August 5, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: The Transfiguration

See Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, Luke 9:28-36, 2 Peter 1:17-18

Six days after the event at Caesarea Philipi (last week’s column), Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain and was transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah appeared with him. This was all part of Jesus’ effort to get them to understand who he was.

We don’t know precisely where this occurred, but it was probably on one of the peaks in the Mount Hermon range. It certainly was not on Mount Tabor, where the magnificent Church of the Transfiguration is today. The Crusaders in the 12th century determined that this was the mountain because it’s the highest mountain in Galilee, but the Transfiguration clearly happened while Jesus was in Gentile territory. Besides, during the time of Jesus, Mount Tabor was populated and a Zealot fortress stood on its summit. The fortified mountain had to be conquered by the Romans in the year 67. The Transfiguration would have taken place on an unpopulated mountain.

Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the Old Testament prophets, talked with Jesus about “his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem,” as Luke’s Gospel says. This, of course, was a reference to his death, resurrection and ascension.

After seeing this, even the densest of the Apostles would have to realize that Jesus was no ordinary man. His face shone like the sun and his clothes were white as light (recalling Daniel’s vision of a man whose “face shone like lightning” and whose “clothing was snow white”).

If that wasn’t enough, next a bright cloud cast a shadow over them and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” It was similar to what happened at Jesus’ baptism except for the additional command to listen to him.

One can imagine how frightened the three simple fishermen were. Matthew’s Gospel says that they fell prostrate. But then Jesus touched them and said, “Rise, and do not be afraid” (again recalling the man who touched Daniel and told him to “fear not”).

After the vision ended, Jesus cautioned the three Apostles not to tell anyone about what they had seen “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Only in the light of Jesus’ resurrection could the meaning of his life and mission be truly understood. They obeyed, and wondered what Jesus meant about rising from the dead.

They were still curious about something. They had just seen Moses, who died about 1,500 years earlier, and Elijah, who was taken to heaven in a whirlwind about 800 years earlier. But according to the prophet Malachi (Mal 3:23-24), Elijah was to come before the Messiah would appear. Jesus replied that Elijah had already come. The Apostles realized that he was referring to John the Baptist.

It was important for these three men to see Jesus in his glory as the Son of God because soon they would see his intense agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. †


Local site Links: