While Jesus is teaching the people in the region of Caesarea Philippi, which is about 15 miles (25 km) from Mount Hermon, he makes a startling announcement to his apostles: “Truly I say to you that there are some of those standing here who will not taste death at all until first they see the Son of man coming in his Kingdom.”—Matthew 16:28.
The disciples must wonder what Jesus means. About a week later, he takes three of the apostles—Peter, James, and John—with him up to a lofty mountain. It may well be nighttime, for the three men are sleepy. While Jesus is praying, he is transfigured before them. The apostles see his face shine as the sun and see his garments become brilliant as light, glitteringly white.
Then, two figures, identified as “Moses and Elijah,” appear. They start talking to Jesus about his ‘departure that is to occur at Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:30, 31) His departure evidently refers to Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection, which he recently spoke of. (Matthew 16:21) This conversation proves that contrary to what Peter urged, Jesus’ humiliating death is not something to be avoided.
Fully awake now, the three apostles watch and listen in amazement. This is a vision, yet it appears so real that Peter begins to get personally involved in the scene, saying: “Rabbi, it is fine for us to be here. So let us erect three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:5) Does Peter want the tents set up so that the vision will be prolonged for some time?
While Peter is speaking, a bright cloud covers them and a voice from the cloud says: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved. Listen to him.” At hearing God’s voice, the frightened apostles fall on their faces, but Jesus urges them: “Get up. Have no fear.” (Matthew 17:5-7) When they do, the three apostles see no one except Jesus. The vision has ended. When it is day and they are descending from the mountain, Jesus commands: “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of man is raised up from the dead.”—Matthew 17:9.
Elijah’s appearance in the vision raises a question. “Why,” the apostles ask, “do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replies: “Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him.” (Matthew 17:10-12) Jesus is speaking about John the Baptist, who fulfilled a role similar to Elijah’s. Elijah prepared the way for Elisha, and John did so for Christ.
How strengthening this vision is to Jesus and to the apostles! It is a preview of Christ’s Kingdom glory. Thus the disciples saw “the Son of man coming in his Kingdom,” as Jesus had promised. (Matthew 16:28) While on the mountain, they were “eyewitnesses of his magnificence.” Though the Pharisees wanted a sign to prove that Jesus was to be God’s chosen King, he would not give them one. But Jesus’ close disciples were allowed to see Jesus’ transfiguration, which confirms Kingdom prophecies. Thus, Peter could later write: “We have the prophetic word made more sure.”—2 Peter 1:16-19.