Updated: Jan 28
[This observation is based on the readings listed by the Episcopal Lectionary, for Year A Pentecost, as Proper 13]
The main definition of the word “transfigure” is: “To change the form or appearance of; transform. See Synonyms at convert.” In essence, that definition is simply restating the roots of the word, from Latin: “trānsfigūrāre : trāns-, trans- + figūra, form,” with “trans-“ being a way of saying “change” and “form” meaning “appearance or shape.” Therefore, the definition is written: “to change form or appearance of; transform.”
Water Transfigures from solid (ice) to liquid (rivers, lakes, and seas) to gas (clouds), as a natural cycle.
When we understand this basic definition of “transfigure,” we can assume that the “transfiguration” of Jesus was when he changed form. The religious definition of “transfigure” is then recognized as “to exalt or glorify,” such that Jesus changed his form – mild-mannered rabbi – into a dazzling white berobed Saint. However, Jesus was already a Saint when God the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5b, NIV)
In some regard, the Christian concept of “The Transfiguration” is as weakly understood as is the Holy Spirit being an entity, separate from yet equal to God. In this way it is appropriate to match the quote from 2 Peter 21 to the Luke account of Jesus on the high mountain: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (NIV) The reason we call the books of Scripture [a bible of writings] holy is because the source of those written words is not from “human will, but by men and women moved by the Holy Spirit.” That which is “spoke by God” is prophecy, making it require the Holy Spirit to fully understand. Peter was thus speaking of his personally witnessing the events of that called “The Transfiguration,” writing that defining that experience would be impossible, without the Holy Spirit.
While it is easy to see the glowing face of Moses as a parallel to Jesus’ face glowing, such that both changed appearance and both were exalted, it is perhaps more difficult to see Peter as likewise morphed into that glorified state of being. Peter wrote in his second epistle how Jesus was indeed glorified by the Father, when God spoke those words of praise about the exaltation of Jesus and told Peter, James and John (of Zebedee) to “Listen to Jesus!” Peter and the other two heard the voice of God, as God spoke to them. Not everyone is able to hear that voice when it speaks, as John wrote in his Gospel:
“Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine.” (John 12:28-30)
The same focus needs to be seen in the readings of “The Transfiguration.” Seeing Saints in heavenly light was not an experience of Jesus, but rather the disciples. Therefore, Jesus did not change his form, as much as the disciples were allowed to see what was always there, but hidden from their sight. In that sense, it was they who had changed forms, from those with eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear into those who saw the light of Christ and heard the voice of God speaking directly to them.
It is also easy to see how frightening it is to see someone glowing from having spoken directly to God. The Israelites were “afraid to come near [Moses].” In the same way, when Peter, James and John heard the voice of God (as a cloud came and overshadowed them – a transfiguration of water, which symbolizes a higher emotional state of being), “they were terrified” and “fell facedown to the ground.” This state of fear – a fear of God – is why the Israelites were followers of Moses and why the disciples of Jesus followed him. The Israelites demanded that Moses cover his glowing face with a veil, because the glow was like being too close to God; and being too close to God brings fear.
Jacob fought when he encountered God as an angel. He wrestled from fear of the change in himself that was coming. Paul fell to the ground when he saw a flash of light and heard the heavenly voice (that others heard only as sound), becoming blind for three days. It is normal to fear the presence of God coming near … as Jesus to his disciples to go and announce.
In Luke’s version of “The Transfiguration,” we hear how Peter spoke up when he saw Jesus with Moses and Elijah, but he spoke “not knowing what he said.” This means Peter spoke as a disciple, one typical of the others who had no true understanding of spiritual matters. As disciples, who had been sent out to heal and preach, they went as extensions of Jesus, as those given special powers from another human being, one who was truly special to God. Because they did not heal and preach from their own love of God, possessing the Mind of Christ and the realization of the Holy Spirit themselves, Peter spoke from a true level of idolatry – he worshiped those who he could never be: Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
Peter wanted to build tabernacles (tents or booths) for three Saints of Israel. In their own protected areas, strangers could come and see pure holiness. The devoted could speak to those who had actually spoken to God. Such proof of holiness would certainly help all those who mourned their inability to live sinless lives. For the brief instant that Peter spoke, he was saying he was afraid of the Jesus movement losing momentum, and building monuments of proof would take away a lot of the dangers still ahead.
Even the disciples who followed Jesus, recognizing their lowly states of humanity, they did not see themselves as worthy of ever challenging the Pharisees, Temple Priests and Scribes. Even though Jesus confronted them regularly, those “holy men” of Judea still seemed closer to God than themselves. The disciples had insecurity issues, concerning their depth of faith. They could attend to the needs of a holy priest, and convene as Jesus’ holy gathering, but beyond that they feared treading. In that sense, Christians today are exactly like Peter, James and John, as their pious servitude always seemed to be easier done by building and giving things, than by being like those idolized as special.
That knee-jerk suggestion by Peter was squashed by God when He spoke. When God said, “This is My Son,” He was saying “Jesus is Mine,” while also saying silently, “You disciples are not yet Mine.” When God said, “My chosen,” He meant, “I chose Jesus,” and therefore Jesus was deemed as holy, as were Moses and Elijah (whom God also chose). Again, this in reverse states that Jesus did not make any mental (egotistical) arrangements to have God choose him. Jesus never had thoughts that involved “I”: “If I say I believe this, then God will choose me.” Like Moses speaking to God at the burning bush, God spoke to Jesus while in his mother’s womb, and every moment after. Holy men (and women) are led by the thoughts of God, as those chosen. Thus, the disciples (and all other human beings of faith) also had to be chosen by God.
When Peter wrote in his second letter how God said of Jesus, “With whom I am well pleased” (a statement made by God at Jesus’ Holy Baptism, recounted in John’s Gospel), this is the character displayed by one of faith. Jesus had acted in obedient ways, which were pleasing to the LORD. This means the way one believes should lead one’s actions, which then becomes the path one takes that leads to God choosing His servants – like the life roads traveled by Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Peter. More than faith that there is a God (without being able to see or hear Him), the true “Transfiguration” comes after faith has led one to works of faith, those which are pleasing the LORD.
This way to act is then exclaimed by God, when He said, “Listen to Jesus!” That command then says that the only ones who God will choose as His are those who act like Jesus, those who follow his instructions. Obedience to Jesus leads to actions that are pleasing to God, because one’s actions are a duplication of those made by a Son of God. God has the right to choose only the very best as His own, which is why God sent Jesus to tell everyone how be. If one wants to be chosen by God, then become Jesus to equate as God’s own. If you truly “Listen to Jesus,” then you act upon what you hear.
When you make that realization, then you have to see how listening to Jesus is the same as talking to God. Jesus only spoke what the Father said through him. If you go into your own private tent of meeting and converse with Jesus, then Jesus will tell you the ways to act. When you leave that conversation, you will wear the face of Christ. You will have become Jesus reborn anew. The veil covering that face is then your own human face. You look like you, but you has been replaced by Jesus Christ. You don’t scare other believers who have yet to fully commit to God, by looking aglow with Jesus’ face and appearing to be wearing glistening white clothes. You show piety through discrete actions, not by boastful displays of faith.
When one understands the true meaning of Peter writing, “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed,” one sees how one measure of the Christ Mind is to explain Scripture in a way that adds to the level of faith another has in written words. Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy (as he explained) and the source of new prophecy. One can then understand what Peter meant when he wrote next, “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” The “dark place” is anyone’s soul that still does not know the Holy Spirit personally; it is a soul void of God’s light when one struggles to explain the meaning of Scripture to oneself and others. Thus, when the “day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,” then the light of Christ has “Transfigured” oneself, through a deep love of God (beyond faith). One “does well” by beginning to see the ways to act that are pleasing to the LORD. The more one listens, understands, and acts, the closer one comes to that day of dawning, when God chooses a disciple to begin becoming a Saint.
It is hard for those who claim to be Christians, simply by believing in God and Christ, to hear of “The Transfiguration” and not think in external terms. It is easy to see Moses and Jesus as those who were chosen by God to be transformed into Holy Patriarchs. It is easy to get in line and walk a well-beaten path to church and sit in a pew listening to the words of Scriptures that never touch the heart. We hear sermons that project “The Transfiguration” onto those who are special, but we are never taught to see ourselves as capable of being chosen and God’s own. We never see the light of Christ or hear the voice of God as proof that we can also be chosen. However, eternal life depends on a soul being chosen by God, not the other way around.
This means “The Transfiguration” is not a story told in the gospels of Matthew and Luke as intended to be a recognition of how holy Jesus was. Instead, it is a projection of how holy Transformation is a requirement of all who seek the reward of Heaven. The Transfiguration is depicted in every Medieval painting of the Saints, where the radiant glow of exaltation is the halo above their heads. All Saints are copies of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. Their fleshy faces cover the spiritual Jesus face within, where God speaks to them through the Christ Mind, via the Holy Spirit. The point of this Scriptural story is that each disciple is expected to act, by serving God, by climbing the high mountain (as opposed to wallowing in the deep crevasses the world offers), and speaking to God directly.
Each true Christian is required to be the rebirth of Jesus, the Son of God with whom God was pleased. Jesus is the human form that God has chosen to be the model after which all Saints will be transformed. Jesus is, therefore, the way to the LORD. All other paths lead away from the Promised Kingdom.
LISTEN to Jesus!
Open your hearts and talk with God, through Christ. It is you that must be transfigured into Jesus Christ. Only that identity will make one chosen by God. Only you becoming the Son of God, the beloved of God, will make God well pleased.