SET-2 Season of Elijah-Cross-Moses
The transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of Peter, James, and John was the culminating point of the public ministry of Jesus that started with his baptism and ended with his ascension. A week prior to this glorious experience, Jesus had predicted his passion, death, and resurrection, all of which was incomprehensible to his apostles. Peter even rebuked Jesus for accepting a torturous setback while he was so highly popular. Following the widespread belief of the time, the apostles also expected an earthly Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke contrary to that. So, he took the three representatives of his disciples to experience the glory awaiting him and them after their suffering for the Kingdom of God. Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, witnessed to the glory of Jesus, even as God the Father confirmed the divine sonship of Jesus. This is an assurance for the heavenly glory awaiting us if we but work for the Church in our lives.
BIBLE TEXT (MARK 9:2-13)
The Transfiguration of Jesus
(Mk 9:2) Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. There his appearance was changed before their eyes. (3) Even his clothes shone, becoming as white as no bleacher on earth could bleach them. (4) Elijah and Moses appeared to them; the two were talking with Jesus. (5) Then Peter spoke and said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (6) For he did not know what to say; they were overcome with awe. (7) Then a cloud formed, covering them in a shadow, and from the cloud came this word, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” (8) And suddenly, as they looked around, they no longer saw anyone except Jesus with them. (9) As they came down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. (10) So they kept this to themselves, although they discussed with one another what the rising from the dead could mean.
The Question about Elijah
(Mk 9:11) And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?” (12) Jesus answered them, “Of course, Elijah will come first so that everything may be as it should be. But, how is it that the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be despised? (13) I tell you that Elijah has already come and they have treated him as they pleased, as the Scriptures say of him.”
The interpreters consider Mark’s gospel as the revelation of the mystery of Jesus and his Kingdom (Mk 4:11). He revealed them fully to the apostles. But to others, he presented them through parables. Mark’s gospel has four sections: The preparation for the public ministry of Jesus (1:1–13), the mystery of Jesus (1:14–8:26), the beginning of the unfolding of the mystery of the kingdom (8:27–9:32), and full revelation of the mystery (9:33– 16:8). So, the event that we reflect upon today and the subsequent discussion of Jesus with his apostles are part of the revelation of the mystery of Jesus.
The unveiling of the mystery started with Peter’s confession of faith, “You are the Messiah” at Caesarea Philippi (Mk 8:27-30). While acknowledging it, Jesus predicted his upcoming passion, death, and resurrection (Mk 8:31). Then he spoke about the sacrifices expected of the disciples, for which he would reward them at his glorious return (Mk 8:34-38). The transfiguration of Jesus happened after these teachings.
The Transfiguration of Jesus
The transfiguration of Jesus is such a significant event that all the synoptic gospels and the second epistle of Peter present it (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36; 2 Pet 1:16-18). It is known as the metamorphosis in the Greek Orthodox Church. This is special because, with the exception of a few miracles like this one, Jesus worked all the others to relieve the sufferings of others. Considering the importance of the transfiguration, Pope John Paul II included it among the luminous mysteries of the rosary.
(Mk 9:2) Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. There his appearance was changed before their eyes .
Six days later
The evangelist recounted the day of the transfiguration of Jesus on the basis of another important event that had happened six days earlier. While Jesus and the disciples were at Caesarea Philippi, Peter professed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah (Mk 8:29). Then Jesus revealed to the disciples how he “must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the Scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mk 8:31). The disciples could not grasp it. Hence, Peter requested Jesus to avoid suffering (Mk 8:32). Six days later, Jesus let him and the sons of the Zebedee experience the divinity of Jesus as a foretaste of his resurrected stage. The transfiguration experience with the Father’s revelation was an affirmation of Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Christ.
There is a difference in the counting of days by Luke stating, “About eight days after he said this” (Lk 9:28). Luke included the day of the prediction of the passion and the day of the transfiguration, while Matthew and Mark excluded those days in the counting.
Jesus took with him Peter, James and John
Jesus selected Peter, James and John as a representative body of his disciples. The following were their common features: All of them belonged to the group of the twelve apostles who were fulltime followers of Jesus. They were fishermen and belonged to the inner circle of Jesus. Hence, they were the chosen among the elect. These three were the only ones privileged to accompany Jesus to witness the raising of Jairus’ daughter to life (Mk 5:37), to the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk 9:2), and to be close with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14:33). All of them wrote epistles, and John authored the fourth gospel.
Peter had several features and initiatives during his association with Jesus, such as:
1. Peter offered his house for Jesus to stay during his ministry in Capernaum (Mt 8:14-17).
2. Jesus used Peter’s boat to sit and teach the crowd at the lakeshore (Lk 5:3).
3. Peter sought from Jesus the privilege to walk on water like Jesus himself (Mt 14:28).
4. He asked Jesus to explain the parables to the disciples (Mt 15:15).
5. He expressed his faith in Jesus, stating, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).
6. Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter as a privilege (Jn 1:42; Mt 16:18).
7. He rebuked Jesus for being willing to undergo his passion (Mt 16:22).
8. Jesus selected Peter as the head of his Church and gave him special privileges (Mt 16:18-19).
9. The collectors of the Temple tax identified Peter as the leader of the apostles and enquired of him whether Jesus was paying the tax (Mt 17:24).
10. Peter asked Jesus: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Mt 18:21)
11. Peter objected to Jesus, who stooped to wash his feet at the last supper (Jn 13:6).
12. When the soldiers attempted to arrest Jesus, Peter struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear (Jn 18:10).
13. The disciples respected Peter’s leadership (Jn 21:3).
14. When Peter gathered from John that Jesus was the person helping them from the shore for a great catch of fish, only he jumped into the water and approached Jesus (Jn 21:7).
15. When Jesus asked the disciples to bring a few fish they had caught, it was Peter who went over and dragged the net ashore (Jn 21:10-11).
16. Jesus allowed Peter to express his love for him thrice to compensate for Peter’s triple denial and asked him to feed his sheep and lambs (Jn 21:15-19).
17. Jesus predicted Peter’s martyrdom, signifying by what kind of death Peter would glorify God (Jn 21:19).
18. The Bible gives Peter’s name as the first among the list of apostles (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:14-16; Acts 1:13).
Peter and John had activities in common during their life with Jesus that the gospels record:
1. Jesus sent two disciples to get a donkey and its colt for his entry into Jerusalem. They must’ve been Peter and John because it was them that Jesus sent later to prepare the Passover (Mt 21:1-7; Mk 11:1-7; Lk 19:28-35).
2. Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare the last Passover meal for Jesus and his apostles (Lk 22:7-13).
3. At the Last Supper, when Jesus testified that one of them would betray him, Peter nodded to John to find out from Jesus what he meant. John then asked Jesus, “Master, who is it?” (Jn 13:21-25)
4. Both Peter and John went into the courtyard of Annas during the trial of Jesus (Jn 18:15-16).
5. Peter and John went into the empty tomb of Jesus after his resurrection. John let Peter enter the tomb first (Jn 20:1-10).
6. After the resurrection, a person helped the disciples with a miraculous catch of fish. John was the first to identify him as Jesus and told that to Peter. Then Peter jumped into the water and approached Jesus (Jn 21:7).
7. Peter asked Jesus how John’s life would end while doing his apostolic ministry (Jn 21:21).
James and John had a few things in common:
1. They were brothers and sons of Zebedee and Salome (Mk 10:35).
2. James and John were in a boat mending nets with their father at the shore of the Sea of Galilee when Jesus invited them to join his full-time ministry. They immediately left their father and followed Jesus (Mt 4:21-22; Mk 1:19-20).
3. Jesus called them ‘Boanerges’, sons of thunder (Mk 3:17) maybe because of their fiery zeal.
4. James and John asked Jesus, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left” (Mk 10:37). Jesus asked them: “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They replied, “We can” (Mk 10:38-39). Thus, they expressed their willingness to sacrifice their lives for Jesus’ mission.
5. James and John were first cousins of Jesus because, according to scholars, Salome was a sister of Jesus’ mother Mary. Hence, Salome took the freedom to ask for a better position for her sons (Mt 20:20-21).
6. People in a Samaritan village declined to welcome Jesus while he was on his way to Jerusalem. Thus frustrated, James and John asked Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” (Lk 9:54)
John: Besides the common features shared with Peter and James as cited above, John had certain unique characteristics in relation to Jesus’ ministry as seen below:
1. According to the traditional understanding, John was a disciple of John the Baptist (Jn 1:35-39) before he followed Jesus. So, John had from the Baptist both the training and the conviction that Jesus was the Messiah.
2. He was the youngest apostle.
3. John reported to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us” (Mk 9:38; Lk 9:49).
4. John had the privilege of reclining upon Jesus’ chest during the last supper (Jn 13:23; Jn 21:20).
5. The Bible records the special love between John and Jesus (Jn 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7; 21:20).
6. John had acquaintance with the high priest and his staff (Jn 18:16).
7. John was the only disciple who was at the foot of the cross at Jesus’ crucifixion (Jn 19:26).
8. Jesus entrusted his mother to John and John to his mother (Jn 19:26-27).
9. John took Mary to his home after the crucifixion of Jesus (Jn 19:27).
10. John was the first apostle to reach the empty tomb of Jesus. However, he respected the leadership of Peter and let him enter first (Jn 20:3-8).
Jesus took the three chosen apostles with him to witness the remarkable events in his life because, according to the Law, two or three witnesses could support proof of truth (Deut 17:6; 19:15). They should not lose their hope when they would see Jesus’ bitter agony in the garden or when John witnesses the crucifixion. Jesus took Peter with him because he had remonstrated with Jesus in a bid to avoid the passion (Mt 16:21-23; Mk 8:31-33) and so Jesus wanted to show him the heavenly glory awaiting him. Besides, Jesus had chosen Peter as the head of his Church. So, he should have the conviction of the glorious future of the faithful. Jesus took James and John because James would be the first martyr among the apostles and John the last to die. So, they also should remember the heavenly glory when they face challenges in their ministry and when they deal with others in their faith crises.
and led them up a high mountain
Mountains have prominence as a meeting place for believers with God in religions like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. They consider mountain peaks close to heaven from the earth. Some of the most momentous events of the
Bible are said to have taken place atop mountains as listed below:
(1) Mount Ararat, where the ark of Noah landed after the deluge (Gen 8:4) and where God made a covenant with Noah.
(2) Mount Moriah (Gerizim) where God had asked Abraham to sacrifice his son (Gen 22:2).
(3) Mount Sinai, where Moses met God and received the Ten Commandments.
(4) Mount Nebo (Pisgah) where Moses saw the Promised Land (Deut 34:1-4).
(5) Mount Carmel, where Prophet Elijah proved God as genuine against Baal by calling down fire from heaven to ignite fire on water-soaked sacrifice (1 Kgs 18).
(6) Mount Zion (Jerusalem) where Solomon built the Temple.
(7) Mount of Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
(8) Mount Hermon, at the foot of which is Caesarea Philippi where Jesus revealed his future, Peter confessed his faith, and Jesus assigned to him the headship of the Church (Mt 16:1323).
(9) Mount Tabor, where the Transfiguration of Jesus took place. Moses and Elijah appeared there with him, and God’s voice from the cloud confirmed the divine sonship of Jesus.
(10) Mount of Olives, where Jesus prayed before his arrest. He ascended to heaven from this mountain.
(11) Golgotha (Calvary) was a skull-shaped hill in Jerusalem where the enemies crucified Jesus. His followers buried him near here, from where he rose.
The Bible presents the mountain as a holy place where God and men could meet:
Moses met God on Mount Sinai (Ex 19:1 – 34:30); Jesus also used to go to up mountains for solitary prayer (apart from praying with the people at the Temple of Jerusalem and local synagogues. Besides preaching in the synagogues, houses, lakeshores, and from boats, Jesus preached also on mountain tops (Mt 5:1). The mountain was also a place of divine revelation (Ex 24:12).
Mountain of Transfiguration
The gospels do not specify the name or location of the mountain where the transfiguration took place. Peter mentions it as “the holy mountain” (2 Pet 1:18). So, people during the apostolic times knew the mountain. In later times the scholars differ on the location of the mountain where the Transfiguration took place. The two major considerations are Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon.
This mount is in Lower Galilee, twenty-four kilometres west of the Sea of Galilee. Though it is only six hundred metres (1968 feet) high, it stands prominently on account of its location in the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley. Important Biblical events happened here like the Battle of Mount Tabor between King Jabin of Canaan, his army led by captain Sisera and the Israelite army led by Barak and Deborah (Judges 4 & 5). During the ministry of Jesus, Tabor was an important junction on the Roman Highway, “Way of the Sea”.
The reasons for considering Mount Tabor as the mount of the Transfiguration are:
1. This mount was Biblically a sacred place because of certain Old Testament events. Hence, Jesus would go there for prayer.
2. Jesus would have passed often through the junction of the “Way of the Sea” at the base of Mount Tabor.
3. The mountain peak was accessible for Jesus and his disciples to climb because of its low altitude compared to Mount Hermon.
4. More Jewish people lived near this mountain compared to the pagan concentration at Hermon. Jesus focused his ministry on the lost sheep of Israel.
5. Even from the third century, starting with Origen, Christians identified Mount Tabor as the location of the Transfiguration which continues being as a pilgrimage site to date.
Cyril of Jerusalem and Jerome confirmed Mount Tabor as the mountain of the Transfiguration in the succeeding century. Origen’s views on the transfiguration became the basis of Transfiguration Theology of the Church fathers, like Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Augustine. The tradition continued throughout the centuries without variant views. Christians even built churches on Mount Tabor in the fourth century. The Fifth Council of Constantinople erected a See at Mount Tabor in 553 (https:// www.newadvent.org/cathen/15019a.htm). Crusaders had their fortifications here. At present there exist a Franciscan church and a Greek Orthodox church here.
A few modern scholars uphold Mount Hermon as the site of the Transfiguration, stating that Mount Tabor had a fortress on the top built by Antiochus the Great in 219 BC that could be occupied during the time of Jesus’ ministry. If that is true, Jesus would not prefer it because he wanted to be alone with the three apostles. However, there is no proof of inhabitation on the top of the mountain, especially during the period of Jesus’ ministry. Other suggested mountains are Mount Meron and Mount Nebo.
The favourable factor for considering Mount Hermon as the location for the Transfiguration is that Jesus and his apostles were at Caesarea Philippi at that mountain prior to the Transfiguration. Since there were mountain peaks there, it could possibly have happened at that mountain without travelling far south to Mount Tabor.
Considerations against Mount Hermon and for Mount Tabor as the location of the Transfiguration are:
1. Since the transfiguration happened six days after the first event, Jesus and his disciples had enough time to travel to Mount Tabor.
2. Mark documented his gospel based on the preaching of Peter in a theological order and not in the chronological sequence of what happened in the ministry of Jesus. Mark’s intention was to connect the events at Caesarea Philippi to the Transfiguration experience. Matthew and Luke followed the same order as Mark. Hence, the location of the Transfiguration could differ from Hermon.
3. Hermon is the northmost border of Palestine near the ancient city of Dan. It was a location of the pagan worship of the Greek god, Pan. The ancient Canaanites had built a sanctuary for Baal here. King Herod the Great had built a magnificent white marble temple in front of the cave honouring Emperor Augustus in gratitude for giving him power over Paneas in 20 BC. Herod’s son Philip rebuilt the town of Paneas as his capital city, naming it Caesarea in honour of the then Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar. Jesus took his disciples to the “Gates of Hades” giving authority to Peter stating, “upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). Thus, Jesus expressed his sovereignty over the evil and over hell at the sinful town of pagan worship and at the popularly believed gate of the netherworld. Jesus would not continue there for six more days, suspending his ministry among the Jews. Jesus would not go to that pagan religious location for prayer.
4. Mount Hermon that was too steep and high to climb (2,040 metres) compared to Mount Tabor’s peak that has low altitude. The top of Mount Hermon has snow during most months.
5. The event that happened when Jesus and the three apostles came down from the mountain of the transfiguration is unfavourable for Hermon. When they came to the valley, a crowd was waiting for them, along with a man who complained that the disciples of Jesus could not cast out the demon from his lunatic son. Jesus cured that boy (Mt 17:14-21). There is less possibility for this to have happened at Hermon.
6. If Hermon were the mount of the Transfiguration, there would have been traditions based on that and pilgrim centres might have developed there after Constantine gave freedom to Christians in the Roman empire in the fourth century.
There his appearance was changed before their eyes
Peter, James, and John were fortunate to see the change in the bodily appearance of Jesus. His human form had wrapped around his internal divine shining. Jesus revealed the splendour of his divinity for a brief time to the three apostles. While speaking about discipleship, Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Mt 16:28). The three disciples witnessed the glory of Jesus prior to his second coming. The transfiguration happened while Jesus was praying (Lk 9:29).
According to Peter, Jesus “received honour and glory from God the Father” (2 Pet 1:17) that changed his appearance from the human to the divine. Hence, Luke reports, “While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white” (Lk 9:29). Matthew has a stronger presentation: “His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Mt 19:2).
The Transfiguration has resemblance to what happened to Moses when he met the Lord on Mount Sinai. When Moses came down from the mountain holding the two tablets of the covenant after spending forty days and nights with the Lord, “he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while he spoke with the LORD” (Ex 34:29). Because people were afraid of his shining face, Moses had to put a veil over his face whenever he came out from the presence of the Lord (Ex 34:33-35). Just as the meeting of Moses with the Lord on Mount Sinai was to receive the commandments and to establish a covenant, Jesus’ meeting with the Lord on the Mount of the Transfiguration signified the renewal of those commandments and the establishment of a new covenant.
(3) Even his clothes shone, becoming as white as no bleacher on earth could bleach them.
Even his clothes shone
Because of the transformation of Jesus’ human body into a glorious, divine one, the appearance of his clothes also changed. His dress of an ordinary Jew shone in front of the three apostles. The rays of his internal glory penetrated through his body and passed through his clothes, making it bright and shiny.
becoming as white as no bleacher on earth could bleach them
The ordinarily coloured garb of Jesus had changed its colour to a dazzling white, the whiteness shining with an unusual illumination. That is why the evangelist reports that even a professional cleaner’s bleaching could not enhance such a glare.
White per se has a strong biblical connotation signifying light, purity, sanctity, innocence, and holiness. That is why artists depict angels robed in white. Like gold, it is also a divine hue. In the vision of Daniel, the Son of Man’s “clothing was white as snow” (Dan 7:9). The Israelite’s prayer included, “Cleanse me with hyssop, that I may be pure; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Ps 51:9). When Jesus rose from the dead, “His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow” (Mt 28:3) as it happened during the Transfiguration. Unlike black that absorbs light, white reflects light. So, white is symbolic of God’s love and power that permeates the world.
Transfiguration vs Metamorphosis
Some believers use the term metamorphosis instead of transfiguration. Though they have a similar meaning, ‘transfiguration’ is more appropriate because of the difference in the implication. The zoological connotation of metamorphosis is the transformation of insects and amphibians from the larval stage to adulthood, resulting in a different bodily form. Metamorphosis can mean the change of a person or anything from one form or nature to another by natural or supernatural means. In literature, its usage is for degradation from one state to another. It cannot reverse its form to its original state.
Though transfiguration also implies a change of form or appearance, it is to a higher or spiritual level. So, unlike degradation in metamorphosis, transfiguration is an exaltation or glorification. Jerome used transfiguration in his translation of the Bible. The word metamorphosis is of Greek origin and transfiguration is of Latin origin. That must be the reason for the Greek Church to use the term metamorphosis.
Transfiguration and Resurrection
According to Origen of Alexandria (185–253), the transfiguration was a foretaste of the glorious resurrection of Jesus. He observed a link between the two because of their heavenly splendour. The later fathers of the Church followed this view. The transfiguration was a visual affirmation of Peter’s declaration of the divinity of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi. It is also an assurance that holy lay people can attain such a state in heaven.
(4) Elijah and Moses appeared to them; the two were talking with Jesus.
Elijah in Hebrew and Elias in Greek mean “My God is Yahweh.” He was a prominent prophet in Northern Israel in the ninth century BC. Like Jesus, he performed miracles including bringing down fire from the sky on the burned offering, wood, stones, and dust (1 Kgs 18:19-40), multiplied a jar of flour and a jug of oil in Zarephath for a long time (1 Kgs 17:7-16), raised the son of a widow in Zarephath (1 Kgs 17:17-24), and was taken up by God in a whirlwind to heaven without facing death (2 Kgs 2:11). However, Jesus worked more miracles than Elijah.
Malachi had prophesied that Elijah would reappear as a forerunner of the Messiah. “Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day” (Mal 3:23 / 4:5). The Jews have been expecting the physical reappearance of Elijah and that is still a part of the Passover ritual of the Jews. Though John the Baptist came according to this prophecy, some believed that Jesus was the forerunner of the Messiah to come because the actions of Jesus resembled that of Elijah (Mt 16:14; Lk 9:19). It is appropriate that this prophet give witness to Jesus fulfilling the prophecy that he would return before the day of the Lord.
Moses was a prominent leader, prophet, lawgiver, and deliverer of the Israelites. They considered Moses as the author of the first five books of the Bible. God providentially saved his life when he was born because Pharaoh had ordered to kill all the newborn Hebrew boys to reduce the population growth of the Israelites in Egypt. Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him when he was a baby and she brought him up in Pharaoh’s palace. When he was forty, he killed an Egyptian slave-master who was beating a Hebrew. For fear of punishment from Pharoah, Moses fled to Midian and lived there for another 40 years. There he got the call from the Lord to go back to Egypt to liberate the Israelites from slavery. The Lord sent ten plagues, one after another, to the Egyptians. Finally, Pharaoh allowed the Israelites to leave Egypt. On the way to Canaan, God gave the ten commandments to the chosen people through Moses on Mount Sinai. Because of the people’s disobedience, they had to wander in the desert for 40 years under the guidance of Moses.
When the people reached close to Canaan, the Lord allowed Moses to see the promised land but did not allow him to enter it. He died at 120 in the land of Moab. “He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; to this day no one knows the place of his burial” (Deut 34:4-7). However, the Lord allowed him to enter Canaan on the Mount of the Transfiguration when the Messiah came into the world.
Elijah and Moses appeared to them
Moses and Elijah represented the Old Testament because Moses was the lawgiver and Elijah was the most prominent prophet. Their appearance representing the Old Testament was to bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah. The witness of the two was enough to prove the truth. The three representatives of the disciples got convinced of it.
According to Luke, Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and were conversing with Jesus on “his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). He further elaborates, “Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him” (Lk 9:32). The reason for the disciples’ snooze was probably because of the intense shine of Jesus like the sun, and the glory of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. The disciples’ human eyes could not adjust at first to such a bright light!
The two were talking with Jesus
Luke specifies their discussion. They “spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). The first exodus was from Egyptian slavery to Canaan, the Promised Land. The new exodus they discussed was the liberation from the bondage of Satan to the Kingdom of God, starting with the Church and ending in heaven at the second coming of Christ. Both exoduses were initiatives of God the Father. The first one was under the leadership of Moses and the second was under Jesus. That was also the fulfilment of the Law and the prophetic teachings.
The exodus here literally means departure. It was the departure of Jesus from earthly life to heaven through his sacrifice on Calvary. That was a convincing answer to the objection of Peter to Jesus’ voluntary acceptance of his suffering and earthly failure. It is also an assurance for his followers that, when they depart from this life of suffering, they will also reach heaven because of the merit of his sacrifice and their sacrificial discipleship.
(5) Then Peter spoke and said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
Peter spoke and said to Jesus
Though James and John were present, Peter spoke on behalf of them as well. A man with inborn leadership qualities, he showed tremendous initiative, and proved a good spokesperson. He spoke when Moses and Elijah were about to part from Jesus (Lk 9:33).
Master, it is good that we are here
The heavenly glory the disciples enjoyed made them to desire its continuation. They wished to stay longer on the mountain with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. To see the two prominent prophets of the old, along with Jesus in his glorious appearance, was a thrilling experience for them.
let us make three tents
Peter did not consider any tent for the disciples. He wished to honour Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. The reappearance of the departed souls assured the apostles of the glorious life after death. Jesus had promised that he would prepare dwelling places for his followers in heaven. By mentioning a tent as a temporary residence, Peter knew their permanent abode was in heaven.
one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah
Since Moses and Elijah lived centuries before the birth of the apostles, how they identified Moses and Elijah is unclear. Jesus might have revealed that to the apostles.
(6) For he did not know what to say; they were overcome with awe.
Being highly opinionated, Peter had the tendency to speak whatever came to his mind without understanding everything he spoke. Out of confusion, Peter made the request to prolong the meeting. The reason for his request was, as Mark reports, the disciples were in awe. So, Peter thought of providing accommodation for Jesus and the prophets so they would stay there for long.
(7) Then a cloud formed, covering them in a shadow, and from the cloud came this word, “This is my Son, the
Beloved; listen to him.”
Then a cloud formed
When the Israelites left Egypt, the Lord appeared to them in a cloudy pillar during the day and a fiery pillar by night (Ex 13:2022). The Lord’s glory later filled the tabernacle as a cloud. “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle” (Ex 40:34). This glorious presence of God continued in the Temple of Jerusalem. “When the priests left the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the LORD so that the priests could no longer minister because of the cloud, since the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD” (1 Kgs 8:10-11). According to Psalm 104:3, God makes the clouds his chariot. So, God came down and dwelt among the people as a glorious cloud. Since it was the glorious dwelling of God on earth, the rabbis call it Shekinah, which means “that which dwells.” It was this Shekinah cloud that came and positioned itself above the apostles.
covering them in a shadow, and from the cloud came this word
The cloud of God’s glorious presence did not encircle the apostles. It stood above them and covered them in its shadow. The word that came from the cloud was God’s voice because God’s presence was in the cloud. Hence, Peter reported, “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Pet 1:18).
“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him”
This was the LORD’s message directly addressed to the three apostles. A week ago, Peter had professed his faith in Jesus, saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). God the Father confirmed the truth of that sentiment on the holy mountain. A similar message with a slight difference came to John the Baptist after he had baptized Jesus. There “the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mt 3:16-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21-22). Hence, at the River Jordan, the voice was the Father’s affirmation of Jesus’ divine sonship and His delight over the Son. At the transfiguration also, God affirmed the divine sonship of Jesus and commanded the three apostles to listen to him. He is the new lawgiver in the place of Moses, and the divine teacher substituting Prophet Elijah. Moses had prophesied centuries ago: “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen” (Deut 18:15).
However, in Peter’s report of the same event, the message from the Father is the same as it came during the baptism of Jesus – “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (1 Pet 1:17). So, it is possible that the Father gave two messages during the Transfiguration, one addressing Jesus and the other the apostles.
(8) And suddenly, as they looked around, they no longer saw anyone except Jesus with them.
Matthew gives a detailed description of this. “When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone” (Mt 17:6-8). So, Moses and Elijah had disappeared while Peter, James, and John were listening to God’s voice from the cloud. With the lifting of the cloud, the divine vision and the voice were over. They were again with Jesus alone in his physical state.
(9) As they came down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Jesus instructed demons not to reveal his identity as the Son of God. When Jesus was in Capernaum, he saw a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue there. The demon-possessed man said, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” (Mk 1:24-25). Later, “He drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him” (Mk 1:34). “And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, ‘You are the Son of God.’ He warned them sternly not to make him known” (Mk 3:11:12).
Sometimes Jesus instructed the recipients of healing, the crowd, and his disciples to avoid publicizing his favours for them or his divine identity. After healing a leper, Jesus said, “See that you tell no one, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them” (Mt 8:4; Mk 1:43-44). After raising Jairus’ daughter, “he gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat” (Mk 5:43). After healing a deaf man whom people brought to Jesus, “He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it” (Mk 7:36). After Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, “he warned them not to tell anyone about him” (Mk 8:30).
Why had Jesus wanted to keep secrecy? The following could be the possibilities:
1. God had restricted the revelation of the Kingdom of God and Jesus’ divine identity to a limited number of people whom He chose until his resurrection. When the disciples asked Jesus why he spoke to the public in parables, he answered, “The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that ‘they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven’” (Mk 4:11-12).
2. Since Jesus had to preach the Kingdom of God, a wider publicity of his miracles would impede his movement in other areas. Mark reports, “Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel of his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed” (Mk 6:56). When Jesus was leaving Capernaum to preach in the synagogues of Judaea, the crowds “tried to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, ‘To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent’” (Lk 4:42-44).
3. The opponents of Jesus were after him. The more miracles he worked and the more popularity he gained as a result, the more was his life at risk. Jesus did not want a premature death until his time that the Father determined was at hand (Jn 7:8).
However, the secrecy was not permanent. After the inauguration of the Church on the day of Pentecost, the disciples could reveal and announce the secrets of the kingdom of God to all and sundry. A premature revelation of the secrets of the messianic role of Jesus could have disrupted his redemptive mission. After his resurrection, all the disciples were able to understand the mystery of the transfiguration and other secrets hidden from them.
(10) So they kept this to themselves, although they discussed with one another what the rising from the dead could mean.
Peter, James, and John obeyed Jesus by keeping the transfiguration experience secret, refraining from sharing it with even the other apostles until Jesus had arisen from the dead. Otherwise, they could have an offensive feeling towards Jesus and the three apostles. After Pentecost, the disciples had the gift of understanding the mysteries of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
The three apostles discussed among themselves not the Transfiguration but the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That implied the death of Jesus. Though Jesus had predicted his passion, death, and resurrection a week ago, they could not understand it or believe it. They were shocked to hear that their dear master, who was only thirty-three years of age, was going to die soon. Because of that, Peter had objected to the passion of Jesus when he predicted it (Mk 8:31-33; Mt 16:22).
The Question about Elijah
And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the Law say that Elijah must come first?” (Mk 9:11) they asked him
While coming down the mountain, Peter, James, and John were still confused on the return of Elijah before the Messiah to prepare his way as written in the Scriptures. They asked Jesus to clarify their doubt as to the teaching they had received from the teachers of the Law.
the teachers of the Law
The teachers of the Law and the Scribes have different shades of meaning. The Scribes were a group of Jews whose primary responsibility was studying, copying, and interpreting Holy Scripture. They served in the synagogues as readers and interpreters of the Holy Scripture. They were also experts in judicial procedures, and some of them were members of the Sanhedrin. The Jews respected them because of their knowledge of the Bible, dedicated service, and adherence to the Laws. They thrived from the time of the Babylonian exile to the destruction of the second Temple in 70 AD. The top-level Scribe was known as Rabbi.
The scholar of the law means an expert in the law of Moses, given in the first five books of the Sacred Scripture alled Torah or Pentateuch. The difference between a Scribe and a scholar of the law is that the scholar of the law was a Scribe who specialized more in the Mosaic law than in the other sections of the scriptures. Such scholars of the Torah were in demand because the written laws and their interpretations governed the whole lives of the Jews.
Elijah must come first
God had announced the sending of the precursor of the Messiah – “Now I am sending my messenger – he will prepare the way before me; And the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple” (Mal 3:1). Through Malachi, God specified the messenger would be Elijah’s return – “Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day; he will turn the heart of fathers to their sons, and the heart of sons to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with utter destruction” (Mal 3:23-24).
The Jews took that in a literal sense and expected that Elijah, whom God took to heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kgs 2:11) without facing death, would return in person before the Messiah. The apostles also believed the same.
(12) Jesus answered them, “Of course, Elijah will come first so that everything may be as it should be. But, how is it that the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be despised?”
Jesus agreed with the apostles’ understanding that Elijah must come prior to the Messiah to fulfil the prophecy. Before further clarification on Elijah’s return, Jesus reminded the apostles of the prophecy of the suffering and the enemies’ contempt of the Messiah soon after the return of Elijah. Thus, Jesus justified his prediction of the previous week on his passion, death, and resurrection. Unlike the popular Jewish belief of the Messianic kingdom on earth, Jesus came first to redeem the world through his self-sacrifice and then he will come again to establish his eternal rule over the righteous who believe in him.
(13) “I tell you that Elijah has already come and they have treated him as they pleased, as the Scriptures say of him.”
I tell you that Elijah has already come
When the Angel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zechariah, he predicted the child to be born as a spiritual return of Elijah. “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers towards children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord” (Lk 1:17). Jesus confirmed this in his testimony about John to the crowd, saying, “This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you’” (Mt 11:10). Jesus continued, “If you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come” (Mt 11:14). When Matthew reports on the discussion of Jesus and the three apostles during their return from the mountain of Transfiguration, he added, “Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist” (Mt 17:13).
They have treated him as they pleased, as the Scriptures say of him
John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, experienced acceptance, rejection, and martyrdom. People from Jerusalem, Judaea, and Jordan came to listen to John and received the baptism of repentance from him (Mt 3:5-7). The Jewish leaders from Jerusalem sent Levites, priests, and Pharisees to check on his identity (Jn 1:19-28) and, then, rejected him. Because John questioned the immoral life of King Herod Antipas and Herodias, the king imprisoned him and later beheaded him (Mt 14:1-12).
Jesus mentioned the people’s response to John to relate that to his passion and death in fulfilment of what God had predicted of him through the prophets (Isa 53). Jesus told the three apostles, “I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands” (Mt 17:12).
1. Jesus came not to take away the hardships of our lives in this world but to show us how to work for the Kingdom of God and to reveal the glorious future awaiting us in the afterlife. Peter, James, and John got a glimpse of what they could expect when they accept the mission of Jesus. That is the assurance Jesus gives us as well.
2. The achievements of this world are nothing compared to the heavenly glory awaiting us. Let us work for the glory in heaven rather than the worldly gains of this transitory life.
3. Jesus came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets, though the Jewish leaders of the time believed he violated them. Let us strive to understand Jesus’ teachings a little better, rather than allow ourselves to get distracted by the false guidance of others and the influence of misleading media.
4. During the Transfiguration, the message from the Father was, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” Listening means obeying or practising Jesus’ teachings. Let us follow that command of the Father.
5. Those who rejected John the Baptist and the Messiah lost the opportunity to gain eternal life in heaven. We are fortunate to have faith in Jesus. Let us ensure that we keep up our faith and that of our children and youth.
6. Jesus said that people treated John the Baptist as they pleased. Jesus sends his representatives among us as bishops and priests to guide us on our journey to heavenly glory. How do we treat them?
7. Jesus’ Transfiguration is an assurance of our resurrection at his second coming, with the reunion of soul and a transformed body. Let us work for our heavenly goal and not be stuck with worldly achievements.