Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell down to the ground and were terrified. And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.” And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.
Jesus led the three disciples up to a “high mountain” which is significant typology referring to a place where God and humans interact. Climbing to the top of a mountain is a strenuous journey that is never a straight vertical path, but is an indirect path of switchbacks, or sometimes going round and round the mountain slowly in increasing elevation levels. This is an aspect of mountain typology that strongly points to our spiritual journey to Mt. Zion. Our faith journey is a slow, strenuous journey that is never a straight path. A “typology” is an actual event or thing in the Bible that points to a future event expressed as a symbol. It oftentimes represents a deeper spiritual truth.
For example, recently a twitter friend of mine explained his choice of “bonsai-sky” as his twitter name because once while looking a bonsai tree with the blue sky behind it he realized the manipulation of the form of the Bonsai by nurturing, training, and developing the tree is very much like our faith journey. He states: “Faith. You can’t manipulate it. It takes time to grow and patience to learn and at some point you become poetry in motion.” Achieving beauty in the form of the Bonsai tree takes patience and loving attention. The tree itself doesn’t create the form, but the person lovingly shaping the tree creates their own artistic expression. Our development of faith is not formed by shaping ourselves, but it is God who lovingly attends to us to shape us into an expression of His own nature; “poetry in motion.” Typically Bonsai trees are made from the “Yamaki Tree” (White Pine), and in 1945 when Hiroshima was destroyed by the Atomic Bomb, Bonsai trees survived the blast five miles away from the impact point. Was it because of the thick strong trunk that had the ability to withstand every storm? Can you imagine what a symbol of hope the surviving Bonsai trees were to the Japanese? Everything within the five mile radius of the impact site would have been obliterated except for the Bonsai trees.
Theoretically, Bonsai can live forever, unlike the Pine tree in its natural state. This is very much symbolic of the pruning/shaping of God which creates a soul that will live forever. Without the constant shaping of God, our souls will die. Subsequently, the Bonsai Tree is the typology which symbolizes and points to the molding by God which builds and develops our faith, shaping us into the expression of His nature and purpose.
This short passage has so much depth and symbolism. Jesus is lit up by the power of God with appearances of the Hebrew patriarch, Moses, and one of Hebrew’s greatest Prophets, Elijah. However, even how miraculous this event is, we have to laugh at Peter’s behavior. Peter the impulsive does not disappoint us by his immediate response of non-thought out action. What is more amusing is that God interrupts him right in the middle of his excited babbling, “THIS IS MY BELOVED SON WITH WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED, LISTEN TO HIM!” The disciples were so terrified they fell down on the ground. Nothing but the booming voice of God could quiet Peter’s exuberant, impulsive personality.
Jesus had declared Himself the Messiah, and knew His sacrifice on the cross was very near. However, Jesus told the three disciples not to mention what they observed until after his resurrection. There would be no doubt that Jesus’ resurrection would be a witness later in the hearts and minds of these three men. Think about the journey. God revealed His sovereign power through Moses to the Pharoah, who was forced to admit the Israelite’s God had more power than the gods the Egyptians worshipped, so released the Israelites from slavery to journey with Moses. However, this was not just a journey tto the Promised land, but was characterized by reward and punishment to shape them into God’s vision of His chosen people.
Fast forward to the early 9th century BCE when Elijah seemingly appears out of nowhere to confront the seventh King of the Northern Kingdom, Ahab, and his charming wife, Jezebel. Jezebel promoted the worship of Baal, and subsequently began killing Prophets who admonished the Israelites for their syncretic worship of both Yahweh and Baal. A significant point to make is that Elijah, like Moses, proved the sovereignty of God’s power in a contest called by King Ahab who called “all the sons of Israel” and the prophets together at Mount Carmel. And, here is the mountain typology again. God will meet them at the top of the mountain to demonstrate His great power. The purpose of the this meeting was for Ahab to prove that Baal had more power than the Israelite’s God. The test was for Ahab and Elijah each to build a pile of wood and lay a cut up oxen on it and call out to their god to light the wood to burn up the ox. Ahab had no success, but Elijah not only had the ox laid on the dry wood, but had three containers of water poured over the wood, which filled a trench around the ox with water. When Elijah prayed, God sent fire that not only burned up the ox and the wood, but “licked up” all the water in the trench (1 Kings 18:20-45).
The three disciples who observed the transfiguration obeyed Jesus instruction not to tell anyone what they observed until after his resurrection. In 2 Peter 1:12-18, “I shall not fail to remind you of things like this although you know them and are already established in the truth. I consider it my duty, as long as I live in the temporary dwelling of this body, to stimulate by these reminders. I know that I shall have to leave this body at very short notice, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. Consequently, I shall make the most of every opportunity, so that after I am gone you will remember these things. We were not following a cleverly written-up story when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ – we actually saw his majesty with our own eyes. He received honour and glory from God the Father himself when that voice said to him, out of the sublime glory of Heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35). We actually heard that voice speaking from Heaven while we were with him on the sacred mountain. The word of prophecy was fulfilled in our hearing!”
At the top of of the “high mountain” was a symbolic representation of the movement of God’s purpose. The Law,the Prophets, and then Jesus. The Law which provided the structure through discipline, the Prophets who prophesied the coming Christ, and then Christ Himself, the physical presence of the fulfilling of the Law and the Prophets.
At the top of the mountain is where the presence of God meets with us far above the limits of human understanding, and above the traps of human culture. Jesus was transfigured such that He appeared to be wearing a robe of light indicative of the light filled Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God will not be separated by religion, nor any other barrier which prevents love based on human understanding, but will be filled with the glory of God’s love and light which will bring all nations united in in love and worship of the one true God.