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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Transfiguration (2)

TRANSFIGURATION.—The name given to that event in the course of Christ’s ministry in which He was visibly glorified in the presence of three selected disciples. Difficulty has always attached to any attempt to explain it. That it represents a singular enhancement of His Person and a singular attestation of His message was seen from the beginning (2 Peter 1:16-18). As such it took its natural place among the evidences of His Divinity. To that position its significance has been very generally limited, and there conceived for the most part in a purely external manner. The paucity of essential ideas associated with it has diverted attention to its details, which have lent themselves to much conjectural and picturesque description, too realistic in character to be serviceable to knowledge. In recent NT scholarship a new interest in the event has sprung up, directed by the modern analytical study of Christ’s self-consciousness, and discerning in the experience it embodies a moment of profound import in His self-development.

1. Narratives of the event.—(1) The evidence for the Transfiguration is remarkably strong. It is recorded by all three Synoptics in its incidents, and by the Fourth Gospel in its inner mood (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-10, Luke 9:28-36, John 12:23-41). In the first three Gospels both the precision of detail and the agreement are striking, including the following facts: the occasion—six days after the preceding incidents just narrated; the place—a high mountain apart; the chosen three—Peter, James, John; the supernatural light; the heavenly visitants and their speech; the suggestion of Peter; the overshadowing cloud and the Divine voice from its midst; the awe, yet joy, of the disciples; the return of Christ to ordinary conditions of human life; the charge of silence. Additional features of importance are given by Lk. (John 9:28 f.): the motive of the ascent, viz. prayer, during which the unearthly lustre appeared; the subject of discourse, viz. the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem (John 9:31); the physical state of the disciples, viz. ‘heavy with sleep, and, having kept themselves awake, they saw his glory’ (John 9:32); together with two points of time, viz. ‘about eight days’ (John 9:28), and the descent from the hill ‘the next day’ (John 9:37). Touches, less important, peculiar to the others, are Christ’s allaying the fear of the disciples (Matthew 17:7), and Peter’s embarrassment and agitation (Mark 9:6). The silence of Jn. has been specially commented on as weakening the authority of the Synoptic witness (cf. Strauss, Leben Jesu, pt. ii. c. [Note: circa, about.] 10). But when we recognize the totally different animus narrandi in his case from that which we discover in the Synoptics, we may be reassured. The Fourth Gospel separates itself from the others in making prominent the fact that the motif and explanation of Christ’s words and acts are to be found, not in the circumstances and persons around Him, but in a higher necessity incumbent on Him in virtue of His nature or His office or His work or the will of God, i.e. a higher law at work. Accordingly we may expect in the Fourth Gospel, less the outward incidents* [Note: the omission of the Temptation narrative.] and more the interior mood corresponding to them, to be emphasized. There can be little doubt that the Johannine counterpart of the Synoptic narration is to be found in John 12:23-41, the passage which stands between the record of Christ’s public ministry and the ensuing scenes of His glorifying through death, resurrection, and ascension—a position identical with that occupied by the Transfiguration event in the Synoptics.

The details of the Transfiguration are seldom referred to throughout the rest of the NT. Explicit allusion is made only once, viz. in 2 Peter 1:16-18, a writing whose authenticity is seriously doubted.† [Note: Moffatt, Historical New Testament, pp. 596–598; per contra, Swete, Epistles of St. Peter.] The effort (Jannaris, ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] xiv. [1903] 462) to find in the Prologue to the Fourth Gospel a direct reference to the Transfiguration is of interest, but unconvincing. Better material may be found in such passages as 1 John 1:1-4, Revelation 1:13-17, Hebrews 1:3-4; Hebrews 3:3; Hebrews 3:6-7, 2 Corinthians 4:6, in which we have statements obviously coloured from immediate conviction of Christ’s visible glorification; even here, however, we have only indirect testimony. The extra-Synoptic reticence is not to be denied. It is quite explicable. It is a reticence only as to details: the idea of the Transfiguration story is so manifestly accepted that he who runs may read. In the Epistles the aim of the writers is not historical statement, but doctrinal elucidation and practical edification—an aim which calls for but slight advertence to the outward facts of Christ’s earthly life. There is, too, the clear belief in the minds of the writers that all those facts pale in impressiveness and meaning before that of the Resurrection, the event which is not simply analogous to them, but that in which they find their rationale and explanation. By that fact more than by any other the glory of Christ’s Person was revealed, and the Divine purpose and message in Him realized. In the light of it, the Transfiguration appeared but its pledge and forecast (cf. Matthew 17:9, Mark 9:9). It is probably true to affirm that the central idea of the event lay in its significance for Christ Himself rather than for His disciples, who are brought in more as spectators of its marvel than as participants in its meaning.

(2) The place of the Transfiguration is not definitely located in the Gospels. The phrases are in Mt. and Mk. ‘unto an high mountain apart,’ and in Lk. ‘into a mountain.’ Earlier tradition almost‡ [Note: There appears to have been another, identifying the site with the Mt. of Olives.] unanimously fixed on Mt. Tabor—a tradition which has enshrined itself in the calendar of the Eastern Church, where the Festival of the Transfiguration is celebrated on 6th Aug. as τὸ Θαβώριον. Modern opinion almost as unanimously regards as more likely Mt. Hermon, either one of its spurs or even its summit (Conder, Tent-Work in Palestine). The argument relies mainly on the fact of the distance of Mt. Tabor, lying near Nazareth, far to the south from Caesarea Philippi in the N.W., in whose neighbourhood the immediately preceding incidents took place. The departure of Christ and His company from Caesarea is not mentioned till later (Matthew 17:22, Mark 9:30). There is, perhaps, a certain fitness in the Transfiguration scene having occurred in the vicinity of its intimate antecedents, and in the intense atmosphere charged with their novel and perplexing intimations. It is perhaps, too, not a mere fancy that Hermon’s glittering cone of snow suggested Mk.’s expression, λευκὰ λίαν ὡς χιών, if the last words are to be admitted into the text.* [Note: For a fuller discussion on the site, consult Keim, Jesus of Nazara, iv. 306, n.; Edersheim, LT; Farrar, Life of Christ. For an interesting note against Hermon’s claims, see ExpT xviii. [1907] p. 333. The facts are too few for anything beyond conjecture.]

(3) There is a little more definiteness about the occasion. Each of the three narrators connects it by time with what goes before: ‘six days,’ ‘eight days’; the latter (Lk.) evidently, according to the common Jewish reckoning, inclusive. The note of time is not without a purpose. The link is intentional between the new wonder and the surprising revelations recounted. Those were three in number: (a) the great confession by Peter of Christ’s Messianic dignity (Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, Luke 9:18-21); (b) our Lord’s solemn announcement of His near suffering (Matthew 16:21-26, Mark 8:31-37, Luke 9:22-26); and (c) the definite prediction of His coming in His Kingdom (Matthew 16:27-28, Mark 8:38; Mark 9:1, Luke 9:26-27). Compare with these the statements concerning His mind in (a) John 11:27, (b) John 11:47-52, John 12:7, and (c) John 12:12-26.

(4) As for the time of the day when the occurrence took place, the favoured view is that it was by night. For (a) night was generally the time of His retirement for prayer (cf. Luke 6:12 with Luke 9:28); (b) the disciples were ‘heavy with sleep,’ and had to ‘keep themselves awake’;† [Note: διαγρηγορήσαντες = ‘having kept themselves awake throughout.’] and (c) they descended the mountain ‘the next day,’ i.e. after spending the night on its summit.

On the high land,‡ [Note: τὸ ὄρος ὑψηλόν may mean simply ‘the high land.’] then, close by Caesarea, possibly in the early dawn, withdrawn a stone’s cast from the disciples (cf. Luke 22:41), communing face to face with the Father, Christ yielded His heart, wholly preoccupied with self-discovery and tragic anticipation, to the experience of the hour, and received the illumination and strength for which He was ripe. To the disciples it seemed as if a Divine splendour beamed around Him, lighting up the departing darkness, imparting its brightness to His raiment, and suffusing His features with a wondrous lustre, so that He appeared to be transformed.§ [Note: μετεμορφώθη: μετά change of, μορφή ‘the abiding form.’] And with it, from within the veil, came, standing forth as men (Luke 9:30), the greatest of OT men of God, Moses and Elijah, to talk with Him of His decease (ἔξοδος), and to manifest the absorbing interest of the spirit-world in His work (cf. 1 Peter 1:12). Then, to the overwhelming awe of the three, there drew near a still Greater Presence, for the cloud which now cast its shadow over them all was the cloud of God Himself, and the voice heard was His, proclaiming the Son’s high state and attesting His heavenly call.

2. Reality of the occurrence.—The narratives throw upon the mind of the reader the most powerful sense of the reality of the event. Their primary impression is of the outward actuality of the scene. The structure defies dissection,|| [Note: | Of its textual construction, criticism has, so far, failed to give any clear account. Cf. the divergent theories of, e.g., Strauss, Keim, Bacon, Schmiedel.] the substance invention. The simple naturalness of the one, the stupendous magnitude of the other, betray no indications of artificiality, while the story as a whole is as inextricably embedded in the surrounding records as the supernatural element in the historical setting of the Gospel itself. It presents accordingly a problem to faith and unfaith alike. For the former its substance is too thin, for the latter its form too full; both are often in; danger of missing its inner force.

With the external details of the Transfiguration of Christ primitive opinion concerned itself but slightly. It dwells on the fact they served to portray—‘his majesty,’ with the assured conviction of which the whole attitude of the early Church was animated. Patristic and mediaeval expositors connect the event with the prediction preceding, defining it as the inauguration of His Kingdom, not indeed in its actual working, but in that personal condition of their Lord which should be the cause and signal of its commencement. Doubt of the objective reality of the glorification of Christ does not occur, and only rarely even any doubt of the literal realism of its accompanying details.* [Note: Tertullian is the most outstanding exception.]

In the modern period the historical credibility of the Transfiguration has been ably contested by rationalistic criticism, and unwisely defended by spiritualistic theory. The prepossession of naturalistic thought against the supernatural has pushed it to a variety of shifts. There is the hypothesis of fraud, according to which Jesus had arranged a secret meeting on the hill, when a peculiar play of light and of clouds, perhaps also a thunderstorm, caused the disciples to suppose they had perceived the transfiguration of Jesus, and helped them to mistake the two confederates† [Note: One writer, Venturini, identifies them with Joseph of Arimathaea and Joseph father of Jesus.] in the plot for Moses and Elijah (Paulus, Schleiermacher)—an unfounded conjecture, which has justly lost all repute. There is the hypothesis of myth. Here the incident is taken in connexion with the subsequent Elijah conversation (Matthew 17:10-13, Mark 9:11-13) as its duplicate, and regarded as originating at a later date, when it was not held sufficient that in the Messianic time of Jesus, Elijah should only have appeared figuratively in the person of the Baptist—when it was thought fitting that he should also have shown himself personally. The legend was constructed skilfully from OT figures and analogies (especially from the parallel illumination of Moses’ countenance on Sinai), and from the prophecies as to the appearance of the Messiah and His forerunner (Malachi 4:5) Elijah. The aim of the story was to glorify Christ over Moses, and to exhibit His message as the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets (Strauss). With inconsiderable modifications, the foregoing view is maintained by Keim and others. The mythical hypothesis has the merit of directing attention to the probable sources from which the descriptive details were drawn, and to the natural character of their application in the picture of the event. There is the hypothesis of allegory, which finds in the incident a symbolization of the disciples’ intoxicated perception of the destiny of Jesus and His relation to the OT. The high mountain symbolizes the height of knowledge which the disciples then attained; the metamorphosis of the form of Jesus and the splendour of His clothes are an image of their intuition of the Messianic idea; the cloud which overshadowed the appearances signifies the dimness and indefiniteness in which the new knowledge faded away, from the inability of the disciples to retain it; the proposal of Peter to build tabernacles is the attempt of this Apostle to fix at once in dogmatic form the sublime intuition (Weisse)—an absurd suggestion of ill-fitting symbols. There is the hypothesis of dream-vision. During or after prayer offered by Jesus or by themselves, in which mention was made of Moses and Elias, and their advent as Messianic forerunners desired, the three disciples slept, and dreamed that Moses and Elijah were present, and that Jesus conversed with them—an illusion which continued during the first confused moments after waking (Neander and others)—a most superficial perception of the situation.

The latest attempts have more interest, as discovering a certain measure of independent fact in the event. One finds the substratum of real history embodied in it in the confession of Peter made previously, which was elaborated by idealizing tendency into a vision and attributed to the disciples (Bacon, AJTh [Note: JTh American Journal of Theology.] , 1902, pp. 236–265). A second regards as the reality underlying the occurrence an inner revelation made to Jesus alone, a short time before Peter’s confession and in his presence; Peter had discernment enough to recognize its effect on the Master’s mind and intuitively grasped its meaning (Réville, Jésus de Nazareth, ii. 204–206). A third holds that the story reflects the crisis when Jesus became convinced that He was the chosen heir of God. The event admits very easily of being regarded as having taken place in the inner consciousness of Jesus; probably in the company of the three, who, after awaking from sleep perhaps, received a powerful impression of the wondrous majesty with which Jesus came to meet them after He had heard the heavenly voice, the terms of which He afterwards made known to them (Schmiedel, EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] 4571). A fourth sees in the scene a report by men who were confessedly in great agitation when they witnessed it, who yet were well aware that what they saw was not reality but vision. It is to be regarded as symbolic, and consequent on the determination of Jesus to go to Jerusalem and possibly encounter a fate which, to the ordinary Jewish mind, would entirely destroy His claim to be the Messiah, or in any way a chosen instrument of Deity. It is at this moment that He puts on, to the eyes of His most intimate friends, heavenly radiance, and appears as One whose true nature is not to be judged by His human mien or His outward fortunes. It is then that His figure becomes framed to His friends’ eyes in the same picture with the principal figures of the sacred history of Israel: Elijah, because of his prominence in Messianic thought, and Moses, the founder of the Old Covenant: their presence indicating that He is not to destroy their work, but to carry it further. The Transfiguration is the enthronement of the Apostolic Christology (Menzies, Earliest Gospel, p. 174). Akin in one respect to the foregoing is the theory of Wimmer and Holtzmann, that we have here Dichtung, truth in a picture. The glorified conception of Christ reached by His followers after His death is transferred to the time of His ministry, and in this picture represented as foretold then. The attractive aspect of these efforts is that they seek to identify the Transfiguration of Christ with a fresh increase of His self-realization. The event centres in His Person, and for it marks a period. All the foregoing hypotheses prove inadequate in failing to recognize the super-terrestrial powers which are represented as appearing, and as communicating a sense of their presence, to the disciples.

The lacuna is filled by Spiritualism, which finds a congenial theme in the very facts which rationalism would dissipate. The super-terrestrial is its special delight. It sets forth principles which are alleged to account for the unaccountable features of the light, the visitants, the voice. The existence of a ‘spiritual body’ is asserted, by means of which man may pass out of his ordinary mode of being, of sight and of hearing, into the spirit-sphere or unseen world which is everywhere around him, and there be and see and hear, in the unusual conditions subsisting in that sphere, what he never can in this. The notion seems to be that in each man there is a ‘spirit,’ made of a sort of thin matter, existing within the outward body, but having a purer existence.

‘Deep within,

Some say, the spirit has another frame,

Invisible, magnetic, beauteous, thin,

And fine as any ether, scent, or flame.’

(J. C. Earle, Light leading unto Light).

In the Transfiguration the ‘spiritual body’ in Christ shone forth in its native might and splendour, overpowering the dimness of the flesh which He had assumed. And by the ‘spirit-body’ in them, the disciples were enabled to contemplate His and those of Moses and Elijah.

Scarcely so materialistic, yet quite in the same plane of thought, are the ideas of the spiritualization and subtilizing of the bodily frame until it became luminous by some inherent law connecting the physical radiance with the ripened image of God in man* [Note: Olshausen has a theory that all through the earthly life Christ’s body was being etherealized, and that here we have a glimpse into the process.] (cf. e.g. George Macdonald, Miracles of our Lord, xii.). The error of such theorizing springs from imagining the two as existences of the same kind, and from not realizing the conception of spirit as mind or self-consciousness, which is the only way of conceiving its actual presence in our world. Spirit exists in the medium of consciousness, not in a peculiar kind of matter. The spiritualization of the natural body is not to be looked for in an astral or angel-body, but in the gesture, dignity, and noble mien that make the body of the civilized man the outward image of his soul. When we leave this track we land in vulgar mysticism,—and ‘that way madness lies.’

The reality of the Transfiguration may be reasonably maintained on the basis of such considerations as these:—(a) that it primarily displays the state of the inner consciousness of Christ at its height; (b) that it was the direct resultant of the preceding events; and (c) that in the description, on the face of it, there is much that is symbolical. The Transfiguration is the transcript of an exalted spiritual experience, and only in the form of symbol can such be portrayed. To the writers it was the natural mode where their Master was concerned (cf. the Temptation and Christophanies). They were but following illustrious models on which their faith had been nurtured—of Abraham (Genesis 15), of Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22), of Elijah (1 Kings 19), of Isaiah (ch. 6), of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10; Jeremiah 20), and above all of Moses (Exodus 34:1-10; Exodus 34:27-35), of Daniel (ch. 10), and of later Jewish Apocalyptic. The story is written in one mould; it is not manufactured; it tells its truth in words and images that come easily for the purpose, and wed themselves to the truth so freely that it is not possible to divorce them. Material fact and impalpable vision shoot through each other and cannot be dissevered. But this at least is plain, the body† [Note: It is a just instinct which relates the lustre to the inner life. No satisfactory explanation has yet been given of it. For hints, but only hints, cf. Dean Church’s sermon on ‘Sense of Beauty a witness to Immortality’ in his Cathedral and University Sermons. Cf. also Browning’s fine passage in Easter Day, In which he suggests the thought of Michael Angelo painting in heaven.] shared in the experiences. There is no attempt to picture more than has been seen, but it is implied that what has been seen is nothing in comparison with what has been felt.* [Note: the disciples’ awe.] It is the picture of an exalted emotion quickened by the sense of contact with a fact so vast that the spectators are absorbed in contemplation of it. The thought of it cannot be recaptured or recounted, because it is so unexpected, so surprising, so new, so unlike all else. Everything is swallowed up in awe and in joy, the joy of feeling face to face with a tremendous experience, an adventure beside which all the glory of the world sinks into insignificance.† [Note: Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:3.] Accordingly we find two unique characteristics, the absence of imagination, and the sober insistence on circumstance. Both testify to reality. The fact to which the narrators point transcends experience, and imagination can create nothing which transcends experience. Then, odd as it may seem, the mind in recovering from transcendent wonder and retailing it, continues to regard as impressive details which are really immaterial, but without whose aid the wonder itself would remain hid. Here, then, we have no dream of a fevered twilight, but the fit expression of a mystery, beyond thought and observation, of insight and vision,‡ [Note: The name used by Christ Himself (Matthew 17:9)—τὸ ὅραμα = ‘vision,’ not in the sense of dream, but ‘that which has been seen.’ For the closing reflexion, cf. Tennyson, The Higher Pantheism.] where the soul is like a dreamer, enthralled by sleep, and struggling with all his might to make some familiar motion.

3. Significance of the Transfiguration.—The inner meaning of the Transfiguration is best brought out by considering it in relation to Christ’s Person and Ministry. In relation to His Person it denotes (a) a sublime self-discovery, and (b) a supreme self-dedication. In relation to His Ministry it initiates important departures in the purpose, method, and sphere of His activity.

The event was naturally led up to. We can distinguish the several moments of its development. There was, to begin with, Jesus’ gradual enlargement of the Messiah-ideal. Neither Moses nor the prophets satisfied Him. This is one of the most certain results of contemporary NT learning. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah of prophecy, but declined the current expectations of what the Messiah should be. His own thought immensely enriched both the prophetic and the popular forecasts. The Temptation implies that consciousness. The interval between the Temptation and Transfiguration, i.e. His public ministry in Galilee, reveals it partly in acts, partly in hints, partly in explicit reserves. At the beginning we see the clear—cut decision; throughout its course the deepening realization of what the decision involved: there He is neither simply working, nor simply instructing, He is also ‘manifesting’ Himself. In the life of that Self the lines are complex and interwoven. They include, but are not circumscribed by, those specifically appropriate to the Messianic Hope. His Self is greater. That at the Baptism and the Temptation Christ saw the plenitude of its greatness and the multiplicity of its interior self-relationships is not to be believed. It revealed itself in the living process of His mental and practical powers which it excited to constant energy, and which all radiate from and converge again into it. It is a Self which has its definite stages of progression, whose outward signs are traceable,§ [Note: His expressions: His ‘time not come,’ His ‘hour,’ His being ‘straitened to accomplish,’ He ‘must work the works of God,’ His raising Lazarus ‘for the glory of God,’ His cure of the blind man ‘that the works of God be made manifest,’ etc. etc.] but which finds within the veil of outward seeming its proper home, living there a concurrent life on a higher plane, with peculiar relations to an unseen world, holding power over it, and bringing power from it; and in such wise that men, observing His external attitudes, grew in wonder, debate, belief, or unbelief. His Self grew. Day by day it enlarged its domain, and took on an extraordinary presence of which He was conscious, a secretly luminous life known to Himself, only glimpses of which He could bring within the ken of the disciples.

Nor was this whole process secret from the disciples. We have to note in them a growing perception of the mystery of His life. They began their following of Him with their own mental prepossessions. These He was daily disturbing. Their attention He was continually arresting. The particulars of His life they were driven to scan eagerly from their various points of view, curious concerning it, questioning regarding it, taking sides about it, some slowly rising towards a clear knowledge of the reality, others hardening into the exact reverse. A calm and unimpassioned looking at the material outside manifestation of His Life without any reference to the inward reality of it, was precisely the one thing that did not happen. That it was more than human they divined, but what, how, to what extent the ‘more’ came in, they could not explain; they were earnestly inquiring. And thus they reached the stage when they could acknowledge His Messianic proportions: the confession at Caesarea. That great avowal precipitated the crisis. It was bound to be followed by a further revelation of His purposes. Then came the startling announcement of the Death, opening before their eyes a dark foreground of repudiation and suffering, of whose features Christ Himself, it is probable, could at the moment furnish no clear picture: an announcement whose effect was not mitigated by the further revelation of Resurrection and the coming of the Kingdom. It was a memorable week that followed. The silence of the narrative tells of the intensity of the time. They were on the summits where life absorbs the soul. Thither the juncture of events had brought them. The Master must be lucid.

But first to Himself. A necessary hour is upon Him. Knowing it, He, according to His wont, restrains not the inevitable, but seeks solitude and God. He spends the night in prayer. In the light of His people’s destiny, in the face of His prophetic forerunners, conscious of a deeper need and a more desperate struggle than theirs, He presses His life closer to God’s, reaching out after completer sympathy and perfect understanding of His purposes and of His own part in fulfilling them, and receives in return that wonderful and beautiful inflow of life which stirs up unfathomable springs of purity within, and transmutes even His face and form. It was as when in the sunlight, peering into the heart of a gem, we see depth opening beyond depth until it looks as if there were no end to the chambers of splendour that are shut up in the little stone; flake after flake of luminous colour floating up out of the unseen fountain which lies somewhere in its heart. In that high hour Christ knew Himself.

He likewise learned His task. In the same self-revealing hour the issue of His life was registering itself in the sight of God, who ‘seeth the end in the beginning,’ and won His approval. The issue was inevitable. For Christ to know God’s will was to do it. There was neither doubt nor debate, but immediate decision. He had no instinctive unwillingness like Jeremiah. Rather He resembled Isaiah, who, when he had seen the Majesty of Jehovah, came forth from His presence with an awe upon him that never left him, and a force of conviction that never deserted him, and with the feeling of an imperative necessity lying on him to speak His word to men which he could not resist. So Christ. He had seen His own glory and felt its power in Him, and was uplifted with a radiant energy before which, as it seemed, no wickedness could stand, and which inspired with a joy deep and strong and solemn. The sweet and awful gladness of His consecration fills His heart and shines out in His face. The Transfiguration was the Divine defiance of the coming darkness (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:6).* [Note: Matheson (Studies in the Portrait of Christ, vol. ii.) interprets the Transfiguration as designed solely to inspire and comfort Christ in prospect of His approaching Sufferings by providing an anticipation of the glory of the Resurrection [‘decease’ = exodus by resurrection and ascension]. Dr. Mason (Faith of the Gospel, p. 194) thinks the Transfiguration an opening of the door of heaven for a splendid departure, His earthly probation being now ended. An ingenious writer in the Church Quarterly Review (July 1901, ‘A Study of our Lord’) draws out these parallels:—transfiguration of body in face of maltreatment of body, appearance of Elijah and Moses in face of rejection by rulers and people, the cloud and voice in face of the hiding of the Father’s face. Such exegesis is exaggeration and misses proportion.]

The Transfiguration event transformed His mind: it transformed also His ministry. Its fascination was upon Him, impelling Him to make it manifest with a certain eager wistfulness. The motive is not: Death is before Me, the sooner it is over the better; but, The beauty of the Father’s face has risen upon Me, let it shine out into the hearts of men, and draw all men unto it.

The endeavour to bring this home to the disciples now dominates His thought and directs His activity, dividing both from His Galilaean teaching and work by the clearest line of demarcation. Themes original to the Law and the Prophets yield to the ‘excellent glory’ of the Cross, and the nature of the Kingdom His death would introduce. Miracles† [Note: Miracles are now rare—and enter exceptionally.] and parables cease as an integral part of His ministry. Public addresses, which hitherto had been the rule, are now limited, so far as we read, to the Temple courts and the Sanhedrin; their place is taken by more private converse. There is a less obvious calling of attention to Himself, in view of a keener anxiety to concentrate attention on the Spirit that animates Himself and the Father, and is needful for that higher form of fellowship of men with God than Israel had known, which He Himself enjoyed, and which He promises will glorify them as it had glorified Him.‡ [Note: John 16, 17.] From this last consideration we deduce the significance of the event for us. It is the same as for Christ and His disciples. ‘We shall be like him,’ says the disciple who had felt most effectually the power of His personal presence (1 John 3:2).

That points to an organic change that will take place in us at His coming. It has to be taken in conjunction with this other, ‘Christ in you the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27). The moral transformation is the root and beginning of the organic. Christ not only so acts upon us as to conform us to His holy and exalted pattern now; when He comes again, it shall be to reflect His glory into the persons of His believing followers. The Church of the redeemed will mirror His surpassing loveliness and majesty, ‘He shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at in all them that believe’ (2 Thessalonians 1:10).

Literature.—The literature of the Transfiguration is not large, and is found chiefly in sermons, for a bibliography of which see ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] xviii. [1907] p. 313, adding, Ruskin, Frondes Agrestes, 178; Rendel Harris, Memoranda Sacra, 87. For critical discussion consult Strauss, Leben Jesu, pt. ii. c. [Note: circa, about.] 10; Keim, Jesus of Nazara, vol. iv.; JThSt [Note: ThSt Journal of Theological Studies.] , Jan. 1903, July 1903, Jan. 1904; AJTh [Note: JTh American Journal of Theology.] , 1902. For expository articles see ExpT [Note: xpT Expository Times.] xvii. [1906] p. 372 ff., xiv. [1903] p. 442 ff.; Trench, Studies in the Gospels, Essay 8; Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , art. ‘Transfiguration’; the Lives of Christ, specially, those by Farrar, Edersheim, and Matheson.

A. S. Martin.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Transfiguration (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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