Jesus transfigured. 17:1-13


The transfiguration of Jesus anticipates his glorification and as such, anticipates the glorious outcome for those who travel with him. In the account of Jesus glorification we are reminded of Moses' meeting with God on Mount Sinai. Jesus now wears the mantle of Moses, as he does of the prophet Elijah. As we once listened to them, now we must listen to Jesus.

The passage

v1. Matthew makes sure we don't miss the Exodus imagery found in this episode. He alludes to the "six days" Moses was on the mountain in the cloud prior to God appearing to him, Ex.24:15-18, and to the three special companions who accompanied Moses up the mountain, Ex.24:1.

v2. In the presence of his disciples Jesus is transformed; he is visibly changed ("transfigured" comes from the Latin). The change images that of Moses whose face became radiant when he confronted God on Mount Sinai. Jesus, the Messiah, Son of God, takes on the mantle of "the prophet like unto Moses", as he does that of priest and king. In fact, the imagery may reflect the visions of Daniel's coming Son of Man - the one who comes to the Ancient of Days to rule in glory and might, Dan.10:8f, cf. Rev.1:13f, 17f.

v3. In the appearance of Moses and Elijah we are reminded of the great ones who have served as God's messengers. Tradition had it that both Moses and Elijah were taken bodily into heaven, even though the burial of Moses is recorded in the Bible. It was believed that both would return before the coming of the kingdom.

v4. The feast of "Booths" commemorates God's presence and protection during the forty years Israel was in the wilderness. Peter realizes God's presence in the situation and rightly wants to build some shelters ("booths") to tangibly illustrate the experience. Luke adds "not knowing what he said." Building booths is not a problem, putting Jesus on a par with Moses and Elijah is.

v5. From within the Shekinah Glory of God's presence, a presence represented by the cloud and light, the Father repeats his words to Jesus recorded in 3:17. It is a two-part Old Testament quotation: Psalm 2:7, speaking of the dominion and authority of messiah (David's son); and Isaiah 42:1, speaking of the suffering of God's Servant. Jesus is the prophet like Moses and we must hear him, listen to him, for he has precedence over all.

v6-8. The fearful response of the disciples is quite natural and is gently handled by Jesus.

v9. While coming down the mountain, Jesus asks his disciples not to mention his transfiguration. Those with eyes of faith may witness the messianic secret, but for the crowds there is only the "sign of Jonah" - the proclaimed word of God.



v10. The disciples are confused and so ask Jesus a question. They have just witnessed the appearing of Elijah. If the scribes are right in saying that Elijah precedes the messiah, why can't they tell everyone of Elijah's visit? Are the scribes wrong?

v11-13. Jesus says that the Scribes are right, but that they have misunderstood the role of Elijah, just as they have misunderstood the role of the messiah. When the promised Elijah comes he will prepare for the messiah's work to restore all things. Sadly, the Scribes have not recognized this in the ministry of John the Baptist, rather they have ignored and rejected it. They will treat Jesus in exactly the same way.

Hear Him

As Israel had to journey through the wilderness to the promised land, so Jesus must move through suffering and death to glory - from Caesarea to Mount Transfiguration, from Calvary to ascension. So too must we, who travel the narrow way in Christ, move through struggle to eternity. Glory only comes but through pain and suffering.

The struggle is the struggle of life. It is not the self-inflicted journey of asceticism, rather it is the mysterious, frustrating, tail-chasing, lonely, hormonal, questioning, doubting, "what am I going to do now?"..... business of life. This is the journey we undertake to reach glory, a journey shaped by the Word of God, a journey constantly agitated by it. There is no short-cut.

There are many who would guide us on this journey, many who claim to know the answers. They speak with the authority of institutional power; they tempt us with their wisdom, suggesting that we build a "booth" for them also. Yet, there is only one we must hear, only one we must listen to.

From our personal survival, to the survival of the church, we can easily turn to the "relevant" wisdom of our age. Probably more "how to......" books have been written in our generation than any other form of literature. Yet, the truth is that Christ still gathers his people and builds them up through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. So, if we would journey to Calvary, then "listen to him!"


1. Identify the "Exodus" imagery in this passage. What past and future events are imaged?

2. "A momentary taste of future glory in a sea of struggle." Discuss life in these terms.

3. Discuss the practical ways we "listen to" Christ. Identify factors which serve to undermine a hearing of Christ.

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