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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ

Don Stewart :: What Was the Significance of the Transfiguration of Jesus?

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What Was the Significance of the Transfiguration of Jesus?

The Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ – Question 9

One on the most important events in the life of Christ is what as known as His “Transfiguration.” Because of its emphasis in the New Testament, it is necessary to have some understanding about what it was as well as what it meant.

What Was the Transfiguration of Jesus?

The Transfiguration was the glorification of the human body of God the Son, Jesus Christ. On this occasion His body underwent a change in form, a metamorphosis, so that it shone as brightly as the sun. At the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus’ earthly ministry was coming to a close. He had acknowledged that He was the Messiah, and had predicted His death and resurrection. Now He was to reveal, to a select few, His divine glory.

The Bible gives this account of what transpired in the following manner:

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as dazzling as light. And suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you want me to, I will make three shelters here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and suddenly from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this, the disciples fell on their faces, overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them, saying, ‘Stand up, do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-8 NRSV)

Jesus told Peter, James, and John not to tell anyone about this event until after He had risen from the dead. Matthew writes,

As they descended the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until I, the Son of Man, have been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9 NLT)

In telling these disciples to remain silent about this experience, Jesus again predicted He would be raised from the dead.

Years Later Peter Recalled the Event

Some years later, Simon Peter would write of being present at this event on the Mount of Transfiguration. He stated it as follows,

When we told you about the power and the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling clever stories that someone had made up. But with our own eyes we saw his true greatness. God, our great and wonderful Father, truly honored him by saying, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him.” We were there with Jesus on the holy mountain and heard this voice speak from heaven. (2 Peter 1:16-18 CEV)

Peter was there as an eyewitness and he wrote what he recalled of this event.

What Does the Transfiguration of Jesus Represent?

The transfiguration represents a number of things. They include the following.

1. It Shows Jesus Is the Son of God

The Transfiguration provides further evidence that Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God. It is not coincidental that this happened soon after Jesus had acknowledged Himself to be the Christ, the one who left heaven’s glory to come to earth. Now we find that three of His disciples were to get a glimpse of that glory.

2. It Shows He Fulfilled the Law and the Prophets

The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus is also highly significant. Indeed, the name Moses was equated with the Old Testament Law that God had given to the people. Jesus came and fulfilled the commandments of the law and did the things the law could not do, that is, to provide an answer for the problem of sin. The law pointed out the problem but it was Jesus Christ who gave the solution. John wrote,

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (John 1:17 KJV)

It is also noteworthy that the great prophet Elijah appeared. He was an outstanding figure in the Old Testament. His appearance with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration testified that Jesus fulfilled the prophets, as well as the law. The Law and the Prophets was another way of saying the entire Scripture.

3. There Was a Confirmation of the Father

The voice of God the Father gave further confirmation of the calling and Sonship of Jesus. He acknowledged that Jesus had pleased Him in the things which He had said and done. This testimony is especially important since Jesus came to earth to do the will of the Father.

4. It Represented His Coming Kingdom

The Transfiguration scene of Jesus is a representation of His coming kingdom in its fullness. Jesus Himself said to His disciples,

I promise you that some of those standing here will not die before they see the Son of Man coming with his kingdom. (Matthew 16:28 CEV)

The Transfiguration occurred with Jesus and three of His disciples—Peter, James, and John. Moses and Elijah miraculously appeared with Jesus. At the foot of the mountain were the remainder of Jesus’ disciples, and the multitudes.

Is This a Picture of the Different Aspects of the Coming Kingdom?

When one considers the various individuals and groups involved, it seems to paint a marvelous picture of Jesus’ coming kingdom. Consider the following characters that were involved.

Jesus Himself

First, there is the Lord Jesus in His glorified body. He was glorified in front of these witnesses. Matthew writes,

Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His face became as bright as the sun and his clothes as white as light. (Matthew 17:2 God’s Word)

He will rule in His coming kingdom in His glorified body.


Moses, in his glorified body, represented the saved that will enter God’s kingdom through death. They died with a promise of a future life.


Elijah never died. He represents those believers who enter the kingdom of God by the translation or the rapture of the church. Paul wrote about this event,

Brothers and sisters, this is what I mean: Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. What decays cannot inherit what doesn’t decay. I’m telling you a mystery. Not all of us will die, but we will all be changed. It will happen in an instant, in a split second at the sound of the last trumpet. Indeed, that trumpet will sound, and then the dead will come back to life. They will be changed so that they can live forever. This body that decays must be changed into a body that cannot decay. This mortal body must be changed into a body that will live forever. (1 Corinthians 15:50-53 God’s Word)

There will a day when all of us will be changed from mortal to immortal from perishable to imperishable. This is a wonderful promise of Scripture.

Jesus’ Disciples

Peter, James, and John in their natural bodies depict those Jewish believers who will enter the coming kingdom. There will be people alive when Christ returns. They will enter His kingdom here upon the earth.

The Multitude Represents Various Nations That Will Make up the Kingdom

The multitude of people, left at the base of the mountain, represent the various nations who will enter the kingdom of God in their natural or non-glorified bodies. The prophet Isaiah wrote of a day when this will occur:

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. (Isaiah 11:10-12 NIV)

These people at the base of the mountain are seen as representative of these nations who are mentioned in Isaiah.

Some Bible-Believers Do Not Accept This Interpretation

We should note that there are many good Bible-believers who do not think the Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ will reign on earth for a literal one thousand years. Consequently they do not see the same significance of the various personages that were at the Transfiguration or who were down the mountain. While they acknowledge the significance of the event, they do not interpret the details in the same manner.

Summary – Question 9
What Was the Significance of the Transfiguration of Jesus?

After Jesus acknowledged to His Twelve Disciples that He was indeed the promised Messiah the gospels record that an extraordinary event took place. Jesus’ body was transfigured, or changed, in the presence of the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah as well in the presence of three of His disciples. This Transfiguration was the glorification of the human body of Jesus. It is significant for a number of reasons. They include the following.

Those with Jesus saw Him in His glory as the Son of God. The appearance of Moses and Elijah also testified that Jesus was the one of whom the Law and Prophets spoke. The approving testimony of God the Father further confirmed the identity of Jesus as the promised Messiah.

There is something else. The Transfiguration also represents His coming kingdom. In the Transfiguration of Jesus we seem to have the various elements of the coming kingdom represented. There is the glorified King, those who will come into the kingdom through death. He will then have a glorified body forever and ever.

Included in this picture are those who will enter the kingdom of God through death. Moses is an example of this.

There are also those who will come into the kingdom through the transformation of their bodies at the rapture of the church. They will not see death but will be changed when the Lord Jesus returns. Elijah is representative of these people.

We also find that there are those Jewish believers who will enter into the millennial reign of Christ in their earthly bodies. This is represented by Jesus’ disciple. There are also those people from the various nations who will also enter into the millennium in non-glorified bodies.

These different groups are all represented through the transfiguration of Jesus. It must be noted that this is the viewpoint of those who believe that Christ will literally rule for a thousand year period on the earth sometime in the future.

Some Bible-believers do not believe that we should be that specific in determining what the various parties will represent in the future. They do not think the Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ will literally rule for a thousand years upon His return. Hence they do not think that we can find too many specific details in the account of the Transfiguration that refer to His future kingdom.

However, all agree that the Transfiguration is a wonderful picture of the King who was about to enter into His glory. The New Testament records that this is exactly what happened. Indeed, Jesus died but He also rose from the dead.

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