As we came down from the mountain, James, John, and me, we were still shaking. I was so confused and trembling so much that I kept stumbling, and John would reach out a hand to steady me.
Jesus had told us not to say anything to anyone else about it, not to the rest of the twelve, not to anyone, until after he was ‘raised from the dead’. But we couldn’t help discussing it between ourselves, James, John and me. What on earth did he mean?
He’d been saying some strange things recently. In a way, it was easier to accept what he did than what he said. I mean, the healings, casting out demons, making people well and whole: who could disagree with that? The crowds loved him, they followed us everywhere. It was difficult to get away from them – if he wanted to spend time with us alone, the twelve, he had to take us away to a mountain top or some out-of-the-way place…but even then sometimes they’d run ahead of us. And if Jesus wanted to be by himself, he’d have to rise long before dawn; sometimes we’d wake and find him gone.
He was doing so much good, the people said he must be a prophet: John the Baptist or Elijah, the one who was to herald the coming of the kingdom, what we’d been waiting for, for so long. But I’d seen this man, we’d all spent so much time with him, we twelve, and especially James and John and me: we’d seen him close up, watched his every move, shared every meal, seen him tired and weary, yet still willing to heal those who pressed after him in the crowd, those who begged him to come and heal their son, their daughter. Over the weeks and months, it dawned on me: he wasn’t a forerunner of the one who was to come, he was the one: the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.
So when he surprised me by asking me directly, I blurted it out: I told him he was the Christ. He seemed pleased, but then he did something odd: he told us not to tell anyone else. And then, he started saying the weird stuff: that he would suffer at the hands of men, that he would be rejected by the religious authorities, that he would be killed and on the third day raised to life, and that some of us would see the kingdom of God in our lifetimes.
We didn’t understand what he meant: wasn’t the Christ, the Messiah, meant to rule in glory, to overcome those that hated us, to help us throw off the oppressors? How could he possibly die? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate failure? How could he bring in the kingdom of God if he wasn’t going to be around for much longer? He probably saw us whispering among ourselves, trying to work out what it all meant.
Maybe that’s why, the following week, he took James and John and me up the mountain to pray. We rose long before dawn, while it was still dark, to make sure that we would be alone and not disturbed. We were all quite tired. Maybe I was a bit sleepy, but I tried to focus.
I thought at first that I must have drifted off. Again! Why did that keep happening? Why couldn’t I keep awake for five minutes? I saw Jesus. I knew it was him, but he looked different: his face a ball of white light, his clothes so dazzlingly white that it hurt my eyes to look at them, and I shielded them with my arm (dreams can seem so real sometimes).
Then I saw the other figures, two of them, and they were talking to him. It seems strange, but I knew straight away who they were: Moses and Elijah. They were all in white too, all three of them enveloped in this amazing light, brighter than the sun. And they were talking with Jesus, like they knew him already, like it was something they did everyday. But it was more than that: Jesus was at the centre of the three; he was the greatest of them. I thought a lot about that later: imagine it, the Jesus we’d walked with, eaten with, spent so much time with: greater than the greatest of our prophets.
And suddenly I realized I wasn’t dreaming, that this was real. It felt like somehow I’d slipped into another world. And I was terrified. Typically for me, I started gabbling, blurting out anything that came into my head, trying to make the situation seem normal: some nonsense about building shelters for them, James told me afterwards.
Then it got scarier: we were caught up in the cloud, James, and John, and me. My heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought it was going to burst and I was quaking all over. If I was going to die, to be struck down because I was unworthy to be in the presence of God himself, I wanted it to happen quickly. And painlessly.
Instead we heard a voice: it seemed all around us, loud and booming, yet it also spoke quietly as a whisper into our ears: ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ I fell at Jesus’ feet and when I got up, the cloud had gone and we were alone with him.
He didn’t give us any explanation: just told us not to say anything to the others, to anyone, until he was raised from the dead. We didn’t understand what he meant then – it only made sense a long time afterwards.
James, John, and me didn’t talk about it much among ourselves. I think we were all trying to work out what it meant, but we couldn’t quite get there. I only knew that I’d had my confirmation: this man Jesus, my friend and teacher, he was the Christ, the Son of God: he’d come at last!