Have you ever thought much about the transfiguration? I know I haven’t. That is, until recently. I’ve read this particular story in the gospels so many times but, aside from it being interesting, never really understood why it was there or what it meant. But recently I was asked to speak on the transfiguration as part of our church’s sermon series on the gospel of Matthew. There’s nothing like sermon preparation to get you thinking about a particular portion of Scripture.
As I read through the story of the transfiguration, I couldn’t help but see two major themes: confirmation and confidence. Just prior to the transfiguration, Peter has made his monumental confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Then Jesus begins to tell his disciples about how he must suffer and die (Matthew 16:21). And if that wasn’t bad enough, Jesus goes on to tell them that they’re going to have to take up their cross and follow him into that suffering! (Matthew 16:24-28). I can imagine the disciples are probably starting to question the wisdom of their decision to follow Jesus at this point. They’ve been to Sunday School and the way they’ve understood it, the Old Testament law and prophets say that the Messiah is going to come in, kick butt, and take names. He isn’t supposed to “die.” What have they done? Have they made a miscalculation here?
Then Jesus takes three of them (Peter, James, and John) up on a mountain and immediately they see Jesus transformed (transfigured) before their very eyes. In this moment they see the unhindered, total glory of God in the face of their friend Jesus. And if that wasn’t enough, Moses and Elijah appear before them. Both of these guys represent two major components of Jewish history and understanding: Moses (the law) and Elijah (the prophets). So, in this moment, these three disciples get visible confirmation that Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of the Old Testament law and prophets, regardless of what their understanding might be.
To add further confirmation, the voice of God himself then speaks to them from a cloud and assures them that Jesus is the very son of God and commands them to listen to him. It’s interesting that God doesn’t say “listen to Moses and Elijah” as well. Something, or some one, is now here who speaks the very words of God. Not only do the Old Testament law and prophets point to Jesus but Jesus is Lord of the Old Testament law and prophets!
As this whole event wraps up, Jesus speaks to his disciples and tells them to “have no fear.” That’s where the confidence comes in. At this point in Matthew, everything shifts. Jesus is now setting his face toward Jerusalem and toward the cross. What the disciples have just experienced on the mountain top is intended to give them confirmation that Jesus is indeed the Messiah he has claimed to be and they can have confidence as they take up their cross and walk with him toward the suffering that lies ahead.
There’s so much more to be said as this event is so incredibly full of Old Testament imagery in order to provide immense confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. I hope you’ll take some time to listen to the entire sermon audio below.