Peter, James and John only. No one else saw it. Jesus, suddenly an explosion of light. And suddenly Elijah and Moses talking with Jesus. Then Peter mumbles something about setting up tents. Then the bright cloud, and the Voice from the cloud. Then, suddenly, when they looked around—Peter, James and John only—they saw no one but Jesus. And that’s the point. If you’re looking for the true God, if you’re looking for salvation from sin and death, if you’re looking for healing or some direction in life, it will be found in no one but Jesus.
St. Mark says the transfiguration happened “after six days.” And what is it that happened six days before? It was Peter’s famous confession of faith leading to Jesus’ announcement of his coming death in the words, “the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and after three days rise again.” The problem is many find it difficult to accept a Messiah, a Savior who suffers, dies and rises again. In that day, though orthodox Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead, they had no idea that the same applied to the Messiah himself; they had no room for a Messiah who would, first, be killed and die. The Apostle Peter apparently agreed as, after his mighty confession of faith, he also rejected the whole idea of Jesus’ announced suffering, death and resurrection with the words, “may this never happen to you!” So because of his approaching suffering, crucifixion and death and resurrection, they needed to know, to be reassured of who Jesus truly and really is, and thereby to know that Jesus is enough to handle his mightiest work: the taking away of the sins of the world by means of His death and resurrection.
No one but Jesus can save us because, as His Transfiguration proclaims, Jesus is true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary. In his Transfiguration the glory of His Divine Nature showed forth through his sinless Human Nature. You must know that Jesus is 100% God and 100% human, or you will not be able to understand much less bear the sight of His crucifixion.
Without this knowledge, that Jesus is both God and Man, you will miss entirely the significance of His death. You won’t be able to endure the message of Lent or discover what, really, there is to be so joyful about when we arrive at Easter! For if we stress only the physical sufferings of the man Jesus, our Lenten meditation will be, at best, mere sentimentality. You will miss the strong note of faith that defies death and the devil because you will see only the pitiful tragedy of a would-be Messiah defeated in death. Yet the faith that knows and sees also the mystery that on the cross it is God who is forsaken by God for us, will see also the triumph and glory of this otherwise horrendous instrument of execution.
No one but Jesus is God. The disciples witnessed his garments glistening as white and bright as only God could make them. Elijah and Moses, representing all the Law and the Prophets, make their final appearance, declaring their fulfillment in Jesus. The divine glory is shown emanating from his human body. The Voice from heaven declares that He is God’s Son, the King and the Suffering Servant who is going to the cross for us.
No one but Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the God-Man sent to redeem us lost and condemned persons, not with silver or gold, but with his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. We, like they, need this vision of the Transfiguration of Our Lord because it happened for our benefit.
The Transfiguration prepares us for the season of Lent. Only by faith in Jesus, the Son of God, will we be prepared to understand the depths of His agonies and His love. And only by faith in Jesus can we dare to empty ourselves of ourselves, repent and confess our sin and truly turn and return to the Lord our God.
The Transfiguration prepares us for Easter. The Man who is also God cannot stay dead! Furthermore, here we begin to get an idea of what a glorified, resurrected body is like so that we might recognize Him when He appears.
So the Transfiguration also prepares us for the Lord’s Second Coming and the day of judgment, showing us the glory with which Jesus will return. Many will be afraid and fear that day. But those who have “seen” his glory before, especially as it was so publicly displayed on the Cross of Calvary, will not fear but sing with shouts of eternal joy.
The Transfiguration prepares us for living now, focusing our attention on God, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the same, seated now at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). This Jesus also invites us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and be following Him.
As we understand and believe that only Jesus has what it takes to conquer sin and death by taking it on and going through it himself, so are we ready and prepared: prepared to bury the “alleluia” expression of joy for a time of renewed repentance; prepared to boldly confess your sin and need of a Savior; prepared to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him—because you know that Jesus is God, the Suffering Servant who rose from the dead in triumph. So now we go back down the mountain to the plain, knowing that Jesus goes with us all the way. There is salvation in no one else, no one but Jesus.