Read­ing Time: 9 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Gen 15:5–12.17–18; Phil 3:17–4:1; Luke 9:28–36)

God places us in the world as his fel­low work­ers-agents of trans­fig­ur­a­tion. We work with God so that injustice is trans­figured into justice, so there will be more com­pas­sion and caring, that there will be more laughter and joy, that there will be more togeth­er­ness in God’s world” (Des­mond Tutu).

The trans­fig­ur­a­tion of Jesus is one of the typ­ic­al facts of the resur­rec­tion of the body; not only of the glor­i­ous change, but of the renewed life of the body and of the gen­er­al judg­ment day” (Edward McKendree Bounds).


Hav­ing suc­cess­fully con­cluded his retreat, Jesus offi­cially begins his mis­sion. As soon as he came down from the moun­tain, Jesus returned to Galilee still in the same power of the Spir­it which des­cen­ded on him after his bap­tism. Jesus taught in the Syn­agogues and every­one praised him. On this pro­cess of teach­ing, Jesus went to Naz­areth where he had been brought up. On one of the Shab­baths, he went into the Syn­agogue as is his cus­tom. When he stood up to read, the Scroll of the proph­et Isai­ah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he read his mis­sion mani­festo to the people (cf. Luke 4:16–21).

Accord­ing to Mat­thew, when Jesus came down from the wil­der­ness, and with the with­draw­al of John the Baptist, Jesus trans­ferred to Caper­naum, by the lake in the region of Zebu­lum and Neph­tali, where he began his mis­sion with the fol­low­ing words “repent, for the king­dom of heav­en has come near” (Matt 4:17). “In the Gos­pel accord­ing to Mark (1:15), we also read that as soon as John the Baptist was arres­ted, Jesus went into Galilee and there pro­claimed the Gos­pel say­ing: “the time is com­pleted, and the king­dom of God has come, repent and believe the Gos­pel.” This is the sum­mary of how Jesus began his pro­clam­a­tion of the mes­sage of sal­va­tion. And all his teach­ings and actions revolve around this king­dom of heav­en which has drawn near. The king­dom of God (or king­dom of heav­en accord­ing to the Jew­ish expres­sion), is a ref­er­ence to the sov­er­eign activ­ity of God as the ruler of His cre­ation and as One who brings His plan of sal­va­tion to ful­fil­ment” (https://www.uchennabiblia.com/the-mission-of-jesus/). The par­al­lel texts to Luke 9:28–36 are Mat­thew 17:1–9 and Mark 9:2–8.

The context of Luke 9:28–36

About eight days after giv­ing the con­di­tions of being a dis­ciple, Jesus took Peter, John, and James to a high moun­tain for this won­der­ful exper­i­ence. While he was pray­ing on this moun­tain, the appear­ance of his face changed, and his cloth­ing became gleam­ing white. Although Luke did not use the verb meta­morph­oō, but that is what he inten­ded. When he says that as Jesus prayed, the appear­ance of his face became anoth­er, it means he was meta­morph­osed. In oth­er words, Jesus was trans­formed or trans­figured. In the first cen­tury Juda­ism and in the Chris­ti­an (New) Test­a­ment, there was the belief that the right­eous get new and glor­i­fied bod­ies to enable them enter heav­en (cf. 1Cor 15:42–49; 2Cor 5:1–10). Thus, Jesus’ trans­form­a­tion means the right­eous will share the glory of God.

And while he was praying…

And while he was pray­ing, the appear­ance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). While Mat­thew and Mark use the same verb (meta­morph­oō also meta­morph­oomai), Luke dif­fers, and situ­ates this event with­in the con­text of pray­er. This should not sur­prise us because the theme of pray­er is so dear to Luke. For Luke, Jesus’ reas­on for going to the moun­tain was to pray (cf. Luke 9:28). And while he was pray­ing, his face was altered, and “his clothes became bright as a flash of light­ning” (Luke 9:29). It was after this that Moses and Eli­jah spoke with him. The trans­form­a­tion of Jesus has both imme­di­ate and remote con­nota­tions. While the imme­di­ate end recalls the glory he pos­sessed before his incarn­a­tion (cf. John 1:14; 17:5; Phil 2:6–7), the remote end is a ref­er­ence to his future apo­theosis – ascen­sion (cf. 2Pet. 1:16–18; Rev 1:16). Has your encounter with God effected any change in you? Has it altered the way you view, under­stand and inter­pret life and life events? Is the change neg­at­ive or positive?

Moses and Elijah

Imme­di­ately after Jesus’ appear­ance changed, Moses and Eli­jah appeared on the scene. But why these two? The most likely explan­a­tion is that Moses the law­giver appears as the rep­res­ent­at­ive of the old cov­en­ant and the prom­ise of sal­va­tion, which was to be ful­filled in the pas­sion, death, and resur­rec­tion of Jesus. On the oth­er hand, Eli­jah appears as the proph­et of the eschat­on – the end times (cf. Mal 4:5–6; Mark 9:11–13). Luke goes fur­ther and explains that both Moses and Eli­jah dis­cussed the death of Jesus (cf. Luke 9:31). That is, both Luke, Mat­thew and Mark report that Moses and Eli­jah appeared and began talk­ing with Jesus. But only Luke gave the con­tent of this con­ver­sa­tion. Accord­ing to Luke, they appeared in glory and were speak­ing of Jesus’ depar­ture, which he was about to accom­plish in Jerusalem.

This encounter was an offi­cial han­dover cere­mony between Moses, Eli­jah and Jesus. As Jesus approaches Jer­u­s­alem, it became neces­sary to col­lect the import­ant doc­u­ments from Moses and Eli­jah. They have fin­ished their ten­ure and there­fore, must hand over everything to Jesus. Hence­forth, everything con­cern­ing the Law and Proph­ets will be under Jesus’ care. Accord­ing to Matthew’s account, which dif­fers from Mark and Luke, the meta­morph­osed Jesus rep­res­ents the new Moses, who meets God on the new Sinai, in the cloud (Matt 17:5. Cf. Exod 24:15–18), with a lumin­ous face (Matt 17:2. Cf. Exod 34:29–35; 2Cor 3:7–4:6), assisted by the two import­ant per­son­al­it­ies of the Hebrew (Old) Test­a­ment, who had already bene­fit­ted from the divine rev­el­a­tion on the Sinai (cf. Exod 19; 33–34; 1kgs 19:9–13), and rep­res­ent the law and proph­ets, which Jesus has come to bring to ful­fil­ment (cf. Matt 5:17).

Is there any oth­er inter­pret­a­tion to these two fig­ures? Based on Luke 24:4 and Acts 1:10, some sus­tain that Moses and Eli­jah rep­res­ent the two angels that com­for­ted Jesus. This is unlikely to be true. First, because the two men men­tioned in Luke 24:4 did not com­fort Jesus, but the women who were per­plexed because they found Jesus’ tomb empty. Secondly, the two men men­tioned in Acts 1:10 appeared not to Jesus but to the dis­ciples dur­ing Jesus’ ascen­sion. The only place where an angel com­for­ted Jesus is dur­ing his agony in the Mount of Olives (cf. Luke 22:43). In the text just cited, it is only one angel that is men­tioned. To inter­pret Moses and Eli­jah as angels is to empty the meet­ing of these two with Jesus of its theo­lo­gic­al and salvif­ic contents.

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