And after six days Jesus takes Peter, James, and John his brother, and brings them up into an high mountain apart,…
Raphael's famous picture at the Vatican gives us an external representation of this wonderful event. But we want to get behind the canvas and discover the meaning of it, if it is to be something more to us than a theatrical transformation scene, something better than a spectacular display.
I. THE GLORY OF CHRIST. The external splendour had a meaning. If it was not a purely artificial radiance created in order to dazzle the eyes of the disciples, it must have corresponded to a wonderful illumination and glory in the soul of Jesus. Moses' face shone after he had been communing with God on Sinai (Exodus 34:29). The face of Stephen took on an angelic lustre in view of martyrdom (Acts 6:15). Jesus had been speaking of his approaching death quite recently (Matthew 16:21), and of the victory of self-sacrifice (Matthew 16:25). During the Transfiguration his death was the topic of his conversation (Luke 9:31). Then we may justly infer that the splendour that shone out from him corresponded to his exaltation of spirit in devoting himself to death. It was the glory of sacrifice. Jesus is most glorious in freely giving himself up for the salvation of the world.
II. THE HEAVENLY VISITORS. It is commonly assumed that Moses and Elijah had come to complete the picture that was displayed before the wondering eyes of the chosen three. But would they have been sent for so slight an object? It is more probable that, like the angels who ministered to him on other occasions, they were sent to cheer Jesus himself. He had looked for sympathy from his disciples when he had confided in them the dark secret of his doom, but he had failed to receive it, and instead he had heard the voice of the tempter in the impatient reply of one of his most intimate friends (Matthew 16:22, 23). Thus he was left alone in his meditations of death. But the sympathy which failed him on earth was afforded by the founder of Judaism and the leader of the prophets - both men whose end on earth was mysterious - returning from the heavenly world.
III. THE PERPLEXED DISCIPLES. The splendour overwhelmed the three. Two were speechless. The third had not the gift of silence; and wishing to say something when he had nothing to say, he made a foolish remark. This showed, again, how far the Master was above his disciples, how little they could enter into his life. But it also showed a measure of right feeling in St. Peter. It was good to be on the mount with Christ. We cannot retain the ravishing moments of heavenly rapture. But we can cherish them if ever we are visited with them. At least we can learn that it is good to be anywhere with Jesus, good to meditate on his Passion, good to behold his glory.
IV. THE DIVINE VOICE. The voice which had been heard before at the baptism (Matthew 3:17) is heard again on the mount, but with an addition to its message.
1. God owns his Son with delight. Was this voice for the cheering of Jesus as well as for the guidance of the disciples? Under the circumstances this seems probable. God was not only pleased with Jesus because he was his Son, but also because his Son pleased him. At first this was on account of the innocent character of Jesus, and his resolve to dedicate himself to his work in baptism; now it is because of the courage and devotion with which he will face death.
2. God commends his Son to men. "Hear ye him." This is the addition. Christ has disciples now; and Christ has proved his right to be heard. It is not enough to adore him in his glory; we must listen to his voice of teaching and obey his word of command. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,