Today we study a fascinating and significant New Testament passage. It describes an event known as the “Transfiguration” – when the physical appearance of Jesus was changed, and his Divinity was revealed with radiant glory. There were three witnesses – the Disciples Peter, John, and James.
The Transfiguration is recorded in three of the four Gospels – (Matthew 17:1–12), (Mark 9:2-8), (Luke 9:28-36) and alluded to in the fourth – (John 1-14): We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Additionally, Peter, having observed this supernatural occurrence, writes:
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18).
Now, let’s read the account of the Transfiguration from Luke’s gospel since it is the most detailed.
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen (Luke 9:28-36).
Let’s discuss the reason for the Transfiguration and its main themes.
The most common interpretation about why it happened relates to what Jesus says in Matthew (16:24-28) that was followed “after six days” by the Transfiguration. I recommend reading the whole passage for context. But, briefly, Jesus tells his disciples about his forthcoming suffering, death, and resurrection (“on the third day be raised to life.”)
Before the Transfiguration, Peter does not fully comprehend that Jesus must suffer, die, and be resurrected. Hence, Matthew (16:22) reads: Peter took him [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
However, Jesus is NOT pleased with Peter’s words. (An understatement.)
Then Jesus explains, “For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels.” And tells some of his disciples “standing here,” before they die, that they will “see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Therefore, the reason for the Transfiguration is thought to be for Jesus to show three of his most influential disciples that they must not fear His earthly death since He is about to show them His future coming in to “His Father glory.”
That is why Luke’s Transfiguration account begins: About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray (Luke 9:28).
(Note that Luke says, “about eight days,” but Matthew says “after six,” a minor discrepancy.)
Moving ahead, let’s study the meaning of: Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem (Luke 9:30-31).
In the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), “the Law and the Prophets” are of utmost importance. Moses is called “the law-giver” after he was given “the law” – The Ten Commandments – by God on Mt. Sinai in the Book of Exodus.
There is a connection between Moses and Jesus and their radiantly lit faces. When Moses was in the presence of God, his face was so “radiant” that later, around his people, he had to wear a veil (Exodus 34:29-35).
But during the Transfiguration, Jesus is God, and completely bathed in light when he speaks with Moses who also appears in “glorious splendor”
Elijah is present because he is thought to be the most important Hebrew prophet.
To repeat, when Jesus appears “bright as a flash of lightning,” then “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”
Since Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets – the basis of the Old Testament, God’s Covenant with his Chosen People – they spoke with Jesus about his “departure” (his death) and its “fulfillment” with Jesus as the Messiah.
My NIV Study Bible footnote dives deeper, “They spoke with Jesus about the ‘exodus’ he was about to accomplish, by which he would deliver his people from the bondage of sin and bring to fulfillment the work of both Moses and Elijah.”
Finally, God the Father confirms their discussion: A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35).
That pronouncement near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry is similar to what God said at the baptism of Jesus when he began his ministry: And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).
To summarize, today we have learned that the Transfiguration:
— Reveals and confirms Christ’s identity and Divinity
— Connects the Old and New Testaments
— Foreshadows Christ’s death and resurrection
— Satisfies any doubt His disciples might have had about His identity as He prepares them for His death
— Describes the radiance of how Jesus looks in heaven as the “Light of the World.”
After all that, you know why the Transfiguration is worth further prayer and study.
Myra Adams is a media producer and conservative political and religious writer with numerous national credits. She is also Executive Director of www.SignFromGod.org, a ministry dedicated to educating people about the Shroud of Turin. Contact: [email protected] or Twitter @MyraKAdams.