Matthew 17 opens with the account of the transfiguration of Jesus. What I find striking about the entire event is its apparent necessity to prove the superiority of Jesus. Consider for a moment what these disciples had witnessed:
In chapters 8 and 9 alone, they had witnessed Jesus’ power over disease (8:1-4), disability and distance (8:5-13), demons (8:16, 28-34), disturbances in nature (8:23-27), and even death 9:18-26). Moreover, Jesus had empowered them with the ability to work these same miracles (10:5-8).
Admittedly, both Moses and Elijah had been associated with miraculous healings and natural phenomena, but nothing remotely akin to the works wrought by and through Jesus. Even the multitudes were deeply impressed by the works done by Jesus, saying, “When the Christ comes, will he do more signs that these which the man has done?” In other words, what more could a man do that what Jesus had done to show himself to be the Christ?
Additionally, Peter had recently declared his faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt 16:16). Jesus both confirmed Peter’s confession and warned the twelve not to make him known as the Christ.
Despite all of this, at Jesus’ transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, this same Peter attempted to make Moses and Elijah the equal of Jesus. Was he thinking that such would be an honor to the Lord? After all, Moses was the great lawgiver, and Elijah was considered the greatest of all the prophets.
But rather than having Jesus speak for himself (again), the Father intervenes and declares Jesus as exceeding these two giants of the Jewish faith. He did so by identifying Jesus as His Son. This would (should) have solidified in their minds the superior relationship of the Father and Son. It also gave context to Jesus’ soon to be repeated statements of God as His personal Father in a way that was greater than the general view of God as the Father of the Jewish people.