The Transfiguration of Jesus
When considering any of Christ's many miracles, one must first ask oneself this question: Why did Christ do such & such a miraculous work? Why did Christ engage in miracles at all? Could it have been, even partially, that he was revealing, or hinting perhaps, to things that were or were soon to be? Well, I think we can pretty much consider that possibility, at least in part. And, one might also ask the question: Who was it exactly that Jesus was speaking to with his miracles? A good clue might be this: When Jesus was confronted with demands by the Pharisees for a sign from him to prove he was the Christ, he responded with “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah" (Matt 12:39.) Jesus as much as said they wouldn't believe any given signs anyway. And the fact of the matter is that those in power at that time, the Pharisees and Sadducees, never would accept Jesus as the Messiah for he was far too radical and far too devoted to the Spirit and Truth of God's Word for Jesus as the Messiah to fit into their self-made world. It was obvious to the "wise of that (and this) world" that he would seriously upset their apple cart. There was no way that Jesus, as the Messiah, would ever continue the system of worship and sacrifice they, the religious leaders, had perverted and developed over time, a system that kept their class dominate, in power and in position to line their pockets through exploiting the temple system of worship and animal sacrifice. But to Jesus' disciples it was a different matter. Whereas the Pharisees and Sadducees did not want to hear the truth, any truth, for that matter, other than their own (and as pointed out, for very worldly reasons) the Truth would not be revealed to them. The disciples, however, were in fact seeking the Truth, the unconditional, undiluted and unmitigated Truth of God. And so, since they sincerely sought God's Truth, to them the truth would be revealed. (“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you..." (Matthew 7:7) "For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away." (Matthew 25:29.))
So, in attempting to understand the miracles of Jesus, and in particular the miracle we will address here, the one we know as The Transfiguration, such requires, demands, genuinely seeking God’s truth and not our “own” truth. It requires not only a commitment and willingness to risk long held beliefs/truths and/or cultural traditions/truths no matter how long they have been around and regardless how many others hold to those particular beliefs. Without doubt such a pursuit requires an idealistic honesty. Our goal should not be to have Scriptural interpretation conform to our inherited beliefs, but to have our beliefs conform to the truths of Scripture. Unfortunately, as it is, and as it has been on and off for centuries, the former is far and away more prevalent than the latter throughout much of the Church.
With this essay I will strive to bring into relevant focus some of the imagery, symbolism and message of the Transfiguration miracle. And in doing so, perhaps also guide some to discover how to more fully sound the richness and fullness that is the Word of God. So, let us begin. Let us examine the miracle of the Transfiguration as it is described in the gospel of Mark 9:2-9.
Mark 9:2-9 NKJV
2 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— 6 because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid. 7 And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” 8 Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves. 9 Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Right off the bat with this miracle there is something that catches the eye. The first sentence states, "Now after six days…" Six days? So what? Why is such even mentioned? Especially where in those six days there is no mention at all of anything noteworthy for Mark to record. Nope. Nothing at all. What does six days have to do with anything? Well, we must always remember when dealing with Christ's miracles we must, just as with his parables, look for what meaning is or might be hidden behind the actual words or actions recorded. In other words, that which is literally recorded may well NOT be what is literally intended to be conveyed. Waiting around for six days with nothing notable happening seems to be rather pointless to mention. But then again, maybe not so much when we consider another event when someone else climbed up a mountain top and waited six days before God appeared to him. (Think Moses at Sinai.)
It is at this point that I will state plainly that the event we know as the Transfiguration, in addition to other things, is an echo and allusion to when Israel, fifty days after leaving Egypt (the first Pentecost after the first Passover), arrived at Mt. Sinai. It was then and there that Moses, accompanied by three priests, (please note: three priests) Arron and his two sons, Nadab and Abihu and 70 elders of Israel (Joshua being among their number) at the command of God ascended Mt. Sinai where he, Moses, conversed with God and received the Testimony of the Covenant as described in the Torah, the Book of Exodus specifically. The Transfiguration also echoes back and alludes to when Elijah in 1 Kings 19, again at the command of God, also ascended Mt. Horeb (aka Mt. Sinai) to converse with God, as well. And in both events it is stated that the Lord God “passed by” first Moses and then later on, Elijah. (BTW, in Scripture a mountain frequently alludes to or symbolizes, a kingdom. In the case of the Transfiguration, the mountain there represents the kingdom of God.)
As it is recorded in Exodus, Moses had to wait for six days before God appeared to him. Yep, Moses hung around doing nothing for six days while he waited for God to appear to him. It is of course much the same as it was for Jesus, Peter, James and John. (Please note that Peter, James and John make three.) They waited around, apparently doing nothing, for six days until they ascended the mountain and God made His arrival to appear to them. Those six days, either in the Moses or in the Transfiguration scenario are not meaningless or inconsequential. They are in fact a central part of the message within the Transfiguration and of Moses' ascension up Mt. Sinai. But once again, we will look at those six days later on in this essay.
But now, let's look at the connection between Moses and Elijah as it relates to the Transfiguration. As already pointed out, both Moses and Elijah centuries earlier had been commanded by God to ascend Mt. Sinai to keep an appointment with God. And now, it would appear through the imagery of the Transfiguration they were once again keeping another appointment with God atop a mountain peak - but this time with God in the person of Jesus.
As has been noted by countless sermons and Bible studies, the appearance of Moses and Elijah in the presence and in conversation with Jesus is pretty much a witness and confirmation of Jesus as the predicted messiah. It is widely understood that the Mosaic Law, as symbolized by the presence of Moses, points to Jesus as the Christ. (Paul spoke extensively regarding that He, Jesus, was predicted by and was the embodiment of the Mosaic Law.) And, that the prophet Elijah represents how the many past prophets and prophecies also identified Jesus as the Messiah. So, once again, Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) witness to the reality that Jesus was in fact the prophesied anointed One, the Christ! (Check out what Philipp said to Nathaniel about Jesus, Moses and the prophets in John 1:45.)
Now, other than Jesus being revealed by Moses and Elijah as the promised messiah, the suggestion of shelters (or booths - aka tabernacles) being constructed during the transfiguration is something that is profound in its meaning. But to recognize the suggestion of constructing tabernacles at this event as profoundly significant, one has to know the nature of what some erroneously identify as the Jewish holiday of Sukkot or the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles.) I say erroneously identified as a Jewish holiday because it is only correctly identified as the seventh and final of "God's Feasts Days." The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), just one of seven holy Days observed by Israel, was not, and this is important to understand, instituted by Israel. All seven feast days namely the seventh day Sabbath; Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread; the Feast of First Fruits (Easter); Shavuot (Pentecost); the Feast of Trumpets (Yom Teruah or Rosh Hashanah); the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) were all instituted by God, Himself, and identified by God as His Feast Days. (Please see Leviticus 23.) This distinction is important to note. For whereas God both instituted and identified the seven holy days as His holy days, Israel, nor anyone else for that matter, has the prerogative, right or power to alter, modify or eliminate any of them in any way. Only God may, can and will do that. What Israel or anyone else might say or do to change those holy days has no validity at all!
Ah! But I digress somewhat with the comments on God's Feast Days as noted above. For just one Feast Day, the last one, Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, is the focus right now regarding the Transfiguration. And to understand its significance within the Transfiguration, we need to understand its significance within the lineup of God's Holy Feast Days. As already pointed out Sukkot is the seventh and last of God's appointed feast days; and it marks the final chapter in a seven thousand year plan God established and is yet bringing to a conclusion regarding His Church. (There will be more on this matter as this essay progresses.) It also illustrates what our relationship with Him and our eternal destiny within His creation will be at the conclusion of His seven thousand year plan as revealed in the Scriptures. For now, however let's consider God's Feast Day known as The Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot.)
As we read in the gospel of Mark, when Jesus was transfigured and the voice of God audibly heard, Peter, without really knowing what he was doing, suggested booths be constructed for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter, even if unaware he was doing so, was undoubtedly pointing to the Feast of Tabernacles. But, what is the Feast of Tabernacles all about? Why did God initiate this feast day; what could it possibly signify in and of itself; and what role did it play in the Transfiguration? Undoubtedly, Scripture is the place to go to start an explanation of God’s Feast of Tabernacles; and that place would be Leviticus 23:33-43.
"Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days to the Lord. On the first day there shall be a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it. For seven days you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. It is a sacred assembly, and you shall do no customary work on it.
‘These are the feasts of the Lord which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, to offer an offering made by fire to the Lord, a burnt offering and a grain offering, a sacrifice and drink offerings, everything on its day— besides the Sabbaths of the Lord, besides your gifts, besides all your vows, and besides all your freewill offerings which you give to the Lord."
‘Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the Lord for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest. And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall keep it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a statute forever in your generations. You shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.’ ”
We can readily see that God’s last Feast Day is somewhat different than the previous six. True, it is seven days long and begins and ends with a “Sabbath” day -- a High Sabbath as it is sometimes referred to. (Incidentally, a High Sabbath can fall on any day of the week. It is a special Sabbath and is not confined to only the seventh day of the week (Saturday.) Such a Sabbath, a High Sabbath, moves about within the seven day week during the years. Such is important to know and understand in the study of Scripture -- please see John 19:31.)
Again, this last feast day of the year is a bit different in one way than the other seven feast days that Israel was commanded to observe. This last and final feast day of the year had an additional day added, an eighth day! So even though Israel was told the Feast of Tabernacles was to be a seven day feast, they were also told that an eighth day would be added. Not only that, but the eighth day would be the designated High Sabbath day. This, of course, was no mistake. As the Feast of Tabernacles was to foreshadow the last part of God's seven thousand year plan for man's ultimate creation (or completion), the Eight Day was the cord that tied the seven feast days, and God's seven thousand year plan, into a complete package. Within Scripture the eighth day represents an end of that which will not be repeated. It represents an arrival of a whole new and unique experience. In this case, it represents eternity. Yes, the eighth day here represents the time at the end of the biblical narrative when heaven and earth will be transformed into its predetermined and ultimate destiny -- the kingdom of God eternally on earth and with God coming here to live among men -- The Old and Corruptible passing away and the New and Eternal taking its place. Yes, God will descend upon earth to "tabernacle" with his Church! To illustrate this biblically let's consider Revelation 21, the time just after the biblical period many know as the Millennium.
"Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Rev. 21:1-5.
The point of the Feast of Tabernacles is to joyously foreshadow the end of the current world, the world as we now know it, and to celebrate the change from this much inferior world to the world of God's perfect kingdom -- and with the much inferior world never to again repeat itself. And the best of all, God himself will "come down" to live among us, to tabernacle with us! ( Get it? The Feast of Tabernacles!)
Undoubtedly, the miracle of the Transfiguration was partly an allusion to the Feast of Tabernacles (with Peter unknowingly suggesting the construction of booths.) The Feast of Tabernacles is, itself, a yearly reminder and foreshadow of when Jesus, in his true glory, will return to earth in power with God and as God. (Recall the gospel of John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." John 1:1) And the allusion to the Feast of Tabernacles within the context of the Transfiguration echoes the message of the annual recognition and declaration of the end of this world and the start of God's literal kingdom on earth.
So we can see that the purpose of the miracle of the Transfiguration was to identify, confirm and foreshadow Jesus as the Messiah -- and as God Himself! And, it was also to once again foreshadow how, and when, Christ would return to establish God's kingdom on earth. (Again, please see Rev. 21.)
Now two questions remain to be considered. One is the question of why six days were noted at the beginning of the miracle. Just what was the significance of those six days if any? The second question is why did Jesus direct Peter, James and John to tell no one of the Transfiguration until after his death. Why conduct the miracle and only have three chosen disciples know of it until a specified time? Well, again let us look to Scripture to answer at least part of the second question.
Jesus once prayed to his Father the following:
"I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Luke 20:21-22.
Jesus also said the following to his disciples:
“Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Matthew 13:11-13. (It should be mentioned here that the “hearing” was for his parables, and the “seeing” was for his miracles.)
And Paul had this to say to the Corinthians:
"But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." I Corinthians 2:14.
With the above quotes from Jesus and Paul perhaps it is safe to say that Jesus knew the disciples would not be able to comprehend what had just occurred until at least after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As it was, Peter actually witnessed the event, and as was often the case before he received the Holy Spirit, he didn't have a clue as to what was going on. And again, nearly every time Jesus told a parable or performed a miracle, even after privately explaining the parable or miracle, without the gift and power of the Holy Spirit, his disciples, no one in fact, seemed able to make heads or tails of what was said or with what happened. Paul also said something else to the Corinthians regarding the Scriptures and the events recorded in them that can well shed light on this matter. Paul wrote in his 1st letter to the Corinthians this:
"Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." 1st Corinthians 10:11. (Although Paul was here speaking of events well before Christ’s time, the application is nonetheless relevant.)
Yes, I think it is safe to say that most, if not all, of what Jesus said and did was not supposed to be understood or comprehended at the times they all happened, but for a later time, a time appointed -- and that time seems to have been slated for after he left earth. Perhaps that was so belief would completely be a matter of pure, unadulterated faith. And thus, that faith would be his greatest of witnesses.
And now, the last matter and, ironically, the matter that begins the story of the Transfiguration. Why was Mark compelled to note that Jesus, Peter, John and James waited six days before ascending the mountain and then witnessing the Transfiguration? As noted previously, those six day are not inconsequential, are not a passing, unimportant, causal peripheral notation. Those six days actually frame the Transfiguration scene into a context vital to the message of the event. Those six days were an allusion not to a simple count of six days, but to a matter of six millennia. Yes, it is a reference to a period of biblical time spanning six thousand years. It is a time frame that begins "In The Beginning" at the biblical creation narrative, and ends at the return of Christ and the first resurrection -- the resurrection of the saved.
Time and space does not allow for the entire concept of God’s Millennial Week or Seven Thousand Year Plan for man to be explained here and now. (The symbolic six “days'' of the Transfiguration falling within the Millennial Week.) But it is nonetheless a valid and ancient understanding of how God approaches His creation and its ultimate completion. To explore a more full explanation of this biblical doctrine, one may read an essay I wrote regarding the matter that is posted on our church website here. One may also access a short article by Dexter B. Wakefield located herethat refers to the matter in a somewhat limited way. And of course, Wikipedia, here, has a bit to say about it as well. Perhaps no current source is 100% or spot-on with the details about this doctrine, but as stated above, it is nonetheless a valid and ancient teaching and rather critical to fully understanding much of what is written in Scripture.
I realize that this idea that God has a seven thousand year plan for man that is yet playing itself out still today is an alien and unfamiliar idea to many. But have no doubt! God is working still upon His creation. God is yet bringing to a conclusion His work -- His work of a perfect plan and purpose. Do not overlook what Jesus had to say about his Father and himself: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (John 15:17 NIV.) And we are very near the end of a significant part of that work, that plan, that effort. As the Transfiguration illustrates, after six "days" (six thousand years) Jesus will appear in glory and power, and it will be obvious that the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah) will witness, again, to his reality! Please recall what Peter so prophetically pronounced at Pentecost: "With the Lord a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day!" (2 Peter 3:8.) The six day wait before the Transfiguration and Moses six day wait on Mount Sinai was, and is, an allusion to the six thousand year period from the beginning of the biblical creation to the actual return and glorious revelation of Jesus Christ at his second coming!
The miracle of the Transfiguration is all about the return of Christ in glory after six thousand years of blind, stumbling human resistance. It is about the establishment of God's kingdom on earth by Christ; and of God living among men on earth for all eternity! It all seems rather simple, doesn't it? Well, yes, it is simple -- sort of. The Word of God can explain itself to us, if only we heartily seek its truths in the power of the Holy Spirit -- and for the advancement of Jesus, in his name! Let us trust and believe Jesus when he promised: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." (John 14:26.)
The miracle of the Transfiguration wasn't just some supernatural event to simply wow us in its inexplicable awe. It wasn't Jesus showing off. And, it certainly wasn't presented for its message to be hidden from those who have "eyes to see!" The Transfiguration, as was all of Christ's miracles, was given so we might confidently know God's plan and destiny for us, His people. And, to know a rough and broad timeline of that plan. Yes, there is an understandable timeline with God's plan, and it is, and will be, fulfilled right on time within its biblical schedule.
Once again, Jesus said: "...it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 13:11.) To benefit from that promise one must believe in the promise, one must believe that the promise is personal and vital, one must believe the promise is real and given to them! Let us all pray with a believing heart, and a goal to advance the name of Jesus, that the Holy Spirit reveals to us all things. Amen!