The Transfiguration of Jesus
Luke 9:28-36 [parallels in Matthew 17 and Mark 9]
by Robert J. Young

We continue our studies of significant events in the life of Jesus. These are interesting, foundational, at times weird. There are not many sermons preached about the transfiguration. This is not a favorite preaching text. In general, it is not taught nor studied in Bible classes. Yet here is a moment of glory in the life of Christ. Here is something miraculous and marvelous, profound in its physical description, even deeper in meaning for the emotion and spiritual beauty that are part of this story.
Underlining its importance is the fact that it is recorded in all three of the Synoptics. It is important because of its timing. In his life and ministry, Christ worked, taught, did good, worked miracles, mighty in word and work, teaching, preaching, healing, and then he selected the 12 and taught and worked with them. But from the first of the passion predictions (Mt. 16, Lk. 8, Mk. 9), Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. He is preparing to die. The disciples, however, are not in a cross-bearing mood, they do not understand, they do not want that conclusion for Jesus' life.
In Matt. 16, Jesus comes to Caesarea Philippi. Mt. 16:16-23 is an announcement of his death, Peter is insulted, stands up to deny that death, faces the reality of the cross. The time is short.

I. The Importance of the Transfiguration
You can imagine that these are sad days, death-filled, gloomy, quiet. So far as the text is concerned, not much happens for a week. Often we miss the humanity of Jesus. We fail to allow him his humanity. Christ can see what is coming, it is difficult, God is helping, and so Christ is away from the crowds and the critics, he is alone, quiet. There is silence. This is the background of the transfiguration.
They go again to a high mountain. We have noted the importance of mountains in God's dealing with humanity. Much of what God does is on mountains--Aarat, Sinai, Nebo, Pisgah, Sermon on Mount, Olivet, Glogotha, Zion is the mountain in downtown Jerusalem. There is a power of God in the place of the mountain to lift us from the ordinary and to elevate us to God's presence. This may be metaphorical, one goes to the mountain to meet God because one must go up to God, or God must come down to mankind.
Careful reader may see problem. Six days, eight days. Critics say this is a contradiction. Not so. Jews often spoke of a week as 6 days, the Romans as 8 days, and neither spoke of the 7-day week we use. It means about a week, and in fact the text says that.
This is credibility in the study of Scripture. The writers are not in collusion, and there is no effort to get the stories straight. This emphasizes the importance of each individual account and of studying all of the Bible.
Where is this mountain? We do not know. Close to Caesarea, maybe Tabor. Near Nazareth, but no qualified mountain in geography or height. Perhaps Mt. Hermon.

II. The Purpose of the Transfiguration
The transfiguration is silent, secret, meditative, withdrawn, and sad. Jesus goes to the mountain to pray. Most never put the transfiguration in the context of prayer. Jesus was bothered, agonizing, needed to be with God, needed spiritual strength. As Hezekiah of old, he had the advantage of know about his death in advance. How would you react? How would I? What would be the impact? I am going to die, and soon! This is the situation with Jesus at the Transfiguration. He is going to the mountain to pray, and during that time of prayer, the transfiguration occurs.

III. The Message of the Transfiguration
Text says Jesus took Peter, James and John. Here is his inner circle. These are present at stupendous events, at events which have the shadow of death around them. Notice Jairus' daughter when Jesus demonstrated mastery over death, the transfiguration when he demonstrates superiority over death, Gethsemane and his submission to death. Peter, James, and John were there when death occurred. These three are allowed to see Jesus in the presence of death.
Here also notice the rugged, manly, determined Jesus. He understood what they could not see. Others went to sleep, even in Gethsemane, but Jesus saw death. He could not avoid, he was wide aawake, alert, going on when the demands of sleep were more than the others could stand. He could not quit, he was a man among men. In our theology today, there is no room for a tepid, sissy, washed-up, defeated Jesus.
Notice who was there--Jesus, Peter, James, John. Who was not there? Angels. Interesting. Most great events in Jesus' life had angels--birth, temptation, death, resurrection, ascension. Conspicuous by absence. The transfiguration is without angels.
Now Peter, James and John go to sleep. Jesus prays. The power of God is present. Two others come to talk with them. I cannot imagine this. This is glorious. The closest heaven can come to earth. We see Jesus as he is, those from the past as they are. The light is more brilliant than the sun, brighter than the blinding light to Paul. Garment is whiter than white. Here is purity, no earthly defilement. There is nothing like this on earth. Transfigured. How can we see this beauty, splendor, grandeur? How can we sense what is happening here?
The disciples are afraid, Peter begins speaking of things he does not understanding. But he is impressed. We are too often not even impressed. What would you include if you made a list of the 10 events from history you would like to attend? What if the list were events from Scripture? Or include events from the present. Would the transfiguration make your list? But the thought here, and the impact, the glory is absolute.
2 Peter 12:16-18, Peter says he was eyewitness of his majesty. Never could Peter teach or preach after that without remembering the transfiguration. Yet they did not appreciate it at the time, they did not take full advantage of it, it did not occur to them, their eyes had seen the glory of the king.
Moses and Elijah were there. They were recognizable. I do not know how. They did not have to be identified. They are not angels. At funerals sometimes I hear said of the deceased, he's an angel now. Deceased persons do not become angels. Angels are not the spirits of departed beings. People do not return to the proximity of earth as angels. Moses and Elijah have bodies. There is a resurrection body as our physical bodies are changed and altered (transfigured?).
These two deserve consideration: Moses the lawgiver, Elijah the prophet. Do these represent the law and the prophets? The OT? Mose and Elijah can talk of the mysterious element in deaeth. Who know how Moses died? I could affirm God killed him. But note also Jude 9. There was some argument over his body, and who would you want a man's body? None have ever found Moses' body, but few if any are looking. Elijah, did not die normally. Carried away by a miracle, so did not die, translated. So we have Moses who died in God's presence and God buried him, and we have Elijah who did not died, and Christ who died to take away death, the sinless for the ungodly, but he was resurrected and at his ascension he did not die as he left earth. What is happening here? We may not know, but I want to affirm that this is a time of comfort for Jesus.
Do you wonder what they were talking about? Probably, Jesus' death. That is the situation here. That is the importance. This is Christ's problem--he is facing death. Here is composure, help in time of trouble. How will God act? He sent Moses and Elijah, and they can talk to Christ about death. But the Bible does not say precisely what the conversation entailed.
Come back to Peter with me, rash Peter. 1/2 awake, 1/2 scared, startled, probably not thinking, but he develops a plan. Can you imagine any man talking when Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are there. But Peter has an idea. I observe this not to stifle thinking, but to encourage it. To exchange ideas, thoughts, evaluations, analyses. No one has all the answers. No one always is right. Let us pool productive thoughts, plan, think, pray.
What is Peter's idea? Let's be religious, and build 3 church houses. Why would you want three church houses? Is the church house an honor to God? Jesus is going to die, Moses and Elijah are going back to God. How would you respond?
God sent a real dense fog, big cloud. Then Moses and Elijah were gone. Jesus is all alone in his glory as Lord of Lord, King of Kings. And a second time the voice of God splits the air, "This is my son." Not Moses, not Elijah, not any human. Jesus. This is my son. Listen to him.

So many lessons. There is the implication that some have not been listening. Jesus talkes of his death and the disciples are not listening. Are we listening? Practical applications come to mind. Have we seen Jesus in all his glory? Do we know what we have seen? Are we conjuring up our own Jesus? Are we remaking Jesus to suit us. We must hear him, listen, and understand.
Here may be promise of our own future transfiguration, change. This transfiguration surely lifted Christ's spirits. At the resurrection is the ultimate stamp of God's approval of his death. Is the transfiguration the stamp of approval for his life? Now certainly, his face is set toward Jerusalem, he will not flinch, he will not turn back, he is bold, despite the fact that he is going to die. Jesus said, do not tell anyone what you have seen. Why?
Is the transfiguration promise of our transfiguration? The Bible never says that precisely. But we shall be changed. We will be like him. We can be like him. We are being changed from glory to glory. Read the Bible. See Jesus, listen to him, obey him.

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Last updated November 23, 2002.