The Transfiguration

One of the most important events in the Gospel account is also ironically, one of the least of which there exist competent commentary. There are three records of this event found in the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew 17:1-8, Mark 9:2-8, and Luke 9:28-36. Prayerfully consider these passages and then ask God to confirm His truth.

Throughout history God “hid these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them unto babes” – Mt.11:25.

For this reason Jesus said,

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” – Jn. 3:3.

“This He said of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” – Jn. 7:39;

“When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth” – Jn. 16:13.

Consequently, those who have personally experienced spiritual birth and have thereby become truly born again have these things fully established within them.

“You shall know the truth, & the truth shall make you free” – Jn. 8:32;

What does this freedom include? It sets a born again believer free from sin, free from doubt, free from confusion, free from worry, free from deceptions. Knowing the truth exposes all counterfeits.

Of course, the Word of God is multi-faceted. It is far more than the obvious and superficial. While simple truths specifically related to introduction into God’s Kingdom through salvation are purposely easy to grasp, there are indeed much deeper revelations given to the spiritually more mature and diligent seeker.

“The word of God is living & powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul & spirit, & of joints and marrow, & is a discerner of the thoughts & intents of the heart” – Heb. 4:12.

“Everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” – Heb. 5: 13,14.

Perhaps, in light of these things, the personal revelation of WHO Jesus Christ truly is becomes the MOST important of ALL knowledge. Considering the very words of Christ regarding such KNOWLEDGE, this may well be the case.

“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, & done many wonders in Your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I NEVER KNEW you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” – Mt. 7:22,23.

Notice, it is NOT the things they did that are the issue, but rather their proper KNOWLEDGE of Jesus.

A wonderful irony exists related to the Transfiguration. In his letter to the Philippians Paul says that Christ Jesus took on the form of a servant. In the Transfiguration however, the Servant takes on the form of Deity, revealing His glory.

‘Transfiguer’ is from the Greek term ‘metamorphoo’ and is well-known in English as ‘metamorphasis’ The word describes the complete change of the form and substance. For example, it is used to describe the change from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Therefore, a complete change in the appearance or form of Jesus occurred in the presence of the disciples. He became brighter than the light, revealing His true glory.

The same word is used by Paul in Romans 12:1,2, when he instructs believers to be ‘transformed’ by the renewing of their minds. There must be a genuine change in the life of the believer. The ‘spiritual birth’ by becoming ‘born again’ is the only reasonable explanation of this. It certainly doesn’t refer to any natural, physical ‘transformation’, so a spiritual one must be what is inferred.

The New Testament further teaches that we shall be changed when we enter the presence of the Lord, and we shall be glorified. While many believe this will only occur at the ‘2nd Coming’, Every time the Holy Spirit comes upon a true believer a spiritual transformation takes place and godly power is manifest. More about this is in an Article The Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Just prior to the Transfiguration Jesus asked the disciples about how the public and the disciples themselves perceived Him [Mt. 16]. The public response had been that Jesus must be one of the great prophets of Israel returned. The prophetic features of Jesus’ ministry were quite obvious to the Jews familiar with the work of  Israel’s prophets. The disciples, however, who had a more intimate knowledge of Jesus, had begun to perceive that he was the promised Messiah. This was critical. The kingdom of God is embodied in Christ Himself and thus might be seen if Christ were to manifest it in an unusual way, even in His own earthly life.

Only three disciples accompanied Jesus onto the mountain. They were promised that some will not die until they will personally witness the coming of the Kingdom of God ‘in power.’ The possible key to understanding this mysterious statement just before the Transfiguration may be that Jesus wasn’t talking about the end of the world. He was talking about the Transfiguration.

On the mountain they physically and quite literally saw the glory of God’s Kingdom shining out from Jesus. They were overshadowed by God’s holy cloud. They heard the conversation of the transfigured Jesus with the Law and the Prophets. Then they realized that the true Feast of Tabernacles had come. They also learned that Jesus Himself is the living Torah, the complete Word of God. They saw the ‘power’ of the Kingdom of God come in Christ.

This particular training of the disciples included two basic phases: identification and understanding. In the early days of Christ’s ministry the disciples accompanied Him throughout Galilee observing His miracles and listening to his teaching. Christ’s desire was to bring His disciples to identify Him correctly, NOT merely as just another prophet but as “Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” – Mt.1:23. The disciples reached this comprehension with Peter’s confession.

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father which is in heaven” – Mt. 16:16,17.

The two-fold revelation of the proper KNOWLEDGE of Christ is therein appreciated. Further exploration into the legitimate meaning of the term ‘Son of God’ may be necessary for some, but this is a good place for a personal examination of one’s spirituality. More about the meaning of the term is included in another Article entitled The Son of God.

The implication of ‘flesh and blood has not revealed it to you’ is that such awareness CANNOT come from human sources. It came to Peter by spiritual revelation of God ‘in heaven’. Many who lack spiritual discernment are greatly troubled and confused by the perceived complications over how God can be in two places at the same time.   Those who deny the Deity of Christ attempt to rationalize this, employing mere human reasoning by insisting ‘the Father is in heaven , Christ is on earth, so how can they be one in the same?’  They further define Jesus own profession that He and the Father are ONE by concluding that He meant merely ‘one purpose’. Of course, THAT is an impossible attribute for ANYONE to sincerely acknowledge because it actually requires equality with GOD to be perfectly ONEeven in purpose. Bringing God down to mere concepts of natural thought is ridiculous. Without the indwelling presence of God they CANNOT rely on the Holy Spirit’s revelation, which verifies that they are not yet truly born again.

But spiritual revelation confirms deep from within a truly born again believer the reality of God’s Omnipresence. and eternal GODHEAD. By definition Godhead is the essential being of God; the Supreme Being.

“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” – Ro. 1:20.

“For in Him (Christ) dwells ALL the fulness of the Godhead bodily “ – Col. 2:9.

God is so far beyond human limitations of three dimensional physical boundaries. Evidence of this exclusive attribute of God was manifest in Christ the night of His resurrection.

“The doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” – Jn. 20:19.

The second phase of the disciple’s training was to teach them what the ‘Son of God’ actually means. Christ’s disciples had the same Messianic hopes most other Jews of their day expected. While there is no clear uniformity in Messianic expectations of the time, people generally expected a militaristic figure who would lead Israel against Rome and establish God’s kingdom on earth, thereby re-establishing the glorious kingdom of Solomon. The Jews expected a national revival and a period of unprecedented glory.

When Jesus fed the 5000, John tells us that this prompted the crowds to try to make Him king immediately. Jesus refused any part in such worldly expectations. Christ’s many healings and miracles recorded throughout the Gospels prompted the Pharisees to wonder if Jesus was the Messiah and they came to Him asking for a sign. Jesus knew that the disciples had similar expectations so He asked them the famous question “Who do YOU say that I am?”

THAT has become the MOST important question to EVERY human being. Precisely WHO we acknowledge Jesus Christ to be is the key to rightly KNOWING Him! As we rightly identify Him, He reveals to us who we really are in Him!

“I also say to you that you are Peter” – Mt. 16:18.

Peter had until THAT moment had been known as ‘Simon’. But then, after proclaiming the proper identification of Jesus, through spiritual revelation, he received a ‘new name’. The historical church has attempted to perpetuate this through baptism ceremonies where ‘Christian names’ are given to participants. This tradition continues primarily in liturgical denominations, but remembered in all generations by its apocalyptic inclusion.

“I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a NEW NAME written which no one knows except him who receives it”’– Rev.2:17.

A ‘new name’ has come to represent ‘new life’ and ‘new birth’. Both are consistent with Christ’s explanation of becoming ‘born again’. Peter’s confession marked a major change in the earthly ministry of Christ. The disciples then believed that he was the Son of God, the Messiah. From that time on, Jesus was much more direct in the way He communicated with them.

Immediately after Peter’s confession, Jesus announced for the first time in a more explicit way, His upcoming death and resurrection. Such a scriptural concept was an intense contradiction of the popular idea of the Messiah which the disciples formerly held. The popular idea og their day involved a Messiah who came to earthly glory in a physical victory over the Jews’ enemies. Jesus, now that He was  acknowledged as Messiah, told his disciples that He will be the opposite of THAT expectation. He will die an in apparent defeat by His enemies.

Although passages in Isaiah 53 made this clear, the popular Messianic expectation in the 1st century did not include it. Jesus predicting His own resurrection must have sounded like utter foolishness to even the most loyal of His followers.

Because Peter could not imagine the Messiah dying, he may have thought that Jesus must be mistaken. But Jesus sternly rebuked him for not accepting the idea of His death and subsequent resurrection. Christ further explained that not only would He die, but Peter would also follow him into the same manner of death. According to History, Peter was indeed crucified, although upside-down.

Within this context of confusion among the disciples the Transfiguration took place. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up “to a high mountain” where they witnessed the awesome sight. Jesus was glorified before their eyes. His body took on a different appearance. There appeared Moses and Elijah with Jesus.

Keeping with the theme of ever increasing spiritual growth through a more intimate KNOWLEDGE of Christ, it is important to note that the three that accompanied Jesus were the SAME three who were considered His ‘inner circle’. They were with Him more than the others and were privy to ‘time alone’ with Jesus, not available to the larger group. The more personal ‘quality time’ they spent with Jesus, the deeper their understanding of Him became.

Moses represented the Law; so much so it is ofyen referred to as ‘The Mosaic Law’. Elijah was revered as the greatest among the prophets. Both of them had seen a visible manifestation of God in their earthly lifetime at Mt. Sinai. They had performed mighty works in the name of the Lord God of Israel, and had each experienced some degree of rejection by their own people.  This great symbolic significance, representing the Law and the Prophets, pointed infinitely to Jesus. This event is the likely inspiration behind Paul’s admonition.

“Now the righteousness of God apart from the Law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” –Ro.3: 21,22.

While Peter was suggesting building three tents for Jesus and the other two, probably to serve as temples, a heavenly voice speaking the same words that were heard at John’s baptism of Jesus resounded. Perhaps Peter thought the kingdom could be established right there and then.  He had recently heard Jesus say that some of them would live to see it, so perhaps he assumed it was happening there.

Once again, contrary to Peter’s understanding of Messiah’s mission, although he wanted to give Jesus, Moses, and Elijah equal treatment, the Divine voice corrected him and designated Jesus as the sole source of authority.

The Transfiguration also served to confirm Peter’s confession. It showed Peter, James, and John that Jesus was no ordinary man nor merely a great prophet, but that He was indeed no less than the Messiah of Israel and God the Son. No mere ‘coincidental’ event, it was a precisely timed and executed manifestation of glory that was to serve as a lesson to the disciples about the exact Messiah-ship of Jesus and how He would reveal his greatness. It was another necessary lesson in Christ’s attempt to reveal His Messiah-ship and the Triune Godhead. They had to denounce the physical, worldly expectations of their day and accept the alternative, proper scriptural concept of the Messiah that Jesus would come to soon fulfill.

God wanted His disciples to know that He would, indeed, be glorified, but it would not be the glory of a worldly supremacy that most were expecting. He would not gain glory through a physical war with Rome. The disciples previewed at the Transfiguration the glory that awaited Jesus, through His death and resurrection. The Transfiguration was to show the necessity of the cross. That’s why Jesus committed to the cross: it was the path to the salvation of mankind. The disciples needed to begin to learn this scriptural, but little realized idea of glory.

The fullest comprehension of the thorough revelation of all scripture is the revealed glory of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. While God has always received glory throughout eternity, the FULLNESS of His eternal glory is the accomplishments He made for man in Christ. The Transfiguration reveal the three-fold aspect of God’s essence. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus were seen conversing together out of ONE.

Moses represented the Law giver – God the Father. Elijah represented the prophetic messenger, the spokesman –  God the Holy Spirit. There should be no doubt what Jesus represented -God the Son. ALL three come from and culminate in Christ.

“in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” – Col. 2:9

“to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ” – Eph.3:9.

Undoubtedly, another purpose of the Transfiguration of Christ into part of His heavenly glory was so that the ‘inner circle’ of His disciples could gain a greater understanding of who Jesus really is. Christ underwent a dramatic change in appearance in order that the disciples could behold Him in His glory. The disciples, who had only known Him in His human body, now had a greater realization of the Deity of Christ, though they could not fully comprehend it at the time. But it gave them the reassurance they needed to endure the coming time of persecution after hearing the shocking news of His coming death.

The Transfiguration also demanded that men hear Jesus as THE ONE who had authority. Peter eventually absolutely understood this. He acknowledged that the word of Christ is sure and ALL the prophetic word confirmed. In one passage he tells us that the transfiguration he witnessed carried incredible significance. The transfiguration was a revelation of the authority of Jesus. On that mountain it was demonstrated that it is now Jesus ALONE who has authority. Moses and Elijah served only a temporary purpose in the over-all plan of God as mere shadows of the better ONE to come.

God had always settled any question about the fulfillment and replacement of the Law and Prophets in the Transfiguration. The disciples never forgot what happened that day on the Mount of Transfiguration and no doubt that was God’s intention. John wrote in his gospel and Peter also wrote of it.

“The Word became flesh and made abode among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – Jn 1:14.

“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty…we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” – 1Pt. 16:16-18.

Another aspect is foreshadowed by the Transfiguration of Jesus. The various elements of the coming kingdom are represented. There is the glorified King, those who will come into the kingdom through death to the Law. Then too, those who will come into the kingdom through the transformation of their bodies is also envisioned and later expounded upon by Paul.

“I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” – 1 Cor. 15:50-53.

In conclusion, understand that the Transfiguration was a unique event in which God allowed certain disciples to have a personal spiritual experience that was meant to strengthen their individual  faith in preparation for the challenges of life that laid ahead of them. But it was not meant to be permanent; it was merely a temporary manifestation.

Similarly, at certain times in every true believer’s life, God may give certain special personal experiences that strengthen their individual faith, which are not given uniformly to the entire Body of Christ. This does not mean that God loves them any more than He loves others, just that each have individual personal experiences as well as those that are common to all and enjoyed during corporate gatherings. One should always welcome these ‘divine appointments’ for the special added gift of grace that they are, but one should not expect them to continue indefinitely, or become resentful when they cease or remain merely the experience of others.

They may have been meant only as momentary glimpses of the joy of heaven to sustain us as we face the challenges of this life, to help strengthen us on the road that will ultimately bring us into the infinite and endless joy of eternal life with God.


One thought on “The Transfiguration

  1. Pingback: GOD is… | MJThompson's Theology Blog

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