Lent Week 2: The Transfiguration

“They felt the inescapable heat of the light on their skin, but dared not move, paralyzed by the majesty before them.”

Some days, Peter wished he could go back to the boat.

Fishing was fairly straightforward. Proper maintenance of the boat was required, of course, as was mending the nets. And at times it could be difficult to predict exactly where the fish would be. But once you found them, you cast the net, you pulled in the catch, and you took them to market. The price was determined, proceeds were obtained, and the process repeated. But while the ways of fishermen were straightforward, being a fisher of men proved much harder for Peter to practice.

That was what Jesus had said that day when he called Peter and his brother Andrew from the shore. He said that if they followed him, he would make them fishers of men. When Peter heard this he knew immediately that he would follow. He was good at fishing in the sea, but he longed to do something greater for the people of Israel. Still, being a fisher of men had turned out to be much more than Peter had bargained for.

By this point his days had been filled with all kinds of things he had never seen or even dreamed of: the feeding of thousands, the deaf hearing, the blind seeing, even the calming of a violent storm at sea. It was nothing like what he or Andrew had expected. In everything Jesus said or did, he was different than any other rabbi. He spoke with an authority unlike the scribes and the Pharisees, as though he knew the law inside and out. He spoke without partiality or care as to whether he was winning the favor of the people. His interpretations were so different, his assertions so confident. It was no wonder that everyone who heard Jesus responded to him so strongly.

Peter was no exception. He was convinced for his part that Jesus was the Son of God. This rabbi could actually be the Messiah that was foretold, the one who would deliver Israel and establish the new Kingdom of David’s throne! What joy had filled Peter’s heart when Jesus affirmed his understanding. Jesus had even called him a rock! The disciple’s spirit had been boosted, his confidence lifted. He was finally beginning to understand!

But this was short-lived. Not even a week later, Peter boldly said to Jesus that the things the rabbi was saying about dying and coming to life were not compatible with who he was. To that, Jesus had looked him in the eye and declared that Peter’s understanding was closer to that of Satan than the things of heaven. Apparently, Peter did not understand at all. And though the other disciples had assured Peter not to get discouraged, it was still jarring for him. Jesus had looked at him and spoken in a way that only a man who had stared down Satan himself and come away victorious could do. It was not an enviable position to be rebuked by a man with that kind of power.

Thus, every time Peter tried to wrap his mind around what Jesus would do next, he ended up being so decidedly incorrect that he was not sure of anything anymore. Yet through all that Peter had seen and heard, he knew that this rabbi was more than a man and that he did, in fact, have the words of eternal life. To whom else would Peter go? And so he found himself on this warm morning making his way up the mountain with his fellow disciples James and John, following Jesus, as they did every day.

From a few paces back John increased his stride and bypassed Peter. Peter smiled. Though he was faster than John, the other disciple usually ran ahead of him to be the first one wherever they were going. They often enjoyed a foot race and it had become a private joke between them about who was more eager to get to their destination. But as they crested the next hill, Peter, James, and John were all stopped in their tracks at exactly the same point, taking in the sight before them.

Before them stood Jesus, the same man as they knew and yet in a form completely unlike they had ever seen him before. Rather than his usual humble cloak, his clothes were a dazzling white—whiter than the salt mounds on the shore of the eastern sea, whiter even than the snow on the mountain tops, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And his face, his kind face that they so often casually looked upon now shone with the intensity of the sun, casting off light so bright that the disciples squinted their eyes and raised their arms to their faces to shield themselves. They felt the inescapable heat of the light on their skin, but dared not move, paralyzed by the majesty before them.

Though he had never seen his rabbi this way, Peter felt deep inside that Jesus had never looked more as he should than at this very moment. Jesus was illuminated, highlighted in a glorious light in a strange and perfect way.

It took Peter a moment to realize that there were actually two men standing with him, one on either side. The one on the left had a long wooden staff with a snake carved into the top—Moses! The man on the right wore camel’s hair, and could only be the prophet Elijah. A raven hopped around Elijah’s feet, pecking at the ground as the prophet and Moses spoke with Jesus.

Peter was overwhelmed, desperately trying to make sense of what he was seeing. Could this be it? Could this be the time the Messiah would make himself known to the world? “Lord, is good that we are here,” he stammered. “If...if you wish, I will make three tents here. One for you, and one for Moses, and one fo....”

But before the disciple could finish his sentence, a bright cloud enveloped the trio before him. Then a thunderous voice came forth, proclaiming, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” If the disciples were overwhelmed before, they were terrified now at the sound of this voice and immediately dropped to the ground trembling.

As they wondered in awful fear what their powerful God would do next, they felt a gentle touch upon their shoulders. They heard the familiar voice of their teacher say, “Rise, and have no fear.” When they lifted up their eyes, there was only Jesus.

He now stood alone, without heavenly accompaniment or decoration, but as the humble rabbi they recognized. His face was soft and approachable, his smile tender and welcoming as that of their good friend. Was this the same man who had just been transfigured to heavenly form before their eyes? It was at that moment Peter began to realize that there was more to this Jesus than he would ever be able to understand.

As they all made their way down the mountain, Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until the Son of Man was raised from the dead. The disciples had so many questions. What did it mean that he would rise from the dead? Surely Jesus did not mean that he himself—the Son of Man who had just appeared in such might and glory—would die? Was the resurrection of all the dead at hand? Was he speaking of spiritual matters?

Peter thought that he had understood who Jesus was, but could he reconcile that with the reality of what Jesus was saying? The only thing Peter knew for certain at this point was that he would never look at Jesus the same way again.

Ashley Ross

Ashley is a member of Cornerstone and serves as a Web Content Editor.

Additional articles that might be of interest.