What does it mean to be transfigured, and what can we learn from this miraculous event in the life of Jesus as it is revealed to certain Apostles? To make sure we are all on the same page with this story, read the Gospel of Matthew 17:1-8 below:
“…. Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”
Why this mountain?
Biblical scholars say this event took place on Mt. Tabor – which is an instrumental location for the Jews. At the bottom of the mountain is a very important road junction. Via Maris passed there from the Jezreel Valley northward towards Damascus. Jezreel translated literally means “God sows”, and Damascus translated means “well-watered land”. Mount Tabor was one of the mountain peaks on which it was the custom to light beacons in order to inform the northern villages of Jewish holy days and of the beginning of new months.
So it seems that by choosing this particular mountain top to climb, Jesus was sending a very clear message to everyone. First, He is letting us know that the World as we know it is about to change completely. Jesus was there to sow the seeds of the Old Testament and with well-watered land those seeds would be blossoming soon with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Pretty cool, eh? Keep reading, there’s a lot more.
To be transfigured literally means to change in composition and physical structure, from the Greek Meta (form) and Morpho (change). This means Jesus literally changed before the eyes of the three apostles He brought with Him, and allowed them to temporarily experience this phenomenon. Think of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. We don’t get to experience what happens inside the cocoon, but we do get to see the change after it takes place. The Apostles however, got to experience actually seeing Jesus take the form of his purely spiritual self, right before their eyes. They got a glimpse of Heaven and didn’t want to leave.
But only Peter, James, and John are allowed to see Jesus as He becomes transfigured. This tells us that God needed to use these three men for their witness to the other Apostles. God expects us to pass on our faith to others. He may not reveal Himself the same way to everyone, but that does not mean that everyone is not meant to take part of His Glory. We are asked to share the Glory of God as shown to the Apostles through Jesus…at the right time. Jesus makes sure we understand that timing is important here. He asks the Apostles not to share of what they had seen until after His death.
God uses mountains throughout scripture to represent a sacred place. In the Old Testament – Mt. Sinai – Moses takes Joshua up on the mountain with him to receive the Ten Commandments, but only Moses goes all the way up to the top. Joshua on the other hand, is a parallel to Jesus in the New Testament because Joshua is the one that leads the Jews into the Promised Land. The torch is passed from Moses to Joshua, just as the torch of Christianity is passed from Jesus to the Apostles, then on to us, and a new sense of having WILD HOPE is begun.
The Transfiguration is a “sprouting” of sorts. God is showing us that we have greatness inside of us all with by receiving the Holy Spirit into our lives. We all have greatness inside of us and it is important to bring that greatness out from the inside. But this requires a complete transfiguration of our spiritual selves. It’s easy to change physically, to change location, to change the color of your hair, your weight, your clothes, etc. But changing spiritually is something we don’t think about too often. We tend to become complacent with where we are in our spiritual journey as long as we come to Church on Sunday and we are basically good people. However, Jesus is telling us there is more to it than what we see…we need to be transfigured from the inside out.
Three cool things…
Jesus is in full bloom so to speak, and the Apostles that are with him get a glimpse of the glory of Heaven. Three cool things about the Transfiguration that you may not have caught…
- It happens while Jesus is praying.
- It awakens the Apostles – not just physically, but spiritually as well.
- Makes Peter want to set up a campsite and stay there forever with Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.
I think this parallels how we need to model our faith quite nicely. We need to pray, we need to be awakened, and we need to go camping! Seriously though, we need to have that desire to stay with God at all times. But that does not mean that we stay in the same place and God stays there with us. It means that our God is a moving God and He wants us to move with Him.
Why are Moses and Elijah there? Moses represented the law of the Old Testament; Elijah represented the prophets of the Old Testament. Both foreshadowed the coming of Jesus, as well as His death and resurrection. Peter is confused and misses the point. He is so happy to just be there that he wants that moment to last forever. However, a rebuke of his suggestion occurs when a cloud overshadows them and they are afraid to enter the cloud. They hear a voice saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen; Listen to Him”. The cloud with God’s voice is meant to show us that we do not always have to see in order to believe or trust.
Can I get a witness? Jesus lets us know that we need to share our witness with one another. We need to talk about Jesus, get Him into our daily lives, and not only visit Him on Sunday’s. Jesus uses a combination of Heavenly witnesses and Earthly witnesses:
- Three Heavenly witnesses – Moses, Elijah, and the voice of God.
- Three Earthly witnesses – Peter, James, and John.
So what does this mean? This shows that Jesus is the connection between Heaven and Earth, between Physical and Spiritual. This was done for the benefit of the Apostles so that they would have HOPE for their future. They still did not understand that Jesus would need to die and be resurrected in order for them to be saved.
Jesus shows us the purest definition of WILD HOPE when He helps us understand that God’s ways are not man’s ways. The spiritual dialogue happening between Jesus, Moses and Elijah also shows us that we do not always understand what God has in store for us, but we still need to follow His plan in our own lives and know that we should always have HOPE.
Everything Jesus says is important, but one thing He tells us that we need to take with us every day is “Get up, don’t be afraid”. Jesus wants us to know that we should not be afraid to get to know the real Jesus. He wants us to know that we are meant for greatness and we need not be afraid of that greatness. He wants us to “get up” and move with Him. He wants us to have that incredible sense of wild hope that only Jesus can instill in our hearts.
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