The Mount of Transfiguration: Matthew 17:1-8
“1) Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2) And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3) And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4) And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5) While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” 6) When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. 7) And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” 8) And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.” Matthew‬ ‭17‬:‭1‬-‭8‬ ‭
Why Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him and none of the other disciples is a mystery. The same three accompanied Him for prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. (See Matthew 26:36-37) It might be surmised that leadership was beginning to emerge.
The exact location is not known, but the text said it was “a high mountain.” Since the previous chapter happened in Caesarea Philippi, it is commonly assumed that they went up into Mt Heron.
While there, two things happened. First, Jesus was transfigured before them. “His face shone like the sun and His garments became as white as light.” This is a common picture of the glorified Christ.
Second, Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking to Him. It should be noted that Jesus finally answered the desire of Moses to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 27:12-14), but that was far from his mind on this day.
Two questions now confront us. The first question is “Why Moses and Elijah?” This may emphasize that Jesus fulfilled everything in the Law and also the Prophets. Both sections of the Old Testament pointed to the Messiah. The Law was full of symbols, types and shadows about the Messiah. The prophets had many very specific prophecies about the Messiah ranging from His birth to His suffering and death.
The second question comes from curiosity; “What were they talking about?” According to Luke 9:31; they “were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” It is noteworthy that Peter was listening to their conversation.
Years later Peter would pen some intriguing words about the Old Testament prophets. 1 Peter 1:10-12 states that they were very perplexed about the prophesies concerning “the sufferings of the Christ and the glories to follow.” It is more than coincidental that they were talking to Jesus about that very subject on this occasion. Could this encounter be the conversation that colored in Peters insight into the intrigue of the Old Testament prophets about the crucifixion of the Messiah? It cannot be discounted from our consideration. But let’s move on.
Peter’s suggestion about making three tents or tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah a first glance seems mysterious. He may have been referring to the tabernacle in the wilderness, but more likely to the tent of meetings where Moses would often meet and converse with God. He at least recognized that they were on holy ground.
No sooner had he made this suggestion than the cloud of glory overshadowed them and the Father spoke, “and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.” The message was simple; “This is my Son, My Chosen One, listen to Him!”
Now let me venture a speculation about the three tabernacles or tents. The suggestion from Peter was very Old Testament. Something new was coming. In the New Testament, every believer becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20)
Could it be that God did honor Peters suggestion? By overshadowing the three disciples with the cloud, a new kind of tabernacles was being inaugurated. They were the new “tents” the Spirit of God was shortly going to fill following the day of Pentecost! Was the Father giving them a foretaste of His promise of the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 1:4-5) Did they become “new tents?”
Do not take this topic lightly. If you are a born-again believer, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. You are a tabernacle for God. The Holy Spirit dwells in you. You have the potential for constant communion with Christ.
Evidently, the Mount of Transfiguration accomplished as much for Moses and Elijah as it did for Peter, James and John. The batton was being passed. The Old was being fulfilled and the New was about to begin!
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global