As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, ‟Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:9). Why does Jesus command them not to tell anyone about the incredible event they just witnessed in the Transfiguration until after the Resurrection? We hear this a few times in the Gospels, but usually it’s related to a healing or miracle. This one is different because he invokes the Resurrection. First, how hard must it have been for Peter, James, and John to keep the Transfiguration to themselves! Second, were they asking themselves, “what is he talking about being raised from the dead?‟
Setting Up Their Faith
The main reason that Jesus commands them to keep this glorious vision of the Transfiguration a secret until after the Resurrection was so that people would believe in Jesus for the long haul. If people believed in Jesus prior to His passion and death, then their faith might have been destroyed. In other words, they would have been so distraught with the Crucifixion that they would not have been around for the Resurrection. The Cross would have been too much for them to remain as a believer in the person of Jesus Christ. He would have appeared too weak to be the Son of God. The mockery from others as a follower of His would have been too overwhelming to endure. Just witnessing the brutality of His passion and death would have been a visual from which they couldn’t come back.
The Greatest Sign of His Divinity
This happened to the Apostles. They were there for the events that revealed his divinity – the Transfiguration, miracles, healings, exorcisms, etc. They spent three intimate years with Him, and believed firmly that He is the Son of God. And yet, where were they during His passion and death? All of them except for one (John) were gone. They couldn’t endure it. We see women at the foot of the Cross….where were all the men? Even Jesus’s closest followers were so blown away by His suffering that they left Him. Three days later when the greatest sign of His divinity occurs which is the Resurrection, again it’s the women who are there and the men are not (if that was a “day without women” we’d all be in real trouble!). The women even have to convince the Apostles that He is risen! So, the Lord knew that human nature being what it is, it was better to keep his divinity as much a secret as possible until it was fully revealed.
The reality of this “secret” still plays out today in at least two ways. First, people are still bothered by the Cross…overwhelmed by it, really. Some are bothered by the Cross of Christ to the point that they don’t believe. Many are so turned off by their own cross that they stop believing. How many people have we known that went through a tragic death or bitter divorce or abuse and stopped coming to Church? I think it’s because of events like these that people have insulated themselves from as much suffering as possible. People avoid the Cross at all costs.
Not Everyone is Ready to Hear
The second part of this “secret” is helpful today. Sometimes the virtue of prudence calls for silence or a secret, as it did at the Transfiguration. “Not everyone is ready to hear the truth all the time” was a line from one of my seminary professors. Parents use this technique with their little kids who are too young to hear certain things. I often advise parents of older kids (who are adults) who have stopped attending Mass to go silent about it for a while. If you have given them the teaching that they need to keep holy the Sabbath and receive the Eucharist at Mass, then they know where you stand. It might be better to stop harping on it. It might be more fruitful long-term in terms of their relationship with you and their faith. This takes us back to the reason that Jesus ordered the secret. God sees long-term with us, and calls us to have the same “spiritual maturity.”
May you know the peace of Christ,