At first reading, the transfiguration is one of the most baffling stories in the gospels. Jesus took three of his disciples up a mountain and was changed. His face shone like the sun. His clothes beamed. Moses and Elijah appeared and had a chat with Jesus. The voice of God was heard audibly affirming Jesus as his beloved Son. Understandably, the disciples were terrified and fell on their faces.
It is no surprise that such a powerful spiritual encounter stayed with the disciples for a long time. Peter writes about them being eye-witnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16-18) and John talks about seeing with their own eyes that which was from the beginning (1 John 1:1). It is as though this encounter solidified for them beyond all doubt the truth of Christ’s divine glory and served as a basis of confidence as they spent their lives testifying about him.
On one level, the significance of what happened was obvious. They had a profound encounter with Christ, where some of the glory that had been hidden in the incarnation was shown openly and his divine sonship was displayed.
As we push deeper into the story, we can unearth even more of the meaning by seeing the links with the Old Testament. The appearance of Moses and Elijah is significant. They represent both the law and the prophets, and so this moment shows that it is Jesus of whom the law and the prophets spoke. The story very closely resembles Moses meeting God on the mountain. He heard God speak the law and came down with a radiant face. Here they heard God’s voice again and it was Jesus who was radiant. Moses led God’s people to freedom from Egypt. Elijah was the prophetic voice bringing revelation of God to an idolatrous generation. Jesus both made God known and brought about the salvation of his people. He is the new and greater Moses and the new and greater Elijah all rolled into one.
He is also the divine son. There are only a small number of occasions in Scripture where God’s voice is heard audibly by a group of people. When it happens it is something to take note of, and this (along with Jesus’ baptism) is one of two occasions where God’s voice affirms that Jesus is his son with whom he is pleased. This time we also have the added instruction to ‘listen to him’. His word is the fulfilment of all the law and all the prophets.
Some Key Points:
- Jesus is God incarnate and has divine glory beyond what is often seen in the incarnation.
- Jesus is the one to whom all the law and prophets points.
- Jesus is the divine Son, who should be listened to as the ultimate revelation of God.
- Lift Your Eyes – So many of us have a tame view of ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’, but this passage shows that he is far more than that and we should respect his divine authority.
- Let the Old Testament Point Us to Jesus – Sometimes Christians don’t know what to do with the Old Testament. This passage shows us that the law and prophets point us to Jesus. We should value it and read it, and as we do so, we should let it point us to him.
- Listen to Jesus – The audible voice of God speaks and tells the people there to listen to Jesus. We should make sure we do likewise!