After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 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.
Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, 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!”
When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-8)
Jesus can be scary. When God or his angels appeared before people in the Bible, usually the first thing they had to say was “don’t be afraid.” When Jesus became brighter than normal, when the glowing cloud engulfed the disciples, and God spoke from that cloud, the disciples experienced fear. Simply hearing God’s voice was more than they could handle. The didn’t experience reverential awe. They were out and out terrified.
Terror is the sort of feeling a human being gets in the face of death. When a robber sticks a gun in someone’s face and demands his money, he is terrified. When an aircraft crash-lands in a river, the passengers are terrified.
Why is God so scary for human beings? It comes from the deep, gut level realization of just who and what God is. Standing before God is like facing a life threatening illness, a tornado, or an earthquake. A person realizes instinctively his fragility and his mortality. Human beings before God stand on the brink.
And then, that power speaks softly. As fearful, as terrifying, as God is, believers are told “fear not.” The Bible explains that being afraid of God is the beginning of wisdom. Afterwards, Jesus enlightened his disciples. No matter what we face in life, no matter what comes, we can “fear not.” Fear is the beginning, not the end of our relationship with God. Fear is vanquished by knowledge, by the more profound realization that God loves us. Love casts out fear.