Life Hope & Truth

The Transfiguration: What Happened?

The Gospels describe an amazing vision of Jesus Christ in His glory talking with Moses and Elijah. What did the vision of the transfiguration mean?

In Matthew 16:28 (and in Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27) Jesus stated that, before they died, some of His disciples would see Jesus “coming in His kingdom.” That promise was fulfilled about a week later by the vision described in Matthew 17:1-9 (Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36).

The transfiguration

At that time Jesus was “transfigured before them” (Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2). The word transfigured means “to change in appearance” (Louw and Nida Greek-English Lexicon). Or, as it says in Luke 9:29, “The appearance of His face was altered.” Each of the three Gospel accounts of the transfiguration describes Jesus appearing to talk with Moses and Elijah.

Some consider that this is evidence that Moses and Elijah were alive in spirit form and were meeting with Jesus. However, Jesus explains in Matthew 17:9 that what they had seen was a vision: “Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.’” This statement indicates that what they saw in this vision would not be fulfilled until after Jesus had been crucified and resurrected.

Clearly the disciples did not literally see “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). Nor were Moses and Elijah literally present. Through this supernatural vision, the three disciples were given a brief visual image of what will occur at the end of the age when Jesus Christ will return in power and glory (Matthew 24:30). In the transfiguration they also witnessed that when Jesus returns, He will resurrect Old Testament heroes such as Moses and Elijah who will also be present in that Kingdom.

The vision of the transfiguration made a lasting impression on the disciples and later helped them to understand the resurrection and the promise of the coming Kingdom of God (Mark 9:9-10; 2 Peter 1:16-18).

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