Today we read Luke’s account of the Transfiguration. Luke provides several additional details that shed further light on the story. The account of the Transfiguration comes just after Jesus recitation of the conditions of discipleship. Jesus says,
“…If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. …” Luke 9:23
Several things in this command are telling. First, what does it mean to deny oneself? If you think about it one cannot deny oneself unless a person has the power to choose – i.e., free will. To deny oneself suggest that there are things that a person would normally want and would choose but to be a follower of Jesus one must forgo this thing and choose a different path. This suggests a second level of meaning of the phrase “to deny himself”. For in choosing to give up those things that we would ordinarily seek and taking the path of self-denial ultimately leads to not just denial of the material things we would ordinarily choose but denial of the inner self – or denial of those things that make up our ego. In its fullness it is a call to deny that first sin of pride, of the idea that “I am”, “I want”, or that “I know best”. It is a call to surrender one’s self to God.
This fits nicely with the second half of the command to “take up our cross daily”. This is an indication that suffering will be a part of discipleship? Thus, the condition of discipleship must include the acceptance of suffering. This is vitally important to understand. If our suffering had no value Jesus would not ask us to embrace it as a part of discipleship? That wouldn’t make sense, therefore the reverse must be true. Our suffering must have some value and therefore Jesus asks us to embrace it as part of our discipleship. What then is its value? Recall our discussion on the radical unity of the Body of Christ. Since we are so closely related to Jesus that we form one body then our suffering is united to him. Therefore, Jesus took our suffering with him to the Cross. By taking our sufferings with him to the Cross, Jesus made them meritorious. He united them to his own suffering through the one body and thus our sufferings assist in the work of salvation.
Having said this let’s look at the details of Luke’s account of the Transfiguration. He tells us that the Transfiguration happens eight days after Jesus first prediction of his passion and death to the Apostles and after he explained the conditions of discipleship. Eight days is a significant timeframe because it represents one day more than the cycle of creation. Thus, the eighth day is the first day of the new cycle or the new creation. Therefore the Transfiguration is signaling that a new cycle or a new creation will follow the passion and death of Jesus.
We then read the account of the Transfiguration itself. Luke says,
“While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.”
Often the two parts of the event are run together and we visualize that Jesus’ face became “dazzling white”, but that is not exactly what it says. The verse says that “his face changed in appearance”. Looking ahead, we can foreshadow the story of the Road to Emmaus which Luke will recount in Chapter 24. In that story, Jesus appears after the resurrection and walks a long way with some disciples but is unrecognizable. This is another indication that the Transfiguration is foreshadowing the new creation after the passion, death, and Resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus then speaks with Moses and Elijah. However, in Luke’s version, he recounts for us what they were discussing. Luke writes,
“… who appeared in glory and spoke of his EXODUS that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”
Remember that the events of the Last Supper take place at Passover which began the Jewish exodus from Egypt and the establishment of the old covenant. Thus, Luke is clearly establishing that the Last Supper is a Passover event that will mark a new exodus and a new covenant.
Next, we witness that the Apostles who were with Jesus were “overcome by sleep” before waking to see these events. Recall that in the Garden of Eden, when the creation of Eve took place it was while Adam was sleeping that God created her from his rib. Again, this is a signal to the coming new creation. Further, recall that in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus prayed just before his arrest, the Apostle also could not remain awake. Again this serves to connect the two events.
Finally, we see Luke make one more important connection.
“While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them ….”
The appearance of the cloud always accompanies God’s moments of creation. The cloud hovers over the waters at the creation of the world in Genesis. It appears on top of Mt. Sinai at the creation of the covenant with Israel. It appears at the baptism of Jesus speaking similar words as He does at the Transfiguration. Finally, Jesus ascends into the clouds after the resurrection when He returns to the Father. Again, this marks the Transfiguration as a foreshadowing of the new creation that is to come.
Tomorrow: Luke 9:46-62