The Transfiguration of Jesus


The Transfiguration happens in the life of Jesus when he becomes transfigured and assumes radiance in glory when he goes to the top of a mountain with a select group of disciples. This event is described clearly in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 9, Mathew 17 and Luke 9) and is referred to in 2 Peter 1. It is also regarded that John made a reference to the event in John 1: 14.

As per these accounts, around a week after Jesus told his disciples about his passion (trial, crucifixion, death) and his resurrection (Luke 9), he took James, John, and Peter up to the top of a mountain to pray. When he prayed, his personal appearance was altered into a form of glory, with his clothes becoming a dazzling white. Then, suddenly Elijah and Moses appeared and discussed with Jesus about his impending crucifixion and death. Peter, who was both afraid and amazed, did not understand what they were talking about and offered to put up three shelters for the three heavenly beings.

Now, a cloud enveloped the three figures and a voice from heaven declared that Jesus is the Son of God, whom he has chosen and loved and to listen to him. The cloud lifted and Elijah and Moses disappeared, leaving Jesus alone with his disciples. The latter were very much perturbed by what had happened. Jesus instructed them not to reveal anything about this transfiguration to anyone till his resurrection was completed. The disciples wondered what he meant by his resurrection as they still did not realize what Christ was talking about.

The Transfiguration is aspecial miracle in the life of Jesus, which is important because it occurs to Jesus itself. According to Thomas Aquinas, it is the most special miracle because it complemented the Baptism of Christ and gave evidence of that He is perfect. The Transfiguration happens to beone among the five major turning points in the life of Jesus, withothers such as the Baptism, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension. Pope John Paul instituted in 2002, in the Rosary, the Luminous Mystery, which included the Transfiguration.

In theology, the Transfiguration happens to bea crucial moment when the top of a mountain is a setting where God meets human nature as embodied in Christ. It is the meeting point of the temporal with the eternal and Jesus is the bridge connecting the earth and heaven. Christiansalso consider the event as the fruition of a Messianic prophecy about the reappearance of Elijah, after being ascended to heaven. The redemptive sacrifice of Jesus was the reason why Elijah ministered on earth and what he discussed with Jesus during the transfiguration.

Peter the Apostle recounts in the Bible as the witness of the magnificence of Christ. Paul refers to in2 Corinthians 3 that his apostles were transformed into believers by beholding the Lord’ Glory. These statements have become the theological argument about the transfiguration being considered as the foundation for the faith of believers in Jesus and God.

Though Mathew 17 recounts John as one of the witnesses to the Transfiguration, John’s Gospel does not have any account of the event. This has sparked debates, with some doubting John’s Gospel and others giving explanations for the same. For instance, some say that Gospel of John was written to supplement the other Gospels and hence didn’t incorporate all the narratives. Other views say the Gospel of John was composed to fulfil his theological aims and hence had an inferior narrative style.

Location: The location of the Transfiguration has been a subject of much debate. From the 3rd century AD, the site of the event has been regarded as Mount Tabor. Others claim the site was Mount Panium, Paneas, a small hill to the South of the Jordan. Another candidate is Mount Nebo, where Moses surveyed the Promised Land.

The Significance of the Transfiguration:

The Transfiguration re-establishesthe status of Jesus being the Son of the Father with a voice from heaven confirming this, as in the event of his baptism from John the Baptist. The importance of the event is augmented by the attendance of Moses and Elijah. It indicates that because of his filial relationship with God, Jesus must be the person whom we should listen to, surpassing even the laws given by Moses.

2 Peter 1 preaches the same sentiment: The Transfiguration assigns Jesus a unique‘glory and honour’ and is the crucial moment when God exalts him above all creation and institutes him as judge and ruler. Also,the Transfiguration establishes God as the ruler of the living rather than the dead. It also shows that because Elijah and Moses, who had died centuries before Christ were living with God, we humans can look forward to a future with God.

The Transfiguration alsohad a purpose that his inner circle of his disciples should witness at least a part of his heavenly glory. The appearance of Christ was transformed into dazzling white to manifest his glory to the disciples. The disciples who had until now been familiar with his human body were given an experience of his deity, though they were not able to completely comprehend it. This event gave them reassurance in spite of learning about his impending death.

The appearance of Elijah and Moses symbolized the law of the Prophets. But the voice from heaven commanding “Listen to Him” was clear evidence that the Law of the prophets must bow down to Jesus. He is the new way, giving place to the old. He is the fruition of countless prophecies in the Old Testament. His glorification was only a preview of his return as King of Kings.

On the mountain, the discipleslearn that Jesus is himself the living Torah and the ultimate word of God. They witness the Dynamis (the Power) of the Kingdom that is coming in Christ. The immediateaim of the Transfiguration was to make strong the faith of the disciples in anticipation of his coming passion. It was an event in which God permitted a few chosen apostles to have a special experience, meant to make their faith strong enough to endure the oncoming challenges.

But the event was temporary. This also means that God may give us instances of deep spiritual experience that can transform our faith. But one must not expect the experience to prolong for a long time and feel sad when the experience ceases. One must regard such experiences as those will guide us ultimately to the endless joy of heaven.

The transfiguration is the culmination of the public life of Jesus like the Baptism was the start. For the second time, God proclaimed Jesus as his only begotten and most beloved son. He gave a taste of the final glory of Christ, transcending his crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension. It is the eschatological promise of his return in full glory and honour on theJudgment Day, which no one knows except God, the Father.