International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
(1) About midway of His active ministry Jesus, accompanied by Peter, James and John, withdrew to a high mountain apart (probably Mt. Hermon; see next article) for prayer. While praying Jesus was "transfigured," "his face did shine as the sun," "and his garments became glistering, exceeding white, so as no fuller on earth can whiten them." It was night and it was cold. The disciples were drowsy and at first but dimly conscious of the wonder in progress before their eyes. From the brightness came the sound of voices. Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah, the subject of the discourse, as the disciples probably learned later, being of the decease (exodus) which Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. As the disciples came to themselves, the figures of Moses and Elijah seemed to withdraw, whereupon Peter impetuously demanded tents to be set up for Jesus and His heavenly visitants that the stay might be prolonged and, if possible, made permanent. Just then a cloud swept over them, and out of the cloud a voice came, saying, "This is my beloved Son: hear ye him." In awe the disciples prostrated themselves and in silence waited. Suddenly, lifting up their eyes they saw no one, save Jesus only (Matthew 17:1-13 Mark 9:2-13 Luke 9:28-36).
Such is the simple record. What is its significance? The Scripture narrative offers no explanation, and indeed the event is afterward referred to only in the most general way by Peter (2 Peter 1:16-18) and, perhaps, by John (John 1:14). That it marked a crisis in the career of Jesus there can be no doubt. From this time He walked consciously under the shadow of the cross. A strict silence on the subject was enjoined upon the three witnesses of His transfiguration until after "the Son of man should have risen again from the dead." This means that, as not before, Jesus was made to realize the sacrificial character of His mission; was made to know for a certainty that death, soon and cruel, was to be His portion; was made to know also that His mission as the fulfillment of Law (Moses) and prophecy (Elijah) was not to be frustrated by death. In His heart now would sound forever the Father's approval, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The scene, therefore, wrought out in Jesus a new fervor, a new boldness, a new confidence of ultimate victory which, as a source of holy joy, enabled Him to endure the cross and to despise the shame (Hebrews 12:2). In the disciples the scene must have wrought a new faith in the heavensent leadership of Jesus. In the dark days which were soon to come upon them the memory of the brightness of that unforgettable night would be a stay and strength. There might be opposition, but there could be no permanent defeat of one whose work was ratified by Moses, by Elijah, by God Himself. Indeed, was not the presence of Moses and Elijah a pledge of immortality for all? How in the face of such evidence, real to them, however it might be to others, could they ever again doubt the triumph of life and of Him who was the Lord of life? The abiding lesson of the Transfiguration is that of the reality of the unseen world, of its nearness to us, and of the comforting and inspiring fact that "spirit with spirit may meet."
The transfigured appearance of Jesus may have owed something to the moonlight on the snow and to the drowsiness of the disciples; but no one who has ever seen the face of a saint fresh from communion with God, as in the case of Moses (Exodus 34:29-35) and of Stephen (Acts 6:15), will have any difficulty in believing that the figure of Jesus was irradiated with a "light that never was on sea or land." See Comms. and Lives of Christ; also a suggestive treatment in Westcott's Introduction to the Study of the Gospels. (2) The transfiguration of Christians is accomplished by the renewing of the mind whereby, in utter abandonment to the will of God, the disciple displays the mind of Christ (Romans 12:2); and by that intimate fellowship with God, through which, as with unveiled face he beholds the glory of the Lord, he is "transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Charles M. Stuart
TRANSFIGURATION, MOUNT OF
trans-fig-u-ra'-shun (referred to as the "holy mount" in 2 Peter 1:18): Records of the Transfiguration are found in Matthew 17:1;; Mark 9:2;; Luke 9:28;. From these narratives we gather that Jesus went with His disciples from Bethsaida to the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi, where Peter's memorable confession was made. Some six or eight days later Jesus went up into a high mountain to pray, taking with Him Peter, James and John. There He was transfigured before them. Descending the next day, He healed a demoniac boy, and then passed through Galilee to Capernaum.
1. Not Olivet or Tabor:
It is quite evident that the tradition placing the scene on the Mount of Olives must be dismissed. Another tradition, dating from the 4th century, identifies the mountain with Tabor. In the article on TABOR, MOUNT, reasons are stated for rejecting this tradition. It was indeed possible in the time indicated to travel from Caesarea Philippi to Tabor; but there is nothing to show why this journey should have been undertaken; and, the mountain top being occupied by a town or village, a suitable spot could not easily have been found.
2. Mt. Hermon:
In recent years the opinion has become general that the scene must be placed somewhere on Mt. Hermon. It is near to Caesarea Philippi. It is the mountain paragraph excellence in that district (Luke 9:28). It was easily possible in the time to make the journey to Chasbeiyah and up the lofty steeps. The sacred associations of the mountain might lend it special attractions (Stanley, S and the Priestly Code (P), 399). This is supported by the transient comparison of the celestial splendor with the snow, where alone it could be seen in Palestine (ibid., 400).
It seems to have been forgotten that Mt. Hermon lay beyond the boundaries of Palestine, and that the district round its base was occupied by Gentiles (HJP, II, i, 133). The sacred associations of the mountain were entirely heathen, and could have lent it no fitness for the purpose of Jesus; hos chion, "as snow," in Mark 9:3, does not belong to the original text, and therefore lends no support to the identification. It was evidently in pursuance of His ordinary custom that Jesus "went up into the mountain to pray" (Luke 9:28). This is the only indication of His purpose. It is not suggested that His object was to be transfigured. "As he was praying," the glory came. There is no hint that He had crossed the border of Palestine; and it is not easy to see why in the circumstances He should have made this journey and toilsome ascent in heathen territory. Next morning as usual He went down again, and was met by a crowd that was plainly Jewish. The presence of "the scribes" is sufficient proof of this (Mark 9:14). Where was such a crowd to come from in this Gentile district? Matthew in effect says that the healing of the demoniac took place in Galilee (Matthew 17:22). The case against Mt. Hermon seems not less conclusive than that against Tabor.
3. Jebel Jermuk:
The present writer has ventured to suggest an identification which at least avoids the difficulties that beset the above (Expository Times, XVIII, 333). Among the mountains of Upper Galilee Jebel Jermuk is especially conspicuous, its shapely form rising full 4,000 ft. above the sea. It is the highest mountain in Palestine proper, and is quite fitly described as hupselon ("high"). It stands to the West over against the Safed uplands, separated from them by a spacious valley, in the bottom of which runs the tremendous gorge, Wady Leimun. It is by far the most striking feature in all the Galilean landscape. The summit commands a magnificent view, barred only to the Southwest by other mountains of the range. It rises from the midst of a district which then supported a large population of Jews, with such important Jewish centers as Kefr Bir`im, Gishcala, Meiron, etc., around its base. Remote and lonely as it is, the summit was just such a place as Jesus might have chosen for prayer. It was comparatively easy to reach, and might be comfortably climbed in the evening. Then on His descent next day the crowd might easily assemble from the country and the villages near by. How long our Lord stayed near Caesarea Philippi after the conversation recorded in Matthew 16:21; we do not know. From Banias to Gishcala, e.g. one could walk on foot without fatigue in a couple of days. If a little time were spent in the Jewish villages passed on the way, the six days, or Luke's "about eight days," are easily accounted for. From this place to Capernaum He would "pass through Galilee" (Mark 9:30).