Matthew 17:4-8 (NIV) Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
The disciples were stunned at what they were seeing. They believed in God, in angels, in the whole spiritual dimension. But to actually come face to face with it scared them to death.
Peter, rarely without words, began to speak out of fear more than devotion (Mark 9:6). His suggestion was the he should put up three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, so that they could all hang out in comfort for a while. But before he had time to fully develop that idea, God enveloped the whole group in a bright cloud of His glory, which shut Peter’s mouth instantly. And when God spoke to them directly out of the cloud, they all fell flat on their faces in terror.
God’s statement was an attempt to redirect their attention. Moses and Elijah were not the point, or even the most important personages on the mountain that afternoon. Both of those men, legitimate heroes of the faith from years past, had achieved almost mythic proportions in the minds of faithful Jews, and seeing them face to face had inspired in Peter and company something akin to awe, even worship.
But the point was that Jesus, the one with whom they had developed such familiarity over the previous three years, was someone so overwhelmingly superior to either Moses or Elijah that He was worthy of their worship, and of the careful attention and absolute obedience of those who claimed the title of disciple. He was nothing less than the very Son of God in the flesh, a fact that they had barely glimpsed previously, and didn’t understand at all.
The sound of God’s voice speaking directly to them terrified them to the point that they were barely breathing (cf. Exodus 20:18-190. They clamped their eyes tightly shut against the light, and were aware of nothing more until they felt the hand of Jesus on their shoulders, and heard Him say gently, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.”
When they looked up, there was Jesus, looking just as they had always known Him. Moses, Elijah, and the glory of God were gone. But as they looked at Jesus, they couldn’t help but see past the familiar exterior to the glory that they had seen in Him moments before. And that moment would ever color their perception of Him.
Father, we all have various pictures of Jesus in our minds, from the baby in the manger, to the teacher walking along the road, to the gentle Jesus surrounded by children, to the dying Savior hanging bloodied and battered on the cross. But I think that very few of us have the correct picture of Jesus in our hearts: the glorified Son of God that Peter, James and John got a glimpse of on the mountain, and that John later saw in the revelation he received (Revelation 1:12-16). But how much more natural it would be to be faithful to Jesus, to serve Him steadfastly and wholeheartedly, and to never let earthly priorities usurp His priorities for our lives, if we were to keep our focus on Him as He truly is. It is much easier to sidestep and ignore the gentle Jesus who plays with children, or the almost feminine Jesus who knocks gently at the door of our hearts, than to treat carelessly the radiant Son of God, the mighty King of kings and Lord of lords, whose commands are given in a voice like a trumpet! Help me, Lord, to always see Jesus as He truly is, and to serve Him as He truly deserves. Amen.