And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, "Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
- Matthew 17:1-9
What must it have been like for Peter, James and John during the Transfiguration? Their friend and teacher takes them up on a mountain. We’re not told what reason they were given for going without the other apostles, but we can presume they thought Jesus had a special message for them or wanted to show them something. This turns out to be true, but we can be sure what happened was not what they were expecting.
Rather than sharing another parable or lesson with them, Jesus instead gives them a glimpse of His divine nature. The apostles were intimately familiar with the human nature of Jesus. They had lived with Him, traveled with Him, shared meals and become friends. They had seen Him preach, heal the sick and perform miracles. Through all this, they had begun to come to an understanding of who their friend was – the Messiah. Still, nothing that had happened so far could prepare them for what would happen on Mt. Tabor.
At this point in Matthew’s Gospel, we are almost to Holy Week. Jesus is coming to the end of His earthly ministry and knows what is going to follow. The Transfiguration is one way He tried to prepare His followers for what would happen and what they would have to do after He was gone. In revealing His divine nature, He was telling them that, although He would die, everything would be okay. He was showing them that He truly was the fulfillment of the Covenant promised in Scripture – as indicated by the presence of Moses and Elijah. He was also foreshadowing His Resurrection – when He again would shine like the sun and be clothed in light.
Jesus is telling us the same thing. While the Jewish people looked to the Law and the Prophets as the way to gain everlasting life, we are to look to Jesus. He has given us a new Law to follow – love one another. It is through following Jesus and obeying this law that we are able to achieve the purpose for which were created. Because Jesus is our Lord and God, He will always be there for us when we are in need. As he tells the apostles, “Do not be afraid.”