Red Letter Year: 4/30

Matthew 17:1-13

17 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. He metamorphosed in front of them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. 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 tents here — one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

As he was speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love, in whom I delight. Listen to him.” When the disciples heard, they fell on their faces, violently afraid.

Then Jesus came, touched them, and said, “Get up and do not be afraid.” When they lifted their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus.

As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 Then his disciples asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

11 He answered, “Elijah does come first and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah already came and they did not recognize him, but they did to him what they wanted. And the Son of Man will also suffer because of them.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptist.


When we read this story in Mark, I commented that Moses and Elijah are here representing the Law and the Prophets, the totality of Israel’s revelatory experience with Yahweh, all of which points to and is fulfilled in Jesus. That is a widely held interpretation of their presence here. What follows now is not something I have read in any commentary, though others may well have made the same connection before. Moses and Elijah both had significant experiences with God on top of a mountain (in fact, the same mountain: Sinai/Horeb). In both cases the experience was private. Here we have Jesus taking only three disciples up the mountain, having the same sort of experience (bright light, audible voice) and then telling them to keep it to themselves until later. In each case (Moses, Elijah, and here) there is fear preceding the experience and a healing of fear as an outcome of the experience. In each case, there is an experience of God’s glory.

What I want to suggest to you is that this sort of thing is something we should make space for in our lives. I know there are a lot of churches that work very hard to try and create a special corporate experience. Special services are held, with special music and guest speakers,  all in the hope that people will experience the glory of God. I make no negative comment about that. But such cannot be a replacement for what we have here, a private, personal experience of the glory of God. That is the experience of Moses, Elijah, the three disciples here, Paul, and a number of saints down through the centuries. Such an experience often precedes a launch into a new level of ministry and brings about needed healing (these three had a lot of fear and confusion). I encourage you to make space in your life for a personal, private, mountaintop experience with God. Ask God to show you his glory. Jesus Culture has a great song that asks for just that. The lyrics say, “I’m not afraid,” and while that probably won’t be true going in – it will become true as an outcome of experiencing God’s glory. Don’t settle for reading this as a weird story with some esoteric intra-biblical meaning. See it for what it is – an example of the sort of thing that happens to those who follow Jesus. Follow him up the mountain and see what happens. You won’t be disappointed. And you will never be the same.