A theologian called Brentius commented on this event as follows: ‘No synod on earth was ever more gloriously attended than this. No assembly was ever more illustrious. Here is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost. Here are Moses and Elijah, the chief of the prophets. Here are Peter, James and John, the chief of the apostles.’
The event described by Mark and Matthew and Luke, but interestingly not by John, is called The Transfiguration of Jesus. It occurred six days after the famous confession by Peter at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was the Christ. After listening to Peter’s confession, Jesus informed the disciples that although he was the Christ, yet he was going to suffer. This information caused confusion amongst his disciples, so perhaps the Transfiguration was designed to reassure them that Jesus was more than a man. Certainly Peter was profoundly affected by this event for he refers to it in his the second chapter of his second letter when he says that they were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ majesty when they were with him on the Holy Mount.
It is clear from the Gospels that Peter, James and John were given special privileges by Jesus. No doubt, one reason for their receiving of those privileges is connected to the sovereignty of Jesus arranging it for them. Yet it is also the case that they wanted to be near Jesus more than the other disciples did. Usually, in the Christian life we receive from Jesus according to our spiritual desires.
In addition, Jesus was preparing them for their future roles, that of telling others about him after he had risen from the dead. When he had gone back to glory, there would be three men who had witnessed his glory and could testify about it.
Something happened to the body of Jesus while they were on the top of the mountain. The Greek word is the one from which we get the word ‘metamorphosis’ which describes a transformation from one state to another. Each Gospel account says that Jesus’ appearance shone as a very bright light and Luke adds that his appearance was like shafts of lighting. The light came from within him, and was not a reflected glory such as Moses had when he went up to Mt. Sinai.
This was an indication that Jesus is the Light, a common name for God. ‘In him is light and no darkness at all.’ God is light. This description of Jesus is stressed in John 1:3-9. He was the light that shone before the sun was or stars were created.
On the top of the mountain, Jesus’ disciples had contact with two men from heaven. Moses and Elijah were very important figures in the history of Israel. We are not told why they were the ones who appeared with Jesus, but scholars have come up with four possible suggestions. (1) Some say Moses and Elijah were symbolic of the Law and the prophets, the two important offices of Israel. (2) Others see them as being of significance here because their departures from the earth at the end of their human lives were unusual – Moses died in God’s presence on Mount Pisgah and Elijah went to heaven without dying. (3) Still others see this event as picturing the end of the world when the glorified Jesus returns with glorified saints (depicted by Moses and Elijah) to meet the as yet unglorified believers then alive on earth (depicted by Peter, James and John). (4) It is also true that the periods of the ministries of Moses and Elijah are the two other periods of which miracles are recorded in the Bible. Whatever the reason for their coming to the mountain, the important detail is that they were outshone by Jesus.
Moses asked on one occasion to see the glory of God (Exod. 33:18). God granted him his request in as much as was possible. To see God’s glory would be to see all that God is, and it is not possible for a sinful creature to behold it. But God allowed Moses to see some aspects of his character through what is called a theophany. So Moses had seen a manifestation of God on earth; when he went to heaven he would have seen further manifestations of God’s glory; but I would suggest that what he saw here on the Mount of Transfiguration was far superior to any revelation he had known previously.
The same can be said of Elijah because he received a revelation of God on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19). He discovered that God was not in the storm, but in the still small voice, another picture of the grace and mercy of God. But as he listened to Jesus on this occasion he would hear sweeter words that ever he heard at Horeb. After all, when he left Horeb, Elijah left with a message of judgement; but when he left the Mount of Transfiguration, he knew that his Master was on a mission of mercy.
We are told what Moses and Elijah spoke about: the exodus that Jesus would bring about when he died on the cross. This is a revealing insight into the way that the inhabitants of heaven perceived the work of Christ on the cross – an exodus is an achievement, not a defeat. Is it too much to suggest that when Moses and Elijah went back to heaven they informed the heavenly world of what they had discussed with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration?