In the story of the Transfiguration, there are three sets of players and one big reveal.
The first set of players is a Dynamic Duo which is made up of Jesus and the “voice in the cloud.” There is no doubt that the voice is the voice of God, for it declares, “This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
The second set of players is Moses and Elijah. They are people, but they are symbols, too. Moses was a person, he led the children of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, through the desert, and into the promised land. More than that, he was the one who climbed Mt. Sinai and received the Law from God. Moses was a person, but he was also a symbol. In this passage, he stands for all the Laws of the Hebrew Bible, all 613 of them. Elijah was also a person. He was the greatest of the prophets. Elijah not only stood up to evil King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, but he also defeated the prophets of Baal in a showdown on Mt. Carmel. Perhaps you will remember Elijah’s challenge to the people:
“How long will you go limping along with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.”
Elijah was a person, but Elijah was also a symbol. Elijah stood for all the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, everyone from Abraham to Zechariah. Unlike the laws, the prophets are virtually impossible to number. A prophet speaks by the Holy Spirit, and in the New Testament, we learn that since all God’s people are sealed with the Holy Spirit, all God’s people are prophets.
The third and final set of players is made up of Peter, James, and John. Before they met Jesus, all three lived small lives as simple fishermen. Had they never met Jesus; we would never have heard of them. They are special to us because Jesus called them to be with him, trained them, and gave them a new vocation. He made them “fishers of men.” Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, two of the three, Peter and John, became leaders of the church in Jerusalem. And two of the three, James and Peter, were martyred because of their faith in Jesus. The three disciples are people, but they are symbols, too, for they stand for all the disciples of Jesus in every time and place. They are our heroes, and at least some of us aspire to be like them.
As we said, in this passage, there are three sets of players and one big reveal.
The big reveal is the transfiguration of Jesus in the eyes of the disciples. According to the text, “Jesus was transfigured before them and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” In this case, the clothes do not make the man, they reflect the Son of Man’s Divinity. On the Mt. of Transfiguration, the disciples see Jesus as they have never seen him before. They glimpse his glory, and that glory shines so brightly that some scholars say that the story of the transfiguration is a misplaced resurrection narrative. That, they say, is why Jesus told his disciples not to mention what they had seen on the mountain until after his resurrection. In Romans 1:4 St. Paul tells us that Jesus was designated “Son of God in power, through a spirit of holiness, by His resurrection from the dead.” In Mark 9:7 the evangelist tells us that at least three people knew who Jesus was even before his death and resurrection.
The transfiguration is a big reveal in three ways. 1) The transfiguration reveals our human frailty and our human possibilities. The text says that the disciples that witnessed the transfiguration did not know what to say because they were afraid. Peter said the first thing that popped into his head. He wanted to elevate Jesus to the status of Moses and Elijah. That was not enough, and it took the voice from the cloud to convince him that it was not enough. It is only with God’s help that they become apostles, prophets, and martyrs of Christ God intended them to be. 2) The transfiguration reveals how the early church saw Jesus. In our epistle lesson, St. Paul says, “We have seen the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.” In Hebrews 1:1 the apostle writes, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” In John 14:9, Jesus says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In Jesus, the Great Mystery behind the Universe has at last revealed itself, at least, in part. Now, if we want to know what God is like, we look to Jesus. 3) The transfiguration reveals that Jesus and the Gospel are superior to the Law and the Prophets. This does not mean that we who have believed the Gospel forget about the Hebrew Bible. It does mean that we must read the Law and the Prophets in light of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, and rose again that we might have a future and a hope. In 2nd Corinthians 3, St. Paul talks about how Jews and Christians read scripture differently. He says that, to this day, whenever Jews hear Moses read, a veil lies over their minds. He says that it is only when someone turns to the Lord that the veil is removed. By contrast, he says that when we who possess “the Spirit of the Lord,” behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, “we are…changed into his likeness, going from one degree of glory to another.”
Jesus was transfigured on the Mountain, and he was further transformed in his Resurrection. By faith, we believe that, by the power of his Spirit, all who have received him and have believed in his name, will be changed into his likeness, by degrees, going from one degree of glory to another.