In Matthew 17:2 Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”
To Peter, James and John, the three disciples who witnessed this amazing transformation in Jesus, it was proof there was more going on in Jesus than just wise teacher and powerful healer. At the press of a switch he could blaze like the sun itself. It was made clear who had pressed that switch too, because in verse 5 “a bright cloud enveloped them and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.’”
It was the Father who had flicked the switch on, just briefly, but enough to imprint an image of Jesus in the eyeballs and minds of these three disciples that this Son of his was the one he’d sent to fulfill everything written in the Old Testament (pictured by Elijah and Moses), so get listening to him now.
Well, if that was the Father’s point here, then why didn’t he flick the switch and make Jesus shine like the sun for everyone else who met him, rather than to only three disciples at one time, and only briefly and out of sight?
Jesus explained why in verse 9, when he told Peter, James and John they shouldn’t tell anyone what they’d seen “until the Son of Man had been raised from the dead.” What I get from that is this: that only after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead would people really start to grasp who he was. It didn’t matter what spectacular miracles Jesus did before that time, therefore – including him shining like the sun – because the reaction in most people would be, “So what?” – or just a blank look of disinterest.
Jesus backed that explanation up when he was asked by his disciples in verse 10, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” It seems like an odd question right after seeing Jesus shine like the sun, but it was just the question that needed to be asked, because in Jesus’ reply we see how naturally blind to, and how hopelessly disinterested we are in, who Jesus is.
Jesus replies in verse 11, “To be sure, Elijah has already come, and they (the teachers of the law) did not recognize him.” These same teachers of the law would then cause Jesus later on to “to suffer at their hands” too, verse 12. In other words, the teachers. of the law, the one group of people in all Israel who should have recognized who Jesus was, didn’t have a clue. They even wanted to snuff hm out.
There was no point in the disciples broadcasting that Jesus had shone like the sun, therefore, because it wouldn’t have made any difference whatsoever in people recognizing who Jesus was. And Jesus illustrated that point in verse 12 when he said, “Elijah has already come,” because the beginning of the restoration of all things had already begun with the arrival of John the Baptist (verse 13). John the Baptist was the prophesied Elijah, heralding the promise of restoration of all things at last, but the teachers of the law had totally missed that too.
What we’ve got in this story of Jesus shining like the sun, then, is what it takes to believe who Jesus is. it takes the Father flicking a switch on. And we see that illustrated again when Jesus asked his disciples in the previous chapter, “Who do you say I am?” and Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” because Jesus replies back that “this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven” Matthew 16:15-17.
Jesus had already said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” John 6:44, so there it is again. It has to be revealed by the Father. And Paul understood it that way too, when he said in Galatians 1:15-16 it was God who “was pleased to reveal his Son in me.”
It doesn’t make other people inferior if they don’t grasp who Jesus is. It simply illustrates that it takes the Father to flick the necessary switch for “the lights to come on” about Jesus in people’s minds. That’s when all those prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament suddenly “come to light,” just as they did to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:31.
So if people “don’t get it yet” about who Jesus is, it’s only because the Father hasn’t flicked the switch in their minds yet. But Jesus did hint to his disciples back in Matthew 17:9 that it would happen after he was resurrected, so expect it to happen to people any time. And that’s very encouraging, because it could happen any time to those we’d just love to get the picture about Jesus.
Up to that time, here’s hoping we shine a light on Jesus too, so that when their turn comes they recognize Jesus easily and readily, because of the light that shone from us as well.