One of the benchmarks for listening for God to speak to you through the Bible is to note anything odd. A lot of time, the feeling of “That’s peculiar” is God’s way of saying, “Pay attention here.”
That’s what happened when I read this verse recently. The first three words seem ordinary enough, except, well, they don’t.
See, Matthew wasn’t a big fan of chronology. When describing events in Jesus’ life, the time-line was rarely his primary concern. An example occurs in Matthew 14. He first reports that Herod thought maybe Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead. Then Matthew gives the account of how John died, which had to have been in the past (for him to be already dead and all). But then, after telling how John dies, Matthew tells us how Jesus reacted to the news (14:13), news that would have reached Jesus almost instantly. So what occurs in chapter 14 (and maybe even 15 and 16) happened before chapter 13 (and possibly even chapter 12).
Confused? Well, then you understand what I mean about Matthew not being a big fan of chronology.
Except in 17:1. “After six days.” After all that time-shifting, I wonder why Matthew suddenly pulled out a calendar.
Well, I think it has something to do with the nature of the event. The transfiguration— where Jesus put on His eternal, glorious body and showed it to His key followers— is a very other-worldly event. An event you might tend to disbelieve. So Matthew anchors it firmly in reality with details like the exact time, how the disciples reacted, and exactly what they said (even if their words didn’t make sense). This was a real event, not a dream or a parable. And Matthew emphasizes that fact with three words that are way out of his character.
By the way, Matthew used this device in at least one other instance, an instance when he gave times of day, exact physical descriptions, and names of participants. You may have read it recently. It includes the line:
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1 NIV)