Transfiguration: Why Peter, James, and John?

At the transfiguration, why did Christ bring Peter, James, and John, but not the other nine apostles? This question gives us the opportunity to reflect on how Old Testament Judaism is the origin of New Testament Catholicism.

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In the Old Covenant, Moses had seventy (two) elders. Each of the twelve tribes had a chief. Finally, Moses had three close men who went up on the mountain with him: Aaron, Nadab, and Abiu:

AND he said to Moses: Come up to the Lord, thou, and Aaron, Nadab and Abiu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall adore afar off.” (Exodus 24:1, D-R)

In the New Covenant, Christ is re-establishing Israel. The Catholic Church is the new Israel. Christ appoint seventy(two) elders in Luke 10:1-24. He also appoints twelve Apostles. Then, like Moses, he has three “inside men” who form His inner circle. Just as Aaron was the High Priest for Moses, so Peter serves as the High Priest or Pope.

James and John are special for three reasons:

1. First, James is the first Apostle to die and John is the last Apostle to die. They are the temporal bookends of the Apostolic ministry.

2. Second, James is the first martyr of the Apostles. John, is the only non-martyr of the Apostles.

3. Third, James was the first to receive an apparition of the Blessed Virgin and John was given the Virgin at the crucifixion and served as her guardian till her holy Dormition.

Essentially, these three apostles were more intimately associated with the suffering of Christ: first Pope (Peter), first Martyr (James), only Apostle at the crucifixion and guardian of Mary (John).

Their intense suffering required them to be present at the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden.

Question: There are other traditions as to why these three apostles were at the Transfiguration. Please feel free to share your own perspective. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • pedroerik

    Thanks, Dr. Marshall, as always, you explained it beautifully.

  • Patrick

    When did James the Apostle receive an aparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary? I should know that, but I don’t remember!

    • Dr. Taylor Marshall

      Our Lady of Pillar in Spain. First Marian apparition – while Our Lady was still alive. Bilocation.

  • Anita Moore

    Isn’t John still counted as a martyr for being thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil? He miraculously survived, but he still made the offer of his life.

    • Dr. Taylor Marshall

      Yes, the feast day of St John at the Lateran Gate is marked red to signify his symbolic martyrdom.

  • Daniel Bui

    In the Bible miniseries, it claimed that St. John was poisoned. Any truth to that?

    • Dr. Taylor Marshall

      Yes. This is why St John is depicted w a chalice containing a viper.

  • Pingback: Alleged Eucharistic Miracle Under Investigation -


    Can you do a piece on World Youth Day? I came back from my forth trip and it is always such an amazing experience. We had a calling for youth who felt called for the priesthood, there were 3000 that stood up and 2000 women for the convent. Have you been to a WYD what was your experience?

  • Dr. Taylor Marshall

    Fantastic. I made the same association in my book on Judaism and Catholicism:

    The Crucified Rabbi

  • Traci Stephens Bocock

    Christ: Prophet, Priest and King also come into mind when I think of the Transfiguration. That the three were there in is presence at that moment is seemingly a reflection of Himself. In what the three would do and have already done for the sake of the Christ: of Peter (priest), James(prophet), and John (king) All three would live sacrificial lives for the sake of Christ.

  • Ringo

    Thank you Dr Marshall for that very informative explanation. But wasn’t St Stephen the first martyr?

    • Dr. Taylor Marshall

      James was the first apostle martyr.

      • Ringo

        Ah, OK. Thank you for the clarification.

  • desiree madden

    I was just thinking.Isn’t Stephen the first Martyr? I do not know time sequence of that event and James’ martyrdom.Thanks for the share about this as I was wondering about these three close companions earlier today.PEACE

  • William Schierer

    Could our Lord have invited them all, ala ‘today I’m going up this mtn. to pray and you’re welcome to join me.’ P,J,&J take Him up on the offer the others take a pass on the excursion. Thus when Our Lord tells them that some miracles can only be accomplished by greater prayer and fasting, He is alluding to the truth that if He (and we) must not fail to climb Mt. Golgotha.

  • angela bernhard

    Hello Dr Tailor,i appreciated your pages I am so greatful to have it and I learned a lot :
    my humble question: How the Transfiguration of our Lord affects or can give more personal binding or closer to God?
    As a catholic is it right to know all about Catholic Faith and how?
    is our prayers different from of those priest and Nune ? way of prayers what is the right prayers to be fallow…
    Respectfully yours,

  • Mary

    I always thought thiose three were his main men. Peter was his Rock on which he would build his church,and john was entrusted to care for his mother. Wasn’t sure where James fit in . But they were probably the three that could handle seeing the Transfiguration at that time.

  • Sandra Lipari

    Dr. Taylor, like so much rich linking history to our treasures in the Faith, the story of St. James also reminds of St. Luke who carved the Madonna and Child housed in first Guadalupe shrine in Extremadura, Spain. Pope St. Gregory the Great gave the statue to St. Leander, Bishop of Seville. Invasion of muslims took possession of most of the Spanish peninsula in 711 … Christian forces retreated, took with them the small statue…[story found in: A Handbook on Guadalupe, by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate ] …seems with St. James presence there, the pilgrimage ”

    “camino de santiago or the way of st. james”

    …somehow all connects! “When Our Lady used an Aztec name to Juan Bernardino, it sounded much like this famous shrine in Spain…”

  • charlie Martin

    where in the bible do you find the part where you say “Third, James was the first to receive an apparition of the Blessed Virgin ” ???? where do you get this from?