The Transfiguration, recorded in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9, is an enigma to many. Yet this incredible event relates crucially to the soon-coming Kingdom of God, pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles!
Notice the account Luke 9:28-36: “And it came to pass that He (Jesus) took Peter, John, and James and went upon the mountain to pray. And as He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. Then behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, Hear Him!’”
Why did Jesus, some six months before His death, take three of His disciples up to the mountain for this unusual experience?
First of all, let’s understand what actually happened on the mountain. The disciples were shown a vision, as Jesus later affirmed (Matt. 17:9), not a material reality, but a supernatural picture. We call this vision the Transfiguration because Jesus Christ was changed in form and appearance, or transfigured.
The disciples had begun to fully understand just who Jesus was – the Messiah and the Son of God. Only a short while before the Transfiguration, Christ had begun to directly talk to them about His coming, suffering, death and resurrection for us (Matt. 16:13-28).
“Assuredly, I say to you,” He said, “there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (v. 28). In other words, Jesus promised that, even in this life, some of them would see Him in His glorified state.
The flow of events recorded in the gospels indicates that this spectacular vision occurred a short time before Jesus celebrated His last Feast of Tabernacles. Peter’s comment during the vision seems to shed additional light on the time. As the glorified Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah about His coming death and resurrection, Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles” (Matt. 17:4).
The Jews had a custom that they were not to construct booths for the Feast of Tabernacles until after the Feast of Trumpets. Therefore, though the Bible doesn’t say when the vision took place, the narrative indicates that it possibly occurred on or immediately following the Feast of Trumpets, the Holy Day that picture Jesus’ return in power and glory.
This is significant. Years later, when Peter recounted the Transfiguration in his second epistle, he wanted us to understand that the event was prophetic, not just a historical fact (II Peter 1:18-19).
The Bible indicates that Christ will rule over all nations, crowned with glory and honor, at His Second Coming. At the Transfiguration, the apostles saw Christ’s majesty as King of kings. It’s interesting to note that the kings of ancient Israel were probably formally coronated on the Feast of Trumpets, the first day of the Hebrew civil year.
We can draw a parallel between the Transfiguration and another Old Testament event: the Exodus. When Jesus, the God of the Old Testament (I Cor. 10:4) brought Israel out of Egypt, He allowed His servant Moses to see part of Himself in His glorified state (Ex. 33:18-23).
When Jesus Christ was about to bring mankind out of sin in spiritual exodus, and about to establish His New Testament Church, He again allowed His servants, in this case, the disciples who were to become the leading apostles, to see Him glorified. The event took on a powerful meaning. In the Transfiguration, the disciples had proof that the same One who had led ancient Israel would lead them and many others by His Spirit.
This spiritual exodus from sin was to be accomplished by Christ’s death or decease, of which He spoke to Moses and Elijah in the vision. It’s interesting to note that the Greek word for decease is exodus.
Besides its references to the Transfiguration vision, the New Testament uses the word for transfiguration in two other instances.
Paul says in Romans 12:2 that Christians must present themselves to God and become transformed. The Greek word metamorphoo, used here, means to change form, to transfigure. As Moses’ face was transfigured at Mt. Sinai – it shined brightly after he had seen God (Ex. 34:29-35) so we, too, must be spiritually transfigured by the renewing of our minds.
Every one of us will have a part in a transfiguration. Notice II Corth. 3:18: “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (transfigured) into the same image from glory to glory.” The Transfiguration must have greatly encouraged the disciples who witnessed it. For us who understand its significance in our present and future, it is a great encouragement, too.