Summary: The transfiguration shows us Christ as he really is. It shows us that his authority is based on who he is, not what he has done.
See him as he really is
What a transformation! There used to be a lot of makeover shows on TV, in which somebody’s appearance, dress or house was completely changed in a very short time. The change was very often dramatic, and they seemed to be quite different people after than they were before, it appeared that everything had been changed. But they were still the same people, and often when the show followed them up sometime later that had returned to their old ways, and were just as they were before the makeover.
We have just read of an incident in the life of Jesus, the transfiguration, which, on a superficial reading, might just seem like a makeover. To Peter, James and John, and the other disciples it must have seemed that everything about Jesus had been changed, that he had become someone, or something different from what he was before he climbed the mountain. The impression, in effect, might have been that Jesus had been given a makeover.
It was indeed startling. They had always known that he was special, that there was something different about him. He spoke with such authority and performed wonderful miracles and healings. However he had always looked just like an ordinary man, wearing ordinary clothes. There was nothing special about his appearance that marked him out from the crowd.
But on this day he took them up onto the mountain to pray and to spend time alone with God. While he was there his whole appearance changed, he became bathed in indescribable heavenly glory. But the light and the glory did not seem to come from outside him; instead it came from within him. It was not a merely reflected glory; in the way that Moses’ face glowed after he had been speaking with God. What a transformation! Indeed, the Holy Spirit had to come down as a cloud, the Shekinah, to shield the disciples from a full view of the splendour, the glory and the majesty, that, if they had seen it all, they would have been unable to take it in and would have collapsed and probably fallen dead.
But this was no makeover like on a TV show. It was not a new appearance that he temporarily took on. Instead he appeared as he really is, as he had been for eternity. The real makeover took place when he came to earth and became a human. We read about this in a famous passage from Philippians, sometimes known as the Song of Christ’s Glory.
5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
He came to earth as a man, fully human, with his Divine glory, the glory that was his by right, hidden from even his closest followers. Until that day on the mountain. For the first time Peter, James and John saw Jesus as he really was. The Son of God, a full part of the Godhead.
He was joined by Moses and Elijah, the representatives of the law and the prophets, the whole of the Scriptures, who recognised him and acknowledged his glory and his position.
Heard what he came for
The reason that I chose to read and preach from Luke’s account of the transfiguration, rather than that of Matthew or Mark is that Luke is somewhat more detailed in his description of what happened. Matthew and Mark just record that Moses and Elijah came and stood with Jesus. Luke goes on to tell us what it was they were talking, and what they were talking about. They were having a conversation about Jesus’ departure. As a side point, the fact that they overhead this conversation answers a question I have always had about the transfiguration, which was how the disciples knew who Moses and Elijah were
Moses was greatly used by God to bring the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, they departed from one land in which they were prisoners and slaves and brought into a new land that was to be theirs by right, in which they were a free people. The word used for departure here is the same Greek word used in the Scriptures for the Exodus. Elijah also led the Israelites in a departure, this time from the worship of false, non-existent gods and back to the worship of the one true God. Both departures were accompanied by great miracles and tremendous demonstrations of the power of God.
There were many things that the three of them could have talked about. They could have talked about the victory over Pharaoh. They could have talked about Christ’s miracles. They could have talked about the power and holiness of God. But they were talking about the forthcoming death of Jesus, a much greater departure or Exodus than either of these. It might seem a strange topic of conversation at such a holy and wonderful time. Why talk about such a seemingly sad subject? Why dwell on it?