Why is the Transfiguration significant?

Three of the Gospel writers record the account of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah on a mountaintop (Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36). The apostles Peter, James, and John witnessed this scene. What is the meaning and importance of this event known as the Transfiguration?

One reason for the Transfiguration is given in Matthew 16:28, the verse preceding Matthew's record of the event: "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." This "Son of Man coming in His kingdom" was shown to "some"—Peter, James, and John—at the Transfiguration.

Second, the description of Jesus' clothing appearing dazzling white revealed the supernatural nature of Jesus. John would see Jesus again in such light during His heavenly vision in Revelation (Revelation 1). Such a presentation made clear Jesus was not only a miracle worker, but also the Messiah (John 1:14).

Third, the scene with Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah revealed Jesus as someone who already knew these men of God. As Jesus would later say, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). This event highlights the deity of Jesus.

Fourth, Jesus showed Himself as fulfilling the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). Moses represented the Law since He was the one through whom the Law was given (John 1:17). Elijah represented the prophets of the Old Testament, especially in the sense that He ascended directly to heaven without dying on earth.

Fifth, Jesus revealed His Transfiguration to His key followers to show them His glory. Matthew 17:5-6 notes, "He was still speaking when, behold, 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 terrified." The presence of God's voice in a cloud resembled the way God spoke to the Israelites in the wilderness in the Old Testament. Just as the Israelites responded in fear then, so Peter, James, and John bowed in fearful worship as they heard the voice of God telling them to listen to His Son.

Peter later wrote regarding this Transfiguration, "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,' we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain" (2 Peter 1:16-18). The Transfiguration stood as a transforming event in the life of Peter, a man who would go on to lead the early church as they spread the Gospel message.

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