Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”
We see “vision” and we think some sort of ghostly, supernatural apparition. In fact the word simply means, “What is seen,” as in, an appearance or spectacle. It’s something that fills the eyes. It’s an externally objective sight. It’s not phantasm of the mind, and that’s an important distinction to be established against the Gnostics, who would deny the validity of any physical appearance, seeing all such things as corrupt delusions, or the Platonists, who would see in material diversity only accidents of essential “Ideas.”
What Peter, James, and John saw was real. But what did they see? We immediately think of the transfigured Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah. That was quite a sight to see! But look at the verse immediately preceding our verse for today: “When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”
That too was a vision. It was a new vision of the one they had become accustomed to, Jesus. Before they saw their friend and rabbi, a strong candidate for the Messiah, and probably a prophet. Now they saw God’s Son, the only one they were to listen to, the source of the Word, and incredibly, the foundation for a new testament. Was Jesus also suggesting they keep that to themselves? It’s something to think about.
Whether that “vision” was the transfigured Jesus or the transfigured faith and understanding, what does it mean that Jesus commanded them to tell no one about it until He was risen from the dead? Why keep that secret?
Obviously, it’s because testimony of what that vision meant wasn’t fulfilled without Jesus’ death and resurrection. The vision convinced them that Jesus was Christ, the Son of God, the source of all wisdom, and that through Him would come resurrection from the dead and a new life in the world to come. But such things mean nothing without Jesus’ death and resurrection. Transfiguration only comes by way of the cross, and resurrection.
But the “Why?” of all this is where the mystery really begins, because it deals with fundamental aspects of reality. Why does the cross mark all creation? And why is there this hidden mystery which is only revealed by the proclamation of apostles and received by faith? Those are the two questions brought up by Jesus’ words: the cross and faith. Why are these so foundational?
St. Peter, witness of the transfiguration, has an answer to this at the beginning of his letters:
“Grace to you and peace be multiplied. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,”
Here we see both the importance of the cross and the reality of faith going on. The purpose of the cross, or the “various trials” is to test the genuineness of faith. Yes, there will be a revelation of Jesus Christ, an inheritance that doesn’t fade reserved in heaven for us – this is what Peter witnessed, after all. And on account of witnesses like him, we are born again by his preaching, and that Word fills our hearts with “inexpressible joy” in Christ, whom we love though we don’t see. It’s all there, the mystery of faith and the cross.
Still, why it must be this way remains a mystery, and Peter’s explanation is almost circular: God gives the cross to test faith; but why faith in the first place? Why is believing the word of a witness superior than Christ Himself coming forth and revealing Himself? And why must such witnesses and their hearers “prove” their faith through suffering and martyrdom? What is it about God’s perfection of mankind requiring this?
Does it have something to do with the nature of creation in matter itself, wherein the principle is laid down, that words create worlds? Eden could not be created without the possibility of leaving Eden. At which point, now there are two things set against each other, the world of Eden and the world of rejecting Eden. Similarly, every proposal of a word or being establishes the possibility of whatever it is not, so that these two can potentially be against one another.
Words cut. Within the cosmic structure created by those words, there is peace. But (a) things have to be cut to build the structure, and (b) now there exists an “outside the cosmic architecture” which can set itself against that which is in the cosmic architecture. Satan’s temptation was of a world outside the cosmic architecture of God’s full creation, and that world is ever set against the world God built.
As the Lord re-builds, or renews, His creation, it involves a Word which behaves as a sword, and creates a world set against “the world.” Hence the cross. To say Christ alone is God and Lord is to say all other gods and kings are false, and that leads to suffering, first suffering within ourselves as the Word hews out the image of Christ, and second suffering from without as the faithless abuse us.
If words build worlds, then faith is the material through which God builds the new world. Perhaps there’s something of an answer there, to the question, why the cross and faith?
Sometimes the question is the answer, and the answer we seek is a question back at us. “Why does the earth look old?” Answer: because the earth looks old. Why is this a question for you? Because you want to know how it got old? Where does God fit into your thinking?
Why faith and the cross? Because faith and the cross. Why is this a question for us?
All our “maybes” and “how abouts” are no better than Job’s friends giving explanations for his suffering. Why faith and the cross? Well, that’s where faith comes in, doesn’t it, and we bear the cross of insufficient understanding. But with faith, and a transfiguration to fuel that faith, the questions can fade away, particularly when the eyes look up and see “only Jesus.”