God calls us to HEAR and not SEE!
Trust me, there is A LOT to study in this passage. The details of Jesus' transfiguration and the links to Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament are almost innumerable. At the end of this article, I'm going to attempt to outline some of those details. But I don't want you to miss the forest for the trees. What is Luke (and Matthew and Mark) trying to tell us in the story of the transfiguration?
First and foremost, the Gospel writers want us to know that Jesus' prophetic ministry is in the likeness of Moses and Elijah, but as the Messiah, Jesus' ministry far exceeds the ministry of Moses and Elijah. Jesus fulfilled Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15 - The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. Luke points to Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy in Luke 9:35 when God's voice declares: This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him. Indeed, Jesus' ministry is in the likeness of Moses and fulfills Moses' prophecy, but Jesus' ministry is greater in that Jesus not only saves the Israelites, but Jesus saves the Gentiles as well. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament makes this point: Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. (Hebrews 3:3)
As we take a step back from this passage to see the forest, we find that Luke is also making another significant point in a very subtle way. Peter, John, and James are given the great privilege of SEEING Jesus' transfigured. The glow of His face and the brightness of His clothing overpower them such that they know they are SEEING the glory of God in the person of Jesus. But the directive God gives to Peter, John, and James is not that they SEE, but that they HEAR. In other words, they are to live faithfully as followers of Jesus not because they have SEEN Him transfigured but because they have HEARD the voice of God declare that Jesus is God's Son.
The greatest commandment God gave to Israel according to Jesus is the "Shema" which means "Hear." Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) Our faithfulness is a matter of hearing God's Word and loving God who graciously reveals Himself to us through Word.
We might be tempted to think that it would be easier to live a life of faith if we could only SEE Jesus the way that Peter, John, and James were able to SEE Him. Yet, we have the same revelation that they were given; the revelation of Word; the revelation of God's voice in the Bible which declares that Jesus is His Son. We should be reminded of Jesus' words to Thomas: Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have SEEN me? Blessed are those who have not SEEN and yet have come to believe." (John 20:29)
Let those who have ears to hear, listen!
Now for the details....
Jesus' transfiguration is wrapped up with Moses and Elijah.
1) Jesus went up the mountain with three companions - Peter, John, and James. Moses went up the mountain with three companions also - Aaron, Nadab and Abihu. (Exodus 24:9)
-A special note here: Notice that Luke orders the disciples' names as Peter, John, and James rather than Peter, James, and John as in Mark's Gospel. Luke, who is also the writer of Acts, may have done this intentionally to reveal that Peter and John, not James, will become the primary apostolic leaders of the early church. In fact, the ministry of James was cut short when Herod had James killed with the sword (Acts 12:1). References to Peter and John's leadership can be found in Acts 3:1, 4:1, and 8:14.
2) Jesus' face is transfigured and His clothes become dazzling white. The same thing happened to Moses' face when He encountered God on Mount Sinai in Exodus 34:29
3) A voice speaks from the cloud and declares that Jesus is the Son of God - the prophet long ago promised by Moses. A voice speaks in a gentle whisper to Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13 and declares that Elisha is to succeed him as a prophet.
4) Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus about His departure...His exodus, if you will...in the same way that Moses led the Exodus from Egypt.
5) Peter says that he will build three dwellings or tabernacles - one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Why? It's actually a practical matter. Peter knew that when Moses was on Mount Sinai with God, Moses stayed for forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 34:28) Peter believes they will be on the mountain for a long time.
There other details, but I will end with this passage of Scripture from 2 Peter 1:16-18 in which Peter gives an account of what he saw and heard. We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
Let those who have ears to hear, listen!