After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”Matthew 17:1-9
Among the synoptic accounts of the Transfiguration, Matthew alone records that Peter, James, and John “fell on their faces” terrified. Traditional icons depict Peter on the left, kneeling before the “Son of God” he professed.1 On the right, James shields his face, overwhelmed by the blinding light. Kneeling beneath the Lord, John receives the grace to bear up under the cross with Christ.
Like the Israelites retreating from Moses’ radiant face in fear, the three disciples fell in terror.2 While Moses’ face reflected the light of God, who is Other, Jesus’ face blazed with his own divinity.
Moses and Elijah—the Law and the Prophets—acknowledged the Son of God in the flesh. Praising “my beloved Son,” the Father revealed himself in the voice and the Holy Spirit in the cloud.
Fully human and fully divine, Jesus “touched” the disciples—a detail found only in Matthew. “Rise,” he said, “and fear not.” From Mount Sinai to the Mount of the Transfiguration, the holy and unapproachable God became tangible in Christ.
Light from Christ struck Peter, James, and John.
Jesus touched them, then the sight was gone.
1 Matthew 16:16.
2 Exodus 34:30.