Transfiguration

The Transfiguration confirms his status as the Messiah and the necessity for Jesus to suffer before receiving glory - Mark 9:2-13. 

In Mark, the Transfiguration begins with the clause “after six days,” a link to the preceding story where Peter acknowledges Jesus is the Messiah. In response, Christ explains the true meaning of discipleship. To follow him, a man must “deny himself and take up his cross” just as the “Son of Man” did.

In the preceding paragraph, Jesus promises that “certain of those standing here shall in nowise taste of death until they see the kingdom of God having come in power.” In chapter 9, that time has arrived - (Mark 9:2-13).

Mountain sun rays - Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash
[Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash]

In the version of the story in 
Matthew, what the three disciples experience is called “a vision.” In Luke, Jesus takes the disciples apart to the mountain where he is “transformed” as he prays. In all three accounts, the same three disciples are with him, Peter, John, and James - (Matthew 17:9, Luke 9:28-32).

OLD TESTAMENT PARALLELS


After six days.” The Transfiguration echoes the day when Moses ascended Mount Sinai and received two tablets of stone. Just as Israel was commanded to hearken to the Law given through Moses, so, now, the disciples are admonished by the Divine voice to “hearken” to the “Son of God” - (Exodus 24:12, 15-18).

The description of the cloud “overshadowing them” also alludes to the story of Moses on Sinai. “Overshadow” translates the Greek verb episkiazō, the same term used in the Greek Septuagint version of the book of Exodus:

  • Then the cloud OVERSHADOWED the tent of meeting, and the glory of Yahweh filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of Yahweh filled the TABERNACLE – (Exodus 40:34-35).

The Exodus allusion is strengthened by Peter’s offer to build three “tabernacles” (Greek, skéné), using the same Greek noun for “tabernacle” employed in the Septuagint translation of this passage in Exodus.

Under the Mosaic covenant, the glory of Yahweh filled the “Tabernacle” in the wilderness. Now, the glory of God “tabernacles” in Jesus, not in any tent made by hand.

The heavenly voice calls him “my Son.” God confirms the previous confession by Peter and the messianic status of Jesus. The Transfiguration took place on a “high mountain.” The identity of the mountain remains uncertain, but its location is not relevant to the story.

The Greek word translated “transformed” is metamorphoō, meaning “to transform, transfigure; to change in appearance.” The verb is in the passive voice. That means Jesus did not change himself, but that someone or something “transformed” him. The ordinary garments that he wore were also changed, becoming “brilliant, exceedingly white.”

MOSES AND ELIJAH


In Malachi, Yahweh promised that one day Elijah would return before the end of the age. Moses is mentioned in the same passage, and that explains why Moses and Elijah appear together with Jesus on the mountain - (Malachi 4:4-6).

The order of the two names is unusual. While Elijah was held in high regard, in the Hebrew Bible, Moses is always presented as the foremost prophet, second only to Abraham in honor and esteem.

Moreover, Moses is said to be “with” Elijah, implying his supporting role. Previously, certain men asked whether Jesus was Elijah. But following the Transfiguration, Jesus affirms that Elijah has come already. The promise of “Elijah who was to come” has been fulfilled in John the Baptist – (Mark 8:27-30).

This is my beloved Son; be hearkening to him!” Jesus is the one the disciples must heed above all others, exactly what Yahweh commanded Israel to do when, in the future, he would raise up the “prophet like Moses” – (Deuteronomy 18:15).


Clouds and Sun - Photo by Thomas Koukas on Unsplash
[By Thomas Koukas on Unsplash]


The cloud “overshadowed THEM.” The pronoun “them” refers to Jesus, Elijah, and Moses, and not to the three disciples. The cloud does not also overshadow the three disciples. Instead, the heavenly voice speaks to them “out of the cloud.”

And here, the spoken words of God echo the words from heaven heard at the baptism of Jesus, and the promises in Deuteronomy 18:15 and Psalm 2:7 – (“This is my Son, the Beloved, be hearkening unto him”):

  • (Deuteronomy 18:15) – “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, YOU SHALL HEARKEN TO HIM.”
  • (Psalm 2:7) – “I will surely tell of the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, ‘YOU ARE MY SON, Today I have begotten you.”
  • (Mark 1:11) – “And a voice came out of the heavens: ‘YOU ARE MY BELOVED SON; in you I am well-pleased.”

The Transfiguration ends as suddenly as it began. Only Jesus is left standing. The purpose is to place Heaven’s endorsement on his ministry and words and to confirm him as the “Son of Man” and the “suffering servant” of Isaiah who is destined to die for his people.

As they leave the mountain, Jesus commands the disciples not to tell anyone what they have seen until after he rises from the dead. Then, they “seized this saying to themselves, disputing what was the rising from among the dead,” indicating their continuing confusion about the identity and mission of Jesus.



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