Verses 1 through 9 of Matthew 17 are the familiar words about Jesus’ transfiguration, but as I tried to picture the scene with fresh eyes, many thoughts and questions came to my mind.
Does it surprise you that the disciples did not seem to be afraid of Jesus as His face changed so much that it “shone like the sun, and his clothing became dazzling white” (Matt. 17:2)? What was it about Jesus that prevented them from being alarmed in spite of this startling change? Could it be that something about His loving nature was still visible through the intense light? And what was it about this light? It was sun-like and dazzling, but the disciples were still able to look at Jesus. Humans, who cannot look directly at the sun without being blinded by it, could look directly at Jesus as the light poured from Him. Is this how Jesus will look when we see Him in Heaven?
What did Moses and Elijah look like when they appeared before the disciples? We aren’t told that they shone like the sun as Jesus did. And how did the disciples know who they were? Again, was there something about their appearance that made it obvious to Peter, James, and John that they had been joined by these two important Jewish leaders? And, again, why weren’t they afraid? They knew Moses and Elijah had died many centuries earlier, and yet, suddenly they “appeared and began talking with Jesus” (Matt. 17:3). Is instinctively knowing others who were previously strangers and talking with them another small glimpse of what Heaven will be like?
Now in spite of being thrust into this unusual situation, the disciples were not afraid. In fact “Peter blurted out, ‘Lord, this is wonderful!’” (Matt. 17:4). This is wonderful! What will be our first thoughts and impressions in Heaven? What will it be like to see Jesus and others we have known? Could it be that “This is wonderful” will be our first thought, a thought that will convey meaning that is only dimly understood here on earth?
But then the atmosphere changed. “Even as he [Peter] said it, a bright cloud came over them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him. Listen to him.’ The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground” (Matt. 17:5-6).
They were terrified! These were words spoken in approval, not disapproval, and yet they were terrified. They were terrified of the words of God—words that were, and are, living and powerful. Words like those that spoke the universe and our lives into being, words that portray the awesomeness and holiness of God, words before which no mere human can stand. The disciples had a glimpse of God’s greatness and glory—a mere glimpse, and they could not bear it. God, the Creator and Sustainer, is too holy and too awesome and too perfect in comparison to humans for us to remain standing in His presence. There was no equality on that mountaintop.
But there was Jesus. “Jesus came over and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘don’t be afraid.’ And when they looked, they saw only Jesus with them” (Matt. 17:7-8). Jesus. Only Jesus—the name that speaks compassion, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation with a holy and mighty God when we seek it.
Each of us will stand before this holy God one day. In our smallness, we will be terrified. Except that Jesus will be there, too. He will be with us because we have believed that He is the way to God. And I believe He will assure us that, because of Him and what He has done for us, we “don’t [need to] be afraid.”
What a moment of profound recognition and great rejoicing that will be!
© 2010 Arlina Yates