Sometimes reflections from mirrors can be distorted. Have you ever gone into a “funhouse” at a county fair? Instead of using flat mirrors which give a true image, they typically use either a concave or convex mirror to give a distorted image—you appear in the mirror tall and thin or short and fat, for example. Children love the images from these mirrors—an easy “parlor trick” that entertains them. Regardless of what we observe in any type of mirror, it is a mere reflection of the real image.
Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth states, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18 NKJV) The mirrors used in the first century were typically made of polished metal, perhaps copper, and the reflected image was somewhat distorted from the real image.
Two things become evident in this verse. First, we are only seeing a vague image of Jesus now through the Spirit, but we get a glimpse of God’s glory. Secondly, this reflection of God is realized through our own lives, as though we are looking into a mirror. Though this image is slightly distorted, and the fullness of his glory in us is yet to be realized, as a follower of Jesus, his glory and his image are shining through you! In fact, you are being transformed, changed, into his image the more you gaze at his face and glory! You are being changed from “glory to glory” as you gaze upon him!
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the transfiguration of Jesus
In Mark 9:1-13, we read Mark’s account of this epic event. The transfiguration of Jesus is a revelatory event, much like Jesus’ baptism, and it reveals the cross that soon follows. It is a trinitarian event: cloud (Spirit), Voice (Father), and Jesus.
In the context of what has just occurred, Jesus has just informed the disciples about his death, resurrection, and to follow: deny yourselves, carry your cross, and follow him. Two things occur:
First, a prophecy of what will happen to Jesus: his suffering, death, resurrection, and future glory.
Second, a prophecy of what will also happen to all who will follow Jesus. A shadow, for every disciple, of our suffering, death, resurrection, and future glory through Jesus. We share his suffering, and we share his glory.
Mark 9:1 states, “…there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” What did Jesus mean by this statement?
See the kingdom of God present with power? Was Jesus referring to the transfiguration, or something greater? Something greater—yes, his resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost— Kingdom signs & power followed the disciples!
In Mark 9:2, six days later, Jesus leads Peter, James, John up a high mountain. Perhaps Mount Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi, where they have just been traveling. Mountains in the Gospels are places of revelation and key events for Jesus. Jesus is now transformed before them.
The three disciples were privileged to witness Jesus as he really is, his human nature absorbed in his divine glory. Peter, speaking of the trustworthiness of God’s prophetic word (Jesus 2nd coming), mentions the transfiguration:
We didn’t repeat crafty myths when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Quite the contrary, we witnessed his majesty with our own eyes. He received honor and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, “This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.” 2 Pet. 1:16-18 CEB
Humanity and Glory Collide!
While still processing Jesus’ words about his death and how this would affect them, Peter, James, and John have this powerful experience with him. Can you see the tension created by the talk of suffering, death, and then the resurrection?
For a moment in time, humanity, through these three, witness glory divine. Jesus brings only the most intimate circle of his disciples, Peter, James, and John—all of whom will later become prominent leaders in the early church (Acts 3-4; 12:2). They need this encounter with God, for they will endure great hardship for Jesus and the gospel.
Our sufferings and our encounters reveal both the nature of God, his Word, and his glory to be revealed in and through us. Consider what Paul wrote to the Romans in Rom. 8:17-18: “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”
To partake of His glory means embracing suffering—learning to trust Jesus completely, relying on Holy Spirit to guide and comfort. There is a tension between the sufferings experienced and the inexpressible joy that Christ gives (1 Pet. 1:6-8). Prophetic people are made in the desert—faith develops through trial!
Prophetically, the transfiguration represents the “Sinai” of the New Covenant
Jesus was transfigured (metamorphoō: altered, transformed) before them, his humanity now radiating his majesty as the Son of God, the glory that will be fully revealed at his second coming (Mark 8:38; 13:26). “…when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” Even his clothes became dazzling white (holiness)!
Only Mark adds, that no launderer on earth could achieve such brightness. Tide is a cheap substitute for God’s glory!
In Exod. 33:18, Moses asks God, “Please, show me your glory.” God responds (vs. 19), “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” Then in vs. 20, God says, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” BUT NOW, Jesus, the exact representation of the Father, allows these disciples to see the radiant face of God!
Jesus’ transfiguration is also a foretaste of resurrected humanity, and what is unfolding presently. The fullness of this reality will be achieved at his return and our resurrection!
Remember the mirror discussion? Now let’s look at 2 Cor. 3:18 once again. Paul uses the same verb, metamorphoō, to describe the Christian’s gradual transformation into Christ, even in this life, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Paul uses metamorphoō In Rom. 12:2 CEB, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.” As we read God’s word, pray, worship, fellowship with other believers, and serve, we are being changed—transformed.
Our transformation leads to Christ-like behavior and the fruit of the Spirit is evidenced. But it also leads to the empowerment by the Spirit, or activation of the gifts of the Spirit. Both should be expected and pursued.
Let’s Erect Tents and Stay Here!
Jesus is accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Consider that Elijah ascended into heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11), and although Moses died (Deut. 34:5-6), Jewish traditions held Moses was also taken up to heaven. Both Moses (Exod. 19:3) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8-12) encountered God on the high mountain of Sinai (Horeb), both suffered for their righteous walk with God. Together they represent both the OT Law & Prophets (Luke 16:16; 24:27) bearing witness to Jesus—truth and life!
Peter, not sure what to do, suggests that they make three tents, one for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah! Peter desires to “prolong” this mountaintop experience.
Peter’s enthusiasm is misdirected; he wishes to capture this moment of encounter (theophany) but has not fully grasped what Jesus has just told them: his glory will only come by way of the cross. Peter couldn’t see Gethsemane and the Cross!
Peter also doesn’t recognize that Jesus, the one he had just called Messiah, he puts on the same “level” as Moses and Elijah. But Jesus is the Son of God, not another prophet!
Every encounter with God should lead us into a greater understanding of his word and nature. It should comfort us, although it may rearrange or redirect us! God may use the experience to strengthen you, perhaps alter your direction. Encounters and revelatory experience shouldn’t contradict God’s word.
Experience is viewed suspiciously by many in the modern Church. While there have been extremes throughout Church history, encounters with God are biblical. Experience in the Word and in the Spirit are valued but must be understood through the lens of the bible and orthodoxy!
The Glory Cloud
The cloud of God’s glory and presence surrounds them. Glory—ancient Jewish literature uses shekinah for this manifestation of God’s glory and presence. There is a “weightiness” to the glory.
Suddenly, the Father speaks, “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!” He affirms Jesus as Son and instructs us to “listen to him.” (Deut. 18:15) Jesus is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form, and God has spoken to us in these last days by His Son (Heb. 1).
In context, God is directing them to listen to what Jesus has just revealed—specifically, the suffering, death, and the glory to come. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Follow him!
The transfiguration points to the resurrection and God’s glory to be revealed in us. Jesus is the first crop of all his followers to have a resurrected, glorified body. Paul writes in detail about this truth in 1 Corinthians 15—I encourage you to read this chapter closely sometime! It is the “blessed hope” for every believer! You are being changed from “glory to glory” presently, but at his return, the fullness of his glory will be achieved! You and I will have resurrected, glorified bodies, just like Jesus!
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ.” 1 Cor. 15:20-22 CEB
“As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord.” 1 Cor. 15:58 CEB
Despite the trials of life, you greatly rejoice. Your faith is being tried, that it may be glorious at his appearing. You don’t see him, but you rejoice with inexpressible joy!
Be sure to watch the related Passion Church message, “The Book of Mark: From Glory to Glory”: