Have you ever been reading a book, a good book, and you’re going along, mildly interested, when suddenly, something pops up—it could be a gun in the first act or a riddle on the lips of a wise old woman—and gives you this feeling that you can’t shake. Something big is going to happen before the end of this story, something that we can’t necessarily predict but that will no doubt have us completely engrossed until we turn the last page and realize it’s two in the morning.
That hint of what’s to come, that foreshadowing, keeps us reading, keeps us interested whether out of delight or morbid curiosity. It gives us something to look forward to, something to hold onto as we slog through the battlefields and hunt down the clues alongside our favorite characters.
When Peter, James, and John hiked up the mountain beside Jesus so long ago, we might wonder what kinds of hints and foreshadowing occupied their minds. They had known since the beginning that Jesus was different. They watched as he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, and released the demon-possessed from their captors. And when he spoke about the Scriptures, even his enemies listened because of the authority in his voice. Could this be the Messiah? they wondered. But none had gotten so far as Peter, whose sudden revelation even he could not explain. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” And he was right. Jesus was their long-awaited savior, their much anticipated king.
But just as the news began to sink in, Jesus said that he would suffer and die before rising again. He was a king who would not ride into Jerusalem on the back of a warhorse with an army marching behind him. He was a king who, rather than leading his troops to victory, was taking them toward what appeared to be utter disaster: “If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me. For the man who wants to save his life will lose it; but the man who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The memory of that moment and of Jesus’ words continued to reverberate through the minds of Peter, James, and John as they climbed the mountain that morning. What good was a king who seemed so intent on dying? What good could this man accomplish for the nation of Israel and for the world when he lay cold and dead in a tomb, his followers hiding for fear of the crowds.
It looked hopeless, pointless.
Heads down, watching the trail for loose stones and shifting sand, the three disciples hardly noticed that they had reached the top of the mountain because a light brighter than the sun suddenly shown before them. Jesus stood only a few steps away, yet they could barely recognize him—for he radiated with the power and glory of the God who spoke at Mt. Sinai. “This is my Son,” came a voice from on high. “Listen to him.”
And in that light, the ending of this story was revealed. Jesus showed the disciples his glory, not only the glory he once had, but the glory he would have once more in his kingdom. Peter, James, and John couldn’t have known as they hiked down from the mountain that day that what Jesus said about his suffering and death was inextricably linked with the vision they saw. It wasn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection that they began to look back, to reread his story and their memories of Jesus, looking for the clues and hints they had missed along the way. For, in the end, it was precisely Jesus’ road of suffering and pain and death that would lead to his glorification, his radiance and exaltation.
That is the reality to which we cling. Our Lord suffered and died so that we might be saved, that we might join with him and all the saints in life everlasting. And on that day, when we see his face, the light of his countenance will also become ours. For Christ’s glory was only part of what God revealed on that mountain. The future glory of Jesus belongs not only to Christ, but also to his disciples, to you and to me. Our day-to-day suffering and the afflictions that plague us are actually preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison to what we have experienced in this life. In his transfiguration, Jesus shows us the outcome, the finale of taking up our cross and following him. As Christians, Christ’s life is our life. And we are not only baptized into his death, but also into his resurrection and glory.
Our lives can often seem like a mystery, filled with ominous forebodings and strange signs that try to loosen our grasp on the hope we have in Jesus. But what we have today, what we see on that mountain, is resurrected glory. It is an utterly reliable promise from God himself that—even before he steps foot in Jerusalem, before the bread and the wine and the kiss and the cross—he will be glorified in the end, that all will work out as he intended. Jesus knows that suffering and death await him, and we know that the same may wait for us. But we have this promise, God’s promise, that the light of Jesus Christ “shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never put it out.” AMEN.