Darrell Bock observes
"the Transfiguration is one of only two places that
‘heaven’ speaks directly about Jesus . . . No other
event in the Gospels involves the presence of
luminaries of the past. The visible glorification of
Jesus is also unique. Even in His resurrection
appearances, He is not described as bearing the
brilliance He does here."
At the transfiguration of
Jesus, we see the Shekinah in the face of Jesus. The
incarnate God made Himself visible. It is the
undiluted glory of deity dwelling in Christ made
manifest. "We beheld His glory, glory as of the only
begotten Son from the Father" (John 1:14b).
During His prayer, with
Peter, James, and John present, Jesus is
transfigured into a glorious figure with brilliance
like lightening. The glory of Jesus reminds us of
Exodus 34:29-34. The Shekinah presence of God and
the declaration of the Father stress the glory of
Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God in uniqueness.
Jesus is the fulfilment
of the Old Testament messianic hope. Moses and
Elijah were present to illustrate Jesus’ fulfilment
of God’s eternal purpose in the Old Testament
"If a man die shall he
live again?" The Transfiguration of Jesus answers
that age-old question. Elijah and Moses are, though
unseen, still with us today.
THE CONTEXT OF THE
In the quietness of
Caesarea Philippi and the shadow of snow-crested Mt.
Hermon, Jesus asked His disciples, "Who do you say
that I am?" (Matthew 16:15) The disciple Peter
responded for the group, "Thou art the Christ, the
Son of the living God" (Mat. 16:16). This was a
clear apprehension that Jesus of Nazareth was the
Messiah, the anointed of the LORD, the Son of God.
Jesus began to spell out
the details and "Show His disciples that He must go
to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders
and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be
raised up on the third day" (Mat. 16:21).
The thought was
unbearable to Peter, who grabbed hold of Jesus as if
to hold Him back from life-threatening harm. "Peter
took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God
forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You'"
The response of Jesus was
some of the strongest words we hear from His lips.
"Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to
Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s
interests, but man’s" (Mat. 16:23).
It is essential for us to
keep this context in mind as we examine the next
event that occurs a week later when Jesus takes
Peter, James and John with Him to a spur of Mount
Hermon to pray (Luke 9:28). The context of the
prayer was probably this critical issue for the
disciples to understand. Luke writes, "And when He
was praying, the appearance of His face became
different, and His clothing became white and
gleaning." The Transfiguration seems to be the
answer of the Father to the prayer of the Son. The
disciples will come to a full realization after the
resurrection of the glory of the Kingdom of God.
There have been various
suggestions, but the Transfiguration probably
occurred in the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi on
one of the spurs of Mt. Hermon.
THE CENTRAL PERSON AT
Jesus went up into the
mountain to pray, and as He prayed "the fashion of
His countenance was altered." Jesus was transfigured
as He was praying. Matthew informs us that His face
shone as the sun. Mark tells us His garments also
glowed. Luke says the fashion of His countenance was
altered, so that He became the type and figure of
the transfigured men whom God will one day similarly
Jesus became a
blaze of celestial glory.
The testimony of the
Scripture and eyewitnesses makes it clear the glory
seen on the mount came from within Him. It was not
as if a strong spot light shone upon Him. Jesus
irradiated the glory of God. He became a blaze of
The time of the
Transfiguration could have been at night because the
disciples were heavy with sleep, and it was the
"next day" when they came down from the mountain. If
it was during the day, the glory seen by Paul on the
road to Damascus was brighter than the brightness of
noonday sun. The same would be true here if it
occurred during daylight.
The manifest radiance of
the glory of God is a major theme in the Old
Testament. The first reference is found in Exodus
16:10. "It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole
congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked
toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the
Lord appeared in the cloud." It was the Shekinah
glory of the LORD.
This glory was like a
burning fire. The prophet Ezekiel saw it as a bright
radiant rainbow (Eze. 1:27, 28). "This was the
appearance of the likeness of the glory of the
LORD." Yahweh spoke to the prophet out of His glory
The parallel with Jesus
Christ at the Transfiguration is apparent. The
presence of the LORD was within the pillar and cloud
in the Old Testament (Exo. 33:18). His voice was
heard and He went before His people as they
journeyed through the wilderness. The Jewish
Targums declared, "The glory of the Shekinah
went before them." The LORD dwelt among His people
in the Shekinah which was the strange light dwelling
between the cherubim over the blood sprinkled mercy
seat on the ark.
The Shekinah reappeared
and was seen by men at the birth of Jesus. Luke
says, "the glory of the Lord shone around them"
In Matthew 17:5 the cloud
appeared suddenly and overshadowed Jesus, Moses and
Elijah. Scholars are divided on whether the
disciples were included in the cloud. Most prefer
only Jesus and His two visitors from heaven.
John 1:14 tells us the
Word dwelt among us and "we beheld His glory." This
glory was unique because it was deity. It was the
glory of the only begotten of God.
"A bright cloud
overshadowed them; and behold a voice out of the
cloud saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I
am well pleased; hear Him!"
This "cloud" is the cloud
of glory "we encounter in Exodus 13:21." And the
LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by
day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire
by night to give them light, that they might travel
by day and by night."
The cloud symbolized the
presence of Yahweh with His people; the Shekinah
reappeared with Christ on the Mountain of
The glory cloud describes
Yahweh’s self-manifestation, His transcendence, His
apprehensible presence (Exo. 33:18-20). It is a type
of His dwelling in heaven.
When Moses went before
the Lord on Mt. Sinai, he "did not know that the
skin of his face shone because of his speaking with
Him" (Exo. 34:29). The word "shone" has the idea of
a general irradiation and illumination. Moses’ whole
face was irradiated in a strange and wonderful way.
It was an unusual manner in which those familiar
with him had never seen irradiated before. The
word is used also for sunrise. His face was
transfigured to a degree but not in the full manner
Matthew says, "Jesus was
transfigured before them; and His face shone like
the sun, and His garments became as white as light."
The GNB reads, "a change came over Jesus." Leon
Morris says, "Jesus underwent a unique
transformation before the disciples." It was an
unusual radiance with even His clothes becoming
splendid in appearance. "Even before His most
intimate disciples the human appearance of Jesus was
for a moment changed into that of a heavenly being
in the transfigured world," writes J. Behm (TDNT).
The word metamorphoo
meaning "to change into another form," implying "to
change form," from "the outward expression one gives
to his in most nature" and "a change of activity."
The word refers to an inward spiritual change. The
transformation touched the inner man, the form, and
Christ changed from
humiliation to the glory of His Deity. Jesus took on
the form of His heavenly glory and was transformed.
It was a change in appearance and does not denote
the change of the substance of a thing.
The essential form,
proceeding from within, is transformed. The deity
was made visible to the disciples. It "shone like
the sun" or like the brightness of the sun. It was
luminous, radiant, bright, shinning, and gleaming.
The apostle Paul writes
of Jesus "who, although He existed in the form of
God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be
grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a
bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men"
Jesus did not empty
Himself of His divine nature or His divine
attributes. It was a self-limitation of His outward
visible glory. He limited His manifestation of His
glory. He was still fully God. "He existed in the
form of God." The essential attributes are
unchangeable and unchanging essential nature of a
thing. The same essential nature of His deity never
changed. The essential nature of Jesus is the same
as the essential nature of God. The nature of Jesus
is the nature of God. The essential form never
alters and never changes.
What was this
change that took place with Jesus?
The apostle Paul said,
"He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the
point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8).
The self-limiting, or self-emptying, was the "Taking
the form of a servant, and being made in the
likeness of men" (Phi. 2:7). Jesus laid aside His
privileges of deity even though He was God-man. He
was at all times fully God and fully man.
The preexistent glory of
the preincarnate Son temporarily broke through the
limitations of His humanity as we have already noted
in Philippians 2:6-9 and John 1:14. No doubt, it is
a picture of His return to glory (John 17:1, 5).
Moreover, Jesus will return "in His glory, and the
glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Lk.
9:26) at the time of His Parousia.
"His face did shine as
the sun" (Matt. 17:2) reflecting the outward
expression of the inward change. The glory of the
transformation of the inner man has its counterpart
in the shining face.
Luke 9:29 says, "And
while He was praying, the appearance of His face
became different, and His clothing became white and
gleaming." Elijah and Moses also appeared in "glory"
appearance of His face became different." Matthew
17:2 reads, "His face did shine as the sun." Luke
says, "His clothing was radiant white." The
participle exastrapton is from the compound
verb meaning to flash out or flash forth. The simple
verb is used for lightening flashes and bolts. Mark
says, "His garments became radiant and exceedingly
white." We would say it was "so, so white." "His
face shone like the sun, and His garments became as
white as light" (Matt. 17:2).
The apostle Paul makes a
brilliant application in 2 Corinthians 4:6. The
Shekinah is now seen in the face of our Lord Jesus
Christ. "For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out
of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts
to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of
God in the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6).
When we see Jesus one day
in glory, we shall be like Him, and shall see Him as
He is (1 John 3:2).
reveals Jesus as He is in His present glory.
We will be like Him. We
shall be glorified, irradiated, transfigured. Jesus
Christ will be glorified in us. We shall show forth
something of His beauty. Paul writes, "when He comes
to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be
marveled at among all who have believed—for our
testimony to you was believed" (2 Thessalonians
THE CONVERSATION WITH
MOESES AND ELIJAH
Moses and Elijah became
visible to the disciples. They appeared in a
supernatural manner as representatives of the law
and the prophets.
It speaks of heaven and
how we get there and what it will be like. What will
happen after we leave this earthly existence? Moses
and Elijah, gone from this earthly life thousands of
years, have shining bodies conversing about the
greatest event in history, and God’s eternal
purposes. Men recognized them who never saw their
faces before. They are not soul sleeping. They are
conscious and are in the presence of their Lord in
glory, in serious conversation with Him.
What are my mother,
father and son doing in heaven? Why they are doing
the same as your loved ones who have gone on before
you. They are in the presence of Moses, Elijah,
David, Abraham, Isaiah, Peter, James and John and
millions more. What glory that will be when Jesus
comes back for you and me!
Matthew says in Mat.
17:3, "And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to
them, talking with Him." Luke says, "And
behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were
Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were
speaking of His departure which He was about to
accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:30-31).
"Jesus needed comfort
and He gets it from fellowship with Moses and
Elijah." Their presence and speech were the
acknowledgement that this was He whom they had seen
"The two represent a way
of saying that the whole Old Testament revelation
found its fulfilment in Jesus," says Leon Morris.
The glory of the Old Testament lies in the fact that
it is contained in and transcended by the New
The central idea at the
Transfiguration becomes very focused with the
conversation of the visitors with Jesus. Moses and
Elijah were speaking with Jesus about His death, the
very same subject in our context that so upset
Peter. Peter was unsympathetic; these Old Testament
saints fully realized they owed everything to the
atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the Suffering Servant of
The theme that engaged
the wonder and interest of heaven was the
approaching crucifixion of Jesus. That is the
central event of time and eternity.
Moses and Elijah knew
that they depended on the death and resurrection of
Jesus Christ for their salvation and their glory.
Their conversation was consumed with His death.
After the scolding by
Peter, how confronting and encouraging must have
been the conversation of the occupants of heaven who
could at this point in time fully understand and
appreciate what Peter could not comprehend. They
were in heaven on credit anticipating the sacrifice
of the Lamb of God.
How interesting and
compelling that these men were not talking about His
miracles, His raising men from the dead, His
beautiful teachings about the Kingdom, or His
powerful preaching on the mountain. They did not
speak of His sinless life or even their own glory in
heaven. They were consumed with the greatest event
Luke captures the idea
when he says, "they were speaking of His departure
which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." They
"were talking" (imperfect) "were talking with Him,"
i.e., a conversation going on between them regarding
The word translated
"exodus" or "departure" means Jesus’ departure from
earth to heaven. Jesus is going away. Now this is
the very subject Peter dared to rebuke Jesus about
earlier (Matt. 16:21-23). Peter uses the same word
in 1 Peter 1:15 referring to his own death as a
"departure" and then speaks of the transfiguration
of Jesus in 1 Pet. 1:16-17.
A. T. Robertson comments,
"Moses had led the Exodus from Egypt. Jesus will
accomplish the exodus of God’s people into the
Promised Land on high."
Robertson adds, "The
purpose of the Transfiguration was to strengthen the
heart of Jesus as He was praying long about His
approaching death and to give these chosen three
disciples a glimpse of His glory for the hour of
darkness coming. No one on earth understood the
heart of Jesus and so Moses and Elijah came. The
poor disciples utterly failed to grasp the
significance of it all."
Moreover, Luke says "And
it came about when the days were approaching for His
ascension, that He resolutely set His face to go to
Jerusalem" (Luc. 9:51). Literally, Luke says "of His
taking up," or as the NASB reads, "His ascension."
The word analempseos is found here alone in
the New Testament. It is derived from the word
analaambano, the verb used of the Ascension
(Acts 1:2, 11, 22; 1 Tim. 3:16). Robertson says it
refers here to the Ascension of Jesus after His
resurrection. Jesus revealed a yearning to return to
the Father (John 17:5) and it is in His mind at the
Transfiguration (Lk. 9:31; 12:49f).
Luke is emphatic in his
reference to the steadfast purpose of the look on
Jesus’ face in reference to the cross (Luc. 9:31;
THE CLOUD AND THE
You would think that by
now Peter would get the idea. But for some reason he
gets all beside himself and reveals his stupidity.
The counsel of Peter was senseless and sinful. If
Jesus followed Peter’s counsel, they would have
turned Jesus from God’s eternal purpose of
redemption. There can be no eternal salvation
without the vicarious substitutionary atoning
sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Here is how Luke
describes what happened:
"Now Peter and his
companions had been overcome with sleep; but when
they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the
two men standing with Him. And as these were leaving
Him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us
to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for
You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not
realizing what he was saying. While he was saying
this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them;
and they were afraid as they entered the cloud"
Jesus did not respond to
Peter. Suddenly the glory cloud surrounds Jesus,
Moses and Elijah and begins speaking.
The heavenly Father
interrupted Peter’s nonsense. There can be no
greater authoritative testimony to Jesus’ Sonship
and Messiahship than the words of His Father (Matt.
17:5). At the baptism of Jesus, these words were
directed to Jesus confirming Him in His
understanding of His messianic office. Here at the
Transfiguration they are directed primarily to the
disciples confirming the conviction expressed by
Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The
Transfiguration is the confirmation of the Messiah
to the disciples and that He is the Suffering
Servant of God.
The important truth from
the Transfiguration is the authentication of the Son
as the Messiah by means of the voice that spoke to
the disciples out of the Shekinah cloud. Jesus may
be rejected by men, but He is accepted by His
"While he was still
speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and
behold, a voice out of the cloud said, ‘This is My
beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to
Him!’" (Matthew 17:5).
In the vernacular you
could say, "Shut up Peter! Listen to Jesus."
What did the
transfiguration of the King mean to the three
disciples who witnessed it? The disciples needed
urgent help in comprehending that their Messiah was
also the Suffering Servant who must die. Probably
the meaning of the moment was hidden to them because
Jesus told them not to speak about what they had
seen "until the Son of Man has risen form the dead"
(Matt. 17:9). In subsequent years after His
resurrection, Peter looked back upon it through the
resurrection, and the mystery of the cross and then
wrote his epistles around the coming, the presence
and power of Jesus Christ.
"For we did not follow
cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the
power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we
were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He
received honor and glory from God the Father, such
an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic
Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am
well-pleased"— and we ourselves heard this utterance
made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy
mountain" (2 Peter 1:16-18).
writes: "Jesus alone among men could pass into the
flesh into that brightness, and be hid in its fiery
heart, unshrinking and unconsumed. ‘Who among us
shall dwell with everlasting burnings?’ That bright
cloud was ‘His own calm home, His habitation from
eternity,’ He enters as the Son into the bosom of
God the Father’s voice
bids us hear and obey His Son’s voice. Since He is
the beloved Son, listening to Him is listening to
COMPELLING CLIMAX TO
The disciples of Jesus
did not remain on the mountain top experience. They
came down to the reality of the lost world all about
Peter’s suggestion for
three shrines was completely ignored. Thank God! The
last thing the lost world needed then, as today, is
another religious shrine.
We need our mountain top
experiences. They give us encouragement and renew
our spiritual strength. But don’t sit there and
glory in some religious experience of the past.
Don’t build a monument to the past.
In verses following, a
demon-possessed child met Jesus. It was a picture of
human need and God’s infinite power to meet it in
the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
importance of the Transfiguration
transfiguration anticipates the Kingdom of God to
come upon the earth. Jesus Christ and God’s eternal
purpose will be vindicated before the eyes of a
watching world who rebelled at His call to
obedience. The transfiguration is a kind of prelude,
pledge, foretaste and foreshadowing of the coming
messianic kingdom on the earth (Matt. 16:28; 2 Pet.
transfiguration is also a picture of the personal
resurrection of the Christian believer. When Jesus
comes He "shall fashion a new the body of our
humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of
His glory" (Phil. 3:21; cf. 1 John 3:2). His
appearance in glory anticipates our appearance in
glory. We shall never reach our transfiguration but
through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He uses
the experience to teach us to wait in anticipation
of His second coming. What Jesus experienced, we
too, shall experience (1 John 3:2).
3. The transfiguration
confirms the Old Testament prophecy concerning the
Messianic kingdom. "We have the word of prophecy
made more sure" (2 Peter 1:19).
transfiguration affirms the authority of Jesus’
teachings and redeeming grace. "This is My beloved
Son with whom I am well-pleased; hear Him!" (Matt.
17:5). Our response should be the same as Peter and
his friends. "They fell on their faces and were much
afraid." That is the beginning of authentic worship
of the holy One. "And lifting up their eyes, they
saw no one except Jesus Himself alone" (Matt. 17:8).
May we by God’s grace do likewise.
5. G. Campbell Morgan
emphasized, "The glory they saw was the glory of
perfected humanity. The Transfiguration was not the
proof of Deity; it was the proof of absolute,
essential, and victorious humanity." Here was the
evidence of the only man who never sinned! The
absolutely sinless nature of the Son of Man
manifested itself that day. He never experienced
personal sin, even though He was tempted in all
points like we are.
6. The disciples saw
Jesus in glory of His perfected humanity, and they
heard His conversation concerning His coming death
and resurrection. The emphasis of that conversation
was the cross and that should be our emphasis, also.
The perfect Son of Man could only bring the Kingdom
of God with power by the way of the cross.
7. When the vision
passed, "they saw no men save Jesus only."
Everything was refocused upon the extreme
humiliation of the Son of Man—His coming death, the
resurrection, ascension and coronation. The Son of
Man is coming in His kingdom with power and glory.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
1. Jesus needed to pray.
That prayer experience brought the glory of God to
the disciples as they had never before experienced.
The Transfiguration immediately followed the prayer
of Jesus. We, too, can experience awesome changes in
our lives if we would pray as Jesus prayed.
2. The voice of the
Father was reassuring and refreshing to Jesus and
the disciples. Hearing the Word of God is the secret
of spiritual life and its blessings. It brings
prosperity to the soul. Is there something He wants
to say to you today? Perhaps He has said it before,
and now He is saying it again. Hear the still small,
quiet voice of the Spirit speaking to you,
reverently, and implicitly calling you to Himself.
"Come and follow."
3. Jesus sends us out to
live transformed lives before a watching world. The
same word for "transfigured" is translated
"transformed" in Romans 12:2. Men who live in
darkness see a reflection of the glory of God
dwelling in every transformed Christian (2
Corinthians 3: 18; 4:6). Even now as we behold Him
in His Word, we are being transformed from glory to
4. Thank God Peter
was not allowed to build another hut. Jesus is not
on par with anyone in the Old Testament or in world
religions. There is no need for three booths. The
world need only listen to the one voice—Jesus
Christ, the Son of God. World culture wants to treat
Jesus alongside all others. "Any devaluation of
Jesus distorts who He is," writes Darrell Bock. Acts
4:12 is even clearer. Jesus Christ alone is the
ground of saving faith.
17:1-8 The Transfiguration of Jesus
People in the Life of Christ