The Transfiguration in Luke: Glimpse of Glory before a Gauntlet of Agony

Date: 3/3/2019
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Luke 9:28–43  - Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. 30 And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. 33 And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not realizing what he was saying. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen.

The Event of the Transfiguration - The Transfiguration is an event like the tip of the iceberg. It points to greater biblical realities underneath the surface. From this momentous event, “Jesus is more than what he appeared to be, that he is in fact the Son of God in the most advanced sense of that term” (NAC). A few observations of the event are in order before giving its interpretation: 1) While Mark emphasizes “Six days later” as a direct allusion to Moses’ meeting YHWH on the mountain (Ex. 24:16), Luke has it as “Some eight days” (Lk. 9:28), a time which suggests new creation and resurrection (Mk. 16:9; Lk. 24:1 - 1st equals 8th in a seven-day calendar). The Transfiguration certainly shows Jesus in Resurrection glory. 2) The dazzling whiteness is an image of God's glory cloud and final glorification in the Resurrection. This visual “depiction of Jesus is also reminiscent of Daniel’s vision of the ‘Ancient of Days’ … [when the Son of Man ascends with garments] white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool” (Dan 7:9, WBC). 3) Tabernacles for Jesus, Moses and Elijah is Peter’s befuddled action to sustain this epiphany of glory. This clearly points to the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:34), but there may be an allusion to “Greek and Roman genres of epiphany and metamorphosis” . . . [which] “evokes the Greek idea that gods sometimes walked the earth in human form” (Hermeneia). 4) Moses and Elijah represent the two outstanding old covenant leaders who had direct visions of God. “Both Moses and Elijah had revelatory experiences on mountain tops (Exod 20–34; 1 Kgs 19:8), and biblical and extrabiblical traditions of translation to heaven” (WBC). 5) Out of the glory cloud, the Father affirms His son, Jesus. The fear (ekphoboi)] of these disciples “is primarily awe and respect at the mighty acts of God in Jesus (see 4:41; 5:15, 33; 6:50; 16:8), not sheer terror at fear of injury or death” (Sacra).

The Effects of the Transfiguration - We are like Peter in many ways. “Peter, like many of us, babbled senselessly when he was scared; we need not look for deep theology in his foolish remarks” (NBC). Also, Peter wanted to capture the glory. Peter wanted to hold on to the glory which was manifest in that moment as a revelation to sustain them through the hard days ahead. The voice of the Father was a kind of rebuke. “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” (9:35) is not only a reproof for desiring to stay on the mountain, despite the Messianic mission to suffer (9:22), but also for equating Jesus with mere prophets. “This revelation makes it clear that Jesus is greater than Moses and Elijah, yet he will enter his glory through suffering and death” (NIB). Tabernacles to house God's glory are temporary and can’t capture this unlimited glory. “Peter was again resisting the suffering which Jesus had said would precede the [final] glory” (BKC). Peter did not understand that Jesus was the final Tabernacle, which was manifest through the veil of His own crucified flesh (Heb. 10:20). Moses and Elijah were the servants of this final Tabernacle/Temple manifest in the Transfigured/Metamorphosized Jesus. This passing event was not the culmination. There would be the deepest valley of agony at the cross before Resurrection and Ascension. “Future glory would follow present suffering for Him and them” (BKC).

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more