On one occasion, Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain to pray. Jesus often went by Himself to pray, but this time He chose to take these select disciples to witness something extraordinary. They were about to witness the radiant glory of their Lord Jesus Christ.
The disciples were weary and fell into a deep sleep (Luke 9:32), but something stirred them to wake them up. A dazzling light shone and the sound of voices were heard, and when they were fully awake, the disciples saw that Jesus’ appearance was completely transformed. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes had become radiant, intensely white, beyond what any bleach could make them (Mark 9:3).
As if it were not amazing enough, two men also appeared with Him — Moses and Elijah — and they also appeared in glory; it was not their own glory, but they reflected God’s glory. This glory properly belonged to Christ, who, as the only-begotten Son of God and as the Word of God, shared in this glory with the Father, before the foundations of the earth were laid (John 17:5).
But how could these dead men appear with Jesus in glory like this? Were the disciples seeing just images of these men? No, they were not seeing phantoms, but the real patriarch and prophet, alive and conscious; they beheld, as if through an open doorway to paradise, a small glimpse of the company of heaven, and a testimony to the truth that our God is a God of the living, not of the dead (Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:27).
The disciples not only saw these men with their eyes, but they also heard them with their ears, speaking with Jesus about the events that would soon take place in Jerusalem. They were having a real conversation with Jesus about His departure, both from the land of the living, which He would accomplish on the cross, and from the world, which He would accomplish at His ascension into heaven when He would return to the Father. No wonder they wanted to discuss these things with Jesus, since the Law (represented by Moses) and the prophets (represented by Elijah) all testify about Him.
The truth of His divinity
By displaying His glory this way to these select disciples, Jesus established the truth of His divinity by the testimony of three witnesses, adding their apostolic testimony to that of the Law and the prophets. As leader of the apostles, Peter proclaimed the truth of Jesus’ true identity and divinity to the world. James gained the honor of becoming the first among the apostles to suffer martyrdom for the sake of his testimony. And God chose John to testify to His glory in Christ through his Gospel that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The apostles also witnessed the Father acknowledging His Son, Jesus, when a cloud enveloped and overshadowed them, and from the cloud came the voice of the Father, saying, “This is my beloved Son . . . listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5).
Just as John the Baptist witnessed the unity of God in three persons at the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan river, when the Father acknowledged the Son and the Holy Spirit, who descended in the form of a dove, so the apostles witnessed the unity of the Trinity, as again the Father acknowledged His beloved Son and the Holy Spirit, who appeared in the form of the cloud. For we should not imagine that this cloud brought any darkness, like ordinary rain clouds do, but that it was a cloud like that in the days of Moses, which used to settle over the tent of meeting, as the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
In a few words in the apostles’ presence, God the Father settles once and for all the true identity of Jesus. He is not Moses or Elijah, or any of the prophets, as some people were saying; for behold, Moses and Elijah stood beside Him. No, He is as His Father says, His Son. The apostles witness by sight and by hearing the truth that the Father had revealed to Peter, who earlier by faith confessed to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).
Glorified in Jesus
The transfiguration displays the glory of the Christ. Often, however, the participation of the saints in His glory gets overlooked in this episode of the Gospel. Their participation in Jesus’ glory has important ramifications for all Christians. For although all glory properly belongs to God alone, He also promises to glorify those who believe. The believers’ reward, for whom faith in Christ is accounted as righteousness, includes beholding the glory of God and seeing His face. In this way, the faithful will also be glorified.
Just as God allows the holy angels to partake in His glory (Luke 2:9; 9:26), so He allows the saints to partake in the same glory. Jesus gives to His disciples the glory that the Father gives Him (John 17:22; 1 Peter 5:1). Just as Jesus’ lowly body under which His divinity was concealed on earth was glorified on the mount of transfiguration, so our lowly bodies on the day of resurrection will be made like His glorious body (Phil. 3:21).
The apostle Paul says that God will give eternal life to those who patiently do good and seek for glory, honor and immortality (Rom. 2:6–7), not because we should seek to receive these in this life or even think that we deserve them in the next, but because we know and believe that God promises these eternal blessings as free gifts to those whom He justifies by faith in Jesus Christ. For “those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).
Indeed, Christians may look forward with joyful anticipation to the promise of such glory as was manifested in Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration. And in hope of the fulfillment of this promise, Christians find great consolation and strength to endure the trials of this world: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).
At the transfiguration, the Father identifies Jesus as His Son. As adopted sons, we also have cause to rejoice since, like the adopted sons Moses and Elijah, we will live with Him in His glory. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:16–18).