Mountains and Movements
There are certain moments in our lives of faith we wish we could remain in forever—moments invaded by a glimpse and taste of eternity. We get the sense that this is life as it ought to be, or as God designed and desires it to be. Often, these moments are labeled as “mountaintop” experiences and can serve as integral moments that produce memories we cherish and celebrate, catalyzing a new move of God in our lives. While these times are divinely orchestrated by our all-wise and loving Lord, we need to be careful to receive them and view them in light of His greater purposes.
An Unforgettable Mountaintop Encounter
I have recently been re-captivated by one of these mountaintop moments in Scripture, found in Matthew 17:1-9. Six days after a cryptic declaration that the Son of Man’s coming glory would be witnessed by some of His current followers, we read, “Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves” (Matt. 17:1). Next, this redeemed tax collector reports how Jesus was suddenly transfigured, or transformed, in front of three of His closest disciples. Luke’s account adds the important detail that this encounter occurred while Jesus took these three disciples up the mountain to pray (Luke 9:28).
In an unforgettable moment, the veil of incarnate deity was lifted, and just a glimpse of the unfathomable glory of God in the face of Christ was enough to captivate these disciples for an eternity. Joining Jesus and these three awestruck disciples were none other than Elijah and Moses, no doubt signaling Jesus the Messiah as the new prophet and lawgiver—the fulfillment of everything the law and the prophets proclaimed. Indeed, it’s moments like these that we desire to linger in; they leave an everlasting impression upon our souls.
Moments and Movements
Peter, desiring to capture and maintain the goodness of this awe-filled moment, declares his intention to build tents for them there upon the mountain. But the purpose of this moment wasn’t to set up camp—it was to set forth a movement. Peter’s intention was interrupted by the bright and glorious cloud of our heavenly Father. The Scripture says that while Peter was still speaking, this bright cloud overshadowed them and a majestic voice declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). The disciples appropriately respond in terror to this awesome revelation. Because sometimes, seeing God’s face will cause us to fall on our face.
Sometimes, seeing God’s face will cause us to fall on our face.
But Jesus, in His customary compassion, came and touched them and applied these words of comfort: “Rise, and have no fear” (Matt. 17:7). It is then that the disciples’ eyes were no longer blinded by the brightness of God’s glory; looking up, they saw only their Shepherd and Great High Priest, once again mediating and veiling the sheer holiness of their Creator. Then, probably to the surprise of these three glory-struck disciples, they went down the mountain. They now had an immediate opportunity to put into practice what the voice had declared about Jesus as they listened to His command to tell no one of this vision “until the Son of Man is raised from the dead” (Matt. 19:9). Would they listen?
Another Unforgettable Mountaintop Experience
Scholars disagree on the specific mountain upon which the Transfiguration occurred. Perhaps Matthew desired to remain obscure so that the purpose of the mountain would be explicit. As one scholar summarized, “We have read of the mount of temptation and the mount of the Sermon, and now this event on the mount of transfiguration sheds a shaft of light on who Jesus is, and vindicates the one who knew he must tread the path of rejection and crucifixion.” Just as the voice of the Father confirmed Jesus’ identity and commissioned Him into the wilderness to prepare Him for ministry, so now the voice of the Father reaffirms the Son’s belovedness and authority to propel Him towards Calvary. This mount is the one that Jesus was sent to ascend; yet, ironically, it paved the way for His greatest exaltation.
A Model for Us to Follow
These moments on the mountaintop serve as a model for our discipleship. Mountaintop encounters and valleys of hardship are an essential part of the journey. Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying, “Mountaintops inspire us, but valleys mature us.” This is true in our sanctification. We can recall and celebrate our great moments with God, but we also must recognize that they are often meant to prepare us for the necessary road of suffering. This is the model for our transformation. However, it is imperative that no matter what place or season in which you find yourself in following Jesus, the essential ingredient of faith is to do what the majestic voice from the cloud declared: “Listen to Him!” In order to endure the necessary road of suffering with joy as Jesus Himself did (Hebrews 12:2), we too must heed in our own souls the affirmation of the heavenly Father declaring over us, “This is my beloved son or daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”
Winston Churchill is often quoted as saying, “Mountaintops inspire us, but valleys mature us.” This is true in our sanctification.
In order to endure the necessary road of suffering with joy as Jesus Himself did (Hebrews 12:2), we too must heed in our own souls the affirmation of the heavenly Father declaring over us, “This is my beloved son or daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”
And may we, like Peter, realize that the place to which we are called to abide is not on the mountaintop, but in the very word of Christ.
“For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:17-19).
Copyright © 2023 Justin Jeppesen. All rights reserved
 Michael Green, The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 184.