When Christians talk about having a “mountain-top” experience, they are alluding to the incident described in today’s passage. A mountain-top experience is one that is spiritually exhilarating but temporary. Although we might wish to prolong it, sooner or later we must leave the mountain and go down into the “valley.”
The mountain-top experience of the Transfiguration as witnessed by Peter, James, and John was really more terrifying than exhilarating. It did not produce a spiritual high so much as a sense of fear and momentary confusion. According to Mark, the event took place six days after Jesus had predicted that the disciples would not taste death before seeing the kingdom of God come with power. Many scholars see the Transfiguration as a fulfillment of that promise.
Jesus’ transfiguration did not mark the beginning of His exaltation, but served as a glorious prelude to His suffering. Luke’s Gospel reveals that the purpose of the appearance of Elijah and Moses was to discuss the Savior’s impending death (Luke 9:31). The priority of Jesus’ suffering was further underscored by His command not to make the event public until after His death and resurrection had been accomplished.
Peter’s suggestion that the disciples build three shelters seems rather ridiculous to us today, but it may refer to a practice that originated with the Feast of Tabernacles. During this yearly celebration God’s people built booths or lived in tents to commemorate Israel’s wilderness experience. Peter spoke rashly, unnerved by the presence of these heavenly visitors and the transformed Christ.
Peter’s uncertainty about how the disciples should respond to such an experience was only momentary. His suggestion was soon corrected by words from God’s own mouth that served as both a testimony and a divine command. The moment did not call for the construction of a new tabernacle but for faith and obedience. Jesus’ disciples were given a vision of Christ’s glory, but it was only a momentary glimpse. Their mission, like that of their Savior, was a path to glory by way of suffering.
The church will face many hardships before our Lord returns in glory. The hymn “For All the Saints” describes how a vision of the glory yet to come can help the church face this daily struggle: And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, / steals on the ear the distant triumph song, / and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong. / Alleluia, Alleluia!
Take a moment to visit the Web site www.hymnsite.com and read the entire text of this great hymn.