The Transfiguration - By Carl Heinrich Bloch
Eight months before his crucifixion, Jesus announced to his disciples how things were going to proceed from here:
Matthew 16:21-23 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
Just days after this announcement, Jesus took three of his disciples, Peter, the most zealous of them, and James and John, believed to be step brothers of Jesus, up into a high mountain to pray, something he had done before but always by himself. The disciples then witness a truly remarkable, supernatural event. This event is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but only Luke's version describes what Moses, Elijah, and Jesus were discussing—Jesus' crucifixion:
Luke 9:28-36 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.
What's in the cloud?
Elijah and Moses arrived and departed the mountain top via a cloud. The arrival is not specifically mentioned, but the departure is, in Luke's account, where it describes the disciples watching them leave: "and they feared as they entered into the cloud".
As bible scholars know, the cloud is depicted as God's chariot throughout both the Old and New testament. Jesus, speaking of his second coming said: "Then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory." When Jesus arose to heaven in front of his disciples, he entered into a cloud. When the LORD met with Moses and his people on Mt. Sinai, he arrived in a thick cloud.
In fact, about a week before, Jesus even spoke of the transfiguration event we're discussing here:
With modern eyes, it seems obvious that the purpose of the cloud was to hide whatever was inside it—some kind of ship, perhaps. But this idea is troubling to many who ask: why would God, who is a Spirit, need a ship to get around in? This question arises from our traditional notion of God and his angels being sort of like ghosts. However, a literal reading of the bible depicts God and two angels eating food with Abraham Genesis 18, God physically wrestling with Jacob Genesis 32:22-32, and God's sons leaving heaven to come down and mate with human women Genesis 6:4, to name just a few examples. So God using a 'ship' cloaked in a cloud is consistent with the other stories in the bible. And while God's technology would clearly be way ahead of us, the exciting thing to me is that so many bible stories, when read with twenty-first century eyes, do seem to show that technology, not magic, was being used.
Matthew 16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
The plan is set in motion
Luke's version mentions why Jesus went up into the mountain: to pray. What was on his mind? Crucifixion. The plan for his death and resurrection was apparently being set in motion now. Just 6 days prior, he had told his disciples for the first time what was to become of him: that he should be put to a painful death and be risen from the dead on the third day. And on the mountain, Moses and Elijah spoke with him about this very matter, planning where it should be accomplished: in Jerusalem. But was planning the only purpose of this visit, or did the transfiguration have a purpose relating to the crucifixion?
Was the transfiguration of Jesus merely a theatrical stunt intended to impress the disciples? No, scripture reveals that God is not in the business of performing signs and wonders to recruit worshippers. Rather, that will be the technique of the antichrist Matthew 24:22. It seems safe to assume there was a practical purpose, but what was it? The answer is not at all obvious, and scholars seem to struggle with this question. But perhaps by examining the context of the event something will come to light.
The resurrection of Jesus was meant to symbolize God's ability to grant eternal life. He taught that we would be regenerated in new bodies in the kingdom. But his own fate was different: his actual body was to be resurrected. That being the case, might the transfiguration have been a sort of preparation for his physical body such that it could be physically resurrected after 2 days of death?. But if that is the case, then one has to wonder why Lazarus, whom Jesus rose from the dead, needed no such preparation.
What was it, physically, that made Jesus shine brighter than the brightest white? What was it that made Moses' face shine so bright he had to wear a veil to avoid scaring his people Exodus 34:29-35? Other than the fact that both occurred after a visit with God, we just don't know. In this article we've examined the context for this event in hopes of learning more about what the transfiguration was all about. Since the context was the imminent crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, we can reason that the transfiguration played an important role related to this matter, but that's as far as we can go. As with all the other 'mysteries of Heaven', we will perhaps learn the whole truth only when we get there. In the meantime, though, I for one will keep searching for clues in the bible itself, something I enjoy to no end. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.