In Matthew 17:1-9 Jesus takes Peter, James, and John the brother of James, up onto a high mountain. The disciples did not know the purpose for doing so. Usually when Jesus went to lonely places like this, He went to pray. There is something different about this scene. In Matthew 16, Jesus has dealt with the Pharisees who demanded a sign from Him. They wanted proof that He had the authority to teach as He did. Jesus told them that they would receive no sign, but the sign of Jonah already given to them.
Christ was concerned about the influence the Pharisees could have on the disciples and the church so He warned them, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees,” for such an attitude that demanded physical proof that one could hold onto, touch and see, could affect the whole church, cause many to doubt their faith, and lead many away from the Word of Christ. Jesus then asked who people said that He was and who His disciples said He was. Peter, never one to be shy, boldly proclaimed, “You are the Christ!” This, Jesus told Him, is the faith, is the confession that the Church shall be built on. Peter thinks he knows Jesus and He knows who THE CHRIST is: why He is the King who will restore the fortune and glory of King David, of ancient Israel. Jesus then tells His disciples that (1) He must suffer, die, and rise again, and (2) if they truly want to be His followers, they too must take up their cross and follow Him. In Mark, Peter rebukes Jesus for saying He must suffer and die, and Jesus calls Peter Satan. Mark’s account shows Jesus following Peter’s rebuke with the statement that His disciples must take up a cross just like Him in order to be true followers.
Do you think Peter really understood here who Jesus was and what He was telling His disciples? Do you think that Peter thought he would have to suffer like Jesus? Carry a cross like Him? Hardly. The Mount of Transfiguration tells the story. It is there that we find Peter, James, and John with Jesus when suddenly, Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes were as white as light. Mark tells us that Jesus’ clothes were so white, that no one could bleach them that white on earth. Moses and Elijah then appeared, and Peter offered to make three tents so that they could hang out for a while. It is then that a bright cloud descends upon the mountain top. It is not a big gray storm cloud, or a fluffy cloud you see on a sunny day but a bright cloud. Moses had seen it before. In fact, he met God the Father in such a cloud. This cloud comes down upon the mountain, and overshadows them, it envelops them, gathers them into it. The voice of God the Father booms, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!” The disciples fall flat on their faces when they heard the voice! They could not get up. They were in the presence of the Triune God, and the fear was one of awe, respect, and honor for the majesty and presence of the Creator. But yes, the disciples were probably very scared too and felt unworthy of having this honor shared with them. They do not get up until God the Son physically touches them and tells them, “Rise and have no fear!” The disciples eyes were opened a little wider now to see that Jesus was really more than what they perceived Him to be.