The Miracle of the Transfiguration
“No, it was not by turning aside to follow artfully contrived false stories that we acquainted you with the power and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it was by having become eyewitnesses of his magnificence.”—2 Pet. 1:16, NW.
1. What beneficial results come to those privileged to see something of the glory of Jehovah and Christ Jesus?
JEHOVAH’S magnificent glory may be perceived only in the measure that he deigns to reveal it. He can hide it or show it, and happy are those of his children who are favored and permitted to catch even a fleeting glimpse of the divine effulgence. Such a marvelous sight uplifts, strengthens and supplies one with what is required for enlightenment and faithfulness. It enables the servant of God to meet critical conditions and confirms his hope as he moves forward toward the new world and everlasting life. In generations past Jehovah revealed his magnificence in part to Moses, Peter, James and John, and to his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus. An earnest study of Jehovah’s record makes it possible for us to believe their testimony and so learn for ourselves about the wondrous majesty and glory of the King Eternal as revealed through the life, death, resurrection and second presence of the Lord Jesus. Additionally we may now, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, be encouraged and strengthened to perform the service assigned to us by seeing the glory of Jehovah through his now reigning Son, Christ Jesus. The ones in this happy condition give thanks and with a good conscience seek to purify themselves, following holiness and rejoicing in hope.
2, 3. Explain why Peter said he was not following “artfully contrived false stories”.
2 Note carefully Peter’s words in his second letter, 2 Pe chapter 1 (NW): “May undeserved kindness and peace be increased to you by an accurate knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, forasmuch as his divine power has given us freely all the things that concern life and godly devotion, through the accurate knowledge of the one who called us through glory and virtue.” (2 Pe 1 Vss. 2, 3) Then following a description of some qualities a Christian must possess, he says of them: “For if these things exist in you and overflow, they will prevent you from being either inactive or unfruitful regarding the accurate knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Pe 1 Vs. 8) They must never be forgotten, otherwise we shall fail and lose the entrance into the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of the best ways to prevent such ‘unfruitfulness’ is to continually make mention of them.
3 Emphatically and with much conviction the apostle continues, in 2 Pe 1 verse 15: “So I will do my utmost also at every time that, after my decease, you may be able to make mention of these things for yourselves.” To clinch the matter and help his brothers he further states: “No, it was not by turning aside to follow artfully contrived false stories”—such stories as may have originated with heathen mythology or the apocryphal writings. No, Peter had not cleverly devised a story. There was no system of pernicious mysticism “artfully” or deceptively built up, no, nothing artificial in what he had to say, when this faithful slave had disclosed the power and presence of the Lord Jesus, but by being an eyewitness of his magnificence at receiving “honor and glory when words such as these were borne to him [Jesus] by the magnificent glory: ‘This is my son, my beloved, on whom I have set my approval.’” “Yes,” Peter says, “these words we heard borne from heaven while we were with him in the holy mountain.” (2 Pe 1 Vss. 16-18) Peter here refers to the miracle of the transfiguration, and, seeing he uses the fact of it to prove his points, it is very necessary that we understand it. Let us profit from its consideration and application.
4. In your own words explain the transfiguration.
4 What actually happened has been recorded for us at Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:1-10 and Luke 9:27-36. Quoting from Mark’s account (NW): “Furthermore he went on to say to them: ‘Truly I say to you, There are some of those standing here that will not taste death at all until first they see the kingdom of God already come in power.’ Accordingly six days later Jesus took Peter and James and John along, and conducted them up into a lofty mountain to themselves alone. And he was transfigured before them, and his outer garments became glistening, far whiter than any clothes-cleaner on earth could whiten them. Also Elijah with Moses appeared to them, and they were conversing with Jesus. And responsively Peter said to Jesus: ‘Rabbi, it is fine for us to be here, so let us erect three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ In fact, he did not know what response he should make, for they became quite frightened. And a cloud formed, covering them protectingly, and a voice came out of the cloud: ‘This is my Son, the beloved; listen to him.’ Suddenly, however, they looked around and saw no one with them any longer, except Jesus alone. As they were coming down out of the mountain, he expressly ordered them not to relate to anybody what they saw, until after the Son of man had risen from the dead. And they took the word to heart, but discussed among themselves what this rising from the dead meant.”
5. Just before the transfiguration what questions had Jesus propounded to his disciples, and why?
5 It is of importance to observe that each writer precedes the event of this remarkable vision with the question of our Lord and consequent discussion with his disciples, “‘Who are men saying that I am?’ They said to him: ‘John the baptist, and others, Elijah, still others, One of the prophets.’ And he put the question to them: ‘You, though, who do you say I am?’ In answer Peter said to him: ‘You are the Christ.’ Also he started teaching them that the Son of man must undergo many sufferings and be rejected by the older men of influence and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and rise three days later.” (Mark 8:27-29, 31, NW) Clearly Jesus was here confirming that he was the Christ, that he would die and be resurrected and that they would see the Kingdom in power before tasting death. The disciples were prepared for what was to follow, for Jesus had been so outspoken that there was no mistaking his remarks.
6. How was the promise of Jesus fulfilled that some of his disciples would not see death until first they saw the Son of man in the Kingdom with power?
6 Just what did Jesus say concerning seeing the kingdom of God? The answer will be clear by comparing the brief record made by the three different writers: “ . . . not taste death at all until first they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom” (Matt. 16:28, NW); “ . . . until first they see the kingdom of God already come in power” (Mark 9:1, NW); “ . . . will not taste death at all until first they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:27, NW) The obvious meaning is that before they finished their earthly course they must first see the Son of man in his kingdom with power. The Lord Jesus had taken Peter, James and John with him into a lofty mountain to pray, and while praying the appearance of his face became different and his apparel glittered and glistened with unearthly brilliance. He was “transfigured” before them. Then the vision revealed Elijah and Moses conversing with him, they also appearing “with glory”. Evidently at this time the three apostles were weighed down with sleep, and as they became fully awake they heard a conversation going on. What kind of discussion could it possibly be? Luke is the only writer who informs us: “These appeared with glory and began talking about his departure that he was destined to fulfill at Jerusalem.”—Luke 9:31, NW.
7. Describe how the apostles were impressed by the vision.
7 It was impetuous Peter who then burst out with the suggestion that it would be good to set up three tents on that lofty mountain, one each for the Lord, for Moses and for Elijah. While yet he was speaking a cloud formed and began to cover the trio and “a voice out of the cloud, saying: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, whom I have approved; listen to him.’ At hearing this the disciples fell upon their faces and became very much afraid. Then Jesus came near and, touching them, said: ‘Get up and have no fear.’ When they raised their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus himself only. And as they were descending from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of man is raised up from the dead.’” (Matt. 17:5-9, NW) This vision had surely made a great impression on Peter’s mind, for thirty-one years later he wrote about it as he sought to bring home to the minds of his brothers that he had not been ‘artfully contriving false stories’ but had preached to them the truth.
8. Did Peter accept the vision as a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise? Explain how and why.
8 Further considering the matter Peter uses this vision of the transfiguration with regard to the “power and presence” of the Lord Jesus Christ, himself having been an eyewitness to its magnificence. It was very evident that what the apostles saw conveyed to their minds factual proof of his power and presence. Peter clearly shows that the transfiguration was to him the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that some of his disciples would not taste death until they had first seen the Son of man in his kingly power. By this vision they had witnessed the presence and power of Jesus Christ in Kingdom glory, and coupled with this were the words borne to Jesus by the magnificent glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, on whom I have set my approval.’ The apostles saw the brilliance, the magnificence, and actually heard Jehovah’s voice from heaven acknowledging Jesus as the beloved Son of God, thus identifying him as the approved one and commanding them to “listen to him”.
9. How would such a glorious vision affect us today, and is it to be expected that there would be a grander vision now?
9 The three disciples were overawed with the majesty of this glorious spectacle. Would not any child of Jehovah be the same today if he had the great honor and privilege of seeing such a marvelous sight? Then, in addition, to actually hear the voice of Jehovah from heaven! What would any of us do? Without doubt exactly the same, fall upon our faces in fear. Because we have not experienced such a wondrous sight it is extremely hard for us to comprehend all that is involved, though we do know these three men were in fear, clearly indicating the power, conviction and realization of the presence of Jehovah’s word. It would never be forgotten by them. Today we do not expect to climb a literal high mountain and see such a vision. Yet we shall realize, as we consider that transfiguration scene, that God’s children on earth today have a vision far grander in every way. If we get God’s mind on these truths they will have the same effect on us, causing us today to fear in the presence of God’s voice, and bringing home to us our littleness, our complete unworthiness of Jehovah’s kindness and mercy.
PROPHETIC WORD AND VISION
10. What was the promise of the prophetic word at Deuteronomy 18:15-19?
10 For our own well-being and strengthening in these trying times it is undoubtedly the real desire of each one to get the utmost value from the vision here under consideration. To grasp its effectiveness, forcefulness and splendor Jehovah’s written word given centuries before must be examined. In so doing we learn the Hebrew Scriptures had taught that Jehovah God would raise up a prophet like the majestic Moses, a lawgiver, teacher and representative of Jehovah, who would be King in Israel. “Jehovah thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; . . . Jehovah said unto me, They have well said that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.”—Deut. 18:15, 17-19, AS.
11. Explain some of the features wherein Christ is ‘like unto Moses’.
11 The promise God gave was that ‘one like unto Moses would be raised up’, and there certainly was a great similarity in Moses and Christ, even from birth. An attempt was made to destroy them as babes. They received special teaching from Jehovah during their 40-day fasting period. They were raised up for the deliverance of Jehovah’s people from the world of idolatry and false worship. They opposed the priests and representatives of Satan and exalted and worshiped the one true Almighty Jehovah, thus bringing the issue of supremacy to a victorious climax. They were both ‘lambs’ used for the arranging of covenants made to produce a special people, a kingdom of priests. Both built tabernacles where the glory of Jehovah dwelt with them in their priestly services. They were commanders and leaders, had nations though no settled countries, and were set apart for Jehovah’s service. These are just a few of the things wherein Moses and Christ were alike. Truly Christ was ‘one like unto Moses’.
12. Why should Elijah figure in the Kingdom vision?
12 Not only was Jehovah purposing to raise up one like Moses, a Greater-than-Moses, but he promised that a Greater Elijah would also come. “Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, even statutes and ordinances. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Jehovah come. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Mal. 4:4-6, AS) Now we see that the prophecies teach two great Hebrew prophets were going to figure in future events. It would not necessarily mean that these two well-known prophets must actually appear in flesh to fulfill these prophecies. Both died in faith and now await their resurrection.
13. Mention some of the outstanding words of Elijah and what bearing these have on the events of the first advent.
13 Jehovah said: “I will send you Elijah the prophet.” The man Elijah had been faithful and had never doubted Jehovah and was honored for his works of faith. One of the great works Elijah performed was to bring Israel to true repentance, and therefore we should expect that the ‘Elijah to come’ would do a similar kind of work. In the days of Jesus John the Baptist had completed the work as a forerunner. Also this reconciler worked hard to turn the people into the way of righteousness and if possible bring about their conversion. He well knew that if they were unconverted when the day of wrath was ready to be poured out they would be utterly destroyed. John the Baptist was performing a kind of service similar to that of Elijah. He denounced the priests who were serving the Devil, rebuked the king, delivered a warning to Israel and served the great Jehovah fearlessly. Meantime the leaders of Israel were mistakenly looking more to the fact of Elijah’s coming as a miraculous event to them, instead of realizing that the work he was to do was actually to precede the judgment of destruction, and therefore was their last hope. So far, then, we can see that two prophets were promised for the end of the days, and both were seen in this transfiguration scene.
14. Quote some of the promises Jehovah had made concerning David’s son. How do we fit them into the transfiguration scene?
14 Not only do we see Moses and Elijah in this scene with their apparel glistening, but remember Jesus the Christ of God was there. He is there as The Christ, the anointed of Jehovah, for the prophecies had clearly taught that a son of David was to come who would be the Lord’s anointed, and his kingdom would rule forever. Says Jehovah, “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant: thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven. Once have I sworn by my holiness: I will not lie unto David: His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as the faithful witness in the sky.” (Ps. 89:3, 4, 29, 35-37, AS) “Behold, the days come, saith Jehovah, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”—Jer. 23:5, AS; see also Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:23, 24; 37:24.
15. In addition to Christ being David’s son what else was he? Offer proof.
15 David’s son would be greater than David, would be David’s “lord”, for he would be Jehovah’s anointed Son. The sonship, kingship and anointing are all linked together in Psalm 2:2, 6, 7. Isaiah likewise testifies concerning the relationship of the kingdom and David’s son and heir, and the Messiah: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever.” (Isa. 9:6, 7, AS) Israel at the first advent of our Lord was in expectation of the anointed of God, the one to be their king. The cornerstone of Zion was to be laid and Jehovah would accomplish this, for it is written: “This is the day which Jehovah hath made; . . . Blessed be he that cometh in the name of Jehovah.” (Ps. 118:22-26, AS) “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Look! your King is coming to you, mild-tempered, and mounted upon an ass, yes, upon a colt, the offspring of a beast of burden.’ . . . ‘Save, we pray, the Son of David! Blessed is he that comes in Jehovah’s name!’” (Matt. 21:5, 9, NW) This means that not only had Jehovah promised a greater than Moses and Elijah but also a greater than David, one who would be the Son of God. This is substantiated by the record to which we now turn our attention.
GOD’S SON AND HEIR
16. Give Scriptural support showing David’s son to be God’s own Son.
16 At the time of Mary’s conception the angel said: “You have found favor with God; and, look! you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you are to call his name Jesus. This one will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will be king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom. . . . Holy spirit will come upon you, and power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason also what is born will be called holy, God’s Son.” (Luke 1:30-35, NW) At the actual time of the birth of the son, Jehovah’s angel was sent to announce it to the country shepherds. “And suddenly Jehovah’s angel stood by them and Jehovah’s glory gleamed around them, and they became very fearful. But the angel said to them: ‘Have no fear, for, look! I am declaring to you good news of a great joy that all the people will have, because there was born to you today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in David’s city.’” (Luke 2:9-11, NW) Then we have on record the testimony of Simeon: “He would not see death before he had seen the Christ of Jehovah. . . . ‘This one is laid for the fall and the rising again of many in Israel and for a sign to be talked against.’” (Luke 2:26, 34, NW) True it was that he became a “stone of stumbling” and “rock of offence” to both houses of Israel.
17-19. How do we know Christ is the heir of God?
17 To John the Baptist questions were asked by the Jews, through their priests and Levites: “‘Who are you?’ . . . ‘I am not the Christ.’ . . . ‘What, then? Are you Elijah?’ . . . ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you The Prophet?’ . . . ‘No!’ . . . ‘Why, then, do you baptize if you yourself are not the Christ or Elijah or The Prophet?’” (John 1:19-25, NW) Note in the foregoing how the same three servants are joined together. Nathanael put the matter concisely in one sentence: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are King of Israel.” (John 1:49, NW) Because Jesus was God’s Son he was his heir to those things Jehovah promised. He certainly was more than David’s son and heir. Jesus asked the Jews: “‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ They said to him: ‘David’s.’ He said to them: ‘How, then, is it that David by inspiration calls him “Lord”, saying: “Jehovah said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies beneath your feet’”? If, therefore, David calls him “Lord”, how is he his son?’” (Matt. 22:42-45, NW) “So the Word became flesh and resided among us, and we had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father.” (John 1:14, NW) “I have seen it and have borne witness that this one is the Son of God.” (John 1:34, NW) At the time of baptism he is acknowledged by Jehovah as his Son, “And a voice came out of heaven: ‘You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you.’”—Luke 3:22, NW.
18 Further corroboration is supplied by the writings of Paul to the Hebrews: “God, who long ago spoke on many occasions and in many ways to our forefathers by means of the prophets, has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things.” (Heb. 1:1, 2, NW) Again we have the illustration Jesus gave: “‘I will send my son the beloved. Likely they will respect this one.’ When the cultivators caught sight of him they went to reasoning with one another, saying: ‘This is the heir; let us kill him, that the inheritance may become ours.’” (Luke 20:13, 14, NW) It being established then by this record, there is no question that the one identified as God’s Son is heir of the world whose kingdom shall last forever.
19 Summing up then what is involved in the transfiguration we can see (1) Moses foreshadowed one to come after him who will be a greater leader, law-giver, deliverer and king to Israel; (2) Elijah, who was one of the greatest of the prophets, prefigures an even greater one to come who will accomplish certain works in connection with the king and kingdom of God’s power; (3) the promise of Messiah who is the Christ of God, he whom God has chosen and approved, anointed to be king and priest; and (4) Jesus Christ the Son of Jehovah God and heir to the Kingdom and the new world.