And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
They saw no one but Jesus only, or perhaps better translated, “Jesus alone.” “Jesus alone” can be taken in two senses corresponding to Jesus’ humiliation and exaltation.
By His humiliated state, we confess as Philippians 2 says, “being in the form of God, [Christ Jesus] did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”
Think of Peter, James, and John beholding Moses and Elijah, these Hebrew hall of famers. Their friend and teacher, Jesus, had been revealed in His exalted state, the state He’s in when He’s not in His humiliated state. Then the Father overshadows them and speaks. The whole seen is awesome, and terrifying. The three cannot deal with it. They fall on their faces.
And then they hear the words, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” Looking up, they see “Jesus alone.” Whew. Here’s their friend and teacher back to normal. They can arise. They can handle this. Is this not the beauty and purpose of the incarnation? So that God can be with us in such a way, that we can stand in His presence? Is that not the whole purpose of the Gospel, so that we can stand, unafraid, in the presence of God? Is that not the end result of our justification?
Of course it is. You almost hear a “just Jesus” lurking here, as in, “Don’t worry, it’s just me, Jesus.”
On the other hand, this “Jesus alone” can be taken at a more cosmic sense. The three disciples had just “seen” and witnessed Moses and Elijah – again, hall of famers – and their friend and teacher in this terrifying, glorified state. Their minds were filled with awe. They were overwhelmed. So many things must have been going on in their minds, and in their faith. So many questions. Peter’s suggestion about the three tabernacles reflects their confusion. And then the Father declares, “Hear Him.”
I’m reminded of that stock scene in a show or movie, where some poor individual is in a fire, or hanging on a ledge, or in some dire predicament, and there’s all sorts of confusion and noise going on around him. The hero is trying to focus his attention on him, “Just listen to me and follow my instructions. Block out everything else.”
I see that sense in the “Jesus alone” as well. Amidst all the confusion and faith challenging events, the Father points to Jesus and says, “Keep your focus on Him. Follow His instructions.” And when the confusion dies down, they do just that. “Only Jesus” matters. Only Jesus has the answers. Only Jesus will save them. It’s not unlike Peter’s challenge when Jesus invited him to walk on the waves. “Just keep your eyes on Jesus; forget everything else.”
But there’s something more going on with those words “lifted up their eyes” and “saw.” Again, the whole purpose of the transfiguration event was to confirm the apostolic word, to confirm their eye-witnessed testimony that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, who brings resurrection and everlasting life.
They lifted up their eyes and saw nothing else – nothing! – but Jesus alone.
Now, here’s where the cosmic element comes in. Jesus fills all things in heaven and on earth. Which is to say, there is a way to “see” with our “eyes” all things in heaven and on earth in such a way that we see Jesus alone. Going back to a repeated theme, there’s a proper confession rooted in the Psalm which sees only the “goodness of the Lord” in all creation.
A good creation – in view of the fall – can only be seen as good on account of Jesus’ redemption of it. That is, only by seeing the creation through Christ can we see it as good. Having that vision is among the many promises of faith. Of course it’s a faith into which we all must grow, for who among us does not see some aspect of the creation, or of our lives, and think, “This area here has gotten out of God’s control. Christ cannot truly be here.”
But that is heresy on so many levels. Christ most certainly is there. St. Patrick had such a faith when he penned these words:
Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the poop deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Yes, Christ fills all in all! And certainly the hymn puts a faith on our mouths similar to what we see in the Gospel, where we see “only Jesus.”
What does such a vision do for us? It does for us exactly what it did for Peter, James, and John. When confusion arises we have a hunch are there because of divine or spiritual forces out of our control – a hurricane, cancer, someone else wins the lottery, my spouse is a drunk, my kids all have problems – we too want to fall on our faces in terror. Who can stand before such cosmic forces? What do all these things mean?
And in the midst of that comes our Lord, saying, “It’s just me…do not be afraid.”
It’s just Jesus. All Jesus. Even the suffering. It’s all Him, and because it’s all Him, we need not be afraid. Such is the fruit of an eye that sees only Jesus. As Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light.”