Is Jesus the Messiah? Is he the Son of God and God? Questions like these divided opinions during Joseph’s Son’s lifetime and it continues today. Among the early Christians, some even preach and taught that he did not possess the same substance with God the Father and that his substance is only like God the Father since he was specially created by God the Father.
During his time on earth, there was little or nothing that distinguished Jesus from other men of his race and nationality. He seemed just another Rabbi or religious teacher. And there were many of them plying their trade all over Palestine in those days. However, once in a while, Jesus gave a glimpse of who he really was, his real identity – like when he worked particularly striking miracles, such as casting out demons or raising the dead back to life.
One such occasion, when Jesus gave a hint of who he really was, a hint of his divinity, was at his Transfiguration, the event that is recounted in our Gospel reading today. Traditionally the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus is read during Lent. This reminds us that this visible revelation of Jesus’ glory follows upon his having explained to his disciples that he was departing for Jerusalem to suffer and die. In addition, Luke reports that his conversation with Moses and Elijah centered on his approaching end in Jerusalem. The combination of events was such as to convince the three disciples who witnessed it that Jesus was not just another Rabbi, that he might be the long-awaited Messiah, perhaps even a divine person.
Led by Peter, the disciples will face fear and flee, but even here, in the presence of unearthly revelation, they “fell prostrate, overcome with fear”. In neither account does their fear keep them from grasping the essence of the event. On the mountain they experience the opening of heaven and an epiphany of the triune God – the Father points out his “beloved Son” to whom they are to listen, and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a bright cloud, draws them into the sphere of mystery. To truly hear and really be overshadowed will be their lot only after Easter. And Peter’s fear during the Passion, similar to his confusion here when he wants to build booths, will only be removed by the Resurrected One’s threefold question. In his letters Peter testifies to both events and to their interconnectedness (2 Peter 1:16ff; 1 Peter 2:21ff).
Peter and his companions were still engrossed in their fantasy when the real message came through. It was the voice of the Father saying from a bright cloud that had covered them with its shadow, “This is my Son, the Beloved, he enjoys my favor. Listen to him.” That was a statement of the real identity of Jesus. He was not just another Rabbi; he was the very Son of God, therefore, a divine person. Christian Tradition has identified the bright cloud that covered the disciples with its shadow as the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity were present on that mountain, giving testimony to the true identity of Jesus.
But it is not enough to know who Jesus is. Even the devil knows who Jesus is. That is why he trembles at the mere mention of the name of Jesus. It is far more important that we do what the voice of the Father said on that mountain, namely, that we listen to his Son, the Beloved. Only by listening to the Son of God and doing what he tells us will we derive any lasting benefit from knowing who he really is: the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word who become flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).