About a week after the trip to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus took James, John, and Peter and led them to a high mountain. There, he was transfigured before their eyes. This event in the Gospels is referred to as the Transfiguration of Jesus. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Transfiguration” means “a great change of form or appearance; especially: a change that beautifies, glorifies, or makes more spiritual.”
The transfiguration of Jesus is the capstone of his public life. As the baptism of Jesus was the starting point of the public life of Jesus, this moment called the Transfiguration is the peak, and culmination of his public ministry. Through the experience of the transfiguration, Peter, James and John were given a glimpse of heaven in order to strengthen them for the terrible struggles and suffering that was yet to come.
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. (Luke 9:28-36)
We can only imagine what the transfiguration of Jesus was like for the disciples, but it must have been pretty astonishing.
Here’s another question: Of all the significant figures in the Hebrew Scriptures, why was it Moses and Elijah in particular that showed up here with Jesus at his Transfiguration? Well, a popular theory is that Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the Prophets. So, when God’s voice from heaven said about Jesus “Listen to Him!” that indicated that the Law and the Prophets must now give way to Jesus who will replace the old way with the new way. He is the completion of the Law and the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament.
A theory as to the purpose of this entire event is that it provided the “inner circle” of Jesus’ followers with a glimpse of who Jesus really was. The apostles, who had only known him in his human body, now had a greater realization of his deity. That gave them the reassurance they needed after hearing the shocking news of his coming death.
It’s also interesting to note the symbolism that exists in this event. As Jesus meets with Moses and Elijah, it’s recorded that “they spoke of his departure.” Moses had led his own departure — or Exodus — out of Egypt almost 15 centuries earlier. Also, 2 Kings records that Elijah departed this earth in a flaming chariot. Jesus had miraculously provided bread for the multitudes in the story of loaves and fishes we covered in our last episode, just as Moses provided bread — or “manna” – in the wilderness to the Israelites. And when Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, you may remember that his face was shining with the glory of God, just as Jesus’ face was now shining with the same glory. To one familiar with the Hebrew Bible, these parallels would have been extraordinarily meaningful.
When the Transfiguration of Jesus was over the disciples never forgot what happened that day on the mountain and no doubt this was intended. John wrote in his Gospel, “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only” (John 1:14).
Peter later wrote:
“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. For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18)