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The Story of the Transfiguration of Jesus

The word glory is an important concept in Scripture. The Hebrew term from which glory comes is kabod, and in the Greek, doxa. The word kabod conveys the idea of heaviness, or weight. The physical, or corporal concept is transformed into the spiritual realm to become a metaphor in Scripture to refer to something of supreme importance, or supreme significance and dignity.

In the ancient world, people believed that individuals of great importance were august, or majestic in their presence. When Octavian became Caesar, the title Augustus was ascribed to him by the Sensate of Rome. He was “Caesar, the august one.”

In Scripture, the glory of God is referred to frequently because of its significance.

The glory of God is set above the heavens. “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.” (Psalms 113:4)

The glory of God displays His majesty. “Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.” (Psalm 24:10)

The glory of God reveals His transcendent greatness. “Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; let thy glory be above all the earth.” (Psalm 57:5)

In the New Testament, when we see Jesus, the second person of the Godhead, who is equal to the Father, and who has shared His glory in eternity past, we see Him in a state of humiliation. Jesus set aside His glory to become a servant. Jesus “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:7)

Because Jesus was made in the likeness of man, His earthly ministry moved from humiliation to exaltation. Jesus went from the cradle, to the cross, to the grave. But then Jesus arose victorious from the grave. He came forth from the grave to be crowned in heaven following His ascension back into glory. Rightly does the Church sing about the exalted Christ.

“Crown him with many crowns,
the Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns
all music but its own.

Awake, my soul, and sing
of him who died for thee,
and hail him as thy matchless king
through all eternity.”

Matthew Bridges

Jesus did not mind the days of His humiliation. He willing embraced all the Father planned for Him, because Jesus knew there would be joy on the other side of His great ordeal at Calvary. He would return to heaven, and ascend on the shekinah clouds of glory.

So Jesus was delivered into the hands of Pilate. He was scourged and judged. He was mocked. He was spit upon and beaten. Then, with cruel hands, guided by merciless hearts Jesus was crucified.

All of this was according to prophesy. Isaiah the prophet spoke of the One who would come who would be smitten, afflicted of God. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Isa. 53:4) People turned their faces from Jesus, and treated Him beneath His dignity.

But before His passion, before His humiliation was intensified, there was a day of incredible glory. This is not surprising because throughout the life of Christ, during the days of His humanity there were moments of glory associated with His person and work. At His birth, the angels sang in joy saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14) At His baptism, there was a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)

The single most important expression of the glory surrounding Jesus was the majestic manifestation that took place on the Mount of Transfiguration. “And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” (Matt. 17:1-2)

The word transfigured, is a word which is seldom used in the English vocabulary. Some may remember the word being used in the Battle Hymn of the Republic composed by Julia Ward Howe, 1861. In the fifth stanza we read,

“In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.”

But apart from this song, the word transfigured is not used very often. However, there is another word in English, metamorphosis, which transliterates the Greek word used, metamorphoo. A metamorphose is a change of the outward form. A worm spins a cocoon, and, after a radical season, is changed into the form of a beautiful butterfly. The outward form of Jesus changed. This change took place before the eyes of Peter, James, and John. The change was nothing less than astonishing. Matthew records what they saw. Two graphic images were viewed and remembered. “His face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” (Matt. 17:2)

What these disciples beheld would later be witnessed by Saul of Tarsus. Similar language is used. There was a light from heaven. There was a shining greater than the noon day sun.

A shining light. “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, 2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. 3 And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: 4 And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? 5 And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:1-5)

Brighter than the sun. “At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me.” (Acts 26:13)

What the disciples saw, and what Paul witnessed defies description, but it was very real. The disciples saw the face of Jesus began to change. His countenance began to brighten and shine. His face was lovely in beauty, but it was so bright they could not look at it.

And the garments Jesus was wearing were equally transformed. They became whiter than a fuller can make them. The fuller was the professional launder who struggled to make clothes “whiter than white” as the Tide commercial used to say. Now nothing can be whiter than white. In fact, nothing has any color unless there is light. A lemon is yellow, but only because the other colors of the light spectrum are absorbed. This is true for all objects. Without light there is no white. To speak of the whiteness of Jesus’ face and garments, is to speak of the fact that His glory is not a reflected glory. In a prism there is reflected glory revealed in various colors of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, or violet, which are the colors of the prism. But Christ is light, and in His light there is no reflected glory, only pure whiteness. As Christians, we are to walk in the light, and then to reflect the glory of God.

We find something of this concept in the life of Moses. Moses once asked to see the glory of God, but his request was rejected. “And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” (Ex. 33:20) What God did allow Moses to see was His afterglow. “And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: 22 And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: 23 And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.” (Ex. 33:21-23) Moses was placed in the cleft of a rock. He saw the afterglow of God, and then his own face reflected that divine glory. “And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.” (Ex. 34:35)

By way of application, the life of any Christian who spends time with God will glow. They will reflect any glimpse of God they may enjoy. May the Lord give us a glimpse of His glory afresh, the glory of Jesus which came from within His own essence. May the divine nature break through the vei,l so that with John we can say, “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

While Jesus was with Peter, James, and John, suddenly there appeared Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets of whom Jesus said spoke of Him.

“And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. 4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. 7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. 8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. 9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.” (Matt. 17:3-10)

Moses and Elijah were there to encourage Jesus to set His face like a flint, and fulfill the purpose of redemption for which He had come to earth. Jesus did this, and His disciples went with Him.

“I can hear my Savior calling,
I can hear my Savior calling,
I can hear my Savior calling,
‘Take thy cross and follow, follow Me.’

Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow,
Where He leads me I will follow;
I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way.

I’ll go with Him through the garden,
I’ll go with Him through the garden,
I’ll go with Him through the garden,
I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way.

I’ll go with Him through the judgment,
I’ll go with Him through the judgment,
I’ll go with Him through the judgment,
I’ll go with Him, with Him all the way.

He will give me grace and glory,
He will give me grace and glory,
He will give me grace and glory,
And go with me, with me all the way.”

Ernest W. Blandy, 1890

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