Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Rabbi,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.
As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean.
As they came down from the mountain, he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean.
After the shock of Jesus’ first Passion prediction (8:31-33), the Transfiguration reassures the faith of three disciples, Peter, James and John, each of whom was destined for leadership positions in the early Church. Beholding the glory of Jesus in the Transfiguration they are convinced of his divine Sonship. Theologically, this event on Mt. Tabor, where Jesus manifests his divine splendour, is the New Covenant counterpart to Mt. Sinai, where God revealed his glory to Moses (Ex. 24:15-18) and Elijah (Kings 19:8-18), the representatives of the Law and the Prophets.
According to St. John Chrysostom (Homily on Matthew 56), Christ appeared with both Moses and Elijah to dispel the accusations that he transgressed the law and was a blasphemer. Jesus defended himself “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I have come not to abolish them but to complete them” (Matthew 5:17) and at the Transfiguration he brought before him those who shone conspicuous regarding the Law (Moses) and zealous for the glory of God – the Prophets (Elijah).
Like Jesus’ baptism, this event reveals the Trinity: the Father’s voice is heard (v. 7), the Son is transfigured (v. 2) and the Spirit is present in the cloud (v. 7). Symbolically, Christ took three disciples up the mountain to signify that those who have faith in the Trinity in this life will come to behold the three persons of God in heaven.
The final injunction “Listen to him” alludes to Deut. 18:15. Yahweh promised to raise up another prophet, so that just as Israel received instructions for worship and life from Moses, so must they obey the words of his prophetic successor.
Paradoxically, Jesus is not just the prophet he is the proclaimed (Mark 1:1-11).
Anthony Cleary: Director, Religious Education and Evangelisation