The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ
The Disfigurement of Man
At Eden, Man tried to transfigure themselves into “gods” through knowledge (Gen 3) but instead fell into Original Sin (CCC 396-412). Sin disfigured Man, from sinless children of God into sinful outcasts of Eden. The effects of Original Sin tragically deformed Man, leading to all sorts of sin: pride, murder, greed, envy, lust, sexual perversion, wrath, gluttony, duplicity, sloth, rebellion and death.
The Post-Modern “Make over” Culture
After Eden, Man has tried to recapture what was lost. In early times, Man sought to gain greatness by building the Tower of Babel (Gen 11). With the “Enlightenment”, Man deliberately turned away from God and tried to redefine the moral life based solely on reason. Failing, Man then attempted to find answers to human depravity by putting faith in “feelings”, economics, political systems, sex, power, psychology and technology, in a progressive fantasy of a soon-to-arrive happy utopia. All of these frail attempts failed, leaving Man in a post-modern “anything goes and nothing matters” slump. Today, rather than face the reality of God and Original Sin, post-modern Man desperately seeks a “make over”: cosmetic makeovers, divorcing or leaving “partners”, killing inconvenient children, attempting to redefine gender and marriage, creating new identities on social media, etc. All of these attempts at “make-overs” fail to transform in the end; Man dies, disfigured, in Sin.
The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ
In the Transfiguration (Matt 17:1–8; Mark 9:2 –8, Luke 9:28–36), Jesus Christ gives Man hope. Jesus:
Inaugurates His Kingdom – Briefly before the Transfiguration, Jesus promised that the disciples would not “taste death” until they had seen “the Son of Man coming into His Kingdom” (Matt 16:28). While debated by some, at the Transfiguration, Jesus is called the “Son”, receives “honor and glory” and “comes into power” from God (2Peter 1:16-17), a sign of the inauguration of His Kingdom.
Invites the Three Apostles to strengthen them – Peter, James and John are purposely chosen to witness the Transfiguration. Peter had scorned Christ’s prediction of His coming Passion and none of the Apostles understood what was to come (CCC 554). To strengthen these key Apostles for the upcoming ordeal, they ascend the “high mountain”, a preparation for the ascent of Calvary (CCC 568). By being transfigured before them, Jesus unveils the glory that will be manifest in His Resurrection and shared by His angels (Matt 28:2-3), removing the scandal of the Cross. The disciples are prepared for witness: hearing the Father’s voice has a lasting impact on Peter (Peter 1:16–18) and John gives witness to seeing Christ’s glory (John 1:14).
Chooses to be Transfigured on a Mountain – Just as Moses (Exod 24:13) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8–18) had previously seen God’s glory on a mountain, they now meet God face-to-face in Jesus Christ, in all His radiant glory on a mountain, traditionally identified with Mount Tabor in Galilee.
Calls Moses and Elijah to be present – Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the Prophets, now offer witness to Jesus Christ who perfectly fulfills all Law and Prophecy in the New Covenant (cf. John 5:39; Rev 11:3-6). The presence of Moses and Elijah could reflect that the inhabitants of heaven had great concern with Christ’s coming ordeal on the Cross. Jesus talks with them about His Passion (Luke 9:30) before they vanish from sight (Matt 17:8).
Is transfigured –“Transfigure” comes from the Latin transfigurare, meaning to “change the shape of.” Jesus is “transfigured before them, His face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light” (Matt 17:2). Like His Father, Jesus is “light from light” (CCC 242). Jesus is not, however, really “changed”: He allows His Divinity to be revealed, the Divine Light unveiled through His human body.
Is commended by the Father – Jesus’ Transfiguration confirms His Divine Sonship (Matt 3:17; 16:16; CCC 444), replaying the Father’s admonition to listen to the Son at the Baptism (Matt 3:17) and fulfilling the ancient promises of the Messiah (Deut 18:15, cf. Is 42:1).
Is surrounded by the Holy Spirit – The Holy Spirit was present as a cloud with Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:15–18), at the tent of meeting (Exodus 33:9–10) and during the wandering in the desert (Exodus 40:3–38). Just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:35), He again overshadows Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Peter, James and John (Luke 9:34–35). The Holy Spirit will again surround Jesus Christ at His Ascension (Acts 1:9) and will return at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4).
Is strengthened for the coming Passion – Jesus, supported by Moses and Elijah, his inner circle of disciples, and by the Father and Holy Spirit, perhaps was strengthened for His upcoming Passion.
Overwhelms the Three Apostles – The Apostles are confused: first they fall asleep (Luke 9:32), then Peter wants to make three booths, perhaps to prolong the heavenly experience (Matt 17:5) and finally the disciples fall “on their faces and were filled with awe” (Matt 17:6), a posture of those overwhelmed by God’s glory (Gen 17:3; Ezek 1:28; Rev 1:17). Jesus touches them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear” (Matt 17:7), perhaps to consecrate the Apostles for the coming ordeal of the Passion.
Demonstrates the importance of Salvation History – The calling of Moses and Elijah, the meeting on a mountain, the words spoken by the Father in the presence of the Holy Spirit as at the Baptism, demonstrates God’s use of Salvation History as a way of building faith. Jesus will explicitly reinforce the importance of Salvation History as he teaches disciples at Emmaus (Luke 24:26–27).
Gives an insight into the Glorified Body and the Eucharist – Jesus’ face “shone like the sun” and “His garments became white as light” (Matt 17:2). Jesus is demonstrating the nature of a glorified body, which foreshadows His own glorified body after His Resurrection that has new and supernatural properties (CCC 659); it is a preview of the glorification of human bodies at the Resurrection (Phil 3:21, CCC 545-556). Christ’s Transfiguration also demonstrates His eternal power that will transfigure ordinary bread and wine into the Eucharist in the Age of the Church (CCC 1000).
Teaches Man how to bear His Cross – Jesus demonstrates how God, Saints and other humans can support Man to deal with suffering and the bearing of one’s cross. Jesus seeks the Father (prayer), asks for the guidance and prayers of the Saints and draws friends to Himself.