Sensory overload . . . that’s what I’m thinking. It simply became too much for their five feeble senses to process and so “they fell on their faces and were terrified.” That’s what I think happened on that mountain. Peter, James, and John didn’t know what was in store for them when they followed Jesus to that place . . . and when they got there, they didn’t know what to do.
It starts with the Master being transfigured before them . . . He lights up . . . literally. His face shines like the sun and His clothes become white as light. Talk about ethereal. And their eyes don’t have a chance to fully adjust to the brightness of Jesus’ exuding glory when “behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah” (17:3). What!?! First, where did they come from? Second, how did they know who these guys were? Did Jesus introduce them? I don’t think so . . . they just knew. Which of their senses enabled that? I’m thinking that an EEG would be lighting up right about now if it were measuring the activity happening between their ears?
Ok, so here Peter, James, and John are . . . Jesus is shining before them with a glory they had never imagined, much less seen, before. What’s more, He’s talking to two of the greatest men in all of Israel’s history . . . Moses the deliverer from Egypt and the mediator of the Law . . . and Elijah the prophet to top all prophets. Does not compute . . . does not compute. And so, not knowing what to do or what to say, Peter offers to set up camp so they can all hang out for awhile. The three disciples brains were exploding . . . didn’t really understand what was going down . . . but whatever it was, Peter thought it shouldn’t end too quickly.
And then . . . BAM!!!
A bright cloud descends . . . anyone else thinking Exodus? The glory of the Majestic, Holy God falls about them . . . and a voice speaks from the enveloping cloud. And that does it!
[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. (Matthew 17:5-6 ESV)
Done! Too much input. A glowing Master . . . visitors from another world . . . encased in a cloud from heaven . . . commanded by the thunderous voice of Almighty God to stop scurrying about. Down they go . . . face to dirt . . . with exceedingly great fear. You think?
And here’s what gets me every time I read this passage. Though it’s Jesus’ time to shine (literally) . . . though He is receiving some of the exaltation He deserves but has known so little of while visiting earth . . . though this is His moment and He might well have paused to receive and enjoy the homage paid Him . . . instead, Matthew records this,
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” (Matthew 17:7 ESV)
Jesus came. He made the first move. He didn’t wait for His subjects to crawl to Him. Instead, He went to them in all their sensory overloaded terror. And then, He touches them. The hand of this transfigured Christ rests upon their mortal bodies. King Jesus, who might well of just lowered His scepter toward them, instead, at that moment, is the Good Shepherd Jesus who gently and physically cares for His sheep. And then, having let them feel the warmth of His touch, this One who had just been speaking with Moses and Elijah, now speaks to them, “It’s ok. Get up. Don’t be afraid.”
It was too much for them. But the touch of His hand . . . and the sound of His voice . . . were such that, when they looked up, “they saw no one, but Jesus only” (17:8).
O blessed Jesus. O gentle Jesus. He who will not break a bruised reed and will not quench a faintly burning wick (Isa. 42:3). Though glorious God, He still comes with the touch of His hand and the sound of His voice to raise up those who are overwhelmed . . . whether by His glory of by their grief.
Feel His touch . . . Hear His voice . . . To Him be all glory!