The transfiguration of the Lord – Luke 9:28b-36
In the Gospel of Luke, the narrative of the transfiguration is preceded by the confession of Peter, “You are the Messiah of God.” And this is followed by a passion prediction of Christ, that he must die and also several teachings on discipleship. The teachings on discipleship are important in the context of the transfiguration in the Gospel of Luke.
Eight days after the confession of Peter and the teachings on discipleship, Jesus takes with him Peter, James and John up a high mountain to pray. The transfiguration takes places in the context of prayer. Neither Matthew (17:1-8) nor Mark (9:2-8) mention that Jesus went up the mount of transfiguration to pray nor do they mention about the transfiguration while he prayed.
What started as a mountain top prayer meeting quickly changed into the shining forth of the glory of Jesus. As He prayed, Jesus was transformed right before the eyes of the disciples; his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. Unlike Moses (Exodus 34:29-35), Jesus is not experiencing God’s glory but is the very source of glory. In fact, Luke does not even use the word ‘transfigured’ but simply says his face changed. Matthew says that Jesus’ face shone like the sun (Matthew 17:2), and both Matthew and Mark used the word transfigured to describe what happened to Jesus. For this brief time, Jesus took on an appearance more appropriate for the King of Glory than for a humble man
It is here that Moses and Elijah appear talking to him. Moses represented the law and Elijah represented the prophets. The sum of Old Testament revelation came to meet with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration. Interestingly they are speaking of his ‘departure’ which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Of all the things they might have discussed, they chose this topic. We can almost picture Moses and Elijah asking, “are You really going to do it?” Some translations do not use the word ‘departure’ but speak of his ‘exodus’. The old exodus was from Egypt to Jerusalem, the new exodus for Luke will be from Jerusalem to heaven.
In all of this, a rather sleepy Peter, noticed that this was all winding down. He suggested that three tents be made. Perhaps Peter thought, ‘this is how it should be! Forget this idea of suffering, being rejected, and crucified; let’s build some tabernacles so we can live this way with the glorified Jesus all the time. Peter’s suggestion meant that not only would Jesus avoid the future cross, but so also would Peter.
We are told that a cloud overshadows them and as they stepped into the cloud, they are terrified. Peter may not have known what he said, but he knew what he saw; the cloud of glory was real and he was wide-awake when he and the apostles saw it. We are not sure whether the voice that spoke to them in the cloud calmed them but we know that the voice of God affirms what Peter had earlier declared about Jesus; that he is the Messiah. But now the voice also demands a listening ear. “This is God’s son, the chosen, listen to him”. Peter. James and John are told to “listen to Jesus.” The voice of God calls the disciples to listen. They were in danger of being distracted by what they witnessed and might have missed the meaning that they had to listen closely for.