What was the transfiguration?

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What was the transfiguration?

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The transfiguration is recorded for us in Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13 and Luke 9:28-36. The preserved accounts tell us that Jesus took three of His disciples high on top of a mountain, where they saw Him "transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light" (Matthew 17:2). He then appeared to be having a conversation with Moses and Elijah. Luke records that they "appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9:31).

Jesus told Peter, James and John to "tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead" (Matthew 17:9, emphasis added). So the disciples saw a vision of the future, not something that was actually happening in their time.

We can also see this in the phrase "appeared in glory." The apostle Paul writes that at death a Christian's body is "sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory" (1 Corinthians 15:43). When Christ's followers are resurrected at Christ's return to earth, they will be "raised in glory." However, Christ's resurrection to His glorified form made Him the "firstborn from the dead" (Revelation 1:5). Since Christ is first, it is impossible that Moses and Elijah were resurrected to glory before Christ. This helps show that the transfiguration was only a vision of things to come.

In a similar fashion to the book of Revelation, where the apostle John was given a vision of end-time events as if they were happening around him, the transfiguration gave Peter, James and John a partial vision of the Kingdom of God as if it were truly there.

Christ had promised this vision six to eight days prior in Luke 9:27, where He told a crowd (which included Peter, James and John) that "there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God" (see also Matthew 16:28 and Mark 9:1). The Kingdom of God is not yet here, but everyone in that 2,000-year-old crowd has "tasted death." Christ's statement was fulfilled when three of His apostles witnessed the transfiguration on the mount, a vision of that same Kingdom.

For more information, please read our booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story.