Dream up a fabulous world, invent some fantastic characters, weave an imaginary story line around them, and you have a myth in the making. Libraries, bookshops and our childhood memories are full of them. Religion and cults have developed similarly, and have deceived many by their imagination appeal. No matter how attractive or plausible they may be on the surface, they are but “cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16). Not so the apostle Peter’s testimony of what he saw when, accompanied by James and John, two of his fellow apostles, he went with Jesus up into a mountain to pray. Peter later wrote of the event in 2 Peter 1:16-18, declaring “we were eyewitnesses”. What happened was neither myth nor dream. It was not a “cleverly devised myth” for an impressionable audience. Peter’s own testimony is supported by the Gospel accounts. Please read Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36.
Isn’t Luke 9:36 a most amazing detail? “And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.” They kept silent! How could they have bottled it up? They must have been longing to tell the world. Of course, the Lord had commanded them to say nothing (Mark 9:9). We cannot imagine what it would have been like to see the Lord’s face day after day during His life on earth. But to have seen Him transfigured before us in majestic glory would surely have changed our whole perspective on life forever.
Peter was spiritually alert. Before the transfiguration, the Lord asked the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15), and Peter uttered the remarkable answer revealed to him by God, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. A few breaths later, however, he began to “rebuke” the Lord for speaking of suffering, rejection and death. What boldness! Rebuking the Christ! Clearly he had not understood what He had said, for it was Satan, not Peter, whom the Lord in turn rebuked, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Matthew 16:23). What a man of contrasts Peter was! He had perceived by the Spirit of God that Jesus was the Christ, but it was still hidden from him that the Christ had to “suffer these things” (Luke 24:26). He knew nothing of the looming Cross of Calvary.
The day never to be forgotten arrived, and the Lord Jesus led the three fishermen up into the mountain, where they would be quite alone. Why no Andrew, nor any other disciples
to see this marvellous sight? What a privilege to be chosen! The testimonies of these men would stand the test of time, confirming each other, as do the three Gospel accounts. “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
They reached the allotted place. As they prayed, the Lord Jesus was transfigured before them. He was changed before their very eyes, and His outward human appearance instantly revealed the radiant glory of His deity. Such divine glory is His by right and by nature, for as the only begotten Son of the Father He is co-equal with His Father in deity (John 1:1), honour (John 5:23) and glory (John 17:5; Hebrews 1:3).
Three distinct changes to the Lord during His transfiguration are described:
1. His face “shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2).
2. His garments: “became white light” (Matthew 17:2), “became radiant, intensely white” (Mark 9:3) and “became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29).
3. The “appearance of his face “was altered” (Luke 9:29).
Only Luke reveals that the Lord’s face changed, as well as shining as the sun, and His garments becoming dazzlingly white. We cannot say how it was changed. Perhaps it became more akin to the divine face which John saw while in the Spirit on Patmos (Revelation 1:16) than the earthly face of Him who had “no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2).
The disciples had been drowsy, tired with the ascent no doubt, but when the transfiguration occurred, they were wide awake (Luke 9:32). Peter and his companions saw the glory of the transfigured Jesus. They gazed upon Him and could even withstand the brilliance of His face. They did not cast themselves down, nor cover their eyes although full of awe-inspired fear. Peter’s memory was completely unclouded even years later when he wrote, “we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).
Clearly they saw the glorious Lord with Moses and Elijah. It almost presents a picture of small children sitting at their parents’ feet as the parents talk of matters beyond the
children’s understanding, and yet the children gaze upwards in wonder. The Lord was speaking of “His departure, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). Peter did not appreciate the significance of this momentous discussion. He still had not grasped the meaning of the Lord’s “departure”, one thing he knew, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here” (Mark 9:5). His heart was surely overcome with awe at the unimaginable scene, and whatever fear he felt in the presence of such glory, there was no better place to be at that moment. What was more, he was prepared to say so. What about us? How quickly our conversation becomes mundane after we have been in the Lord’s presence. Let us be more concerned about saying to each other at the end of our worship, “It was good”.
Next, the bright cloud enveloped them and a voice spoke. When Moses and the children of Israel stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and the Lord descended in a thick cloud, even Moses was full of fear (Exodus 19:16-19). When the Lord spoke it “made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them” (Hebrews 12:19). The mount of transfiguration was entirely different, for the transfigured Son of Man was present, and God was pleased to speak to the three men, “This is My Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5). The voice of God confirmed that this glorious Person was none other than the Holy One of God. Even Moses and Elijah, whom Peter recognized, were glorious in appearance, not of themselves, but because of the Lord’s presence. After the voice had spoken, Peter’s unthinking words concerning tabernacles are forgotten. No need for tabernacles, Peter, just look at your Master, He is none other than Jehovah, God the Son whom you walk beside day by day.
Again we cannot imagine what the sound of the voice was like for we have never heard such a voice with our human ears. Peter did, and he never forgot it. It affected him as powerfully as the sight of the Lord in His glory. His later testimony is completely convincing: “when he received honor 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 1:17-18). On hearing it, the disciples “fell on their faces, and were terrified” (Matthew 17:6).
Perhaps we should learn from this reaction of fear before the voice of God. The Scriptures teach us to be so moved by the Word of God, “this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2). Do I, and do you, sometimes adopt a blase attitude to God’s Word? Remember Peter and his friends, prostrate on the ground, and afterwards all they could see was “Jesus … alone” (Luke 9:36). When we read the Scriptures, do we see “Jesus alone”? If not, is it because we have failed to fall on our face?
It is surely not by accident that on returning to the other disciples, and the three restraining themselves from describing the indescribable, as commanded by the Lord, the Holy Spirit brings before us the healing of the demon-possessed boy (Luke 9:38-43). One can only feel for the heartbreak of the father to see his little lad being convulsed with an evil spirit. The disciples could do nothing to heal him. Then the Lord Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. The reaction of the crowd is remarkable, “all were astonished at the majesty of God” (v.43). The One whose majestic deity was seen in the mountain equally manifested His deity as Son of Man, by “doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil” (Acts 10:38).
The Holy Spirit is revealing that the deity of Christ on the mountain is no greater than the deity of Christ on the plain. Peter saw His glory, heard the voice and saw the demon-possessed boy healed. No wonder that after the Lord’s ascension into heaven, he declared, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God” (Acts 2:22). A faithful witness, Peter was not deluded by fantasies or legends. The things he witnessed influenced him profoundly, deepening his love for the Lord. Shall we, who read his eyewitness report, not be similarly influenced? May the Spirit of God give us the same assurance of “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:16), and touch our lives accordingly.