And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. Matthew 17.1-2.
What was the point of the transfiguration? Why was Jesus metamorphosed (for that is the Greek word that is used) up there, on the mountain?
Well, the text does state that he was transfigured “before them” which seems to be telling me that the transformation of Jesus, witnessed by Peter, James and John, took place primarily for their sakes and not for Jesus’ own. A day is approaching (it is less than a year away) when Jesus will be betrayed, beaten, spat upon, mocked, humiliated, and then crucified — so that, to all the world, and to his disciples too, he will appear a weak, powerless, defeated failure of a human being. And in order to help them to endure that horror and, after it has happened, to understand the significance of it, Jesus entrusts to this inner circle of his disciples a glimpse of the world beyond and a revelation of who he is and what he looks like in that other world.
So, for just a few moments, the veil is lifted and Peter, James and John see Jesus as he was in heaven before he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2.7). They see what Jesus himself will later, in a prayer to his Father, refer to as, “the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17.5).
Many years later, when he begins to write his gospel, the John who is now here on the mountain will finally find a way of giving expression to what he is witnessing. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1.1-3, 14).
Likewise Peter, will one day write: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honour and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1.16-18).
Glory! Majesty! This was the truth of Jesus before manger in Bethlehem and the cross on Calvary. And it is the truth of Jesus now.
In the book of Revelation, John the Seer recounts how, on the isle of Patmos, he was given a vision of the risen, ascended, re-glorified Jesus. “He was,” he says, “clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters … and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1.13-16).
What was John’s reaction to such a sight? “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Revelation 1.17). And on the mountain, Peter, James and John “fell on their faces and were terrified” (Matthew 17.6). It is a reminder to me this morning that, although Jesus wants me to know him as “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18.24), in truth he is the Lord God Almighty, the maker and ruler of everything, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
You are the King of glory,
You are the Prince of Peace,
You are the Lord of heaven and earth,
You’re the Son of righteousness.
Angels bow down before You,
worship and adore,
for You have the words of eternal life,
You are Jesus Christ the Lord.
Hosanna to the Son of David!
Hosanna to the King of kings!
Glory in the highest heaven,
for Jesus the Messiah reigns!