To me, the Transfiguration is one of the Bible events that often leaves me scratching my head. Why does Jesus appear in glory before his disciples at this one time? What are Moses and Elijah doing there? How does Peter manage to mess even this up somehow?
This is no “ordinary” miracle of healing, exorcism, or weather-calming. Dead people show up and talk with a radiant, blinding Jesus on top of a mountain.
To me, however, certain elements of the story bring a feel of truth with them. These two points are certainly not going to make any skeptic quake in their boots, but I think added with the other major proofs of the Gospels, provide a level of plausibility.
First, we don’t know what Moses and Elijah said. Think about it. Who would invent this story and then not place some great words, moral lesson, or prophetic revelation in the mouths of Israel’s Law-Giver and most spectacular Prophet? It’s not even important in the story (at least Matthew doesn’t think so. Luke does tell us its related to Jesus’ impending death, and one might surmise that by the shift of events leading to Jesus’ death that happened in Matthew 16 just before this as well.) The invented Apocalypses and Testaments written at this time were full of using famous people to say important things. Jesus’ parable of the Rich man and Lazarus does this with Abraham. But not here. It doesn’t seem that the disciples really knew what was being discussed. And so they didn’t write it down.
Second, the disciples cast themselves in another negative light. Their leader and bold spokesman Peter fresh off being called “Satan” by Jesus in the past week (Matthew 16) decides to try again. This glory on the mountain must have been awe-inspiring. Who can blame Peter for wanting to stay? Apparently he’s even willing to sleep outside since he only suggests 3 tents! But Jesus just revealed to them the plan for this Messiah…suffering on the cruel cross, glory later. Peter has still missed it. They can’t stay. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to die, not hanging out on the mountain forever.
And that of course is why the cloud speaks. Rebukes Peter. “This is my Son…” Remember your great confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”? Jesus indeed is all that. And just maybe, you should listen to him. Quit suggesting your own plan and get on board with His.
Does it work? Does Peter get it? I guess we have to read the rest of Matthew to see.