And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
(Matthew 17:1-13 ESV)
Today we finish up our study of the transfiguration as recorded by Matthew in His gospel. Three of Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, were lead up to a mountain top by Jesus and once there they had three amazing experiences. They saw Jesus display His true, divine glory. They saw two long-dead Old Testament figures, Moses and Elijah. And they heard the voice of God. That’s some pretty cool stuff.
Upon hearing God’s voice these three disciples fell on their faces and were terrified. Having a relationship with God is a blessing. Those of us who are God’s adopted children have some pretty cool experiences. But having a relationship with God is also very humbling. There are times when we realize just how sinful we are and how holy God is in comparison. We know that we fall well short of God’s standards. Such a realization creates reverential fear born out of humility. It makes us want to hide from God.
Certainly every child of God has experienced this. When we screw up in life our natural reaction is to “hide” from God. We stop praying because we don’t want to face Him. But God knows everything already. And as we’ve learned a few times, God isn’t looking for reasons to whack us over the head when we error. His goal is to teach us to do better next time. This is why God spoke to the disciples in today’s passage. He was correcting Peter’s error.
But notice how Jesus deals with the disciples fear. He came closer to them and touched them. They hid. Jesus approached. Just like in the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3:8]. While those who do not belong to God’s family should fear Him, God wants His children to have no fear of Him.
While coming down the mountain the disciples asked Jesus a question about an Old Testament passage in Malachi 4:5 in which God promised that Elijah would come before judgement day. The disciples were still mistaken about Jesus. They thought He was going to Jerusalem to conquer and that “judgement day” was right around the corner and wonder why Elijah has not preceded Jesus.
But Elijah did come, at least in spirit, in the form of John the Baptist who turned people to God as Elijah did as prophesied to John’s parents [Luke 1:17; John 1:21]. Many believe that Elijah will return to earth physically during the Tribulation as one of the two witnesses (the other being Moses) mentioned in Revelation 11:3-13.
Note that God is also willing to answer our questions. He is never unwilling to teach us. He never gets bothered by our ignorance or silly statements, such as Peter uttered. God is approachable. He will never chastise us for not knowing. He wants to give us answers to our questions.
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