About eight days after this conversation, he took along Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, two men were talking with him—Moses and Elijah. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem (9:28-31 CSB).
In Luke 9 we are confronted with how Luke uses the question “Who, then, is this?” Luke uses it to direct his readers to think about the true identity of Jesus. He has invited us first of all to look at Jesus and his ministry. Jesus has a great message, a great vision, and provides great satisfaction. Next, he has had us listen to a private conversation between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus asked them, “Who do you say I am?” The disciples rejected the answer of the crowds and declared that Jesus is the Christ of God. Then Jesus immediately explained what that answer meant for him and them. This brings us to the Transfiguration. The context of the Transfiguration is important. It occurred after Christ received the proper response about his identity as the Christ.
While the location of the Transfiguration is commonly referred to as Mt. Tabor or Mt. Hermon, but it is probably neither one but Jebal Jermak, which is about 4,000 feet high. The time is also instructive. Notice that Jesus was praying. “When Christ humbled himself to pray, he was thus exalted” (Henry). Luke is a theologian of prayer.
Various writers have inquired into the meaning of this strange event. I will not bother you with their ideas. Instead, we should recognize it for what it is: an important event in God’s plan of redemptive history. We should see it as God’s confirmation of the message the Lord Jesus had so recently declared to his followers. “The purpose behind the heavenly manifestation is the announcement of the Passion, and by this means the proof is given that the Passion is something decreed by God” (Conzelmann quoted by Morris). So then, we could call this section God the Father’s affirmation of Peter’s confession and Jesus’ explanation record in 9:19-27.
Consider three ways God the Father expressed his affirmation:
The Father expressed it by the Son’s appearance. This was an extraordinary event, his appearance changed. Compare this description with the one in Revelation 1:12-16. It was like watching lightning on a summer evening, only it was localized in his person.
This was a revelation of Christ’s divine glory. And 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 ESV; cf. 2 Peter 1:16-17).
The Father expressed it by the Son’s company. Two of the greatest figures in the Old Testament appeared. Moses represented the Law (Torah) and Elijah the prophets, two great sections of the Old Testament Scriptures. Here we gain and insight into the present glory and activity of departed saints. In part, they converse about the matters of our salvation. By the way, don’t be misled by false teachings like soul sleep. Consider Philippians 1:23.
Christ is preferred above both Moses and Elijah, for though they spoke of him (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:27), he is far above them. He is the Word, the substance of the Holy Writings.
The Father expressed it by his own voice. The Father spoke to correct Peter’s misinterpretation of the event. Peter put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. Cf. 9:19: “three shelters”. Peter indirectly hindered Jesus from the cross. He wanted them all to stay on the mountaintop.
See how God the Father corrected Peter’s error. He corrected him by a verbal witness to Christ’s identity. He corrected him by the removal of Moses and Elijah.
We cannot start from ourselves and arrive at truth. We must live according to God’s word. You must realize your insufficiency. You are not big enough to comprehend the universe and the meaning of life. You need God to explain things to you.
Action Step: Turn from your pride and turn back to God’s Word. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts (Psalm 119:99-100).
Grace and peace,