I suppose that in many ways, the transfiguration is the greatest miracle given in the Bible. To see Jesus in His human form, and then unveiled to reveal His true nature and glory, glory as of the Only Begotten Son of God, and to have the appearance of both of the greatest prophets from history appear to give credence to His majesty, and then to cap it all off with nothing less than the shekinah glory of God envelop them all and to hear God speak from the cloud, all of that combined must equal the greatest miracle recorded in scripture.
Now as I have said repeatedly, every miracle recorded in the gospels is presented as a parable to teach us spiritual principles. So the question remains for us then, what should we expect to learn from this miracle? If it’s truly the greatest miracle, then it would stand to reason that we should learn some great doctrines of our faith in studying it. So the question is why is the transfiguration important, and how is it important to me?
Well, let me start by saying that in some respects, Jesus had already been transfigured before this event. This transfiguration was just a reversal of what had already taken place at His birth. John chapter 1 makes that argument very well. In vs 14 of chapter one, John says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That’s transfiguration number one. Jesus, who John says existed from eternity with the Father, who was God, and was with God, became flesh, became a man, born to a virgin. That’s transfiguration number one. And then John continues in vs14, “and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Most commentators believe that reference to His glory is speaking of the transfiguration, which I am saying is the second transfiguration.
Peter speaks of this second transfiguration in 2Peter 1:16-18 saying, “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.” I think it’s important to notice that Peter uses the phrase, “we were eyewitnesses of His majesty…” The apostles were eyewitnesses of the works of Christ. They were eyewitnesses of His miracles. In Deuteronomy the law states that truth must be confirmed on the basis of two or three witnesses. So that explains why Jesus took three disciples with Him on the mountain, so that they could be eyewitnesses to what happened. So we might be assured of the truth of what happened.
And it’s important because we need to know the truth. Jesus said that God is spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. There is no spiritual benefit in following cleverly devised tales of men. But these three men were willing to die or go to prison for the sake of the truth of what they witnessed. And we can be assured that what they saw and reported is the truth.
Now in vs1, Jesus Himself affirms the truth of what they will see. “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” Jesus Himself is affirming the transfiguration as an important truth. He’s saying that some of the disciples present as He was speaking with them, would not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power. Jesus Himself is the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth. He came to institute the kingdom of God.
Now what is the context of Jesus’s words? What caused the Lord to make this statement? Well, it was the previous statement at the end of chapter 8, which was the declaration by Peter that Jesus was the Christ. Mark puts the emphasis on the fact that He was the Messiah, and I believe in that sense then Jesus declares this statement. Because the whole issue with the disciples, and the reason that Jesus did not want them broadcasting the fact that He was the Messiah, was because they had an erroneous understanding of what the ministry of the Messiah was to be. They believed, as did the majority of the Jews, that the Messiah would resurrect the throne of David and the glories of Israel and it’s dominance in the world.
And that view was faulty. There are two comings of Christ. The first coming and the second coming. The first coming was to be a servant, a substitute and a Savior. In the first coming He inaugurated His kingdom. At the second coming He will come in glory, to consummate His kingdom. The disciples don’t realize all of that. They see only one coming of the Messiah. And so they have expectations of His kingdom which are not in keeping with God’s purposes.
So I believe that what Jesus was trying to teach by this statement and the miracle following six days later, is the reality of the kingdom of God that He was inaugurating in His first coming. In a sense, He is acting out the miracle we looked at last time of healing the blind man, in which at first the man did not see clearly, and then at a second touch from the Lord he was able to see clearly. That’s what is going on here. Jesus told Peter at his confession that Jesus was the Messiah that God had given him insight into that truth. But then a little bit later Jesus has to rebuke Peter and say “Get behind Me Satan, for you are not fixing your mind on God’s interests but on man’s.” Peter’s theology needed a second divine touch. And so that is what is happening here. God is providing a second touch, that the disciples might more clearly see the nature and purpose of the Messiah.
Now there are two ways in which the first verse is fulfilled. When Jesus says “some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power,” we can interpret that in two ways. Again, we see perhaps a first and then second touch. The first fulfillment is going to be through the transfiguration in six days. The second is going to be within about 7 months time, on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples will receive power after the Holy Spirit is come upon them. That is when the gospel is going to go forward with power throughout the whole world. And that is the ultimate fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Jesus said when He began preaching, that the kingdom of God is near you. The kingdom is in your midst. But then at Pentecost, the kingdom of God will come with power, not just to the Jews, but to all the nations of the world. That is when the kingdom of God reaches it’s full potential throughout the world, not only to the Jews, but also to the world.
So Mark says six days later after making this statement, Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a high mountain. Jesus often went up to a mountain to pray and be alone with God. This time, He brings His three closest companions to be with Him. They probably thought they were just going to pray. Luke 9:32 tells us that they fell asleep. I wonder if Jesus had to wake them up to see the transfiguration. That would be a real shame wouldn’t it? To sleep through the greatest miracle of all. I sometimes wonder what great things God intends for us to see, that we are too tired or disinterested in to notice. But nevertheless, great things of God often come through great times of prayer. If you would see Christ more clearly, then spend more time alone with Him in prayer. James says, draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. So this event teaches us about the nature of our faith; that intimacy with God produces greater illumination. David says in Psalm 36:9 “In thy light we see light.”
I will also say that this shows the necessity for a place of prayer, and the need to go to a place of prayer. We can pray anywhere, that is true, at any time. But Jesus shows us that there is benefit in going to a specific place. Jesus called the temple a house of prayer. I would suggest that church is a place of prayer. There is a special benefit in going to church to offer prayers to God.
Then when they were on the mountain, Mark says that Jesus was transfigured. Transfigured comes from the Greek word “metamorphoō,” which means to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure. As I said earlier, this happened at His birth, when the Word became flesh. Now in this second metamorphosis, the flesh becomes glorified. To be glorified is to become a spiritual body, a heavenly body.
Paul speaks of that difference between the physical and spiritual body in some detail in 1Cor. 15:40 saying, “There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another.” We are not sure how Jesus’s body changed, but Mark indicates that the light inside of Christ shone through His flesh and His garments in a blindingly white light. Luke says the appearance of His face became different. Mark also tells us that Moses and Elijah appeared with Him, talking to Him. And I believe in Luke’s account, he says that they both appeared in splendor as well, or appeared in glory.
Now as I said, we cannot fully comprehend the way the body of the Lord was transfigured or transformed. But I would say that the spiritual essence of Christ, that which was invisible, became visible, and that which was visible, became less visible. The body, rather than being a permanent fixture, was revealed as just a cloak over the spiritual being that was the essence of Christ. And I cannot help but remember that John tells us at Christ’s second coming that we will be transfigured as well, when we will be made like Christ. 1John 3:2 “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”
There are many interesting things that can be gleaned from this transformation. However, we don’t want to speculate beyond what the text indicates. But remember Jesus’s own statement regarding the dead in the Lord who have gone on before. In Matthew 22:32 He says, “I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” So here then we see that Moses and Elijah are living. They are not dead in a tomb, but living and communing with the Lord.
What a blessing that is for us that know the Lord! As Jesus said in John 11:26 “everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” We don’t die, we are just translated from the physical domain to the spiritual domain. We go on living, but in a different form, and in a more complete communion with the Lord.
And notice that Peter, James and John recognize Moses and Elijah. They in turn recognize Jesus. No one needs to be introduced. It’s nice to know that somehow, someway, our physical character is knowable and recognizable in that spiritual dimension. We will know our relatives and our loved ones. 1Cor. 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”
And one other mention, Matthew tells us that they were talking to Him about the events to come. They were talking about His ministry, about the cross, and the resurrection. I don’t know all that they were talking about, but I do know that they were talking about things to come and things that had happened. They were aware of current events. They were aware of the future. And I find that comforting, as well as challenging. I think my dad is watching to some extent what I am doing here on earth. I think he is interested. The Bible tells us that the angels long to look into what we are doing and what God has planned here on earth.
In fact, speaking of all the saints who had died and gone on before, the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We are surrounded by an invisible cloud of witnesses. Those who have gone on before us are witnessing what we are doing now. The angels are witnessing what we are doing. And I think that they are greatly interested. I think they are cheering when we overcome. I hope that they are not weeping when we fall. But the Bible says that they are witnesses to what we are doing here, so let us run the race with patience and lay aside every sin and the weights which encumber us.
In that regard, I want to point out that the word metamorphosis shows up only four times in the New Testament. Twice it is used in the gospels in speaking of this event; here in Mark and in Matthew 17. But the other two times it is used in not in keeping with Christ’s transfiguration at all, but it’s in reference to our transformation when we are saved. The first is found in Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
The second is in 2Cor. 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” I think it’s noteworthy that in both cases it isn’t talking about our justification, but our sanctification. It’s talking about the process of transformation, as we are being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, from glory to glory. When we are justified, we receive that first touch, but then we need to be sanctified, transfigured by the Spirit of God within us, our righteousness shining forth like the sun for the world to see.
We should also ask ourselves why particularly Moses and Elijah appeared at the transfiguration. First of all, Moses and Elijah represent the fulfillment of all scripture. Moses wrote the Pentateuch, the Law. Elijah represents the prophets. When the Jews spoke of the entire scriptures, they referred to them as the Law and the Prophets. So in appearing with Christ, they attest to His fulfillment of all the Old Testament scriptures, both in the law and the prophets. Jesus said in Matt. 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
Secondly, the appearance of Moses and Elijah speak to the fact that someone greater than a prophet was here. The disciples answered Jesus question of who do men say that I am by saying that the Jews thought Jesus was a prophet. Moses was considered the great prophet of God. And Elijah was of course a mighty prophet as well in his miracles. And yet God indicates that Jesus was not just a prophet, but His only beloved Son.
And we see more illustrated by these two men. Moses also died and was buried. Elijah was taken up into heaven without dying. Thus they represent the means by which we will see the future glory of the kingdom revealed. Either by dying and being transported to the presence of God in our spirit, or by being taken up into heaven when He shall appear with His holy angels when He comes the second time for His church.
Mark says that Peter and the disciples were very afraid at what they were witnessing. They don’t understand what was going on. And Peter, wanting to say something, says the wrong thing. He had good intentions, but he was still focusing on man’s interests and not Gods. So Peter said, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
Now there is some debate about what is meant by tabernacles. Some think that it has something to do with the feast of booths, or tabernacles, which was a feast celebrated by the Jews around that time. But I happen to think that it has to do with the tabernacle of meeting that was the fore runner of the temple. The tabernacle that Moses constructed according to God’s plan, where God’s glory would settle over it in the form of a cloud and great light, and which denoted the presence of the Lord in the midst of His people. I think there is a sense in which the disciples are so awestruck with Moses and Elijah being present, that they think that they each should have a tabernacle similar to the one in the Exodus. Kind of like building three churches for the three great preachers.
Sounds like a bad idea in hindsight to us, but it undoubtedly seemed like a good idea to Peter. Kind of like these multi campus churches that are springing up around the country today. They seem more like tabernacles erected to honor men rather than to honor Jesus. We need to be careful that out of a sincere desire to worship the Lord we do not end up building edifices to glorify men. Sincerity is no measure of truth. We are not to worship God simply in sincerity, but in truth.
Well, here’s what God had to say about Peter’s idea. vs 7 Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” I believe this was the cloud that stood over the tabernacle during the time of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. This was the cloud called the shekinah glory in which the presence of God was, which would come down upon the tabernacle and Moses would go into it and talk with God.
So God is giving His witness to the Messiah, that Jesus is His beloved Son. Moses and Elijah were prophets who pointed to the One who was to come. Now He is here, and God has appointed Him to rule over His kingdom. The Lord Christ has been appointed by God to rule over His Kingdom.
Heb 1:1-5, 8 “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. 5 For to which of the angels did He ever say, “YOU ARE MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”? … 8 But of the Son He says, “YOUR THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM.”
And in God’s declaration of the preeminence of Jesus Christ, He reminds us to listen to Him. It teaches us the need for dependence upon the word. Even supernatural events will not guarantee a person’s perseverance of faith. The disciples, in spite of being witnesses to this tremendous miracle, still fell away from the Lord at the first hint of tribulation. Not by resting on the laurels of past experiences, but only through continual hearing of the word of the Lord does our transfiguration produce sanctification . Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
So in the final summary of things, the transfiguration is not simply something that happened two thousand years ago, which has very little application to our lives, but transfiguration is something that God is doing now in the hearts of those who love Him, as we are being conformed to His image through the application of the word of God. And one day, that transfiguration in us will be completed as we behold Him, and seeing Him will become like Him. And we will change this body of corruption for a body incorruptible.
But in the meantime, let us not be conformed to this world, but be transformed, transfigured, by the renewing of your mind, through the word of God, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect, for the building up and establishing of the kingdom of God.