Anybody up to a quick Bible Study? Here’s what Tim Gray tells us about the Transfiguration
What Peter, James, and John experience on the high mountain would remind them of what happened to Moses at another famous mountain, Mt. Sinai, during another turning point in the history of salvation. In a key moment from the Exodus story, the Israelite people set up camp at Mt. Sinai to establish the old covenant, which sealed them as God’s chosen people. While there, Moses led three of his closest associates - Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu - up the mountain, and the glory of the Lord covered them in the form of a cloud for six days. On the seventh day a voice called out from the cloud to give Moses the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Ex. 24:9-17).
During their stay at Sinai, Moses’ face was shining brightly because he had been talking with God in the sanctuary. When the people saw his radiant face, they were in awe and were afraid to come near him (see Ex. 34:29-30). In similar fashion, Jesus is about to establish the new covenant, and he too goes up a high mountain. Like Moses, Jesus brings with him three of his closest coworkers - Peter, James, and John. While atop the mountain, Christ’s face shines brightly, and the three apostles fall down full of awe, reminiscent of the Israelites’ reaction to Moses’ radiant face. At the height of the Transfiguration scene, God’s glory cloud comes down on the mountain and overshadows them, as it covered Moses and the Israelites leaders on Sinai. And just as a heavenly voice called out from the cloud to give Moses the old law on the tablets of stone, so now the Father’s voice calls out from the cloud to reveal the new law in the person of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”.
Despite their similarities, Matthew is careful to note how Jesus clearly outshines Moses. The new covenant is greater than the old. Moses’ face was simply described as shining; Jesus’ face is described as shining brightly “like the sun.” And he is radiating the divine glory so much that even his garments appear as “white as light” (Mt. 17:2). Moreover, while this event may reveal the glory of Christ’s divinity, it also manifests his glorified humanity. Thus, when we contemplate the transfigured Jesus, we see not only a glimpse of his divinity but also a view of his glorified humanity, which perfectly reflects God’s glory. In turn, we also see how our own fallen humanity is meant to be healed, perfected, and clothed with the glory of God. St. Paul views the transfiguration of Moses’ face as a sign of the transformation God wants to bring about in all our lives: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). Indeed, through Christ’s transforming grace we are called to live in a way that reflects the Glory of God here on earth. Jesus calls us to be changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.
"This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him (Mt. 17:5). Coming just six days after Jesus told the apostles about his upcoming death in Jerusalem, these words from the Father will help assure them that Jesus really is the Messiah and the Son of God. At the same time, these words show the stark reality of Christ’s mission to suffer for our sins, for they bring to mind the suffering servant figure from the prophet Isaiah. As we talked about in Jesus Baptism, Isaiah foretold that God would send an anointed servant to restore Israel and bring salvation to all the nations. But this servant would be “wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities” (Is. 53:5). Thus, while the Transfiguration exalts Christ and shows forth his glory, the scene again foreshadows Christ’s destiny as the suffering servant who will die for the sins of humanity. These two themes of Christ’s glory and His suffering are meant to go together, for God’s glory will be revealed in his self-giving love for us. For us, we are called to radiate God’s glory most splendidly through our own sacrificial love here on earth.