Jesus reveals His Glory
What exactly did the disciples witness at the Transfiguration when Jesus’s “face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light” (Matthew 17:2)? In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus brings three of His disciples up onto a mountain where Christ is transfigured before them: they saw the glory of God, the Divinity of Christ, which was hidden behind the humble appearance of a persecuted man. I believe that the disciples recorded the story of the Transfiguration because the event revealed that the face of Jesus is the face of God.
The Glory of God Revealed in the Old and New Testaments
St. John the Evangelist proclaims in his gospel that the “Word was God” and “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; [and that] we have beheld his glory, [the] glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:1, 14). The prophet Ezekiel, hundreds of years earlier, described a dramatic vision of “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord,” where there was a “brightness round about” someone who looked like a human (Ezekiel 1:28). The glory of God, and His appearance to the Hebrew people, is often associated with light, fire, and a covering cloud throughout the Old Testament (cf. Exodus 13:1, 24:17, 40:35, Num. 16:42, Deut. 5:24). So too, in the Transfiguration, Jesus’s face shines like the sun, his clothes become white as light, and a bright cloud overshadows the disciples.
We say in the Creed every Sunday that Jesus, is “God from God, light from light, true God from true God”, and that He is “…consubstantial with the Father,” but why do we say this? I think that if we read the Scripture as a whole, the same way the Church Fathers read the Scripture, we will come to the same conclusion as the early Church: Jesus is of the same substance as God the Father, Jesus is fully God without beginning. When John says, “we have beheld his glory,” he meant that we have seen the glory of God the Father in the face of Jesus and that Jesus and the Father are One God. When Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us the story of the Transfiguration, where “a bright cloud overshadowed them,” I believe that they are associating Jesus with the appearance of God to Moses on Mount Sinai and the vision of Ezekiel (Matthew 17:5). The disciples saw the glory of God in Jesus and were persecuted for passing this vision on to us through the Scripture and the Church. May we too have the eyes of faith to see the glory of God.
Hear the Word of God and Do It
Could there be a connection between the Transfiguration and the Annunciation? The word “overshadow” is found in both stories–a word used only EIGHT times in scripture, THREE of which appear in relation to the Transfiguration. At the Transfiguration, the disciples saw “a bright cloud [that] overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Matthew 17: 5). And in the gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel announces to Mary: the “Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1: 35). In the Annunciation and St. John’s gospel, we know that God has become man, that the Word of God has become “in-fleshed” or “incarnated”; but in the Transfiguration, God reveals His will to the disciples: “listen to Him”. God has appeared to us, and our proper response as Christians is to listen to Him and to act accordingly: “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Matthew 7: 24-27, see also James 1:22-25).
To Live Life Transfigured is to Live like the Saints
How is the Transfiguration related to Christians like you and me in the Body of the Church, the Body of Christ, throughout history? In Byzantine iconography, thin white lines are scattered throughout the image of a saint, in his or her hair, skin and clothes, even throughout the land and furnishings in the background. These highlights express the transfigured state of the saint and the material world around him or her. Saints are not only transfigured in the afterlife, but also while living in the world. The saint, depicted in an icon (not an image of natural reality, but spiritual reality), reflects the uncreated light of God that shone through his or her life of obedience, prayer, self-discipline, and love. The light is not the saint’s own, but God’s light and God’s presence, which transfigures the heart and soul, even the body and clothes, of the saint. In the book of Exodus, Moses’s “face shone because he had been talking with God” (Exodus 34:29). So we too can be filled with the presence of God, transfigured and shining before others. Our hearts and minds can talk with God through prayer and reading Scripture. Our bodies can be nourished by the Eucharist and overcome sin through self-discipline.
God Makes Himself Known
Christ’s divinity, united with his humanity, was revealed to the disciples in His life, death and resurrection, but also here, in the Transfiguration. The Word of God entered into the material world, and by entering it, God transfigured it. When we speak with God, remove sinful habits from our lives, and commune with God (through the Eucharist, through the Scripture, and through love) we too may shine like the righteous, who “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). We can’t earn a transfigured life, but rather, through a relationship with God, in intimacy and devotion, He may choose to give it to us. In the meantime, may we continually grow in good thoughts, words and actions, in the hope that God will make His glory known, and His presence felt, through our lives!