Have you ever experienced a spiritual earthquake? One that imprinted your soul and changed you forever? Today we celebrate such an event in the lives of three of the disciples—Peter, James, and John.
It was the last day of the great Feast of Tabernacles. For seven days they celebrated, camping out in lean-tos made of branches and leaves. The make-shift shelters were to commemorate and thank God for his provision when their ancestors wandered the wilderness living in tents centuries ago (Lev 23:33-43).
Four enormous menorahs, gigantic replicas of the tabernacle lampstand with their golden almond branches and little oil pots at the tips (Ex 25:31-40), were lit in the Temple. The annual Illumination was meant to remind the people of the spectacular pillar of fire that guided Israel for the forty long years of their wilderness journey (Ex 40:34-38).
All night long the menorahs would have glown from the Temple with extraordinary brilliance over the entire city as praises echoed: “In you is the fountain of life, and in your light shall we see light (Ps 36:10).”
On this eighth day of the feast, Peter, James, and John pick their way through the shale behind Jesus up the twisty switchback path to the top of Mt. Tabor. Did they know the mountain’s name means bed of light? Could they have imagined the thrilled fear that Light would inspire?
The Gospel Accounts
Oddly, Mark relates the account of the Transfiguration for us in the Gospel today. Odd, because the details related for us of this astounding event are contained in the Gospels of the three evangelists who weren’t actually present, while two of the three privileged witnesses, Peter and John, simply allude to it (2 Pet 1:16-19; John 1:14), perhaps because it was too sublime for words.
The effect of the Transfiguration of Christ was a complete spiritual shift for the three disciples who witnessed it (Tweet this). We know because Jesus’ whole tone with them changed.
Luke says Jesus, Moses and Elijah discussed Jesus’ “departure,” a word translated from “exodus” that marks Jesus as the new and greater Moses, as the Scriptures repeatedly designate him. But unlike Moses whose face shone so brightly from Mt. Sinai it had to be veiled (Ex 34), Jesus’ whole “figure” was “changed” into blinding light.
Surely that blazing light and the Father’s accompanying words from the unearthly cloud, “This is My Son” must have plowed furrows of absolute assurance and understanding in the disciples’ hearts that Deity’s face was pressed against the veil of Jesus’ flesh.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place the Transfiguration between Peter’s profession of faith and one of Jesus’ predictions of His death, almost as though after Peter professes his belief in Jesus’ Identity, Jesus can finally reveal some of what it means for him to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
What Does the Transfiguration Mean?
We tend to look at the Transfiguration from the disciples’ perspective because it is they who tell the story, but it seems important that Jesus experienced some of what will take place at his death and resurrection, too. He has a sort of “out of body” experience in which a bright light leads to a meeting with two of those who preceded him in death.
After Jesus’ Transfiguration, he is more communicative, plainspoken, and firm with the disciples about his mission to draw all men to the Father and the suffering it will entail, for him and them. Probably enduring all that was terrifyingly imminent required that each man experience a spiritual shift like the Transfiguration that occurred on the mountain.
Perhaps after the experience Jesus, also, is even more dedicated to His Father’s will, realizing both by foreknowledge and now by experience that his suffering and death will give way to a glorious new life and light.
Isn’t the Transfiguration, then, a type of resurrection? Isn’t it a Trinitarian foretaste of heaven and a reminder that having persevered by grace in my own striving to fulfill my purpose and vocation, I will share in the glory of Jesus’ Transfiguration, with all its light, reunion, praise, holiness and love in him? Isn’t my own prayer on the mountain and labor at the foot of it meant to bring it about? Could this be why he left us the account?
Surely, now, we can understand with the disciples the profundity of all Jesus meant when he stood the very next day and stated for you, for me, for all to hear, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Currently, does your prayer life feel like it’s taking place more on the mountain or at the foot of it? Is there a circumstance, a relationship, or a habit that needs light and transfiguration? How can taking it to Jesus in prayer bring all of heaven to help?
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