@johnvinod | March 23, 2021
Let us begin by reading Matthew 17: 1-13. When Jesus’ suffering and death were imminent, Jesus shared this with the Twelve in no uncertain terms. Jesus might have also been tempted to withdraw from it all, God permitting, in light of the looming suffering and a cruel death. If not, he was willing to obey the will of God in everything. Therefore, he aspired for much needed strength from his Father before the descent, from now onward, into the dark valley of loneliness, misunderstanding, and suffering that awaits him.
He often withdrew from the demands of his busy ministry to spend time in communion with his Father. So, one day, Jesus went up a mountain, taking with him only three of his closest disciples—Peter, James, and John.
As soon as Jesus knelt down in the posture of prayer, I assume, the trio of weary disciples fell asleep in the cool breeze of the serene mountain top. They were woken up by a burst of intense light around them. Luke states, “Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him (Luke 9: 32 ESV).
They could not believe their eyes and must have immediately jumped to their feet as they saw Jesus completely transformed in his appearance. A form they had never seen before. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matthew 17: 2 NRSV).
As though this transfiguration was not sufficient, when the disciples adjust their sleepy eyes to the bright light around them, they “see” Jesus engaged in a conversation with Moses and Elijah. What a fabulous privilege of the trio to witness a glimpse of God’s glory.
However, the main question to reflect for me today is: How did the trio recognize who the other two persons were with Jesus? There was no photography then and the Jewish people were forbidden from making images. There could be several conjectures:
- Jesus himself shared with his stunned disciples, as he introduced his visitors, Moses and Elijah, to them.
- They probably heard it announced. For the sake of Jesus’ disciples, a heavenly voice revealed the identity of the two visitors to further affirm Jesus’ divine glory (Matthew 17:5).
- Perhaps, the disciples recognized the two most renowned celebrities of Judaism through the conversations they overheard among Jesus and his visitors. Only Luke gives us a glimpse of their conversation saying, “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9: 31 NRSV). Any Jewish child could associate it with the memories of the great “exodus” under Moses, and Elijah’s departure from earth without facing death.
- Perhaps, Jesus himself was talking to his visitors by their names that the disciples overheard and believed.
- I would like to go with yet another possibility: Remember, the disciples wrote down this account after quite some time. When the four of them were descending down from the mountain, Jesus clearly instructed the trio not to share this “vision” with anyone else until after his resurrection. The word “vision” holds the key for this possibility:
“As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matthew 17: 9 NRSV).
Therefore, I think, more than a literal, physical appearance per se, it was a spiritual “vision” of Moses (the Lawgiver) and Elijah (the Prophet) conversing with Jesus (the Messiah) to confirm him as the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets. Just as in a dream, no one tells us who we “saw” or “met,” we just know it, and we also recall having conversations with people dead or alive. Likewise, in a spiritual vision on the mountain top, the disciples just knew it, by the nature of the vision, who they had “seen”! They celebrated the confirmation of their belief in Jesus as the Messiah. Subsequently, they were willing to lay down their lives later for the sake of Jesus’ mission. May they inspire us, too, today.