A Sight to Behold
Peter, James, and John were important apostles to Jesus, and they were singled out as accompanying Him in several points. They were with Him at the garden of Gethsemane (Matt.26), the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:21-42), and, in Matthew 17, at the transfiguration. It is easy for us to simply take this story as a unique occurrence, gloss over it, and move on with Matthew. It is important, however, to understand the impact that this has, not only on the Apostles, but on us as believers today.
The word that is used in the text, metamorphoo, literally means to change or transform. What happened to Jesus was not simply an illumination of his physical body, but a literal transformation of Him. Mark states that his "garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on the earth can whiten them." This same phrase is used to describe the angel who appeared at the tomb when Jesus was resurrected (Matt. 28:3-4), and we all remember what happened to the guards: "They shook for fear of him and became like dead men." This must have truly been an awe-inspiring sight to behold.
What the significance of Moses and Elijah being the ones talking to Jesus has been speculated for years. Some suppose that Moses represents the Law, and Elijah represents the prophets, which are the two parts of the Jewish Bible. Matthew Henry believed that Moses and Elijah, as saints gone on to Heaven, represented Christ's Kingdom in Heaven, while Peter, James, and John were Christ's Kingdom on earth, creating a lively resemblance of the Kingdom made up of saints past, present, and future. Whatever the reason for these specific two may be, the important thing to consider in this passage is the supremacy of Christ over both of them. Peter responds to this vision in verse 4, with a request to make tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. God gives His answer to this, however, as He interrupts Peter saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!" It is not wrong to study the law and prophets, in fact is encouraged and commanded in the New Testament. The emphasis should remain, however, on what Christ has said. Hear Him!
This display also had a profound impact on Peter, and on his faith in Jesus. In 2 Peter 1:16-19, he talks about how his faith was not based on "cleverly devised tales," but rather that he was an "eyewitness" and "with Him on the mountain." Being a witness to Christ's glory that day on the mountain, Peter's faith was confirmed and knew, from that day forward, that the word he received was not from man, but from God.
We may not be lucky enough to witness Jesus transfigured in this present life, but the faith that we are to have in Him should remain the same. Listen to Jesus, never let your faith waver, and keep the faith.
By Brady Cook
From Expository Files 15.7; July 2008