And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
The Significance of the Transfiguration
“Transfiguration” is a weird word. What does it mean for someone to be “transfigured”? The Greek word used here is μεταμορφόω (metamorphóō), from which we get our English word “metamorphosis.” To be “transfigured” can both mean (1) to be visibly changed and (2) an inward change in “fundamental character or condition” (BDAG, 640). In Jesus’ case here, it is the first definition that takes place—His physical form was visibly altered, taking on the form of His heavenly glory. The question is, of course: Why did Jesus’ Transfiguration take place? What purpose did it serve?
The significance of the Transfiguration account is, I believe, that Jesus did not remain on the mountain but came down from it. Rev. Paul Koch’s comment is helpful:
All eyes are now turned to Jesus. This is the purpose of the transfiguration moment and why they went there. Not to just have some moment of glory and power, not to stay on the mountain, not even to lay out an ethic for climbing the mountain on your own, rather it was to proclaim who Jesus is and what we are to do with His words. Words we need when we go down the mountain, down here, down where you live, in your life[,] in your struggles, in your trials. The Transfiguration was about these days, about the here and now, about your hope and confidence today. Think of it this way, up on the mountain there was light and brilliance, but down here there is a lot of darkness. There are endless ways you can get lost and confused and turned about in the darkness. You can get tripped up, stumble and fall. Down in our lives we need the guidance and hope of the light. We need what the Psalmist writes about when he says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).The Jagged Word
We could say the point of the Transfiguration account is twofold: first, to make it more explicitly clear that Jesus truly is the Son of God; and second, that Jesus chose not to remain on the mountain in His glory but to come down the mountain into our darkness. Upon the mountain, it is made clear that Jesus is the light of the world—a metaphor to describe God that the Psalms frequently use and one that John deals with in his Gospel account. The point of the Transfiguration is that even in all His glory, Jesus chose to come down into your darkness to be your light—the light to your path that will bring you to the Father.
God Stops Talking
I need to give credit where it’s due. My idea for this article came from something Rev. Caleb Weight tweeted, “At the Transfiguration there is a rare moment in scripture where God speaks directly. What does he do? He preaches a sermon that points to Jesus.”
He makes a valid point. We don’t know the conversation that took place between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the mountain because they weren’t words spoken to Peter, James, John, or us. But we do have a direct and rather brief conversation with God, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” Though concise, God preaches a sermon that points to Jesus.
As I thought about this more, I responded to his tweet, “And when you really think about it, that’s the last time God (YHWH) speaks directly to anyone, and He points to Christ. Since then, it’s always Christ speaking.”
Seriously, think about that. When God the Father says these words to the three disciples with Jesus (and us), this is the last time we hear God—or Yahweh—speak directly. From then on, it is always Jesus speaking. The last time God speaks, He points to His Son; and from then on, Jesus continues the conversation His Father started. If we believe what Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38), then we know that the words of Jesus from hereon out are the words of God.
This is significant for preaching and teaching. If the last words God spoke pointed us to Jesus, who continues the conversation, then all preaching and teaching must point to Jesus. If our preaching and teaching points to anyone else but Christ, then it is to be questioned.
It is all about Jesus. Jesus is always the Sunday school answer. Though cliché, it is always true. It was God’s answer on the mountain and it is the same answer today.
Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Koch, Paul. The Jagged Word. “Down the Mountain.” February 23, 2020. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://thejaggedword.com/2020/02/23/down-the-mountain-2/.