Jesus and the Transfiguration | Matthew 17:1-13

In Scripture by Antwuan Malone

Some call me cynical. Others skeptical. I like to think I’m just curious.

Yeah, curiosity. That’s the state I find myself in after reading the episode of a transfigured Jesus in Matthew 17:1-13. Much like the passage we talked about a couple weeks ago with Jesus walking on water, I find myself asking why. Why would Jesus take these three – Peter, John and James – to a high mountain to experience such a magnificent peek into who he is in his full glory? Why not all twelve? And was it really¬†necessary?

The Transfiguration is one of the most eye-opening scenes in the Bible. It reveals, not only more about who Jesus is, but about who we are as well. And by we, I mean the Peters, Johns, and James among us.

The Inner Circle and Jesus’ Favoritism

My first curiosity concerns the fact that only Peter, James and John were privy to this magnificent occasion. It’s believe that these three made up Jesus’s “inner circle,” which suggests he favored them more than the other disciples. It may seem this way, but I’m not buying. I can’t imagine Jesus loved these three any more than he loved the other disciples, and to think otherwise sullies the grace with which I believe Jesus employs to love us all equally. No, he did not favor these three, but he did perhaps know what purpose they would serve in his ministry after his resurrection and ascension. These three were the most “bought in” to what God was doing through Jesus, and they would be highly instrumental in the spreading of the gospel. For some reason, these three needed this more than the others.

I’ll be the first to admit how ironic it feels to see the spiritually rich get richer in this sense. Conventionally, I’d think those who were least “bought in” needed to see such a magnificent, undeniable event as the transfiguration to confirm their faith and embolden their witness. It seems to me that showing himself in his transfigured glory would’ve been helpful for all twelve to see, especially those still wrestling with who Jesus was and what his ministry entailed.Yet he shows only three.

I wonder how cheated the other nine felt once they’d heard the news.

I have often been quite guilty of expressing displeasure with God when he is more dubious with me. I’ve yelled at him, pleading injustice at the fact that Moses had a burning bush, Jonah a big fish, and Abraham an audible voice for direction, while it seemed I was left to decipher riddles and piece together puzzles for direction. “Why don’t you send me a sign,” I’d ask, “a clear marker to go this way or that?” And each time I am hit with the same thought. God says in my wrestling, “I’ve given you plenty signs already. How many more do you need?”

And then I’m reminded of Peter and how he betrayed Jesus in denying him, and of the way James and John squabbled over who would be greater. He’d done so many things in front them, and empowered them to do great things as well… but they still drifted. In then end, the only real sign God can give is a consistent one, one that never leaves. Otherwise we start to drift. But a consistent miracle is precisely what he’s given us by filling us with his Holy Spirit. In every Christian, a daily miracle is immersing itself into our everyday experiences. The scriptures say his mercies are new every morning. The Holy Spirit is a burning bush inside us, always speaking, always directing. Again, the question arises, “How much more do we need?”

JESUS is The Reason

The reason Jesus took these guys to the top of a mountain to give them a peek at his true form lies in the response from Peter. If we’re honest, we’d find that we often make the same sort of mistake Peter made when he paid too much attention to his religious heroes and not enough on Christ.

Like Peter, we are often distracted. Jesus, standing alight in his glorified form is not enough to separate him from the great heroes of Jewish history, Moses and Elijah. These disciples needed to know that Jesus was greater than the law, greater than their religious heroes. We are quick to build altars for the Moseses and Elijahs of our day, of the Christian celebrities and heroes who God has used to minister to us in great ways. But in this passage, God is imploring us to remember that it’s Jesus who we serve. “This is my son,” God says, “Listen to him.”

I’m guilty of this as well. I have many big brothers (from afar) in the faith. Timothy Keller, C.S. Lewis, Donald Miller, Francis Chan ,and many others have had profound impacts on my faith walk with Christ. But they are nothing compared to Jesus, the enlightened and anointed Savior and Master of my life. It is Jesus who I need to open my ears most to, Jesus who I need to obey. My life is meant to be a love letter to Jesus, an enduring symbol of sacrifice, obedience, and a courageous willingness to follow the path he’s carved.

Heroes are good encouragement, but if you hear nothing else hear Jesus. If you have him, how much more do you really need?

Who are the Elijah and Moses figures in your life?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry ( where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.