“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,” (Mark 9:2, ESV)
Transfigure – “to change the appearance of a person or thing very much, usually in a very positive and often spiritual way.” (Cambridge English Dictionary)
What does it mean when Mark writes that Jesus “was transfigured before them.” The Greek word that we translate “transfigured” is metamorphoo [ μεταμορφόω for Greek studs]. It’s from this Greek word that we get the word metamorphosis. In the Greek the word means “to change the external form,” which is true so far as it goes in this case. Jesus’ external form was certainly changed, Mark says that “his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” Matthew writes that “his face shone like the sun.”
It wasn’t merely that Jesus’ form was changed, however, because suddenly Moses and Elijah show up and begin talking to Jesus. Luke says that they were talking about his “departure” [the Greek word is exodos ἔξοδος]. So we can say that the discussion was about Jesus’ exodus. This is important because the events around what we have come to call “the transfiguration,” align very closely with an event in Moses’ life, his journey up to Mount Sinai, which happens during the exodus of Israel from Egypt. In both cases, Moses and Jesus, wait six days; in both cases the cloud of God’s presence is present (Ex.24.15); in both cases the events happen on a mountain, and in both cases the text points out that the physical appearance of Moses and Jesus changed (Ex 34.29).
The events surrounding Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai are supposed to point forward to Jesus’ transfiguration. In other words, Jesus is leading the New Exodus, he is a greater prophet than Moses. Moses led the Israelites out of captivity into the Promised Land; Jesus came to lead mankind out of slavery to sin and into a restored relationship with God. The events of the exodus explain the events of Jesus life and the transfiguration, but Jesus goes beyond just simply a new exodus because he is not just another prophet. He is the God the Son. The voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” (ESV)
W. L. Liefeld comments:
The transfiguration is to be understood, therefore, as an affirmation by God of the messiahship and unique sonship of Jesus, who would indeed fulfill his mission as the suffering servant in accordance with the declarations in the preceding narrative in Mk. 8:27-9:1 and parallels. [New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology]
Stop and think about this event for just a minute. Do you think Peter, James, or John would have made up this incident?
Peter/James/John: “Hey guys, guess what happened. We went up this high mountain and all of the sudden Jesus became dazzling white and then Moses and Elijah showed up.”
Other Disciples: “Wait, what? Did you say that Moses and Elijah showed up?”
P/J/J: “Yeah. They just suddenly appeared.”
Other Disciples: “Um…they’ve been dead like 700 and 1400 years respectively, and they just showed up and started talking, eh?”
You see the difficulty. This is an outlandish story and wholly unnecessary, unless it really happened. Peter himself will say later when testifying of the events of Jesus’ life: “To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3.15). John will write:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—” (1 John 1:1–2, ESV)
In other words it’s as if the disciples are saying, “Go ahead and look at the evidence and talk to the eyewitnesses and test what we say because we witnessed all of this stuff with our eyes and experienced it with our lives, feel free to try and disprove it, because we know it is true, and that is exactly what we are claiming to you, that this is all true.”
Whether we choose to believe the disciples or not, dear reader, is our own decision. What they believed and witnessed, well they make it pretty clear don’t they.