The Transfiguration

Matthew 17:1-9 (Year A)

Every year, on the last Sunday before Lent, we take a break from our march through the gospel to experience again the event called the Transfiguration. But there is a small problem with this diversion: we come to this story without having seen the events leading up to it.

In the Christian tradition, we hold that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. While Jesus was in flesh form, Jesus disregarded his divinity (Phil 2:6-7). Knowledge of divine fact came through the Spirit, with all the same limitations we mortals have.

In the early part of the first gospel, we see Jesus acting like a garden-variety messiah (there were others who claimed that title). But beginning with the great parables of the 13th chapter, we see a Jesus who is beginning to realize what his role as a Messiah really means both to himself and to his disciples.

So let's flip the page of our Bible backwards to chapter 16, verse 13. We read that people had been asking the question: Who is Jesus? It is clear from their response (14) that it was a hot topic. If it hadn't been "hot gossip" at the time, they wouldn't have mentioned several possible thoughts.

But it wasn't just the crowds who were talking about Jesus. His own disciples were asking the same question. Listen to what Jesus says (15): "Who do you say I am?" (Yes, you!) And Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God." Jesus was impressed.

Those were human answers. Now we come to the divine response! God wanted to answer the question. Definitively - once and for all. Who is Jesus?

So let's look at the story a bit closer. There are three major events: 1) Jesus's appearance was transformed; 2) Moses and Elijah appeared with him on the mountain; and 3) God speaks to the disciples – and us.

All of these are part of God's response to the question: Who is Jesus?

Jesus takes his inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John – and you – up a high mountain. Which one and how high are not important. But the original hearers of the gospel would have recalled Moses' trip up a mountain.

"There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light." The Greek is "metemorphōthē", in English we have metamorphosis.

And now we can see the story pointing to another mountain seven weeks from now when the ultimate metamorphosis, or transfiguration, will happen and point to our own future in Christ.

Part of God's response to the question: "Who is Jesus?" was to reveal Jesus in his full glory. Jesus' face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.

Do you remember what happened to Moses when he came down from his mountain? His face reflected the glory of God so much that it glowed so brightly that he had to wear a veil. In the same way as the glory of God was reflected in Moses, so God revealed to Peter, James and John - Jesus in his glory. I'll leave it to you to go back and read Matthew 16:28.

God has given us clear visual evidence of who Jesus is.


"Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus."

Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets (our Old Testament) and isn't it interesting that after God has spoken, Moses and Elijah disappear and Jesus alone remains.

One Bible Commentator puts it: The Law and the Prophets have served their turn and pass away. Jesus, who is the fulfillment of both, alone remains.

Who is Jesus? Another aspect of God's answer is that Jesus is the one who will replace the Old Covenant. A new era is about to begin. The Old Covenant, represented by Moses and Elijah is going away and the new Covenant is going to come, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

I am drawn to the prophet Jeremiah's words (Jer 31:31-34): "The days are surely coming, says God, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, God says: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know Adonai," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says God; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.


Peter was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them. Out of the cloud came a voice which said, "This is my Own, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests! Listen to him!" When they heard this, the disciples fell forward on the ground, overcome with fear. Jesus came toward them and touched them, saying, "Get up! Don't be afraid!" When they looked up, they did not see anyone but Jesus.

Who is Jesus? God tells us that Jesus is His child. Jesus is revealed here as God the Beloved Child.

How is this relevant to us today? God's final three words were: "Listen to Jesus." And when God had finished speaking, Elijah and Moses were gone. Only Jesus remains. God did not say "Listen to Jesus and Moses and Elijah." He just simply said "Listen to Jesus." This speaks to me of the primacy of Jesus.

Now, Jesus made some outstanding claims. For example, He said "I am the way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to God except by me" (John 14:6)

There is no other way to God than through Jesus. We don't have rules and regulations that you have to keep in order to get into heaven. It is not a matter of being good. Rather it is a matter of coming through Christ. It is recognizing that I can never do enough or be good enough to earn that privilege: the role of getting me to heaven rests with Jesus. Christ did for me what I could not do for myself. Jesus did what the law and the prophets could not do for me.

In conclusion: The question that I would like to leave you with is: Who do you think Jesus is?

If you believe what God said, then the challenge is, are we prepared to listen to what Jesus has to say in our lives?

"Listen to him."