The Greek word μετεμορφώθη, well rendered "was transfigured," signifies a change of form or appearance (Matthew 17:2; Mr 9:2),.and is so explained in Lu 9:29, "the fashion of his countenance was altered." This is one of the most wonderful incidents in the life of our Savior upon earth, and one so instructive that we can never exhaust its lessons. The apostle Peter, towards the close of his life, in running his mind over the proofs of Christ's majesty, found none so -conclusive and irrefragable as the scenes when he and others were with his Master in the holy mount (2Pe 1:18) as eye-witnesses that he received from God the Father honor and glory when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory," This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The apostle John likewise refers to the convincing power of the "glory" exhibited on that occasion (Joh 1:14). If we divide Christ's public life into three periods the first of miracles, to prove his divine mission; the second of parables, to inculcate virtue; and the third of suffering, first clearly revealed and then endured, to atone for sin-the transfiguration may be viewed as his baptism or initiation into the third and last. He went up the Mount of Transfiguration on the eighth day after he had bidden every one who would come after him take up his cross, declaring that his kingdom was-not of this world that he must suffer many things, and be killed, etc.
The Mount of Transfiguration is traditionally thought to have been Mount Tabor; but as this height is fifty miles from Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus last taught, it has of late been supposed to have been a mountain much less distant, namely, Mount Hermon. As there was an interval, however, of a week between this and the preceding occurrence, we may naturally conclude that a part of this time was occupied in the journey. SEE TABOR. The only persons thought worthy to ascend this mount of vision were Peter, James, and John, three being a competent number of witnesses, or they being more faithful and beloved than any others. Whatever the reason was, these three disciples appear on more than one other occasion as an elect triumvirateas at the raising of Jairus's daughter, and during our Lord's agony in the garden. The disciples, in all probability, ascended the mountain anticipating nothing more than that Jesus, as at other times (Lu 6:12), would continue all night in prayer to God. When the curtains of night closed around them, they were so worn out by their labors as to sink down in sleep, till startled from their slumbers by the glory of the Lord shining round about them; for, as Jesus prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered," and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light... And behold there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias, who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." Peter's words, "Master, it is good for us to be here," are a natural expression of rapture; and his proposal to build three tabernacles indicated his desire both to keep his Lord from going down to Jerusalem to die there, and to prolong the blessedness of beholding with open face the glory of God. Such is at least a plausible interpretation of his language, while "he wist not what to say." It is worthy of remark that Peter had no thought of tents for himself and his companions, his only desire being that the beatific vision might endure forever. While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them not a black cloud such as that which rested on Mount Sinai, but a cloud glistening as the Shechinah when the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle, or as the cloud that filled the house of the Lord when the priests were come out of the holy place. "And behold a voice out of the cloud" that is, out of the long-established symbol of Jehovah's presence" which said, "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased hear ye him. And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid" like Daniel and all others who have felt themselves entranced by revelations of God. "And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid" showing such gentleness as proved him to be fitly named the Lamb of God. How long the glorification of our Savior continued it were vain to inquire; but it appears from the narrative of Luke that he did not lead down his disciples till the day following that on which they had ascended the height. As they descended, he bade his disciples keep what they had seen a secret till after his resurrection, doubtless because the whole vision, to those who had not seen it, would have been a rock of offence, appearing, as an idle tale. He also opened their eyes to see that. Elias whom they looked for in the future was to be sought in the past, even In John the Baptist, who was clothed with his spirit and power.
The final causes of the transfiguration, although in part wrapped up in mystery, appear to be in part plain. Among its intended lessons may be the following: First, to teach that, in spite of the calumnies which the Pharisees had heaped on Jesus the old and new dispensations are in harmony with each other. To this end the author and the restorer of the old dispensation talk with the founder of the new, as if his scheme, even the most repulsive feature of it, was contemplated by theirs, as the reality of which they had promulgated only types and shadows. Secondly, to teach that the new dispensation was superior to the old. Moses and Elias appear as inferior to Jesus, not merely since their faces did not, so far as we know, shine like the sun, but chiefly because the voice from the excellent glory commanded to. hear him in preference to them; thirdly, to gird up the energies of Jesus for the great agony which was so soon to excruciate him; as in Gethsemane itself an angel appeared unto him strengthening him; as the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the likeness of a dove before his temptation in the wilderness and as, when the devil left him, angels came and ministered unto him. Fourthly, to comfort the hearts of the disciples, who, being destined to see their Master, whom they had left all to follow, nailed to a cross, to be themselves persecuted, and to suffer their want of all things, were in danger of despair. But, by being eye-witnesses of his majesty, they became convinced that his humiliation, even though he descended into the place of the dead, was voluntary and could not continue long. Gazing at the glorified body of their Master, they beheld not only a proof but an express and lively image, of his resurrection, ascension, and exaltation above the heavens. As in a prophetic vision, they beheld him seated upon clouds; and seen by every eye as the Judge of the quick and the dead, or enthroned in heaven amid the host of his redeemed. Henceforth they ceased not questioning one another what the rising from the dead should mean. Fifthly, to teach that virtue will not allow supine contemplation, but demands the exercise and exertion of our several powers. To some this lesson may seem a refinement, but it is ingeniously deduced by Schleiermacher from the fact that while Peter yet spake in his ecstasy, the vision in which he longed to wear out his life vanished away as if the aim were to teach us that when we have ascended the mount of vision on the cherub-wings of contemplation, even if we burn to dwell there in a perpetual sweetness, yet We must shun all monastic seclusion that we-may mingle among men and do them good; even as the great Exemplar would not let his chosen repose in rapturous musings, and had scarcely come down from the mountain of his glory before he recommenced his works of usefulness.
The transfiguration is so fine a subject for the painter that we are not surprised to learn that it employed Raphael's best hours, and that his portraiture of it is confessedly the highest of all efforts of pictorial genius. The original work, still unfaded, though more than three centuries have passed over it, hangs in the Vatican. A copy of it in mosaic on a colossal scale, and which might pass with most men for the original, fills the head of the left aisle in St. Peter's at Rome. The design is as simple as the artless narrative of the evangelists. In the center, and in raiment white as the light, is he, the fashion of whose countenance was altered. On either hand, and floating on the air, appear in glory Moses and Elias. Beneath, the disciples, overshadowed by a bright cloud, their hands shielding their dazzled eyes, are fallen on their faces, sore afraid of the voice proceeding out of the cloud, but catching glimpses of Jesus transfigured before them.
For monographs on the transfiguration, see Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 47.; Hase, Leben Jesut, p. 161; Bagot, On the Transfiguration (Lond. 1840); Anon. Tabor's Teachings (ibid. 1867, 1868); also the (Am.) Free-will Baptist Quarterly, Jan. 1858. SEE JESUS CHRIST.