|TRANSFIGURATION, THE |
The transformation of Jesus in His appearance with Moses and Elijah before Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:1-13;
Luke 9:28-36; compare
2 Peter 1:16-18).
The Accounts The event took place shortly after the confession at Caesarea Philippi, the first passion prediction, and a discourse on the cost of discipleship. Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a mountain where the event took place. Jesus' personal appearance and that of His garments were changed. Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Jesus. Peter said it was good to be there, and they should build three booths. A cloud came over them, and God spoke from the cloud identifying Jesus as His Son (compare the voice at the baptism) and commanding the disciples to hear Him. When the cloud lifted, Jesus was alone with the disciples, who were afraid. Jesus told the disciples to tell no one.
Aside from minor differences in wording, Mark alone states that Jesus' garments became so white that no bleacher could brighten them and that Peter did not know what to say. Also Mark alone has no reference to a change in Jesus' face. Matthew alone indicates that God expressed His pleasure with Jesus, that the disciples fell on their faces, and that Jesus touched them to get them up. Instead of the six days of Matthew and Mark, Luke has about eight days. He alone indicated that Jesus and the disciples were praying, that Moses and Elijah conversed with Jesus about His coming death, that the disciples were sleepy, and that they saw Jesus' glory. Luke alone has “chosen” rather than “beloved Son.” In Matthew, Jesus is addressed as Lord, in Mark as Rabbi, and in Luke as Master.
The Nature of the Event It has often been claimed that the story is a misplaced resurrection appearance; but it is Moses and Elijah, not Jesus, who appear, and there is no reference to them or a voice from heaven in any other resurrection account. Others have claimed that the transfiguration was not an objective but a visionary experience. This is possible, but there is no more of the miraculous in three different disciples actually having similar visions than in a historical event, which is certainly what the writers described.
The Place The traditional site is Mount Tabor in lower Galilee, but it is not a high mountain (only 1,850 feet) and was probably fortified and inaccessible in Jesus' day. Much more likely is Mount Hermon (9,100 feet) to the north of Caesarea Philippi. See Hermon.
Meaning A mountain in the Bible is often a place of revelation. Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets respectively, which testify to but must give way to Jesus. (The latter is the reason why Peter's suggestion was improper.) Moses and Elijah themselves were heralds of the Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15;
Malachi 4:5-6). The three booths suggest the Feast of the Tabernacles which symbolizes a new situation, a new age. Clouds represent divine presence. The close connection of the transfiguration with the confession and passion prediction is significant. The Messiah must suffer; but glorification and enthronement, not suffering, is His ultimate fate. These involve resurrection, ascension, and return in glory. The disciples needed the reassurance of the transfiguration as they contemplated Jesus' death and their future sufferings. See Jesus, Life and Ministry.