The Transfiguration and The Cross

Appearances can be deceiving.  After all, Jesus was just another Galilean.  His hands were the rough hands of a workman.  People in Nazareth knew his mother.  Some even remembered the man they thought was his dad.

Yet when Jesus went up on Mt. Tabor with his three closest disciples, his appearance changed.  The glory of his divinity suddenly became visible, shining through his humanity, dazzling his overwhelmed disciples.

But then two others showed up — Moses and Elijah.  Of all the great figures of the Old Testament, why them?  The Jews were not abstract but rather very concrete thinkers.  When they thought about the first five books of the Bible, “the Law,” or “Torah”, they thought of a person — Moses.  When they considered the Bible’s prophetic writings, the greatest prophet came to mind — Elijah.  The Law and the Prophets.  That was the Jewish way of saying “the Bible.”  Moses and Elijah witness to Jesus because all of Scripture witnesses to him.

But what did the three of them talk about?  His miracles?  His teaching?  Neither.  They spoke about his “departure” soon to be accomplished in Jerusalem.  This is what is predicted and described in a mysterious way all throughout the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms, namely his march straight through indescribable suffering and death on his way to resurrected glory.

One thing that has troubled many people about his passion are his words from the cross “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matt 27:46). Some have even read into this a mistaken theology that Jesus, taking our place, experienced the most terrible consequence of our sin, namely being cut off from communion from the Father, separated from God and his grace.  Not a chance.  That fact that Jesus bore our sin cannot mean this.  He is not a sinner.  His communion with the Father and the Spirit can never be interrupted.  The cloud overshadowing the disciples there was the same cloud of the Spirit that overshadowed Mary at the annunciation.  The voice of the Father resounded forth from it. The Father and the Spirit were with Him on Mt. Tabor.  The Father and the Spirit were with Him on Golgotha.

So how do we take Jesus’ words?  They are a quote from a psalm.  In fact the ancient Jewish practice was to designate a particular psalm not by a number but by its first few words (we still do this with conciliar documents such as “Lumen Gentium”).  There is a psalm in fact that begins with this phrase, Psalm 22.  Make this psalm part of your meditation on the passion this Lent.  In a remarkable way it predicts the mockery that is hurled upon Christ that fateful day, the piercing of his hands and feet by a pack of “dogs” (a uncomplimentary term used in those days to refer to gentiles), the gambling for his clothing, even his eventual deliverance by the God who hears his cry.  So Jesus, from the cross, is proclaiming what is manifest in the transfiguration: “all the law and the prophets bear witness to me and to what is happening right now.”

This is why Jesus came.  This is why for ten chapters in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is resolutely making his way towards Jerusalem (Lk 9-19).  His teaching and his miracles are remarkable.  But if he had not laid down his life for us, if he had not been raised from the dead, we’d still be in our sins.  The entire drama of human history finds its center and its meaning in these few tumultuous days.

Some have asked why Mel Gibson’s movie was only about Jesus’ passion, and not the entire life of Christ.  This is the reason.  Theologically, the page dividing the New and Old Testaments is not the gold-edged one between Malachi and Matthew, but rather the crimson-tinged page of the passion.

And if you’ve see this movie you understand why Peter, James, and John needed the glory of Tabor before enduring the horror of Golgotha.

Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For info on his resources and pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 800.803.0118.

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  • erich

    Can the Gospel of the transfiguration hang on the greatest commandments? Moses is said to represent the law and Elijah is said to represent the prophets. Does all the law and the prophets hang on Jesus, the central figure in the transfiguration?

    Jesus loves God the Father with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength.
    Jesus loves each and every one of us as he loves himself?

    Can the forgiveness of sins hang on the greatest commandments ?

    When the people of Jeruselam shouted, crucify him; did Jesus forgive them, in order that he should love them as he loved himself? When the soldiers scurged him, and nailed him to the cross, did he forgive them, so that he should keep the second greatest commandment?

    It seems that every time Jesus suffered injustice here on Earth, he forgave, in order that he should continue to love the sinners as he loved himself. Jesus obeyed the greatest commandments whilst on Earth? After the ascension of Jesus into heaven, does Jesus still forgive us, in order that he should keep loving each and every one of us as he loves himself.

    What kind of a burden do we place on Jesus with our sins? Can Jesus love us more than he loves himself? To forgive others, has to be one of the hardest things in life.



  • Grandpa Tom

    When Jesus incarnate cried out “Eli, Eli, Lamma Sabathani; My God, why have you forsaken me” it was the man Jesus who was abandoned to the Jews and Gentiles, and this moment reveals his truely human nature. Because Adam sinned on a tree, it is fitting that Christ atone for the sins of the history of mankind on a tree, restoring wht Adam had lost. Christ was obedient even unto the Cross. Jesus the man overcame the devil doing the opposite of Adam. It was for man’s greater dignity that it should be also a man that should overthrow the devil. It was necessary for Christ to suffer, and rise from the dead. Christ’s passion was in keeping with both his mercy and justice. Christ the man suffered the greatest of pain in both body and soul, however at the same time the higher portion within Him, the Godhead enjoyed visions of Heaven. Christ said “I am the Good Shepard; and I lay down My life for the sheep; I lay down My Life that I may take it up again; No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again; This command I have recieved from my Father.” John 6: 3-18. In the Transfiguration St. Thomas Aquinas says Christ revealed His Glory, that they might not grieve over His death, to prepare them for the scandal of the Cross; and in order that they might be witnesses of spiritual things when they should be filled with the Holy Ghost. Thanks be to God who hath given us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 15:17. The central message of the Cross is that death is not permanent, because the resurrection is proof of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Cross is honored everywhere, Earthly Kings like Richard the Lionhearted lay aside their Crowns to take up the Cross which was depicted on their sheilds and swords. “Put on God as you Armor.” Eph. 6:10-19. Thus it is written: “If any may does not confess that the Word of God Suffered in the flesh, and was crucified in the flesh, let him be anathema (Synodal Epistle of Cyril). GOD IS LOVE.