What was the transfiguration all about?
Let’s look at some reasons for the glory revealed to three disciples on the mount of transfiguration.
Let’s look at the transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36 and explore reasons for it.
Luke 9:28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 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.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 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.
1 What Does the Transfiguration Symbolize? (Luke 9:28-29)
Eight days after Jesus said that some would not die before seeing the kingdom was the transfiguration. Circumcision was performed on eight day old boys. Passover lasted 8 days. Pentecost is on the 8th day, Sunday. The Feast of Tabernacles lasted eight days, and Jesus’ resurrection is celebrated on the so-called 8th day of the week. Transfiguration links Jesus with Moses on Mount Sinai, and Peter, James and John with Moses’ three companions Aaron, Nadab and Abihu. Prayer and the transformation into glory are linked, as is our prayer linked to our future glory. Suffering is the way to glory. Jesus calls on us to give up our lives to gain them and take up our crosses to follow him.
2 Why Did Jesus meet Moses and Elijah? (Luke 9:30-31)
On the mount of transfiguration Jesus’ true glory was revealed. The two men are reminiscent of another two men who appeared after his resurrection (Luke 24:4) and again after his ascension (Acts 1:10). Why did Jesus meet with them? Moses and Elijah are the two great prophets who formed and reformed the people of God, picturing the law and the prophets. They discuss Jesus’ exodus (ἔξοδος) or departure from this life, symbolic of Israel’s exodus under Moses. The Exodus pictures death as an end to life’s bondage, crossing Jordan into the Promised Land of eternal life. Jesus’ journey to glory with God begins with the difficult experience of death. The discussion with Elijah and Moses confirms Jesus’ destiny.
3 What Did the Disciples Experience? (Luke 9:32-36)
Here is a preliminary fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that some would see the kingdom of God before they die. The disciples react in fear mixed with gladness. Peter wants to prolong the experience by building shelters. Moses, Elijah and Jesus represent the history of salvation from the Exodus to the end of all things. Peter wants to build temporary leafy huts, reminiscent of the Feast of Tabernacles, which pictures the celebration in God’s kingdom (Hosea 12:9; Zechariah 14:16–20)? Peter is focused on preserving the experience of glory but must be reminded that for glory to occur Jesus must die. We too can be so focused on heaven that we run away from the suffering that makes it possible.
4 Our Fear or Our Ear? (Luke 9:34-35)
The disciples were afraid during the transfiguration, but God wanted them to hear Jesus. Glory is only fulfilled by traveling the suffering path. Some people experience special manifestations to strengthen their faith before great challenges. Others may not be facing present difficulties or their faith is already strong enough. Any such encouragement is only temporary. Be encouraged by a glimpse of our transfiguration, the glory which awaits us. Jesus Christ is the One sent by God, so we had better listen to Him. Our own transfiguration is beginning right now as the Holy Spirit patiently transforms us from what we were to what we will be. Eventually, the entire creation will be transfigured in the new heavens and new earth.
The Word Biblical Commentary1 says that “The transfiguration narrative confirms the importance of listening to Jesus, as he sets for himself and his followers a suffering fate; but it also confirms his anticipation of the glorious outcome of traveling this difficult road.” As we look at a glimpse of our future selves in Moses and Elijah, let’s be encouraged to remain faithful in listening to Jesus.
1Reference: Nolland, J. Vol. 35B: Word Biblical Commentary : Luke 9:21-18:34. 2002. Dallas: Word, Incorporated. 497.