Catholic Classroom: The Significance of the Transfiguration
Question: What is the significance of the Transfiguration?
The Transfiguration is described in all three Synoptic Gospels (the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke). During this event, Jesus took the Apostles Peter, James, and John up a mountain, where he was transfigured before them to reveal his heavenly glory. Elijah and Moses appeared, and Jesus conversed with them. Then, God spoke from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5). After telling the disciples not to be afraid, Jesus took them back down the mountain and told them not to tell anyone about the Transfiguration until he was raised from the dead.
The events of the Transfiguration can seem strange, but there is something important revealed in each of the details.
Unlike many other events in the Gospels, where timelines do not always match up precisely, the Synoptic Gospels record the Transfiguration as occurring soon after Jesus’s first prediction of his death and resurrection. This was a crucial moment. The Apostles were frightened at the idea of Jesus death, and they were still expecting a triumphantly conquering Messiah. With the Transfiguration, Jesus briefly revealed the glory of his resurrected body, which could only be achieved through the Cross. The preview of God’s glory gave the Apostles the strength and courage to face imminent trials. As we see later in the Gospels, this courage was not fully locked into place until the Apostles received the Holy Spirit.
The Law and the Prophets
Jesus did not appear in his glorified form by himself. As his face and clothes dazzled, he spoke with Moses and Elijah, two of the most important figures from the Old Testament, about the upcoming event of his death. Their presence at this moment is an important indication that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, not a replacement for it. As Moses, having received the Ten Commandments, represents the Law, and Elijah, the great prophet, represents the prophets of the Old Testament, Jesus is the perfect realization of the Law and the Prophets in his life, death, and resurrection.
Jesus revealed his glory to only three of the Apostles: Peter, James, and John. This was in part because of the role they had among the Apostles and the future roles they would have in building up the Church. Additionally, however, by revealing something important to only some of the Apostles, Jesus established a system of witness and evangelization as the means of establishing faith within the Church.
The details of the Transfiguration are rich with symbolism that make it a wonderful mystery to pray with and meditate on. All the details converge in this glorious event to bolster our Christian hope and to prepare us to face trials, so as to share in the inheritance of Jesus.
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