28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus* took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake,* they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,* one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen;* listen to him!’ 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Luke does not often give a specific time frame for events – more commonly he says, “one day” or “once”. Here, he wants us to know that this event is connected by a week to the recognition that Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus’ instructions about his coming death and resurrection and the cost of following him. The connection is significant.
Jesus and his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, go up on the mountain to pray. We do not know which mountain – the guides in Israel identify different ones, with one even named “Mount of Transfiguration” – but what is important here is that they had a retreat, took time away from the crowd and the pressure, and went up the mountain to pray. We all need some of that sort of time away. And when they took that time away, they had a mountain-top experience!
The disciples suddenly saw Jesus standing and talking with two men, whom they knew were Moses and Elijah. Amazed, and more than a little confused and flustered, Peter says to Jesus, this is a good place for us to be; shall we make three “booths” or “tabernacles” – for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah? There was something in ancient Israel, that still goes on today, called the “Festival of Booths”, when the people build a shelter outside their homes and live there for a time, in remembrance of the journey through the wilderness. It is this sort of covering or shelter that Peter wants to build, for Jesus and the prophets. He wants to keep Moses and Elijah with them, along with Jesus. But that was not to be the way things were to work – just building a mountain-top shelter, or even temple, would not accomplish Jesus’ work, would not bring the Kingdom of God.
It was at that point that God spoke out of the cloud – think seeing Moses was scary? Try hearing God’s voice thunder out of the clouds! Peter, James, and John were terrified; I imagine they fell face down on the ground! And God said, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!” Luke identified Jesus as Son of God in the birth narrative; now the voice from the clouds identifies him as Son of God to the inner circle of disciples. But for the time being they say nothing to anyone. Perhaps they needed time to think through this revelation – time to process, to put things together in their minds and hearts.
We have mountain-top experiences, and sometimes, like Peter, James, and John, it takes us some time to process, to understand, to put things together in our minds and hearts.