Mark 9:2-10 (NRSVCE)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
The Transfiguration is the culminating moment in the public ministry of Jesus. He has just told his disciples of his coming death and resurrection. Remember that Peter rebukes him for this. Jesus quickly responds “Get behind me, Satan!” (Mk. 8:33). Peter and the disciples did not believe that Jesus would die. They did not understand. It is in the Transfiguration that they are given a sign, a foretaste of what Christ in glory looks like, and confirmation from the Father that Jesus is, in fact, who He says He is.
A question comes up here, though. Why doesn’t Jesus maintain this glorified state? He allows Peter, James, and John to see him transfigured, alongside Elijah and Moses. When they still don’t seem to understand that Jesus is more than just another prophet, the voice of the Father booms down from the heavens, and Elijah and Moses disappear, leaving only Jesus. This foretaste of glory ends, and Jesus descends the mountain with them, asking them to keep quiet about it. Why?
Do you remember when Jesus healed the royal official’s son? (John 6:46-54) The official begs Jesus to heal his son, and Jesus responds “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official begs again, and Jesus says “Go; your son will live.” Jesus wants us to believe in Him without the need for miraculous signs, difficult as that may be. Even the disciples did not, though they certainly tried. And so Jesus gave a sign to the royal official, and to the disciples, so that they might believe. Jesus met them where they were, in order to bring them to faith. This is a theme repeated throughout the Gospels. We see it also with “Doubting Thomas” in John 20:19-31. Jesus will walk with us, no matter our state in life, as the shepherd who guides his flock.
That is why He descends the mountain. That is why the foretaste of glory ends. The disciples were not fully capable of grasping that glory. They did not understand, which is clear when their first thought is to build tabernacles for these three prophets they saw before them. Jesus descends the mountain and walks back with them into their ordinary lives. He gives them the miraculous sign they need, and then meets them where they are in order to lead them. He tells them to keep quiet until after the Resurrection because they still did not fully understand. “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.”
Jesus is there to point the way to the Father. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) He gives us miraculous signs, like the healing of the official’s son, the wounds on his body that Thomas required, and the Transfiguration that Peter, James, and John required. But He always descends the mountain, to continue with us in our walk of faith, to keep us on the narrow path. That is why the Father says “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” He is the way, and he will always be there to lead us.