The transfiguration of Jesus must have been an amazing sight for Peter, James, and John. Still, the significance of the event could be misunderstood.
Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone until after he was raised from the dead (Matthew 17:9). Why weren’t the other disciples to know? Why keep the knowledge from them?
The reason was probably simple: people can misunderstand.
The Jews had been fighting the Romans ever since appointing John Hyrcanus II as ethnarch around 47 BC.
When the Idumean Herod was crowned king by the Romans he also faced rebellions from the Jews. One major uprising was led by a man named Hezekiah who was executed.
After Herod’s death, a series of revolts were led by Judas, Hezekiah’s son and two others: Simon of Perea and Athronges, a shepherd. In AD 6, Judas and an army of Zealots rebelled against the Romans.
The Jews were convinced God was going to drive the Romans from their land and give them their freedom. Much of this belief centered around the coming Messiah who, they thought, would restore the land to them.
The Jews believed they would begin to realize their dreams when Elijah appeared as they thought Malachi’s prophecy said (Malachi 4:5-6). They believed that before the Messiah appeared, Elijah would come to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”
The Jews made the mistake of thinking the Messiah would create an earthly kingdom in which he would restore Israel and rule. Those militant Jews, like the leaders of the several plots to overthrow the Romans, mistakenly thought they were doing God’s will.
Jesus, the Messiah, did not come to the world to create an earthly kingdom. He came to build a spiritual one, the church (Matthew 16:15-16). His purpose was not to create a limited national Israel. His purpose was to seek and to save all those who are lost (Luke 19:10) and save them eternally.
There are still people even now who believe Jesus is coming back to create a physical, earthly kingdom and will reign here a thousand years. They believe this even though Jesus told Pilate he had not come to do any such thing (John 18:36).
People can misunderstand many things. It was important for the disciples to wait until after the resurrection, so they could understand the whole picture. Then, they would not make any mistakes but would understand the plan much better.
God sent John, Jesus’ cousin, to prepare the way for his son. In that sense, John was the Elijah that Malachi predicted. The Jews did not recognize him, although in appearance he looked remarkably like Elijah. Herod had him executed (Matthew 14:10) and Jesus would also be executed by a Roman governor, Pilate.
Jesus’ mission on earth was to seek and save the lost eternally. The Bible does not teach about some future earthly kingdom. It teaches about a heavenly one.
The apostle Paul wrote, “For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen in eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NET).