One day, while near Caesarea Philippi, Jesus informed his disciples that he must die in Jerusalem. Peter took him aside and said, "God forbid it, Lord. This shall never happen to you." Jesus ordered Peter out of his sight, calling him "Satan." Then Jesus promised that some of those standing with him would not die before they saw the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. All of this set the stage for an astonishing event.
Six days later, Jesus took his innermost circle--Peter, James and John (James' brother) and brought them to a high mountain, possibly an outcropping of Mount Hermon which was near Caesarea Philippi. While Jesus was praying, Peter and the others fell asleep. They woke up to find that Jesus had changed. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes were gleaming white--whiter than any laundry on earth could make them. Christians call this the transfiguration.
Moses and Elijah had appeared and were talking with Jesus about his death, soon to take place in Jerusalem. No doubt this was a strong encouragement to Jesus to go through with the terrible ordeal he was about to face.
As Moses and Elijah left, Peter spoke up in fear. "Master, it is good for us to be here." Not knowing what else to say, he suggested building three booths, one for each of the heavenly beings. While he was still speaking, a supernatural cloud formed over them. The three disciples grew even more frightened as it surrounded them. A voice spoke out of the cloud, saying, "This is my beloved Son, my chosen one, listen to him!" The three fell on their faces in terror.
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was alone again with the three disciples. "Don't tell anyone about this until the Son of Man is raised from the dead" he instructed his disciples. And so they did not say a word to anyone else. However, they discussed Christ's words among themselves, wondering what he meant by "raised from the dead." They also asked him about a prophecy made by Malachi four hundred years earlier that Elijah must come before the Christ. Jesus responded that Elijah had already come, (meaning John the Baptist, who, as Scripture tells us, had come in the spirit and power of Elijah).
The next day Jesus and his three disciples came down off the mountain, back to the ordinary world of failure and demon possession.
The transfiguration is a key event in Christ's life. It confirmed that Christ must die on the cross. Three gospel writers report it. Their simple statements have the ring of truth. Later, in one of his letters, Peter referred to the event, too, reminding his readers that he was an eyewitness to Christ's glory that day.
The transfiguration confirmed that Jesus had God's approval and was pure. It foreshadowed Christ's entry (and eventually every Christian's entry) into glory. This day, August 6, is the feast celebrating the transfiguration of our Lord.
- "Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ." Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- "Transfiguration." Pictorial Bible Dictionary, general editor Merrill C. Tenney. Nashville, Tennessee: Southwestern, 1972.
- "Transfiguration, the." Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Oxford, 1997.
Last updated July, 2007