Wednesday, January 13, 2021
And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
Raised in a Christian home by parents who loved the Lord and were committed to serving Him, the church was not just something that we went to, it was a part of who we were as a family. If the doors were open, the Kish family was there. Sunday school, VBS, children’s choir, family retreats, youth group, mission trips, summer camps; our family did it all. My mom taught Sunday school while my dad served as an elder. In my Sunday school class, if there was ever a question about God or something in the Bible, I almost always was the first to know the answer. And yet, although I knew the contents of the Bible pretty well and it would have been virtually impossible to spend more time in God’s house than we did, I didn’t know God. Not really. I knew Jesus the same way that I knew my favorite athletes. I memorized the details of His life like I read the statistics on the back of a baseball card, but I didn’t really know Him personally until the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school.
Our youth group praise band (I played bass guitar because I wanted to impress girls by being in a band but I didn’t want to learn music) was invited to lead worship at a summer camp for high school students from churches all over southwestern Pennsylvania, and honestly I don’t remember who the pastor was that week or even what passage he was preaching on. But what I do remember was the Lord impressing on my heart the invitation to know Him personally. I was convicted of the reality that although my life looked really good from the outside, inside my heart was full of death and I desperately needed Jesus to save me from my sin. It was a powerful moment, a true mountaintop experience in the remote Laurel Highlands. Immediately after trusting in Jesus for my own salvation, He turned my heart toward my friends back home, many of whom, like me, were “good” kids from “good” families who did not know Jesus. They needed Jesus just like I did, and I began to tell them that what God did for me, He could do for them. Although I have been FAR from perfect, from that moment onward, my life has never been the same.
After Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus responded by letting everyone know the full ramifications of that confession. Life would never be the same for those who placed their faith in Him, but as we know, Jesus didn’t promise His followers earthly power or material success. In fact, Jesus explained that in order to truly know Him, they must be prepared to die to their own passions and desires. They must be ready, if need be, to face death for what they professed, and nearly all of them would. These were hard words, difficult sayings even for His closest friends to come to grips with. But Jesus also promised something else that was equally shocking: some—not all—in their very midst would see the kingdom of God come to earth with power.
Not even a week later we begin to see at least a partial fulfillment of this promise. Jesus invited Peter, James, and John to join Him in prayer high up on a remote mountain. We don’t know exactly where they went, some speculate that this took place on Mt. Hermon, the highest point in Samaria which rises to over 9,000 feet above sea level, but wherever they were it was not unusual for Jesus to retreat alone to a high place to spend time with God. Mark and Matthew write that they began their journey six days after Peter’s confession while Luke says that the transfiguration of Jesus occurred eight days later, which means that it may have taken two days of hiking to reach the summit. It would have been a physically difficult journey, and by the time they reached their destination the three disciples were exhausted. Luke 9 tells us that they actually fell asleep while Jesus was praying.
As they woke up, they saw something that would stick in their minds and hearts forever. The veil of Jesus’ humanity was lifted back and, for a moment, the disciples saw Him in the fulness of His deity. It was a portal into both His past and His future, where Jesus had come from and where He was going back to: His rightful place on the throne of heaven. Luke says that His face was altered, Matthew says that it shone like the sun, and Mark shares that His clothes “became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” Jesus shone with the blinding brilliance of the glory and splendor of God. And He was not alone.
There in His midst were Moses and Elijah. Moses was the great prophet of God who had led the people out of captivity of Egypt and received the law on Mt. Sinai. Elijah was the great prophet who had foretold a three year drought over the land in judgement against the wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and defeated 450 false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Each of them were taken home to be with God by the hand of God, Moses buried by the Lord on the mountain while Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire. Together they represented the law and the prophets, of which Jesus had not come to nullify, but to fulfill.
The disciples woke up to find Jesus in all His glory speaking with Elijah and Moses. What were they saying to each other? Luke tells us they were talking about His death, “His departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The climactic event of the perfect plan of God, from before the foundation of the world, was now at hand. Elijah and Moses, mouthpieces of the Lord, were affirming and confirming what Jesus had already known: He must suffer, it would be excruciating, but this most hopeless defeat would prove to be the greatest victory.
The disciples did not know what to think, what to do, or what to say, so of course Peter felt the need to speak. He offered to make dwellings for all three of the men so that they could remain in their presence. But at that moment, the voice of the Lord came out of a cloud and declared, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And when the voice was gone, only Jesus remained.
Surely John had this moment in mind as he penned the opening lines of his gospel, “We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Peter also recounted this life-altering event in his first letter. 1 Peter 1:16-18 says, “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 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.”
Notice that Peter doesn’t mention Moses or Elijah, because, as the Father told them, the only one who mattered now was Jesus. Peter was an eyewitness to His power, His majesty, His honor, and His glory. Even though Peter had spent lots of time with Jesus before, now He knew Jesus for who He really was. Now, this didn’t mean that Peter or the others were perfect from that point forward. Each of them allowed their fears and doubts to get the better of them when it was time for Jesus to fulfill the Lord’s plan.
Peter, James, and John wanted to stay there on the mountain with the radiant Son of God, but Jesus knew that their time together in this way was to be only for a moment. They all had work to do, they would not be able to accomplish the mission of God there on that mountain. But God used that time as an anchor, to guide them through the rest of their lives. Through their storms and trials, their moments of doubt and unbelief, they never forgot that special time with Jesus.
Just as the disciples, Jesus invites us to come and spend time with Him, to see and know Him in His splendor, power, and glory. We must not only confess with our mouths that He is God, but we must believe it in our hearts, know Him in an intimate and personal way. The wonderful thing is that God can and will use that time with Him on the mountain not just for ourselves, but to propel us forward as we join Him in His mission of proclaiming the gospel with our lives. May we see Him and savor Him for all that He is, and may we live to serve Him with all that we are.
Prayer for Today:
Lord Jesus, we long to see You, to know You in Your radiant splendor. Although You have revealed Yourself fully through Your word, we confess that at times we instead long for an experience of You. Help us to trust that You have given to us everything that we need. Give us strength to face the tasks that You have placed before us, that we would serve You with faithfulness in the face of fear and uncertainty. In Your radiant name we pray, Amen.