The Transfiguration

God is not a man.  I know this.  Yet sometimes I grow comfortable imagining God simply as the man Jesus who walked among us weak and hungry men many years ago. Yes, He is still with us.  And I love Him! But Jesus is one of three persons in a Holy Trinity. And there is much more to Jesus than the meek and mild teacher.

I love the passages in scripture where Christ’s glory, His divine, uncreated nature burst through.  My heart quakes when I hear Him thunder to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham was, I AM!” Since my retreat in April, I have been especially fascinated by the transfiguration and its connection to the exodus.

My Passover vision took me to the book of Exodus, which I now read in a very different light. I am riveted, captivated by the stories which once seemed distant.  God the Father, Creator of all, the One who has no beginning and no end, set His affections upon the people of Israel.  He fought for them.  He ate with their elders.  He made a covenant with them, writing the words of that covenant with His own finger.  He fed them.  He dwelt among them.  The Israelites could see his presence in the cloud by day, in the fire by night!  They heard His speak and they trembled.  They saw Moses’ face shine, transfigured.  And when they dedicated the tabernacle, none could stand in His presence, not even Moses.

My heart is burning to see the God that Israel knew in the desert.  The God of glory, the consuming fire! The Creator of all that exists, both visible and invisible. Entirely other, unfathomable, but One who loves His people with a jealous love.

This is the glory that Jesus had from the beginning. This is the glory which He prays to the Father just before His passion that His disciples might see. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24) And this is the glory which Peter, James and John glimpsed at the Transfiguration.

Until recently, this story in the gospels puzzled me, perhaps in the way it puzzled the disciples.  Surely the scene is awesome, a scary and a sober reminder that our Savior is not like any other man. But why Moses and Elijah?  And why would they come to talk to Jesus at this point in His ministry?

One problem for English readers, in my opinion, is inadequate translation. Most English versions of Luke 9:30-31 read like this.  “And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”   The word departure seems odd to me.  I have always understood that the word refers to the coming passion and death of Jesus. Even so, it is an unusual usage of words. Departures are everyday affairs.  One does not often speak of “accomplishing” a departure, one simply makes a departure.

But as I walked the beach on the morning of the Passover, I recalled that the word in Greek is “exodus.”  And then what joy filled my heart!  Of course, Jesus would accomplish a great exodus with his death.  He would be the Passover lamb, and He would open the expanse between death and life, earth and heaven!

We know from scripture that Jesus desired to be with His close friends on the night of His passion.  But He began thinking about His exodus well before that day.  And as the day grew closer and began to consume His thoughts, would it not be a comfort to share this burden with friends who understood? Friends who could rejoice with Him, who could speak courage.  Friends who knew Him as He really was, in His glory. Moses and Elijah had both seen Jesus in glory, before the Incarnation (or inasmuch as one can speak of “before” when one is outside the confines of time.) They were the type of friends Jesus prayed for in John 17, those who saw the glory the Father had given the Son before the foundation of the world.  Peter, James and John would become those friends, and they were invited to the mountain top for a foretaste.  But Moses and Elijah already knew.  And as a witness to the first exodus, I believe Moses had a special interest in the exodus to come. Speaking mystically, Moses and Elijah were the reward of Jesus’ sacrifice – men who became friends of God by grace, clothed in glory, living with God.

Once again, this is just my imagination, but I believe Jesus longed to wear His glory, or a small bit of it, before entering His passion. I know the Father spoke over His Son on that mountain, and I know that the Son rejoiced in the manifest presence of His Father. Jesus loves the glory He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the promise of returning to that glory, and sharing it with the people He loves, that was the “joy set before Him.”

On the night of His passion, Jesus prayed this prayer. “ The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” I find it fascinating that as often I hear John 17 taught, I rarely hear anyone address this verse.  It seems to me that we Christians are understandably often focused on our brokenness.  But Jesus prayed for us to have a share in His glory, that we may be one.  Somehow carrying the glory of Jesus is essential to our hope of unity.  It is certainly essential to our promised life in the presence of God. 

How can we carry that glory unless we gaze upon it?  Unless we long for a vision of Christ’s glory?  Today, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, I set my internal vision toward that mountain in Israel.  Toward the consuming fire on Mt. Sinai.  Toward the one whose “eyes were like a flame of fire.  His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters.  In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun [k]shining in its strength..” (Rev. 1:14-16)  And I take great hope in these other words of the Apostle John, a witness to the Transfiguration, “ Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (I John 3:2)