Luke 9:28 [Jesus] took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.
Mountains are significant in the Bible because they are where heaven and earth connect. I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2), wrote the Psalmist. Likewise, when God spoke to Moses, they met on top of a mountain (Exodus 19:3). So when Jesus wanted to reveal his glory, he took Peter, John and James up a mountain.
Luke 9:29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.
This event is called the Transfiguration since Matthew’s account says, he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:2). Likewise, His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them (Mark 9:3), wrote Mark.
And again, when John saw the risen Christ many years later, His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance (Revelation 1:16), he wrote. Jesus is the most glorious being in the universe, and has promised something similar for us. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43), he said.
The desire to shine is common, but few ever do for long. Olympic medal winners enjoy a brief ceremony, during which the world applauds, and then forgets their names. Performers do their best on stage, but they are soon out-shined by somebody else. And whoever lives long enough will see the glory of their youth replaced by the frailty of age. But the righteous will shine like the sun, and their glory will neither fade nor come to an end.
Luke 9:30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.
Moses and Elijah are towering figures in the Old Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets. Moses gave Israel the Law, and Elijah was a noteworthy prophet. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17), said Jesus.
Moses and Elijah appeared to support Jesus, who would soon fulfill the Law and the Prophets, when he died on the cross. Jesus fulfilled the Law by obeying it perfectly, and by paying the penalty for those who fall short. He also fulfilled the prophets by doing what they foretold. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me (John 5:39), he said.
Luke 9:31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
Moses and Elijah understood what the disciples could not grasp: that Jesus would die on a cross for their sins. The Bible does not record their conversation, but perhaps they talked about heaven. That is where Moses and Elijah came from, and that is what Jesus would think about during his crucifixion. For the joy set before him he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2), says Hebrews.
Luke 9:32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
After a day of mountain climbing, the disciples were exhausted, and apparently went to sleep. If Jesus’ transfiguration took place after dark, his glory was even more dramatic. But the disciples did not see it until they were fully awake. Like the disciples, we can become drowsy, when we should be paying attention. An important part of the spiritual life is staying awake to God.
Many years ago, I went for a morning walk, and my thoughts were foggy and dull. But as I awoke, I discovered a day in which all creation seemed to celebrate God. It is easy to sleep through life, but the more awake we are to God, the more we will see his glory. Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (Ephesians 5:14), wrote Paul.
Luke 9:33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah. (He did not know what he was saying.)
Scholars have no idea what Peter was thinking, or where he would get the materials to build three shelters. He was simply so overwhelmed that he opened his mouth and said something ridiculous. The disciples must have laughed about it later, and we can imagine Luke chuckling as he put this in his gospel. The disciples were ordinary people who became involved with an extraordinary Savior.
Luke 9:34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
Clouds suggest a number of things in the Bible. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud (Isaiah 44:22). You have covered yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can get through (Lamentations 3:44). And He makes the clouds his chariot (Psalm 104:3). That is what was happening here. God came to them in a cloud, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.
Luke 9:35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.
Peter may have been so excited by Moses and Elijah that he wanted to hear what they had to say. Moses was regarded so highly by the Jews that, even today, he is preferred over Jesus Christ by most of them. But speaking from the cloud God said, This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.
A young man climbed to the top of Mount Everest even though he was blind. He did it by listening to the words of the person ahead of him, such as, death-fall two feet to your right. If we hope to arrive in heaven, we must never stop listening to Jesus Christ. He alone can get us there.
Luke 9:36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.
This event made such an impression on Peter that he wrote about it many years later. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain (2 Peter 1:17-18), he wrote.
Their mountaintop experience came to an end, however, and the disciples made their way down. They would enjoy the Lord’s ministry a little longer, and then he would go to the cross. If the transfiguration was their highest spiritual experience, the cross would be their lowest. That is what it’s like to follow Jesus Christ. There is triumph and defeat; jubilation and despair. The mountaintop does not last forever, but neither does the valley.
If the Bible was spiritual fiction, it would emphasize the positive and minimize the negative—but it never does that. [Y]our love is better than life (Psalm 63:3), wrote David. And darkness is my closest friend (Psalm 88:18), wrote the Psalmist. Ecstasy and agony are both part of the Christian life, but not for long. Everlasting joy will soon be ours (Isaiah 61:7).
Reflection and Review
Have you ever had a mountaintop experience?
Why doesn’t God reveal himself equally to everyone?
Why can it be hard to listen to Jesus Christ?