasion, and then sent back to the grave to await the Great Day of Resurrection when Jesus returns. We just don’t know, but why lose any sleep over it? It happened, and that mystery only adds to the glorious mystery surrounding the whole situation.

Brash Peter impulsively blurts out that maybe he should build them three shelters, three booths celebrating the coming Kingdom in the Feast of the Tabernacles. Peter evidently knew that the coming of the messianic kingdom, the culminating event of the world as we know it, was prophesied in Zechariah 14:16-19. The Feast of Booths, or Shelters, will somehow accompany the arrival of the Final Kingdom in the spirit of thanksgiving, and gratitude for the final harvest of human souls. Peter might have thought that he was witnessing the new kingdom coming then and there on the mountaintop with Jesus. Peter seemed to assume that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were three co-equals having a heavenly conversation, but he was straightened out later when the voice of the Father pointed out the divinity of Jesus. Another astonishing miracle then took place. A bright cloud filled with light, as if the cloud was self-lit by some interior force, came out of nowhere and overshadowed them on the mountaintop. Peter, James and John were totally enveloped in this dazzling cloud, and they were mystified and terrified. One thinks of the cloud over Mt. Sinai, the cloud that guided the Israelites through the wilderness, the cloud that filled the Temple, the cloud that took Jesus up to heaven in the Ascension, and the cloud that will accompany Jesus coming to earth on that great Day of the Lord.

And then, once the cloud appeared, a divine Voice spoke out of that cloud, and said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to Him.” (17:5). The Father’s voice quoted short phrases from three different passages in the Hebrew Bible… “My Son,” came from Psalm 2:7; “My chosen in whom I delight” came from Isaiah 42:1; “Listen to Him” came from Deuteronomy 18:15. SHEMA (sh’ma) is usually translated “hear,” but actually means hear and do, listen and obey, hear and respond, listen and take action, take heed; there is a traditional Jewish saying that “to hear God is to obey God, and to obey God is to hear God.” Hearing and doing are two sides of the same coin of faith, and is a vital aspect of biblical spirituality. Peter, James and John would have understood the Father’s command to “listen” in this light. Shema was deep in the consciousness of all the observant Jews. Listen and obey this Son of mine, says the Lord. Deuteronomy 18:15 is a great passage about God bringing a new prophet for the people. It is a clear messianic passage that the Father wanted to underscore with Jesus Messiah.

This was the eternal voice of God, the voice of the Father, that Voice that both Moses and Elijah had listened to on Mt. Sinai. What did that Voice sound like? Was it even describable? The Father said essentially, Listen to Me as I tell you to listen to Him. Of course, we know that listening to Jesus is actually the same as listening to the Father. Everything Jesus said or did represented the Father, down to the tiniest detail.

After witnessing this other-worldly spectacle, the disciples were beyond terrified. They fell down face first on the ground, maybe out of fright, maybe out of worship, probably a mixture of both. Then Jesus graciously touched them, once again performing his ongoing ministry of touch. And He told them to get up on their feet and fear not. Don’t be afraid, despite what you’ve seen. Have no fear, despite the fearsome glory of the Christ. And when they looked up, they saw only Jesus. Jesus only, our mode of operation, our style of life, our call to discipleship. Jesus only. Things seemed to be back to normal in no time, as if nothing had happened on the mountain. But then again, did life ever get back to normal for Peter, James and John after their unforgettable experience?

Another Thought: Fear of Change. “Jesus was transfigured before the disciples’ eyes. The transliteration of the Greek word into English is ‘metamorphosized.’ Elsewhere in the New Testament, it’s translated ‘transformed.’ In other words, the reality that was inside of Jesus got outside of Him so the disciples could see it. Not only was this true of Jesus, it’s true of you and me. Paul wrote about it in his letter to the Romans: ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed’ (12:2) – Or, as I translated it, ‘be changed from the inside out.’ The same Greek word that’s used to describe Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew is used in Romans to describe our transfiguration. What happens to Jesus happens to us. But it happens to us by the renewing of our minds. As we listen to Him, as we look at Him, as we linger with Him, a transformation occurs. And the beauty that is His becomes ours.” (Eugene Peterson, from a sermon).