The Gospels describe an amazing vision of Jesus Christ in His glory talking with Moses and Elijah. What did the vision of the transfiguration of Jesus 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).
Matthew’s account of the transfiguration
First read the story of the transfigurations in Matthew 17:
“Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’
“While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!’ And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. But Jesus came and touched them and said, ‘Arise, and do not be afraid.’ When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
“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’” (verses 1-9).
What was the transfiguration?
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.Notice that it says 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. Study more about that Kingdom in our article “What Is the Kingdom of God?”
The lasting impression of the transfiguration
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). Read more about this in our article “Prophets of the Bible.”