The Sunday immediately preceding Ash Wednesday is Transfiguration Sunday on the church calendar. Now that I attend a church that follows the church calendar, once a year I hear a sermon on the transfiguration, though the text of the sermon may be the account in Matthew, the account in Luke, or the account in Mark. Every year, though, the sermon seems to look at this occurrence from a different angle.
This year, we focused on the account in Mark 9:2-9. And as I listened and meditated on the transfiguration, I was drawn to consider what actually happened to Jesus. What did it mean that he was transfigured?
The Greek word that is translated “was transfigured” in Mark is metamorphoō. If you try to pronounce this word, it may remind you of the English words “metamorphose” or “metamorphosis.” And that is the essential meaning behind the word—to change. In Mark, it is referring to a change of outward form or appearance. Mark 9:3 describes this outward change: “And his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them” (ESV).
So the three disciples who were with Jesus did not see him transfigured with respect to his nature or essence. Instead, Jesus’ transfiguration involved the removal of barriers to seeing him as he truly was. They were able to see him in all his glory, majesty, and power. It was a glimpse of Jesus’ divine, holy, exalted nature as the Messiah, the Son of God. This was his essential nature, which was not diminished by his taking on human form. Nor would it be diminished though his suffering, death, and resurrection, which he had just announced in Mark 8:31.
This vision was a gift to Peter, James, and John. They were not the ones who took the initiative to seek such a vision. Rather they were just with Jesus, doing what he had called them to do: being with him, following him, listening to him, and watching him. And as they did that, the Father chose to allow them to see the Son in all his glorious splendor.
Furthermore, the Father granted this gift for a reason. He knew the disciples were entering into a time of great turmoil, confusion, and suffering. So to reassure them as to the identity of the one whom they were following, the Father gave them a clearer vision of who Jesus was and allowed them to see Jesus in his full glory. Though Jesus may not have been what they were expecting in the Messiah, this vision gave them a preview of his identity in the kingdom of God as the King of kings and Lord of lords. And this vision was an important part of the witness they gave to the world of Jesus’ identity and purpose, as Peter notes in 2 Peter 1:16-18
So often our vision of Jesus is obscured by the cares and constraints of living in this world. We get distracted by the power, might, and machinations of worldly governments, institutions, and individuals. We get worn down by the relentlessness of life. The only antidote to this is to instead focus on Jesus, on who he is. The way in which God reveals his Son to us is up to him. Our part is to walk with Jesus, to follow him, to obey him, to listen to him, to never let our eyes wander from him. The Father will provide the vision we need to encourage, strengthen, and reassure us as we walk the path he has set before us. And one day, we will be like him. That is our hope.
Questions for meditation:
What cares and constraints of this world have been distracting you from seeing Jesus as he truly is?
Are you trusting the Father to reveal Jesus to you when and how he sees fit to do so?