And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. – Mark 9:2-3 (ESV)
Among the Twelve, Jesus had a smaller group that, on occasion, was able to experience something with Jesus that the others did not. Mark 9 records one of these instances—a time where Peter and the two sons of Zebedee got to see a glimpse of Jesus’ glory.
Glory is a word that speaks to the greatness, goodness, and majesty of God, often represented with brightness and light. The Old Testament prophet, Daniel, once had a vision of Jesus as “a man clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like flaming torches…” (Daniel 10:5-6), and John likewise had a similar vision in Revelation 1:13-15.
But while he lived as a man on earth, God the Son muted his glory. Humbly, he took on the life and appearance of a poor carpenter, with nothing particularly striking about his appearance. That is, except for a brief few moments in what we call the “transfiguration.”
There, on a mountain with three of his disciples, Jesus’ glory was on display. Before their eyes he spoke with Moses and Elijah, two of the central figures in the Old Testament. Peter, terrified, stumbled over his words before the Father’s voice echoed from heaven just as it had at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
And then the moment passed, Jesus resumed his normal human form, Moses and Elijah no longer stood there, and the four men walked down the mountain to rejoin the rest.
This is a reminder and foretaste for us as well. It reminds us that the humble carpenter that we call Savior is also our King. He might have humbled himself even to the point of death on the cross for our rebellion against God, but he is also the all-glorious, eternal God who shares every attribute of perfect and eternal deity with the Father and Holy Spirit.
It also focuses our minds forward. It reminds us as Jesus said elsewhere: “God is not the God of the dead but the living.” As followers of Jesus, when we pass this life, we will join with Moses and Elijah in enjoying God’s glorious presence forever. And when Jesus comes back and raises our bodies, they will be glorified like his, perfect and without the corruption of sin.
No, we cannot see the full glory of God at this moment with these eyes. But the glimpse we get through God’s word and creation remind us of who we worship and what is to come. And it transforms us to be more like our Savior-King in character and desire (2 Corinthians 3:18).