Luke 9: 28-36 – Transfiguration of Jesus

The sequence in which the event of transfiguration is placed in the gospel of Luke (Lk 9: 28-36) is the same as in gospel of Mark (Mk 9: 2-8) – that is, following upon the sayings about discipleship. Evidently, Luke is adapting freely the Markan version of the story. Among the several modifications and additions Luke introduces into the Markan material we may note the following. Gospel of Luke presents the purpose of Jesus’ going up on the mountain: “to pray” (Lk 9: 28). Luke also emphasizes the experience of Jesus during prayer by stating, “As he was praying, the appearance of his continuance was altered …” (Lk 9: 29). Besides there is an added title for Jesus: “the Chosen One.” (Scholars generally considered Luke 9: 30-33 and parts of Luke 9: 34b, 36b, c as composed by Luke himself).

The importance and significance of the event is to be understood in the light of the context of Jesus’ passion announcement, and if the larger context after a revelation of the identity of Jesus and of the formation of his disciples, all of which find a prominent place in this chapter and in this section of the gospel of Luke. To the question “Who is this?” (Lk 9: 9) Luke now provides another answer. This time, the answer comes fourth from heaven itself. God himself gives the answer: “This is my Son, my Chosen.” Thus Jesus is presented not only as Messiah send by God (Lk 9: 20) but also as His Son, His Chosen One. Still another identification of Jesus is suggested by the reference to the fact that Jesus was alone at the end. Both Moses and Elijah withdraw. In this context the words, “Listen to him,” uttered by the heavenly voice make it clear that Jesus alone must be listened to. Nor is Jesus to be understood as Moses or Elijah come alive again.

We also can discover a special link between the transfiguration episode and the baptism scene. Just as baptism inaugurates the ministry of Jesus in Galilee with the heavenly voice identifying him as ‘Son,’ son now the same voice from heaven declares that he is ‘Son’ and ‘the Chosen One’ as Jesus is about to begin his momentous journey to Jerusalem, the city of destiny (Lk 9: 51). It is there Jesus’ exodus (departure) will take place (Lk 9: 31). The exodus is about to begin with his resolute movement towards Jerusalem. There is thus a clear parallelism between these two heavenly identifications in so far as they serve as introductions to the two key moments of Jesus’ ministry and destiny.

The heavenly voice at the transfiguration also serves to authenticate and confirm Jesus’ momentous announcements of his passion destiny. The progressive unfolding of Jesus’ identity in this section of the gospel can be present as follows:

  1. Jesus is one in whom God’s own power is at work. (The miracles)
  2. Jesus is the Messiah send by God. (Peter’s confession)
  3. Jesus is the suffering Son of Man. (Passion announcement)
  4. Jesus is the one whom all must follow in his suffering and death. (The sayings on discipleship)
  5. Jesus is Son (of God), His Chosen One, to whom all must listen. (Transfiguration)
  6. Jesus is the one who is going to be in his ‘glory.’ (Lk 9: 32)

The first passion announcement by Jesus made it clear that Jesus will be raised on the third day. The transfiguration gives the disciples a glimpse of an anticipated experience of the resurrection glory of Jesus (Lk 9: 32). Other synoptic gospels do not mention about this ‘glory.’ The word ‘glory’ connotes the resurrection glory of Jesus (cf. Lk 24: 26).

In this context we can understand the significance of the ‘glory’ of the transfigured Christ as the divine confirmation of Jesus’ announcement of his ‘resurrection glory’ (found at the end of the first passion announcement: “The Son of Man must … on the third day be raised”). Thus the entire scene confirms not only the announcement of the passion but, above all, that of the resurrection. The three disciples have the privilege of ‘seeing the glory’ (Lk 9: 32). This is a new Lukan element. This fact may be related to the saying in Luke 9: 27 and even to Luke 8: 10. Luke tells us further that Moses and Elijah were talking about Jesus’ departure (exodus). It is an allusion to the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. During that journey Yahweh accompanied and guided them in his ‘glory.’ Therefore, the symbolic meaning of the presence of Moses at the scene could be seen in the light of Israel’s exodus which Moses led. The symbolism of the presence of Elijah at the transfiguration could also be seen in the light of his own journey to mount Horeb (1 Kings 19: 4-8). That journey of Elijah is related to the exodus experience of Israel (Ex 3: 1; Deut 1: 2; 5: 2). They both represent thus the Old Testament people of God and their exodus. The fact that they both disappear indicate that now in Jesus there begins the new journey, the new exodus, which will bring about the new people of God.

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