Picture the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17. It was just a few days after Peter’s famous acknowledgement of Jesus’ true identity as not just an articulate teacher or a miracle worker but as the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Peter had finally understood who Jesus was — an understanding that had come, Jesus says, not by mere human insight but by revelation from God (v. 17). Peter had not understood this revelation fully, for when Jesus went on to explain that he, as the Christ and the Son of God, would soon suffer and die in Jerusalem, Peter was quick to rebuke Jesus. Still, we might say that Peter’s doctrinal knowledge was moving in the right direction through the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.

Then comes the time for the next lesson. So Jesus invited Peter, James, and John to come with him up onto a nearby mountain to pray. Time alone with Jesus was always a special gift, and so it’s easy to imagine these disciples gladly accepting the invitation — never guessing what they would encounter at the mountaintop. The text gives a brief but astonishing description of what occurred as Jesus prayed: 

There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.… A bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’” (Matt. 17:2 – 35

Quite an experience! I’m not surprised that the disciples hit the deck when they saw all this and heard God’s own voice from heaven. “… they fell facedown to the ground, terrified” (Matt. 17:6). Here was a stunning, overpowering revelation of an unparalleled glory, the glory [doxa],” John tells us, of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). What Peter saw on the mountain was much more than he had bargained for. Yes, Peter had already acknowledged publicly — and understood partially — that Jesus was the Son of God: his doctrine was technically correct. But on the mountain, Peter found himself inside the doctrine, not just believing it was true as a propositional claim but encountering its truth and living in its majesty as well. The encounter on the mountain produced awe and terror in Peter and his companions, for they knew that the transcendent Lord of all was actively present. 

The pattern of the Transfiguration fits the overarching revelatory rhythm of much of the Bible. Mystery is straightforwardly revealed — that is, it is disclosed — and in that sense certain doctrines are made known.” But then the orthodox doctrine moves to a new level as the divine revelation generates spiritual life and power. No doubt the revelation is accommodated to our capacity and need, yet now it strikes us as so beautiful, so awe-inspiring, so breathtakingly pure and perfect, that (at our best, most attentive moments), we are drawn out of ourselves to the holy self-forgetfulness of worship. 

To worship is to wrap the mind and heart around the beauty of God, to discern and adore the unfathomable glory that we were created to experience and whose depths we long to explore. Worship encompasses gratitude for God’s gifts, but it then moves beyond thanksgiving to fix its gaze on the magnificently transcendent otherness of the great Giver. This holy Lord invites us into his own presence in the power of the Spirit, for he has given his Son for our salvation, that we may believe in him, listen to him, feed on him, eat his body, drink his blood. In so doing, our knowledge of the incomprehensible God blossoms, as he himself comes to us in the Son and in the Spirit.

This series has been adapted from Steven D. Boyer and Chris Hall’s The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable. Hungry for more? Please visit Baker Academic for more information.