(primary accounts are found in Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-13; Luke 9:27-36)
Imagine that you live in the first century as one of the inner circle of disciples of Jesus. It doesn’t matter which one – Peter, James, or John, take your pick. You have followed this man for three years, absorbing his teaching, marveling at his miracles, learning his ways. Your heart has dared to hope that he – this one you call Rabbi and Master – is the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, blessed be He. Of late, however, Jesus has been telling his followers that he would suffer at the hands of the chief priests and scribes in the holy city, and would be killed – which brings no little trouble to your mind. Is he admitting defeat? Have the rulers finally gotten the best of him? How does this fit with his being the Messiah? Then too, he has been challenging you and the rest of the disciples with some hard and somewhat confusing words. They echo in your mind: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” What did this talk of dying and crosses have to do with following Jesus? And then, you remember, Jesus made a mysteriously thrilling promise: “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
One afternoon, the Master quietly invites you along with the other two of the inner circle to accompany him on a mountain trek, to escape for a time of prayer. The four of you ascend the slopes of a high mountain, arriving in the evening. You all begin to pray, but after the day’s climb, sleep soon overcomes all but Jesus, who continues on in prayer while the three of you fade away into a deep slumber.
Suddenly, you are jolted awake by an astonishingly brilliant light. Adrenaline courses through your body as you realize that Jesus has been transformed into a being beaming with nearly unbearable brightness. His face and clothing have become blinding white, bright as lightning. And he is not alone. Two glorified beings are speaking with him and as you listen in dumbfounded silence to the conversation, you realize that unbelievably, Moses and Elijah somehow stand before you, speaking respectfully to your Master of his impending death.
As the conversation winds down and the two great figures of Jewish history prepare to leave, Peter rouses himself and blurts out one of the spur-of-the-moment statements for which he was so well known: “Lord,” he stammers, “it is good that we are here.” Brilliant observation, that. And then he suggests, “If you want, I can make three tents, one for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He had not even finished his suggestion when a shining cloud envelops you all, and terrified, you hear what could only be the voice of God stating solemnly, “This is my Beloved Son, my Chosen One, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”