THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS
Matt 17:1-9 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with Him. Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. (Also see Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36)
For the person that has studied the bible from infancy into childhood, the story of the "transfiguration" has been read, told, studied numerous times, as well as exemplified in many sermons. Yet, most people, even today, regard the story told by these three gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as eerie and mysterious. Just what does this phrase really mean? The dictionary definition states that transfiguration merely means "to change one's figure, form, or outward appearance; to transform a human being so as to exalt or glorify that person." With that in mind, we know that this well-known story involves the changing in the outward appearance, and the glorification of our Lord Jesus Christ - His transfiguration.
When did it take place? Both Matthew and Mark say after six days,that is, six daysafter Jesus foretold His suffering and death that was to be instigated by the Jewish religious leaders, of His resurrection three days following His cruel death on the cross of Calvary, and of the suffering that must be borne by His disciples (See Matt. 16:21-28). Luke says that it took place about ...eight days after these sayings (Luke 9:28). Bible scholars reconcile what seems to be a discrepancy by saying that Matthew reckoned the time that took place between the two events, while Luke recorded this same period but also included the day preceding as well as the day of the transfiguration. Matthew and Mark's time periods were exacting, while that of Luke was approximate, or "about." Both reckonings of time were often used in the inspired scriptures.
Continuing with Matthew's account, after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart. Why only these three apostles were taken is not given here. No doubt they seemed to have a closer relationship with Jesus than His other followers. This conclusion can be easily reached when we consider that it was these same three apostles that Jesus chose to accompany Him as He went into the garden of Gethsemane to pray (See Mark 14:33-42). Also the debate often arises as to which high mountain this event took place. Many students of the bible contend that it was Mt. Tabor, but others say it was Mt. Hermon. Chronologically, Mt. Hermon was the more likely location since it is located more near to the city of Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus and His disciples were known to have been prior to this particular event (See Matt. 16:13). Jesus took these three apostles apart - that is, separating them from His other disciples, He took them up into the mountain, and, as Luke records, to pray.
The transfiguration is described in all three gospel accounts. Continuing with Luke's account, it reads that as Jesus prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered. Matthew adds that His face did shine as the sun. Not only was the appearance of Jesus physically changed, but also His clothing was dramatically altered - they became glistening and white as the light. Mark said His clothing was whiter than any fuller (bleaching agent) on earth can white them. From their descriptions, the vision of Jesus' physical body and clothing was supernatural. The transfiguration of Jesus was something that never had been witnessed before; it was beyond that which could be seen under normal human circumstances.
In the mountain, Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus, as He was talking with two very eminent Old Testament followers of God, Moses, who represented the Jewish law given by God, and Elias (Elijah), a representative figure of God's prophets. Luke adds that these two men of God were talking to Jesus about His decease, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem - that is, the death that Jesus was soon to experience in this city. The appearance of these two godly men seems very significant since Jesus' death was to be the fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecies and the replacement of Jewish ceremonial and sacrificial rites required under the Law of Moses. The human eyes of Peter, James, and John were privileged to witness the Savior talking to Moses and Elias about His impending sacrificial death, that they might witness the same to all followers of Christ, including you and I today.
Peter, realizing the importance of this event, said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. Even though Peter was known to make rash judgments and often lacked discretion, no one can deny his zeal to serve God and His Son, Jesus Christ to his fullest ability. The word translated in this text as "tabernacles" more nearly refers to temporary dwelling place constructed more like structures known as "booths," which were made of tree boughs and brush fronds. By referring to them as tabernacles, it seems Peter intended these booths to be temporary places of worship to honor Elias and the prophets, Moses and the Law, and Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah. No doubt, Peter thought all three were equally worthy of devoted, adoring worship. To disclose his hasty, thoughtless judgment, Luke says that Peter made these suggestions not knowing what he said, while Mark wrote that Peter wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid.
Since Peter addressed Him with these misunderstanding comments, one thinks that Jesus would correct his judgment. However, Jesus had no time to do so, because immediately a bright cloud overshadowed them. The white, illuminant brightness that covered them at this time indicated, as it often does, the divine presence of God. And the voice of God spoke from the cloud and ...said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. This is one of two occasions, that God, in His own powerful voice, confirmed Jesus to be His "beloved Son." The other time He did so was at the moment Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). Although He did not do so in the first instance, in this scripture, God adds this extremely important commandment, both to those on that occasion, as well as to us today - hear ye Him. It was by this command, God declared, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus Christ and His gospel of salvation was superior to the Law of Moses, as well as the prophecies of Old Testament messengers of God in all previous eras of biblical history. In the near future there was to be only one "tabernacle" of worship - that founded and ruled by His Son Jesus Christ. It would be known as the church of Christ (Rom. 16:16).
The bright cloud that overshadowed them, the voice of God speaking from the cloud, and God's commandment to hear and obey His beloved Son, was overwhelming to the disciples that were present. Because of the awesomeness of this event, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. Realizing that they were in the presence of God, they fell to the ground in awesome fear and in complete adoring subjection to Him. Jesus realized their state of fear, and He immediately came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. Expressing His compassionate assurance to them that there was nothing to fear, Jesus' disciples arose from their prone position on the ground, and when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. The figures of Moses and Elias had disappeared, as well as the bright cloud that had covered them. Now, only Jesus stood before them.
What His disciples had observed on that day was not to be revealed to anyone until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. Anything said of this occurrence by Jesus' disciples would never be understood, especially by the Jewish leaders. Why? It was because even they themselves did not completely understand its true meaning. What was shown and told to them on this day was intended for one reason only. The reason was that when all things were revealed to them by the Holy Spirit of God after the resurrection of Jesus, they could look back on this incident, remember the voice of God speaking to them from the bright cloud, and be assured that Jesus Christ was indeed His beloved Son. And finally, they were to know assuredly that the Law of Moses was to be made void, all other covenants between God and His people were to be replaced by the gospel of Christ, and, because it contained God's plan of eternal salvation for all men and women of the world, it was to be heard, believed, and obeyed.