Summary: The transfiguration of Jesus both connects Jesus with Moses, and, at the same time, marks the end of the Old Covenant. Paul's commentary on the transfiguration helps us understand our call, as Christians, to transformational ministry.
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Today is the Sunday of the church year that is referred to as "Transfiguration Sunday". Like Christmas, Easter, and other special days, this particular Sunday commemorates a special event in the life of our Lord. On this Sunday we read scripture that tells of something wonderful witnessed by Peter, James and John. They had climbed a mountain to pray with the Lord and watched as Jesus' face began to shine like the sun and his garments began to glisten. This in itself must have been a strange and wonderful sight… but the significance of what was happening is even more important. Today, I would like to clarify the significance of the Transfiguration.
The story begins in the Old Testament where something similar happened with Moses. In Exodus 34:29-35 (RSV), we read the following account of the events of many years earlier that took on another mountain:
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the people of Israel came near and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone; and Moses would put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.
Now let's compare this with what happened on another mountain many years later when like Moses, Jesus appeared to shine brightly, so brightly as to astonish and frighten Peter, James and John. We read of this in Matthew 17:1-8 (RSV): “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is well that we are here: if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah. He was still speaking when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him’. When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have not fear.’ And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
Was this a random event or was it a God-given vision conveying something of deep meaning that was being revealed to the Lord's disciples. Let's turn to the Apostle Paul for an explanation. In 2 Corinthians 3:11-18 (NKJV) Paul writes:
For if what is passing away was glorious, what remains is much more glorious. Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech— unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains un-lifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
In the vision of the Lord’s face shining just as had Moses’ face shown, it is implied that the ministry of Jesus is connected to that of Moses. God spoke through Moses and now God speaks through Jesus. But when God proclaims “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!”, Jesus is shown to be superior to Moses. The time of Moses had ended and the New Covenant of grace had begun. This is the meaning of the Transfiguration.