By J.R. Miller
The Transfiguration was one of the most remarkable events in our Lord's life. The object, so far as the disciples were concerned, probably was to restore their confidence in Christ's Messiahship, after the staggering blow to their faith which had come to them in the announcement by Himself, that He must suffer and be killed. So far as Jesus Himself was concerned, the object of the Transfiguration would seem to have been to strengthen and encourage Him as He set out on His last journey to the cross.
For companions and witnesses on this occasion, Jesus had Peter, James and John. These were His special friends, admitted by Him to His closest friendship. On several occasions we find Him choosing the same three for special companionship. There must have been something in these three men, which fitted them for the place of honor to which they were admitted. We know that the holiest people will get nearest to Christ. We know, too, that faith always brings us near, while doubt and unbelief separate us from Him. Purity of heart brings us close--the pure in heart see God. Likeness to Christ--fits us for personal friendship. Jesus said that those who serve most self-forgetfully, are first in His kingdom. Selfishness keeps us far off from Jesus. No doubt the eye of Christ saw in the three favored disciples, reasons why they were best fitted to be witnesses of His glory that night. It was not an accident that these, and not three other men were with their Lord on that occasion. It is a special comfort to find that Peter, through such a faulty disciple, was one of those who were admitted to closest fellowship with his Master that night.
Luke tells us that Jesus was engaged in prayer when the wonderful change in His appearance took place. From this we learn that prayer has a transforming power. Communion with God, brings heaven down into our life. Tennyson said, "Prayer is to me--the lifting up of the sluice-gate between me and the Infinite." Prayer lets God's own life into our souls. While we pray--we are in the very presence of God! When Moses had spent forty days on the mountain alone with God, and then returned again to the plain, the people saw the dazzling brightness of heaven on his countenance. When Stephen was looking up into heaven at the glory of God as revealed now in holy vision, even his enemies saw his face--as it had been the face of an angel. Only the upward look can give heavenly beauty. Our communing makes our character. If we think of earthly things--we will grow earthly. If we dote on gold--our lives will harden into sordidness. If we look up toward God--we shall grow like God. A life of prayer will transform us into spirituality, and bring down upon us the beauty of the Lord.
Another strange thing happened that night. There appeared unto Jesus and His disciples two men from heaven, not mere apparitions--but actual men, not men either from the earth--but from heaven--Moses and Elijah. There was something very wonderful in this. For more than nine hundred years Elijah had been in heaven, and for more than fourteen hundred years Moses had been away from this world; and now both reappear, still living, speaking, and working. There are many proofs of immortality--but here is an illustration of the truth. Here we see two men, long centuries after they have left the earth--still living and active in God's service! It will be the same with us and our friends. Thousands of years after we have vanished from earth--we shall still be alive and active somewhere. If only we can get this great truth into our heart, how much more grand it will make all life for us!
We are told that these men had a talk with Jesus. One of the Gospels gives us the subject of the talk--it was about Christ's decease, His exodus from this world. These men were sent from heaven to comfort and strengthen Jesus for the journey to His cross. He would have bitter sorrows and great sufferings, and they came to cheer Him. We are not told that He was afraid or that He was in danger of growing faint-hearted before He reached His cross--but the bravest and strongest are better for encouragement and cheer. So the heavenly messengers were sent to earth--to talk with Jesus about His death, to show Him what it would mean to the world, that He might be strengthened for it. No doubt all the way unto the end of life, Jesus was braver and stronger because of this heavenly visitation. No doubt He had such a vision of redemption as He went to His cross--that He rejoiced to suffer, that He saw of the travail of His soul and was satisfied.
May there not be a hint in this, of the kind of employment that shall occupy the redeemed in the next life? Possibly we may be sent to distant worlds on errands of love to carry help to weary ones. At least we are sure that heaven is not merely a place of inactive rest. Praise will not be the only employment of the glorified ones. They will have opportunity to serve.
The hearts of the disciples were filled with strange ecstasy that night. So absorbed were they in the blessedness of the vision, that Peter proposed that they should stay there, offering to build three tabernacles, one for Jesus and one for each of the heavenly visitors. Peter was right--it was good to be there. But at that very moment, human need was waiting at the foot of the mountain for the Master's coming. Then, farther on, were Gethsemane and Calvary for Jesus; and for Peter there was Pentecost, with years of earnest service, and then martyrdom. It is very sweet to commune with Christ in the closet, at the Lord's Table; but we must not spend all our time in these holy exercises. While raptures fill our hearts--human needs are crying to us for help and for sympathy, and we must hasten away from our peaceful enjoyment, to carry blessing and comfort to those who need.
Another element of the Transfiguration, was the witness from heaven. It was the Father who spoke and said, "This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!" The disciples had been greatly shocked by what Jesus had told them six days before--that He must suffer and be killed. Now from heaven the Father speaks, assuring them that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, and that they should listen to His voice--and to His voice only. Even if they could not understand, and the things He said seemed to destroy all their hopes--they must be content to hear.
There are times when God's ways with us seem very hard, when we think disaster is coming to ever fair prospect in our lives. In all such hours, we should remember that He who rules over all is the Son of God, our Friend and Savior--and our trust in Him should never fail. We should listen always quietly and submissively to what He says, and when everything seems strange and dark--we should never doubt or be afraid. What so staggered the disciples then--we now see to have been the most glorious and loving wisdom. Through the cross there came to the world--the most wonderful blessing the world ever received. So in our strangest trials--there are the truest wisdom and the highest love.
As Jesus and the disciples came down from the mountain the next morning, He charged them that they should tell no man what they had seen--until after He had risen from the dead. Just so, there are many things that it is hard or even impossible for us to understand at the time--but which become clear enough when the other events follow and cast their light upon them.
One riding along a road approaches a building which has no beauty and which seems to be only a confused pile. But when he has passed by and looks back at it, he sees a structure graceful, impressive, and beautiful. He saw it first from the wrong side.
One looks at an artist at work on his canvas--and sees only rude daubs. The picture has not yet been completed. By and by it is finished and is a rare work of art. We must wait for finished work--before we judge.
A boy enters the academy, and a page of Greek is put before him--but it has no meaning for him. He cannot read it. He spends a few years in the study of the language, and again the same page is presented to him. Now he reads it off with ease, and every word glows with some high thought. We are in Christ's school now, and there are many things we cannot understand until we get farther on and learn other things, and then the former will be made plain and clear.