The transfiguration of Jesus is one of the most significant occurrences in scripture, especially for all of us who are of genuine faith. Yet, at the same time, the transfiguration of Jesus is one of the most overlooked occurrences in the bible. You see, I feel like we don’t pay it the attention that we ought to as believers. You see, there is a reason as to why this event is recorded in the synoptic gospels (Matt. 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36) and we are going to take a deep dive into why.
Prior to the transfiguration of Jesus, Jesus had ministered and performed several miracles. Scripture tells us that He came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, north of the sea of Galilee in northern Israel where He asked the disciples, “Who do men say that I am (Mark 8:27)?”
Who do people say I am
At this time in His ministry, people certainly knew the name of Jesus and they knew that Jesus could perform miracles. According to scripture, Jesus had recently fed thousands with a few pieces of fish and bread for a second time according to both Matthew and Mark’s gospel (Matt. 14:13-21; Matt. 15:32-39; Mark 6:30-44; Mark 8:1-10). Jesus had also just healed great multitudes that were lame, blind, mute, maimed along with other afflictions (Matt. 15:29-31).
Jesus was definitely known as a healer and a great teacher at this point during His ministry. To Jesus’ question, the disciples responded that some of the people said that He was John the Baptist, others were saying that He was Elijah, and some said that He was one of the other prophets (Mark 9:28). The conclusion from some of the people was that Jesus was someone sent from God, though the religious leaders would have argued against the people; they believed Jesus did works by Beelzebub (the devil).
So, to be clear, the true identity of Jesus was not recognized by the people. The true identity being that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God; while being man, He was holy and divine. With that in mind, Jesus asked His closest followers – the 12 disciples – “who do you say I am (Matt. 16:15)?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16).” Peter’s answer was an interesting answer because, as Jesus said, it was given to Him by the Father (Matt. 16:17). In other words, Peter’s answer was not an answer that he came up with by his own knowledge but was relayed to him through the Holy Spirit. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor .12:3).”
Eye witnesses of the kingdom of God
Jesus would then go on to predict His suffering, the rejection of Him by the religious leaders, His death and resurrections to the disciples (Mark 8:31). Jesus then called the people and His disciples unto Him and said to them, “whoever desires to come after Me, let Him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Mark 8:34).” You can quickly note that this was an invitation from Jesus encouraging the people to follow Him so that they can have eternal life (Mark 8:35-38).
After Jesus’ invitation to the people, He said, “I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power (Mark 9:1).” In this statement, Jesus was talking about that present time, not a distant future; some of those standing with Him would not see death till they saw the kingdom of God come with power. What did Jesus mean by this? Let’s move forward and see.
Scripture tells us that after 6 days, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain (Mark 9:2). Why did Jesus take these three with him?
Well, Peter was the rock that Jesus said He would build His church on (Matt. 16:18). John was the beloved disciple who would outlive the others (John 21:20-25); he and James, his brother, both desired to sit at the right and left hand of Christ (Mark 10:35-40). The other disciples remained at the base of the mountain and would have to deal with a demon possessed boy that they could not heal (Mark 9:14-17).
On the mountain, Mark 9:2 tells us that Jesus was transfigured before them. Transfigure: a change in form or appearance; a metamorphosis; an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change.
In Luke’s gospel, we are told that Jesus began to pray on the mountain and as He prayed, His appearance began to change (Luke 9:29). Jesus’ face shone like the sun according to Matthew’s gospel (Matt. 17:2). All three of the gospels speak to Jesus’ clothes also changing and becoming as white as snow or as white as light; Luke’s gospel says that His clothes were glistening.
Note: The description of Jesus’ image during the transfiguration is very similar to the image of the “certain man” in Daniel 10:6, who I believe was Christ. The description of Jesus’ image during the transfiguration is somewhat similar to Jesus’ resurrected body though He didn’t shine bright. (I’ll speak more on Jesus’ resurrected body shortly). Jesus’ image during the transfiguration is also very similar to a description of the Son in (Rev. 1:14-15). The transfiguration of Jesus was a picture of the kingdom of God.
A picture of the kingdom of God
To further look at this picture of the kingdom of God, as Jesus was transfigured, we are told that both Elijah and Moses appeared and they talked with Jesus (Matt. 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30). Moses and Elijah, we are told, appeared in glory and they spoke of Jesus’ upcoming death, physically. As they talked, we are told that “a cloud” came and overshadowed them and a voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my beloved Son, Hear Him (Mark 9:7)!”
The voice, we most certainly know, was the Father. What the Father says here is essentially identical to what was said after Jesus was baptized (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). I would even point out that the cloud and the Father speaking out of the cloud should be familiar to you as well if you have studied scripture with me before.
The cloud is the shekinah cloud – the cloud of glory. We first see this cloud in scripture when the children of Israel left Egypt. You will recall that when Moses went up Mount Sinai, a cloud covered the mountain (Ex. 24:15). Scripture specifically states that “the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai” (Ex. 24:16). Moses went into the midst of the cloud and the Lord spoke to him out of the midst (Ex. 24:18). Sound familiar?
Note: In this picture of the kingdom of God, we have the Father present along with Moses and Elijah who are representative of a part of the kingdom. Moses was representative of the law. Elijah was representative of the prophets. Through scripture, we know that Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets pointed to Christ. Christ is grace – God’s unmerited love – and as Jesus said, love is the fulfillment of both the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:37-40).
Note continued: In John 10:16, Christ said that He came to not only save the flock of Israel but also another fold of His – gentiles. Let us remember, God gave the world His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). So, the disciples were also here at the transfiguration of Jesus as representatives of the new covenant of living under God’s grace.
So, the transfiguration was truly a glorious sight of the kingdom of God. We have God – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (He was upon Jesus) – present. Then, in this glorious image, we have two Old Testament saints present. Though Peter, John, and James were not dead at that time, they represent us and all of us will all come together in the kingdom of God and greatly rejoice.
Peter, John, and James were standing in witness of the kingdom of God just as Jesus said some would do days earlier. As Peter said about him and the other apostles, “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 (2 Pet. 1:16).”
The perfect form of humanity
Now, Jesus’ majesty at His transfiguration is something that I want to focus on because it is mankind’s past, and most importantly, it is our future, all of us who genuinely believe in Him.
Mankind’s past glory
So, when we look at the transfiguration of Jesus, we would see that He was still ‘human’. Jesus, we know, is God in the flesh; He was human but also holy and divine at the same time as well. At the transfiguration of Jesus, where He is glorified, I want you to understand that we see the perfect humanity of Christ.
What I mean by this is that we aren’t necessarily taking a look at the true form of God. As God said to Moses, should a human take a look at His true form, we would die (Ex. 33:20). So, don’t think that at the transfiguration of Jesus that His image was the true image of God.
Now, because we are looking at the perfect humanity of Christ, we get to see an image of what Adam and Eve were created in as well. If we go back to God creating mankind, we will remember that the Lord created mankind in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26) — we were perfect.
You have probably heard me say before that mankind once had a “glow” about itself and that glow was the glory that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah appeared in at Jesus’ transfiguration. Adam and Eve, while they were dwelling and “tending” to the garden, did not have to want for anything nor did they grow weary and tired.
While they were in the garden, Adam and Eve were given the one instruction from God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17). Because Adam and Eve were in perfect and glorified bodies, they never grew hungry or thirsty; their bodies didn’t need nourishment as ours. Honestly, the fact that they ate for leisure and not out of necessity as we do, points out just how bad their sin was.
People have often questioned why Adam and Eve could not see that they were naked before they sinned and I have an answer to that question (Gen. 3:6-7). You see, it wasn’t that Adam and Eve were without sight because they did have sight. However, there are a couple of reasons as to why they did not see their nakedness.
The first reason Adam and Eve did not see their nakedness was because they were clothed in glory in the garden! Because they were clothed in glory, they were unaware of such. You see, it was not until they lost their glory (that glow) and became of sin that they recognized their nakedness. I like to even add that Adam and Eve were not just naked physically but they were naked spiritually as well.
We should much rather ourselves be clothed in glory and righteousness than be clothed in anything else. I don’t believe we realize just how frail we are in our present form; we can dress ourselves up in the finest clothes and we are still completely naked. Not only are we completely naked in our present form but we are also completely vulnerable.
Without glory, our flesh is corrupted and it decays. Death was not something that God had in mind for mankind when He created us in His image and likeness. Not only are we vulnerable physically but we are vulnerable to our emotions, to mental and spiritual stress. This is why the Lord calls for us to have faith in Him and why we should desperately depend on Him, His guidance, providence, shielding and protection.
Note: By looking at our past glory, and at the transfiguration of Jesus, we can see the believer’s future glorified body. I want to try to make it clear that the transfiguration of Jesus was an image – like a live painting of future glory. The reason I say this is because Jesus was still, in a sense, in the flesh rather than being of the spirit. I will explain this note further in the final section of this study.
Mankind’s future glory
Paul, in his letters, often spoke about the transformation we will go through when we are resurrected from the dead. To the Corinthians, Paul wrote about our glorified bodies that I am going to pull some scripture from (1 Cor. 15:35-49).
Paul wrote to the Corinthians how the resurrected body is different from the earthly body that was made of dust.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 NKJV
This spiritual transformation, Paul wrote, will happen in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye and the corruptible (the flesh), will be raised incorruptible and immortal (1 Cor. 15:51-53). To the Philippians, Paul wrote that our citizenship is in heaven and that we early wait for Christ who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed (changed) to Jesus’ glorious body (Phil. 3:20-21).
Now, we see Jesus’ true glorified body after His resurrection. Again, I want to make it very clear that Jesus’ true glorified body is still not the true form of God. However, Jesus’ resurrected body is a direct representation of our future resurrected and glorified body.
Jesus’ resurrected body was still, in the outward appearance, the same body. This is shown to us when Jesus invited Thomas to look at the places where He had physically been nailed to the cross and punctured in His side (John 20:27). Does this mean that we will carry the same wounds and limitations in our resurrected bodies? The answer: absolutely not.
Note: When we take a look at Jesus’ appearances post resurrection, you will see that the perfected and glorified body had no limitations. Even as we saw Paul just said, the resurrected body is not going to be raised as the same flesh and blood that is of the earth. Jesus taught this same thing when He plainly said that our earthly bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God – we must be spiritually transformed (John 3:5-6).
In His resurrected body, Jesus’ personality did not change as He clearly had the same wisdom and wit; it really shines through when He prepared and had breakfast with the disciples by the sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14). If you take a look at that passage of scripture, you will see that Jesus in His glorified body was able to still stand and walk around. Not only could Jesus do all of these things, but when some of His disciples thought He could have been a ghost, Jesus proved He wasn’t by eating fish and a honeycomb (Luke 24:40-43).
Why did they think Jesus could have been a ghost post resurrection? In His glorified body, Jesus could appear and vanish whenever and wherever He wished. Jesus did this when He walked with some followers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-27). Doors to a room could be closed and Jesus, in His glorified body, could simply appear in the middle of the room (Luke 24:36-39; John 20:19-23).
I have a physical disability that will never leave my body, but when I am raised from the grave, that will not be such a thing in my glorified body. The scar where I had surgery for my transplant may still be there, but that will simply be a sign of my victory over the flesh.
Note: In our glorified bodies, we are going to be incorruptible; we won’t have the same flaws that we have in this physical world. The transfiguration of Jesus is the image of our future glorified bodies and the resurrection of Christ is living proof of our future glorified bodies.
So, do you recognize the significance of the transfiguration of Jesus and why we should not overlook it? The reason why Jesus’ transfiguration is recorded in the gospels is because it gives us a future to look forward to and to hope in.