“Now about eight days after these sayings (Jesus) took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.… And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’” (Luke 9:28-29, 35 ESV).
Jesus is not like the heroes often depicted in Hollywood movies or comic books. Think of your typical superhero and you will probably notice some common physical traits among them: a chiseled jaw-line, superhuman strength, dashing good looks, and don’t forget the stretchy pants. It’s reassuring to know that Jesus didn’t come to make fashion statements or in the likeness of Hollywood fantasy. In fact, Isaiah gives us insight on how people would one day see him: “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him” (Isa. 53:2 NLT).
The Jewish leaders certainly didn’t grasp this description by Isaiah. They expected their Messiah to come riding from the clouds with power, glory and beauty—one who would deliver them from the captivity of their oppressors, the Romans. Christ did come to deliver them, but this Enemy was far more powerful than a nation of people. Jesus, the True Hero above all heroes, far surmounted the ideas of the religious elitists of his day. They didn’t come close to comprehending that the almighty and holy God would reach down to the dust of men and redeem them, serve them and wash their feet. Jesus radically altered what everyone else thought him to be.
Yet for a moment in the gospel story, Luke seemingly interrupts Jesus’ ministry of serving and sacrifice to reflect on one of the most marvelous experiences that Peter, James, and John ever saw. This passage is commonly referred to as ‘the Transfiguration’—the Son of God suddenly changed in appearance. His face ‘was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white’ (Luke 9:29 ESV). Even Moses and Elijah ‘appeared and began talking with Jesus’ (9:30 NLT). These were two men who symbolized the Old Testament genres of the Law and the Prophets.
Imagine what a sight this must have been for the three disciples! Peter certainly thought it was something remarkable: “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (9:33 NLT). His response wasn’t out of the ordinary when we consider our own heroes today. People like Martin Luther King, Jr., Amelia Earhart, Abraham Lincoln, even Michael Jordan—all have monuments, schools, or landmarks in honor and recognition of their accomplishments.
But there is no greater recognition that can be given to anyone but by God himself. Before Peter could finish his flattery, ‘a cloud came and overshadowed (the disciples), and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And for a second and final time, a voice came booming out of heaven (the first was his baptism), saying: ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’” (9:34 ESV). Peter missed who it was that truly deserved all the praise: the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The glory of God shone down on his Son—he declared him to be the supreme authority above all men (even Moses and Elijah). At the end of the day, Jesus was and still is greater than any hero in human history. The disciples saw a glimpse of the true glory of their Messiah—for a moment they encountered his immense beauty. They were silenced by his awesome presence, speechless by his immeasurable splendor.
The Transfiguration points to Jesus Christ alone as our True Hero. He was meek in his appearance but powerful in reality. If we see Jesus as he really is—the Son of Almighty God who humbled himself to defeat death for us—then a lasting mark will be left on our lives. Like Peter, James, and John, we will never be the same in his glorious presence.