TRANSFIGURATION. The name given to that singular event recorded in all the
The place is simply identified as “a high mountain” (
While recorded without interpretation, the uniform dating (“after six days,” Matthew and Mark, or inclusively “about eight days after these sayings,” Luke) clearly sets the Transfiguration in the context of the crucial events at Caesarea Philippi, Peter’s confession, and Christ’s announcement of his coming death. The experience gave encouragement to Jesus, who was setting his face to the cross. To the shocked disciples it confirmed the necessity of the cross through the conversation of the heavenly visitors about Christ’s coming “departure” (Gr. exodus,
Bibliography: G. H. Boobyer, St. Mark and the Transfiguration Story, 1942; A. M. Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, 1949; C. Carlston, “Transfiguration and Resurrection,” JBL, 80 (1961): 233-40.——DEH
The event in the life of Jesus when His appearance became radiant in the presence of Peter, James, and John (Matt. 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36; 2 Peter 1:16- 21). Three wonders accompanied the event: the transformation of Jesus' face and garments, the appearance of Elijah and Moses, and the voice of God speaking from a cloud. Tradition associates the event with Mt. Tabor, but a location in the foothills of Mt. Hermon provides a more likely setting. The gospel accounts of the event are laden with symbolic overtones: the revelation of Jesus' true nature (light), the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets in Jesus' ministry (Moses and Elijah), the presence of God in the life of Jesus, and the divine commendation of His mission (cloud and voice).
TRANSFIGURATION (μεταμορφόομαι, transfigure or transform). The Gr. word is used twice of the transfiguration of Jesus (
Transfiguration of Jesus.
All three synoptists report the event (
A tradition from the 4th cent. named Tabor, in Galilee, as the mountain. By the 6th cent., three churches were built there. In the 19th cent., opinion changed in view of the fact that Tabor’s summit was occupied by a fortified city at the time of the event. There is no evidence of a departure from the region of
Early autumn of the year prior to the crucifixion appears to be the time. Matthew and Mark say it was six days after Peter’s confession. Luke says “about eight,” perhaps including the terminal days or allowing for an evening ascent and return on another day. Others, rejecting the time references, imagine that the account was transferred from a real or mythical resurrection appearance (see C. Carlston, “Transfiguration and Resurrection,” JBL, LXXX , 233-240). Resemblances must be granted between the transfigured and the glorified Christ, but it is a bold criticism that deletes an event that is so persistently reported in historical context and substitutes another for subjective reasons. No such necessity exists for those who accept the NT picture of Jesus as the supernatural and divine Christ.
In a context of prayer, the threefold event transpired. Jesus was transfigured, Moses and Elijah talked with Him, and a voice spoke from heaven.
Jesus, according to Matthew and Mark, was transfigured (μετεμορφύθη). The form (μορφή, G3671) includes those distinguishing characteristics by which one is recognized (see J. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians , 127, 128). Jesus appeared to be quite a different person than had been generally evident. Luke says, “The appearance of his countenance was altered” (
In the atmosphere of this transcendent glory, two persons, long glorified, became plainly visible, talking with Jesus. According to all the synoptists, Moses and Elijah were addressing Jesus. Luke adds that the subject was Jesus’ impending death in Jerusalem. This glory and free intercourse with the spirit world appealed to Peter. He sought to seize and retain it, but a bright cloud settled upon them all, obscuring the scene and perhaps dazing the disciples. From this cloud came the voice, “This is my beloved (or chosen) Son, listen to him.” When Jesus roused them (Matthew), they looked about and saw only Jesus (all three synoptists). The display was over.
The significance is firmly based upon the facts of the event. Every mention in the NT assumes that this was a deliberate self-revelation of Jesus to meet specific needs. No doubt Jesus Himself received benefit from the heavenly event, but the need of the disciples was apparently primary. They must be prepared for the dark days ahead and for the bright outcome. They must see that Jesus was already what He would eventually demonstrate Himself to be. To His supernatural birth, the earlier divine attestations, the miracles, the signs, and the lesser manifestations must be added this supreme assurance of His origin and mission. His glory had been but thinly veiled in human flesh. In this revelation, it was allowed to shine forth. His supremacy was freely admitted by the lawgiver (Moses) and the prophet (Elijah), who may indeed have come for the express purpose of a formal resignation from their mediatorship before the one true Mediator (M. Dods, editor’s footnote to J. Lange, The Life of the Lord
Transformation of believers.
Twice also metamorphoomai is used of the moral and spiritual transformation by which the believer is made like His Lord. A full commitment that issues in a continual renewing in the divine image is the basic enablement for Christian ethics (
J. Lange, The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ (1872), II, 324-334; A. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883), II, 91-101; S. Andrews, The Life of Our Lord Upon the Earth (1891), 356-359; W. Moulton, “The Significance of the Transfiguration,” Biblical and Semitic Studies (1901), 159-210; J. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (1913), 122-128; A. Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ (1949), 101-151; H. Baltensweiler, Die Verklärung Jesu (1959), 151; C. Carlston, “Transfiguration and Resurrection,” JBL, LXXX (1961), 233-240.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(1) About midway of His active ministry Jesus, accompanied by Peter, James and John, withdrew to a high mountain apart (probably Mt. Hermon; see next article) for prayer. While praying Jesus was "transfigured," "his face did shine as the sun," "and his garments became glistering, exceeding white, so as no fuller on earth can whiten them." It was night and it was cold. The disciples were drowsy and at first but dimly conscious of the wonder in progress before their eyes. From the brightness came the sound of voices. Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah, the subject of the discourse, as the disciples probably learned later, being of the decease (exodus) which Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. As the disciples came to themselves, the figures of Moses and Elijah seemed to withdraw, whereupon Peter impetuously demanded tents to be set up for Jesus and His heavenly visitants that the stay might be prolonged and, if possible, made permanent. Just then a cloud swept over them, and out of the cloud a voice came, saying, "This is my beloved Son: hear ye him." In awe the disciples prostrated themselves and in silence waited. Suddenly, lifting up their eyes they saw no one, save Jesus only (
Such is the simple record. What is its significance? The Scripture narrative offers no explanation, and indeed the event is afterward referred to only in the most general way by Peter (
The transfigured appearance of Jesus may have owed something to the moonlight on the snow and to the drowsiness of the disciples; but no one who has ever seen the face of a saint fresh from communion with God, as in the case of Moses (
Charles M. Stuart