July 2007 - Vol. 10

Transfiguration by Raphael
Beholding his Glory

with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration

by Don Schwager

Shortly before the war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, I had the opportunity to visit southern Lebanon.  My guide was Archbishop George Bakouni from Tyre who took me with a group of friends to the region of Mount Hermon, the tallest peak which today borders Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. For me the journey was a spiritual pilgrimage, because I believe that Mount Hermon is the place where Jesus took three of his beloved disciples and was transfigured in glory before them as he spoke with Moses and Elijah. What is the significance of Jesus' transfiguration for us today?
The mountain of God
Jesus often went to a lonely place to pray – to seek solitude and sanctuary away from the crowds.  His favorite place in Jerusalem was the Mount of Olives which overlooked the temple mount.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke recount an extraordinary encounter which took place on a high mountain when Jesus was transfigured before three of his disciples – Peter, James, and John. Moses and Elijah also appeared with Jesus and spoke with him. Why Moses and Elijah? Like Jesus both Moses and Elijah went to a high mountain to seek the face of God and to hear his voice.

The scriptures speak frequently of the mountain of God. God’s people are called to worship at his holy mountain (Psalm 99:9).  Isaiah says: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Is. 2:3). “Why look you with envy, O many peaked mountain, at the mount which God desired for his abode, yes, where the Lord will dwell for ever” (Psalm 68:16).

view of Mount Hermon from southern Lebanon

"Jesus led them up a high mountain"
We do not know for certain where Jesus was transfigured with Moses and Elijah.  It very likely was on the peak of Mount Hermon, the highest mountain which today borders Israel, Lebanon, and Syria.  Both Matthew and Mark in their gospel accounts  tell us that Jesus journeyed north from Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee to the city of Caesarea Philippi just before his ascent to a high mountain (Matt 16:13; Mark 8:27).  Caesara Philippi is located at the southern base of Mount Hermon.  This is the place where Peter first confessed Jesus to be the Christ (the Greek word for Messiah) – God’s anointed One, and where Jesus revealed his purpose to build his church and to go to Jerusalem to die and to rise again (Matthew 16:18-21).

And Jesus went on with his disciples, to the villages of Caesare'a Philip'pi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?"  And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Eli'jah; and others one of the prophets."  And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." (Mark 8:27-29)

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them,  and his garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.  And there appeared to them Eli'jah with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus. (Mark 9:2-4)

When Moses met with God on Mount Sinai the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God (see Exodus 34:29). Paul says that the Israelites could not look at Moses' face because of its brightness (2 Cor. 3:7). In this incident Jesus appeared in glory with Moses, the great lawgiver of Israel, and with Elijah, the greatest of the prophets, in the presence of three of his beloved apostles. 

What is the significance of this mysterious appearance? Jesus went to the mountain knowing full well what awaited him in Jerusalem – his betrayal, rejection and crucifixion. Jesus very likely discussed this momentous decision to go to the cross with Moses and Elijah. God the Father also spoke with Jesus and gave his approval: "This is my beloved Son; listen to him." The cloud which overshadowed Jesus and his apostles fulfilled the dream of the Jews that when the Messiah came the cloud of God's presence would fill the temple again (see Exodus 16:10, 19:9, 33:9; 1 Kings 8:10; 2 Maccabees 2:8).

"Beholding the glory of the Lord"
Luke’s gospel tells us that while Jesus was transfigured, Peter, James, and John were asleep (Luke 9:32)! Upon awakening they discovered Jesus in glory along with Moses and Elijah. The Risen Lord Jesus invites us to behold his glory too!  But it is all to easy to miss God's glory and action in our lives because we are asleep spiritually. There are many things which can keep our minds asleep to the things of God: Mental lethargy and the "unexamined life" can keep us from thinking things through and facing our doubts and questions. The life of ease can also hinder us from considering the challenging or disturbing demands of Christ.  Prejudice can make us blind to something new the Lord may have for us.  Even sorrow can be a block until we can see past it to the glory of God. 

Are you spiritually awake? Peter, James, and John were privileged witnesses of the glory of Christ. We, too, as disciples of Christ are called to be witnesses of his glory. Through the eyes of faith, we too, can behold his glory and be transformed by it. Do you seek his presence with faith and reverence?

We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). 
“Lord Jesus Christ, keep me always alert and awake to you, to your word, action, and daily presence in my life. Let me see your glory and be transformed by it.”

[Don Schwager is a member of The Servants of the Word and the author of the Daily Scripture Reading and Meditation website.]

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