God intended for this event to make an impression and it certainly did. Peter, James, and John never forgot what they saw and heard that day (Matt. 17:1 ff). The scene sparkles with symbols reflecting God’s salvation story. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, his inner circle of apostles, up a very high mountain, reminiscent of Mount Sinai where Moses received the Law. It was a scene of thunder, lightning and earthquake. God’s voice spoke so fearfully the people begged that Moses be their intermediary to hear his voice (Heb. 12:18-21). At Mt. Sinai Elijah had encountered God afresh, not in earthquake, thunder, or fire, but in a small still voice. At his transfiguration God’s voice again was heard, singling out Jesus as His Beloved Son pre-eminent over Lawgiver and Prophet alike.
Elijah had fled certain death for forty days in the wilderness on his way to the holy mountain. Moses communed with God for forty days on the mountain. Jesus was tempted forty days in the wilderness before his mountain “transfiguration” — the Greek word is our word “metamorphosis”. Moses’ encounter with God on this mountain left his face shining with a temporary splendor (2 Cor. 3:7-18). Jesus’ face shone like the sun, previewing his glorious return with his angels to judge the world (Mk 9:1–2; Rev. 1:12-16). But first, Jesus must die, be raised, and ascend into Heaven (Matt. 16:27-17:2).
This event of Jesus’ transfiguration is part of the core story of our salvation, says Peter (2 Peter 1:15-18). Not only would Peter remember this event, he also would take great pains to see that it was preserved for his converts, by putting it in writing (2 Peter 1:12-15). The Jesus story is not some “sophisticated myth,” Peter literally insists, but an eye-witness account of one of those who experienced it. Jesus’ transfiguration is a preview of the glory he later will receive after he is raised from the dead and ascends to heaven. Clothed in this glory he will come again to judge the world at the End. Until then, it is a lamp shining in a dark place Peter, to which we do well to pay attention: “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).