Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36
The Story in Brief
A few days after Jesus foretold His death and resurrection and commanded His disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him, He led Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain to pray. The three disciples were sleepy but still awake when, suddenly, Jesus was transfigured before them. His face shone brightly, and His clothes became dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appeared next to Jesus and talked with Him about what was to happen shortly in Jerusalem. Peter, overcome with awe, asked Jesus if he could make three tents, one for Him, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He hardly knew what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed the group, and a voice rang out, “This is My Son, the Beloved, with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him!” (see Matthew's version). The disciples were so frightened that they dropped to the ground. Jesus came over and touched His terrified disciples, telling them, “Get up and do not be afraid.” When the disciples arose, they saw no one but Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered His disciples not to tell anyone about their experience until after He was raised from the dead.
Points to Ponder
1. Consider the timing of the Transfiguration. Matthew and Mark tell us that it took place six days after Jesus foretold His death and resurrection and commanded His disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him. Luke says about eight days. Why do you think the accounts differ? Some fathers and scholars point to different ways of reckoning time. Luke includes “bookend” days, and Matthew and Mark don't. Others focus on the symbolism of the numbers. The number six might symbolize the fullness of creation, for God created the world in six days. The number eight might symbolize the Resurrection, which occurred on the eighth day (or the day after the Sabbath) in Jewish reckoning and pointed to the new creation. In any case, reflect on God's perfect timing.
2. Think about Peter, James, and John, Jesus' inner circle among the apostles. Why did Jesus take only the three of them up the mountain? Carefully consider the wording here. Jesus took them with Him. Jesus was in the lead. The Greek word for “took” is paralambanō. It has connotations of taking someone or something near to one's self, into a relationship.
3. Matthew and Mark emphasize that Peter, James, and John went up the mountain alone with Jesus. Mark uses the word “apart.” Why would the evangelists make sure to point out this separation from other people?
4. Luke emphasizes that the group went up on the mountain to pray. He is the only evangelist to mention such a purpose. What does this added detail bring to the story of the Transfiguration?
5. Ponder the Transfiguration's location on a high mountain. How was the Transfiguration a “mountain top” spiritual experience for both the disciples and Jesus?
6. Matthew and Mark both use the word “transfigured” to describe Jesus' appearance. Luke uses “altered” or “changed.” Why? Keep in mind that Luke may be focusing on the otherness of Jesus during the Transfiguration, for the word he uses strongly connotates a distinction. Matthew and Mark's word is used only four times in the Gospels, twice to describe Jesus and twice to describe transformations in His disciples. What is significant about this?
7. Meditate on the changes in Jesus. His face shone like the sun, according to Matthew. Luke tells us that the appearance of His face changed. Jesus' clothes became dazzling white. Mark adds that they became whiter than anyone on earth could bleach them. The light seemed to be coming from Jesus' very depths. His divinity, purity, and glory were shining through.
8. Think about Moses and Elijah. Many scholars say that they represent the law and the prophets . Imagine their conversation with Jesus. Luke adds that they appeared in glory and were speaking about the “departure” that Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem.
9. Reflect on Peter's chatter. He wanted to make three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Some authors have suggested that Peter's words express his recognition that Jesus was the Messiah Who fulfilled the expectations of the Feast of Tabernacles. During this feast, the Israelites constructed tents in memory of their time in the desert and in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah.
10. Luke adds that Peter didn't even really know what he was saying because the disciples were sleepy yet still awake. How does this detail point to an experience that was not a dream but something far out of the ordinary?
11. Ponder the bright cloud that overshadowed the mountain. This was the Shekinah or glory cloud that indicated God's presence. We have allusions here to creation and Mary's annunciation. Luke adds that the group on the mountain actually entered the cloud. This was something new. In the Old Testament, people did not enter into the Shekinah; they would have died if they had. But because Peter, James, and John were with Jesus, they could and did enter into the very presence of God.
12. Reflect on the words of God the Father: “This is My Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew). What do these words say about the Father, the Son, and their relationship? Ponder what it means to really listen to Jesus.
13. Consider the disciples' response to the Father's voice. They hit the ground terrified.
14. Jesus touched them and told them to get up and not to be afraid. Consider the importance of touch, and meditate on how Jesus is fully God but also fully human.
15. Think about how Peter, James, and John were alone with Jesus.
16. Jesus told the disciples not to say anything about their experience until after the Resurrection. Why?
17. Why did Jesus allow the disciples to see Him transfigured?
1. In what ways have you noticed God's timing in your life?
2. Do you realize that, when you are in a state of grace, you are in Jesus' inner circle? How would your life be different if you continually remembered that intimate relationship?
3. How much time do you take to be alone with Jesus, set apart with Him?
4. Have you had any mountain top spiritual experiences? What were they like?
5. How has Jesus transfigured you? In what areas do you still need to be changed?
6. How have you experienced God's presence? Have you ever been overcome by God's awesomeness?
7. In what ways do you listen to Jesus? How might you learn to listen more and better?
8. How have you experienced Jesus' calming touch?
Prayer, Prayer, and More Prayer
Blessing and adoration – Dearest Jesus, on the mountain of the Transfiguration, Your face shone like the sun and Your garments became dazzling white. Your divinity shone through Your humanity. We bow our heads in silent worship, Lord, as we contemplate the mystery of You, true God and true Man.
Praise – Jesus, You are the Father's beloved Son and our beloved Savior and Brother, and You are amazing! We praise You for Your glorious revelation to Peter, James, and John, and to us, at the Transfiguration. We praise You for assuming our human nature in order to save us from our sins and bring us home to Heaven to be with You and the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever.
Thanksgiving – Thank You, Jesus, for the times when we catch a glimpse of just how awesome You are. Thank You for the “mountain top experiences” that we sometime enjoy during our spiritual journey. But thank You, too, for the times when all seems dark and low, Jesus, because we know that You are with us even then and that You are holding us up and teaching up what we need to know to be better followers of You and more loving people.
Intercession – Lord, we lift up to You today all people who do not acknowledge You and Your constant, sustaining presence. Please let them see You somehow, Lord, so that they may come to believe in You and know that You are truly the Savior of the world. We lift up, too, those who are frightened of You for any reason. Please open their hearts to know Your gentle, loving care.
Petition – Transfigure us, Lord Jesus. Change us from the inside out. Cleanse us from our faults. Raise us from our falls. Scour our souls that they may be white and bright and shining. Help us to always listen to You, as the Father commanded when He spoke out of the cloud, and draw us constantly into Your loving presence.
Quotes from the Saints
“Such as He is to be in the time of the Judgment, such was He now seen of the Apostles. Let none suppose that He lost His former form and lineaments, or laid aside His bodily reality, taking upon Him a spiritual or ethereal Body. How His transfiguration was accomplished, the Evangelist shows, saying, And his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment became white as snow. For that His face is said to shine, and His raiment described to become white, does not take away substance, but confer glory. In truth, the Lord was transformed into that glory in which He shall hereafter come in His Kingdom. The transformation enhanced the brightness, but did not destroy the countenance, although the body were spiritual; whence also His raiment was changed and became white to such a degree, as in the expression of another Evangelist, no fuller on earth can whiten them. But all this is the property of matter, and is the subject of the touch, not of spirit and ethereal, an illusion upon the sight only beheld in phantasm.” - St. Jerome
“There are many reasons why these should appear. The first is this; because the multitudes said He was Elias, or Jeremiah, or one of the Prophets, He here brings with Him the chief of the Prophets, that hence at least may be seen the difference between the servants and their Lord. Another reason is this, because the Jews were ever charging Jesus with being a transgressor of the Law and blasphemer, and usurping to Himself the glory of the Father, that He might prove Himself guiltless of both charges, He brings forward those who were eminent in both particulars; Moses, who gave the Law, and Elias, who was jealous for the glory of God. Another reason is, that they might learn that He has the power of life and death; by producing Moses, who was dead, and Elias, who had not yet experienced death. A further reason also the Evangelist discovers, that He might show the glory of His cross, and thus soothe Peter, and the other disciples, who were fearing His death; for they talked, as another Evangelist declares, of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. Wherefore He brings forward those who had exposed themselves to death for God's pleasure, and for the people that believed; for both had willingly stood before tyrants, Moses before Pharaoh, Elias before Ahab. Lastly, also, He brings them forward, that the disciples should emulate their privileges, and be meek as Moses, and zealous as Elias. - St. John Chrysostom
“If the transfigured humanity of Christ and the society of but two saints seen for a moment, could confer delight to such a degree that Peter would, even by serving them, stay their departure, how great a happiness will it be to enjoy the vision of Diety amidst choirs of Angels for ever? it goes on, For he wist not what to say; although, however, Peter from the stupor of human frailty knew not what to say, still He gives a proof of the feelings which were within him; for the cause of his not knowing what to say, was his forgetting that the kingdom was promised to the Saints by the Lord not in any earthly region, but in heaven; he did not remember that he and his fellow-Apostles were still hemmed in by mortal flesh and could not bear the state of immortal life, to which his soul had already carried him away, because in our Father's house in heaven, a house made with hands is not needed. But again even up to this time he is points at, as an ignorant man who wishes to make three tabernacles for the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, since they in no way can be separated from each other.” - St. Bede
“This is the Son, this the Beloved, this the Accepted; and He it is who is to be heard, as the voice out of the cloud signifies, saying, Hear you Him. For He is a fit teacher of doing the things He has done, who has given the weight of His own example to the loss of the world, the joy of the cross, the death of the body, and after that the glory of the heavenly kingdom.” - St. Hilary
“Now observe, that the cloud was not black from the darkness of condensed air, and such as to overcast the sky with a horrible gloom, but a shining cloud, from which we were not moistened with rain, but as the voice of Almighty God came forth the dew of faith was shed upon the hearts of men. For it follows, And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear you him. Elias was not His Son. Moses was not. But this is the Son whom you see alone.” - St. Ambrose
“And we must observe, that, as when the Lord was baptized in Jordan, so on the mountain, covered with brightness, the whole mystery of the Holy Trinity is declared, because we shall see in the resurrection that glory of the Trinity which we believers confess in baptism, and shall praise it all together. Nor is it without reason that the Holy Ghost appeared here in a bright cloud, there in the form of a dove; because he who now with a simple heart keeps the faith which He has embraced, shall then contemplate what he had believed with the brightness of open vision. But when the voice had been heard over the Son, He was found Himself alone, because when He shall have manifested Himself to His elect, God shall be all in all, yes Christ with His own, as the Head with the body, shall shine through all things.” - St. Bede