How Christ’s Transfiguration Affects You
Four men had just ascended a lofty mountain. In those heights something amazing took place. As three startled disciples of Jesus Christ looked on, he underwent a change before their eyes. Listen as the Gospel writer Mark reports this thrilling event:
“JESUS took Peter and James and John along, and brought 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 fearful. And a cloud formed, overshadowing them, 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.”—Mark 9:2-8.
Just think! Jesus’ face was shining as the very sun. (Matthew 17:2) His garments were glistening, “far whiter than any clothes cleaner on earth could whiten them.” There was the sound of God’s own powerful voice making a declaration about his Son. What a marvelous event!
The Greek word here rendered “transfigured” means “to change into another form.” It also appears at Romans 12:2, where Christians are counseled to “be transformed” by making their minds over.—An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W. E. Vine, Volume IV, page 148.
Yes, a dramatic event took place when Jesus was transfigured some time after the Passover celebration of 32 C.E. What led up to this miracle? Does it have a special purpose? Why were Moses and Elijah involved? And how does Christ’s transfiguration affect you?
Before ascending the mountain, Jesus and his disciples were in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi. Since this city was about 15 miles [25 km] southwest of Mount Hermon, the transfiguration may have occurred on one of its lofty spurs.
While walking to the “lofty mountain,” Jesus asked his disciples: “Who are men saying that I am?” They responded: “John the Baptist, and others, Elijah, still others, One of the prophets.” Then Christ asked: “You, though, who do you say I am?” Peter replied: “You are the Christ.” At that, Jesus “strictly charged them not to tell anyone about him. Also, he started teaching them that the Son of man must undergo many sufferings and be rejected by the older men and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and rise three days later.”—Mark 8:27-31.
Jesus went on to make this promise: “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.” (Mark 9:1; Matthew 16:28) This promise was fulfilled “six days later,” when Jesus was praying and was transfigured before Peter, James, and John. Luke says this occurred “eight days” thereafter, apparently because he included the day of the promise and that of the fulfillment.—Matthew 17:1, 2; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:28.
No Dream or Unreality
Jesus’ transfiguration was not a dream. The three apostles would not have had the same dream, and Jesus called it a “vision.” That does not imply unreality, for the Greek word used at Matthew 17:9 is elsewhere rendered “sight.” (Acts 7:31) So the observers were completely awake, and with their eyes and ears, they actually saw and heard what was taking place.—Luke 9:32.
Wide awake but not knowing what to say, Peter suggested the erecting of three tents—one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. (Luke 9:33) The cloud that formed as Peter spoke evidently indicated God’s presence on the mountain, as at Israel’s tent of meeting in the wilderness. (Exodus 40:34-38; Luke 9:34) And surely the apostles would not be asleep when “God the Father” declared: “This is my Son, the one that has been chosen. Listen to him.”—2 Peter 1:17, 18; Luke 9:35.
Why Moses Was Seen
When the transfiguration occurred, Moses was “conscious of nothing at all,” for he had died centuries earlier. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) Like David, he had not been resurrected and therefore was not personally present. (Acts 2:29-31) But why was Moses seen with Christ in this vision?
God had told Moses: “A prophet I shall raise up for them from the midst of their brothers, like you; and I shall indeed put my words in his mouth, and he will certainly speak to them all that I shall command him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18) Peter specifically applied this prophecy to Jesus Christ. (Acts 3:20-23) Aside from Jesus, Moses was the greatest prophet God sent to the nation of Israel.
Similarities exist between Moses and the Greater Moses, Jesus Christ. For instance, while they were infants, the lives of both of them were jeopardized by tyrannical rulers, but God saw to it that the babies were spared. (Exodus 1:20–2:10; Matthew 2:7-23) Both men spent 40 days fasting at the start of their careers as Jehovah’s special servants. (Exodus 24:18; 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:18, 25; Matthew 4:1, 2) And Moses and Jesus both performed miracles by God’s power.—Exodus 14:21-31; 16:11-36; Psalm 78:12-54; Mark 4:41; Luke 7:18-23; John 14:11.
God used Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage, even as Jesus brings about spiritual liberation. (Exodus 12:37–14:31; John 8:31, 32) Moses was privileged to mediate the Law covenant between God and the Israelites, while Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant. (Exodus 19:3-9; 34:3-7; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:3-6; 9:15) Jehovah also used Moses to make a name for Himself before the Israelites, the Egyptians, and others, just as Jesus Christ has magnified Jehovah’s holy name. (Exodus 9:13-17; 1 Samuel 6:6; John 12:28-30; 17:5, 6, 25, 26) By having Moses appear with the transfigured Jesus, God showed that Christ would serve in these capacities on a far grander scale.
Why Elijah Appeared
Although the dead prophet Elijah had not been resurrected, it was fitting that he should appear in the transfiguration vision. Elijah did a great work in restoring pure worship and sanctifying Jehovah’s name among the Israelites. Jesus Christ did the same while on the earth and will do even more to restore pure religion and vindicate his heavenly Father by means of the Messianic Kingdom.
The prophet Malachi showed that Elijah’s work foreshadowed future activity. Through Malachi, God said: “Look! I am sending to you people Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah. And he must turn the heart of fathers back toward sons, and the heart of sons back toward fathers; in order that I may not come and actually strike the earth with a devoting of it to destruction.”—Malachi 4:5, 6.
This prophecy had its miniature fulfillment in the work of John the Baptizer. Jesus pointed this out after the transfiguration, when his disciples asked why the scribes said that Elijah must come first—before the Messiah’s appearance. Jesus said: “Elijah, indeed, is coming and will restore all things. However, I say to you that Elijah has already come and they did not recognize him but did with him the things they wanted. In this way also the Son of man is destined to suffer at their hands.” The account adds: “Then the disciples perceived that he spoke to them about John the Baptist.”—Matthew 17:10-13.
John did an Elijahlike work when he baptized Jews who repented of their sins against the Law covenant. More important, John was the Messiah’s forerunner and introduced Jesus Christ. (Matthew 11:11-15; Luke 1:11-17; John 1:29) But why was John’s work only a miniature fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy?
In this vision, Elijah was seen speaking with Jesus. This was after the death of John the Baptizer, thus implying that an Elijah work would be done in the future. Moreover, the prophecy showed that this work would be done before “the great and fear-inspiring day of Jehovah.” That rapidly approaching event includes “the war of the great day of God the Almighty” at Har–Magedon, or Armageddon. (Revelation 16:14-16) This meant that the then future establishment of God’s heavenly Kingdom would be preceded by a work corresponding to the activities of Elijah and his successor, Elisha. And for over a century, Jehovah’s modern-day Witnesses have been carrying on a work involving the restoration of pure worship and the exalting of God’s name.—Psalm 145:9-13; Matthew 24:14.
The transfiguration must have fortified Jesus for the sufferings and death he was about to undergo. Hearing his heavenly Father speak of him as His approved Son must have strengthened Jesus’ faith. But what did the transfiguration do for others?
Jesus’ transfiguration also strengthened the faith of the observers. It impressed on their minds that Jesus Christ is God’s Son. Indeed, since Jehovah’s Chief Spokesman, the Word, was then in their midst, they heard God’s own voice declare: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” Though Jehovah had borne like testimony when Jesus was baptized, during the transfiguration God added that the disciples should listen to His Son.—Matthew 3:13-17; 17:5; John 1:1-3, 14.
The transfiguration strengthened faith in another way. During the vision, Jesus, “Moses,” and “Elijah” spoke about the “departure that [Christ] was destined to fulfill at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:31) “Departure” is translated from a form of the Greek word eʹxo·dos. This exodus, or departure, evidently involved both Jesus’ death and his resurrection by God to spirit life. (1 Peter 3:18) So the transfiguration strengthened faith in Christ’s resurrection. Especially did it build faith by providing convincing evidence that Jesus would be the King of God’s Messianic Kingdom. Moreover, the vision showed that the Kingdom would be glorious.
The transfiguration also strengthened faith in Scriptural prophecy. Some 32 years later (about 64 C.E.), Peter still recalled this experience and wrote: “No, it was not by following 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. For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when words such as these were borne to him by the magnificent glory: ‘This is my son, my beloved, whom I myself have approved.’ Yes, these words we heard borne from heaven while we were with him in the holy mountain. Consequently we have the prophetic word made more sure; and you are doing well in paying attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and a daystar rises, in your hearts.”—2 Peter 1:16-19.
Its Meaning for You
Yes, Peter viewed Jesus’ transfiguration as a powerful confirmation of God’s prophetic word. The apostle John may also have alluded to this vision when he said: “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; and he was full of undeserved kindness and truth.” (John 1:14) Similarly, the transfiguration can build your faith in Jehovah’s prophetic word.
The transfiguration and associated events can strengthen your faith that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and the promised Messiah. It can fortify your belief in Jesus’ resurrection to spirit life in heaven. This amazing vision should also increase your faith in God’s government, for the transfiguration was a foreview of Christ’s glory and Kingdom power.
It is particularly faith-strengthening to know that Christ’s transfiguration pointed to our day, when Jesus’ presence is a reality. (Matthew 24:3-14) Since 1914 he has been ruling as God’s appointed King in the heavens. His God-given authority and power will soon be exercised against all enemies of divine rule, opening the way for a new world. (2 Peter 3:13) You can enjoy its endless blessings if you exercise faith in the wonderful things portrayed in the transfiguration of Jesus Christ.