The Feast of the Transfiguration

The Feast of the Transfiguration July 7, 2018

In the synoptic Gospels, which are the Gospels of St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke, the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ is reported in a similar way, as there are not many differences in the accounts. The Gospel of St. John, which is different in many ways from the synoptic Gospels, lacks the account of the Transfiguration.

All three Gospels place the Transfiguration of our Lord in a similar setting and context, which proves the historicity as well as points out how the Transfiguration is to be understood.
The Gospels recount the miraculous feeding of thousands of people near the Sea of Galilee. After all had eaten, baskets full of leftovers were gathered, evidence of the abundance. Christ gives and multiplies life-sustaining food in a Divine miracle. The famous mosaic of the five breads and two fish in the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha is based upon the account in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke.

Multiplication mosaic, Tabgha, Israel
At that point the Apostle St. Peter declares that Jesus Christ is the Messiah the Son of the Living God, but the Disciples are not to tell this yet. Our Lord then predicts his coming suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead.
These events precede the account of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

mt tabor
The order of these accounts embed the Transfiguration in stories about glory after suffering and life after death.
Now let us go to the story of the Transfiguration, according to the Gospel of St. Matthew 17: 1-9:

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”  When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.
 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.”  Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist”.

transfig ms lady Keran 1265 msN1965 140V

Depiction of the Transfiguration in the Gospel of Queen Keran, Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Other places in the Bible tell us about white clothes: the Prophet Daniel speaks about the radiant white clothes of the Ancient of Days[1], which is God. In the New Testament we read about it in the description of the angel next to the empty tomb of Christ, and in many texts in the Book of Revelation depicting heaven. The Gospel of St. Mark tells us that “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them”, clearly stating that this event was supernatural.
Christ’s face “shun like the sun”, which clearly connects the Transfiguration to the story of Moses[2] whose face shun like the sun after he had spoken with God on Mount Sinai.
Wearing shining white clothes therefore is a Biblical characteristic description of heavenly beings.

The appearance of Moses and Elijah symbolize the Law and the Prophets, which Christ fulfilled[3].
Both Moses and Elijah did not die a common death: Moses died and was buried by God on or near Mount Nebo[4]. God spoke from within a cloud to Moses in the book of Exodus 24:15.
God took the prophet Elijah in a whirlwind up to heaven in a chariot of fire and horses of fire[5].

People were expecting Elijah as the predecessor of the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. There are texts in the Prophets that speak of that[6]I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.” The Gospel of St. Matthew[7] testifies of the hope for the coming of the Messiah. Moreover, there are many apocalyptical writings[8] known from the time period between the Old and the New Testament (in Academics more correctly called the Second Temple Period) demonstrating the deep longing for the Messiah. In the Second Temple Period various Jewish groups held different beliefs about the characteristics of the Messiah to be expected. The political climate and occupation of the country by the Romans made faith in God and deliverance by the Messiah grow. Some hoped for the restoration of the Biblical kingdom, others focused on ending the Roman occupation.[9]

The voice from heaven was also heard at Jesus’s baptism by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River[10] using the exact same words as here:
” And a voice from heaven said, “This is My Son, Whom I love; with Him I am well pleased”.
The Gospels of St. Mark and St. Matthew explicitly mention “to Him you shall listen”, a repetition and quote from the book of Deuteronomy: Moses said “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren.To Him you shall listen” [11].1731 baptism christ
The Matthew text tells us that the Disciples St. Peter, St. James and St. John the brother of James fell face down on the ground, aware that the voice of heaven was the voice of God.
St. Peter said “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” . The choice of St. Peter’s words is not without meaning. The exact wording alludes to the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the three pilgrims’ feasts of the Old Testament. During this feast one remembers that after the deliverance from Egypt, the people of Israel dwelled 40 years in the desert. For that reason one stays as much as possible in a temporary construction, a shelter from the elements of nature. During the 40 years in the desert the people of Israel were totally dependent on God, as He sustained them with manna, the miraculous food from heaven. Do you see how this connects with the account of the multiplication of five breads and two fish we talked about previously?
The account of the Transfiguration connects various Biblical passages, so that we understand more of God’s wonderous deeds for us. By Christ’s suffering our sins are done away with, and we regained life.

[1] Daniel 7:9

[2] Exodus 34:29-35

[3] Matthew 5:17-20

[4] Deuteronomy 34: 1-6

[5] II Kings 2: 1-12 (Armenian Bible IV Kings 2: 1-12)

[6] Malachi 3:1

[7] Matthew 17:11-13

[8] Such as IV Ezra, II Baruch, 4Q Apocryphon of Daniel (Dead Sea Scrolls) etc.

[9] Which culminated in the Jewish Revolt. The Romans were not known for humane or soft politics; the Romans sent three legions of soldiers to the Holy Land under command of later Emperor Titus, leading to the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem, and the spread of many Jews into the diaspora.

[10] Gospel of Matthew 3:17. The location is also the same place where Elijah was taken up to heaven.

[11] Deuteronomy 18:15

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