Was the transfiguration a vision or did it really happen?


Well I have two questions:

  1. Was it a vision or did Moses and Elijah really appear to Jesus?

  2. What does it mean? Or what is the purpose behind it?


Since Moses and Elijah are souls in heaven, I’m not sure there’s a distinction between ‘vision’ and ‘really appearing’. Yes, they appeared to Jesus and three of His apostles. Yes, it was real. Yes, by definition it was a ‘vision’.

  1. What does it mean? Or what is the purpose behind it?

In the Bible, you’ll see many references to the “Law and Prophets” – that is, to the basis of Jewish teaching. In some ways, it’s analogous to how Catholics might talk about the “Deposit of Faith” or the “magisterium”. Well, Moses represents the ‘Law’ and Elijah represents the ‘Prophets,’ as they were the best and brightest human examples of the way God shared his self-revelation to the Israelites.

Just by appearing – transfigured with Jesus – this makes a stunning statement to the apostles: Jesus actually is who He says He is! Jesus actually does speak with the authority of God!

Moreover, in Luke, we see a description of their discussion: they “spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31).

The purpose, therefore, seems two-fold: first, to demonstrate to the apostles who Jesus really is, and second, to indicate to them that what will happen in Jerusalem is Jesus’ will and part of His plan. (There’s a big difference between “Jesus went to Jerusalem and there, things happened to him” and “Jesus went to Jerusalem and made the things happen that He wanted to do.”)


Some writers-- it might have been Agreda? Lapide? --made the point that the interesting thing about the Transfiguration was that, allowing Christ’s divinity to shine forth wasn’t the miracle; the Transfiguration was the cessation of a miracle, where his humanity was temporarily repressed to allow his true nature to be revealed.

I think Origen was one of the writers who wrote about the tradition that Jesus’ appearance was perceived differently by those he spoke to, depending on his listeners’ spiritual ability. (A parallel to how Peter’s preaching was heard by a crowd, but each listener heard him in his native tongue.) I think Origen further suggested that Peter, James, and John were the most advanced of the Disciples, so they were the ones who were brought along, because it was possible that the others might not have had the grace to perceive the Transfiguration, had they been present.

So-- there were probably several levels of purpose behind it, not least of which was preparing the strongest leaders within his Apostles for the opposite to happen soon after: where he would be so crushed and abused, that any divinity would be indiscernible, and all anyone would perceive was his very battered humanity.


A “real appearance” from eternity is by default a “vision”.



There are some visions which are basically God transmitting information into the imaging centers of a person’s brain. This wasn’t one of those.

This was a matter of God allowing Peter, James, and John to see what was actually going on. They saw Christ’s divinity shine out with their own eyes, and they saw an apparition of Moses and Elijah visiting with their own eyes, and they heard God the Father speak to them with their own ears.

Peter seems to have felt that if anybody else had been there, they would also have seen, because he thought there would be plenty of time and ability to build Sukkoth “booths” for Moses and Elijah and Jesus. Jesus making sure that only His three main guys came along seems to be a confirmation of this, because usually when He took them apart, it was to show them something permanent and special (like raising Jairus’ daughter).

If you want to know more about the Transfiguration, finding out where it fits into the Messianic prophecies and the stuff about Sukkoth (the “Feast of Booths” or “Feast of Tabernacles”) will help. Here’s a talk about that.


Perhaps “really appearing” meant having physical characteristics such materially solid rather than wispy or holographic. Solid enough that they want to build tents for all three.


A “vision” is something you see, which takes place inside your head; but the three men in question were solid bodies.



Hmm… what ‘physical characteristics’ are you alluding to, though? Their brightness? Their whiteness?

If they had looked ‘wispy’ or ‘holographic’ – and by that, I presume that you mean that their appearance looked ghostly – then the passage might have included that type of description. Yet, the passage doesn’t say that they were physical – they appeared ἐν δόξῃ (en doxē – ‘in glory’), not in normal human body. In fact, the word for ‘appeared’ (ὀφθέντες – ophthentes) is a word that speaks to visual appearance (think “ophthalmologist”), not physical appearance.

Solid enough that they want to build tents for all three.

I’m not so certain that Peter is thinking “ooh – a cloud is coming; let’s build a tent so that they don’t get soaked!” Rather, Peter uses the word for the ‘tents’ that were built at the festival of Sukkot – the Jewish festival that celebrated not only the harvest, but the anticipation of the arrival of the Messiah. It seems more likely that Peter – who had just identified Jesus as the Messiah – got the connection, and realized that this was the sign that his proclamation of Jesus as Messiah was true. Therefore, he made the connection between the booths of Sukkot and their meaning: here, finally, was the Messiah for whom they’d been waiting!


Hmm… ‘solid bodies’? How do you figure?

Moreover, how do you assert that a ‘vision’ is an internal, not external, manifestation? Or are you just arbitrarily imposing these definitions upon us?


Very interesting. I like this.


Thats what I think when I hear someone had a vision, that they received from God a look at the future. But it’s not always correct.


Maybe Elijah was in Heaven but Moses wasn’t. Not untill Jesus died and rose from the dead.


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