A comparison of the gospel accounts of the Transfiguration reveals differing reasons why the disciples were overcome by fear. Our brother skillfully draws practical lessons from this for us today.
“They feared as they entered into the cloud.” This is Luke’s comment from his account of the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus. It is very interesting that when we compare each gospel record of the same scene, different reasons are given for the cause of the disciple’s fear. In fact, it looks as though they experienced fear on three separate occasions on the holy mount. Carefully consider these significant differences.
In Luke, fear came from the approach of the cloud. We see here what is so human and natural. It is the fear of the threshold. We often fear what may be on the other side of the door. There may be hesitation as we enter upon a new field of human experience through which we must pass. There often are suspense, misgivings and anxiety which oppress the spirit when we are on the eve of something strange and unusual. We should never allow fears to harden into doubt, anger or despair. If we are walking with the Lord and are where He wants us to be, as the disciples were on the mount, then we shall surely have fresh vistas of His glory, as they did.
Though they might fear as the cloud approached, yet in it they heard the voice of God, had the presence of Christ and saw His face when it passed. Yes, the fear of the threshold is a very real thing to many believers. The reassuring lesson, however, is that it was all part of God’s plan for the cloud to approach. Let Us not forget that the transfiguration was for the benefit of the disciples. The purpose of the cloud was to overshadow Moses and Elijah and to teach the disciples the supreme glory of the Lord.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take;
Those clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
In Matthew 17 we read, “When the disciples heard it they fell on their face and were sore afraid.” Here it is the approval of the Father’s voice which caused their fear. This testimony, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him” ‘ was really a rebuke to Peter’s wish to make three tabernacles for the Lord, Moses and Elijah. God will not have His Son placed on the same level as even these great men. Peter suddenly had his words interrupted by the audible voice from heaven. It is little wonder they were sore afraid. Had we been there, we would have done no better. The testimony of that voice would never be forgotten by them.
There are three things found here in Matthew alone: the prostration of the disciples before the Lord, the personal touch of the Lord and the precious word of the Lord –“Be not afraid.” These lovely touches are in the gospel of the King. As a compassionate King He will not remain aloof from them. He will take away all fear by His word when He comes to set up His kingdom. Here, however, fear filled their hearts because of the majesty and authority of the unseen voice. Well might we fear God in the truest sense as we think of the importance of his testimony.
Finally, in Mark’s gospel there is yet another cause for fear on the mount. This, in the order of what actually happened, was the first time the disciples feared. This time it was the appearance of the visitors. “And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus.” It was fear that caused Peter to make the mistake of putting the Lord on the same level as Moses and Elijah , for we read, “He wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.” It is no wonder that the appearance of these two great figures of OT history provoked such fear for these three men. Overcome by the awesomeness of the scene and the sight of such notable saints, Peter did not know what to say.
Let us ascend the mount and contemplate the picture there given of Christ’s coming kingdom. Though we cannot yet build our tabernacles, and though we still have our fears, we must like the disciples be left alone with Jesus. It is only Mark who provides the statement, “They saw no man anymore, save Jesus only with themselves.” The vision of the Lord’s glory on the mount cannot be useless to us. It will keep us above the world. It will strengthen our faith. It will sustain us in waiting for His coming. Descending the mount, we must continue with Jesus in His humiliation. We must see Him descend to combat the working of Satan and to meet the trials of this poor world. The cross must be experienced; our pilgrim journey must continue apace, and our hearts will not be immune from fears. Soon fears will have gone forever, and we shall wonder why we fretted and worried so. May the lessons from the disciples’ fears not be lost upon us today!