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The Transfiguration (of Jesus) - Raphael (1520)

After six days, Jesus took Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Then there appeared before him Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

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.”

The transfiguration of Jesus - Artist unknownWhile he was 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!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus instructed them,

“Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

The disciples asked him, “But the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come before the messiah?”

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Jesus replied,

“To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”

Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

What the story means to us today

Through awe and fear, the disciples are given confirmation from God that Jesus is his son and that he acts on God’s behalf

The transfiguration of Jesus - Artist unknownAs Jesus’ time on earth draws to an end, three of his critical disciples are taken to the top of a mountain where they witness one of the Bible’s greatest miracles. Called the “transfiguration”, Jesus is effectively transformed into light before their eyes. The disciples then witness Jesus talking with two Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. Their awe turns to terror when God’s voice emanates from heaven.

God’s message to the disciples reverberates not just on top of the mountain, but throughout all ages. God confirms to the disciples, and us, that Jesus is his son and that he acts on God’s behalf. God’s command to the disciples is one that Christians’ today should hold close to their hearts: “Listen to Him.”

Additional thoughts and considerations

The untold conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah

Moses was an Old Testament teacher while Elijah was the forebearer of end times – both related to Jesus’ task on earth. But we are not told what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah discussed. Maybe the Old Testament prophets were offering advice. Maybe they were comforting Jesus who was nearing his time of death. But what they were saying is not important. What is significant, is the scene that the disciples witnessed. For the disciples, this is the clearest confirmation yet that Jesus is Lord. They witness Jesus in radiant glory and see him talking to two of the Old Testament’s most revered prophets. The episode is topped off by a verbal revelation from God confirming Jesus’ role in his kingdom. The disciples now know without a doubt that Jesus is the Messiah.

Why did Peter offer to put up tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah?

The transfiguration of Jesus - Artist unknownPeter’s offer to put up tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah was a way of expressing honor to Jesus. The tents likely related to a Jewish celebration known as the Festival of the Tabernacles.

The Festival of the Tabernacles, also called the Feast of the Tabernacles or the Feast of the Booths, was a Jewish celebration that looked backward to their freedom from bondage and forward to the end times. The tent represented a temporary dwelling a farmer would live in during the harvest and the fragile dwellings the Israelites dwelt in during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the Exodus from slavery. Peter’s offer was a celebration of their history and the homecoming of the Old Testament prophets with Jesus.

Why did Jesus instruct the disciples to not tell anyone what they had seen?

As Jesus and the disciples left the mountaintop, he told them,

“Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Jesus knows that the time for miracles is ending. But the disciples still do not understand what “rising from the dead” means. They believe Jesus’ talk of death and resurrection is symbolic, not a physical resurrection of a deceased human body. For all but the three witnesses to the transfiguration, the strongest evidence that Jesus is the messiah will be his death and resurrection. Thus there is no reason to tell the others yet.

Elijah must come first

Moses, Elijah, and Jesus - Artist UnknownIsraelites of the day believed the prophet Elijah would appear on earth before the appearance of the Messiah. Malachi 4:5 says,

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day when the Lord comes.”

The three disciples have just witnessed Elijah speaking with Jesus on the mountaintop. From their vantage, the appearance of Elijah preceding the messiah has just occurred before their very eyes. The disciples know the question about Elijah’s return will arise when Jesus is declared the messiah. But Jesus tells them they can tell no one what they have seen. How are they to answer the question if they cannot reveal what they have seen?

As Jesus’ answer points out, the disciples’ question is misguided. Elijah appeared on earth long before this day – in the form of John the Baptist.

Why is the timing of the event in Luke different from Matthew’s account?

Matthew tells us,

“After about six days, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain.”

Luke, however, says the event took place “about eight days after”.

There is no contradiction here as some may claim. In the original Greek, the phrase “about eight days later” meant “about a week later”.

The science and history behind the story

Jesus led the disciples up a “high mountain”

The transfiguration of Jesus - Artist unknownThe mountaintop on which the transfiguration took place is not named in the scripture. However, near the area of Caesarea Philippi, which the previous verses mention, is Mount Hermon. But, Mount Hermon is very high, likely too high for the disciples to climb. Another option is Mount Meron (3,296 feet). It is the highest mountain in Israel and is found on the route Jesus and the disciples were travelling (from Caesarea Philippi to Capernaum). It is also potentially the same mountain Moses and Elijah received their revelations upon.

Bible Text

NIV

17 After six days 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.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The transfiguration of Jesus - Artist unknownThe NET Bible

17:1 Six days later Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them privately up a high mountain. 17:2 And he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 17:3 Then Moses and Elijah also appeared before them, talking with him. 17:4 So Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you want, I will make three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 17:5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight. Listen to him!” 17:6 When the disciples heard this, they were overwhelmed with fear and threw themselves down with their faces to the ground. 17:7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Do not be afraid.” 17:8 When they looked up, all they saw was Jesus alone.

17:9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Do not tell anyone about the vision until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 17:10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the experts in the law say that Elijah must come first?” 17:11 He answered, “Elijah does indeed come first and will restore all things. 17:12 And I tell you that Elijah has already come. Yet they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wanted. In the same way, the Son of Man will suffer at their hands.” 17:13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

17 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.”

10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. 12 But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

1–3 17 Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.

4 Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain—one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?”

5 While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”

6–8 When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.

9 Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. “Don’t breathe a word of what you’ve seen. After the Son of Man is raised from the dead, you are free to talk.”

10 The disciples, meanwhile, were asking questions. “Why do the religion scholars say that Elijah has to come first?”

11–13 Jesus answered, “Elijah does come and get everything ready. I’m telling you, Elijah has already come but they didn’t know him when they saw him. They treated him like dirt, the same way they are about to treat the Son of Man.” That’s when the disciples realized that all along he had been talking about John the Baptizer.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

17 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. 3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. 4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. 7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. 8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.

9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead. 10 And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? 11 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. 12 But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. 13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database

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