Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36
All the synoptic gospels gave account of the transfiguration.
By transfiguration, we mean the miraculous change in the appearance of Jesus. Jesus took three of his disciples – Peter, James and John to an undisclosed mountain to pray. The purpose was to manifest the glory of God. As the prayer intensified, the disciples discovered that Jesus’ garment turned very white, whiter than snow. At the same time, two more people appeared and talked with Jesus. The disciples identified the two people as Moses and Elijah.
The whole episode looked as if the disciples were in a trance or were seeing a vision, for they did not understand the circumstance under which the transfiguration took place. Puzzled and not knowing what to do or say, Peter declared, not knowing what he was saying -“Lord, it is good that we are here. Let me make three tents here. One for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But before Peter could finish or while he was still speaking, they were overshadowed by a bright cloud from where came a voice saying – “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased: listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5).
Expectedly, Peter, James and John were overwhelmed by what they experienced and were therefore gripped by fear. They fell on their faces, but Jesus moved towards them, touched them and ordered them to get up. As they opened their eyes, they discovered that the people they had seen discussing with Jesus had disappeared. Jesus warned the disciples to keep the event secret until after his resurrection. This may be because Jesus feared that a wide knowledge of the event might be detrimental to the successful completion of his mission, as well as force people to flock to him to see more signs.
Differences in the Accounts of the Three Synoptic Gospels Concerning the Transfiguration
As earlier stated, all three writers agree in their accounts. But Luke adds that Moses and Elijah appeared to discuss Jesus’ death and resurrection. He added that the event took place as Jesus with his disciples went up to the mountain to pray. Only Luke recorded that the transfiguration took place eight days after Peter’s confession of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Matthew and Mark said it was six days after Peter’s confession. Again, only Luke disclosed that the event took place as Jesus prayed. Matthew and Mark may have deliberately left this detail out since it is common knowledge that each time Jesus went to the mountain, it was usually for the purpose of prayer. Matthew and Mark stated that Jesus charged his disciples to keep his transfiguration a secret till after the resurrection while Luke reports that it was disciples themselves that decided to keep the matter secret.
The Significance of the Transfiguration to Christian Faith
- It enabled the disciples to be reassured of the genuineness of their recognition of Jesus as the Son of the Living God.
- It confirmed Peter’s earlier confession that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God.
- The smoke or cloud and the voice confirmed the divine nature and mission of Jesus.
- It enabled those three disciples to have a feel of the much talked about Kingdom of God
- The appearance of the prophets (Moses and Elijah) confirmed that Jesus was the one they prophesied about in the Old Testament
- It confirmed that Jesus was sent by God, hence, we should “listen” to him.
- In time of fear, Jesus will encourage us as he encouraged the fear-stricken disciples.
- Jesus’ charge to the three disciples to keep the event secret until after his resurrection was based on the fact that it was then the event will be better appreciated.
- Moses and Elijah appeared to discuss Jesus’ imminent death and to give him encouragement.
- The appearance of the two men signified the relationship existing between the Old Testament law and the Prophets represented by Moses and Elijah respectively and its fulfilment signified by Jesus. Jesus came to fulfil the law, not to destroy it.
- It was only necessary that the only people fit to discuss Jesus’ death were those who either did not die at all (Elijah) or those who did not die as men normally die (Moses).
Note: Elijah did not die. He was taken into heaven by a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11). Moses died and was buried by God. No one knows where he was buried to this day (Deuteronomy 34:6). It confirmed Jesus’ messiahship.
- The event of transfiguration took place before Jesus’ death.
- It served the purpose of discussing his death with the dead prophets.
- Jesus came to fulfil the law and not to destroy it, hence, his meeting with the prophets and law bearers confirmed this claim.
- More than anything else, the event confirmed the messiahship of Jesus as exemplified by the voice from heaven.