The transfiguration of Jesus is recorded in the gospel accounts in Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; and Luke 9:28-36. However, the only eyewitness account of this event recorded for us is rather brief – “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18). Our study here will draw information from all these accounts without always citing specific verses or peculiarities in each writer’s account. [It is worth noting, though, that, while Matthew and Mark record this event’s having taken place “after six days” (Matthew 17:1; Mark 9:2), Luke says, “about eight days after” (Luke 9:28). There is no discrepancy; Luke simply includes the day the previous words were spoken, as well as the day of the transfiguration itself.] So much could be said of this amazing event in the life of Jesus, but here are just a few observations:

It was a magnificent occasion. Matthew and Mark both use the Greek word metamorphoo, meaning to change, transform, or alter. Luke simply says His appearance was altered, using the Greek word heteros, meaning something is different, altered, other, or another. Some suspect the texts indicate Jesus as changed back into some measure of His pre-incarnate heavenly glory. While this is possible, we cannot be certain. But, we may be certain that this occasion was absolutely magnificent. All three writers use (by inspiration) various terminology to describe that which, to finite human minds, is in a very real way indescribable. Mark’s account (like so much of the book of Mark) reminds us of a child breathlessly recalling some incredible event: “He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (Mark 9:2,3). Years later, Peter would recall that day, telling Christians how they “were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16).

It was a teaching occasion. After Jesus refused to be made an earthly king (John 6:15) and spoke of His impending death in Jerusalem (Matthew 16:21- 23), Jesus’ disciples (perhaps Peter especially) must have felt rather confused and/or discouraged. The disciples’ hopes had likely taken some heavy damage, but the transfiguration assured them again that Jesus is God’s Son, as well as reinforcing that His kingdom is not an earthly one, nor does it depend upon human acceptance or alliance. The transfiguration taught them that, though often rejected by men, Jesus assuredly was not rejected by the Father.

It was a transitional occasion. Moses and Elijah appeared at the scene and talked with Jesus. Peter, not knowing what to say, suggested building a tabernacle each for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Then the Father spoke from heaven, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Mark 9:7). The men fell on their faces, but Jesus came to them, telling them not to fear; when they looked up, they saw only Jesus. The lesson being taught was that Jesus is preeminent. Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets. To a Jew, “the law and the prophets” would represent the entire Mosaic covenant (see Matthew 22:40; Acts 24:14; etc.). As Jesus had announced His mission to fulfill the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17,18), the Father announced at the transfiguration both the superiority and authority of Jesus over all the law and prophets. The Father made it clear: they were transitioning from Moses’ law to the law of God’s beloved Son.

Only Luke tells how Jesus, Moses, and Elijah “spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). The Greek word translated “decease” is exodos, which Bible students will recognize as similar to the English word “exodus.” At the transfiguration, the transition from Moses’ law to Jesus’ law is nearing completion. As Moses led the Israelite “exodus” from Egypt, so Jesus soon would die, rise from the dead, and ascend back into heaven, leading the true “exodus” for all mankind from the slavery of sin into the freedom found only in Him. What a magnificent occasion, both for them and us, and what great teaching it holds for all!

— Chad Dollahite