Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Church

The Theology of Transfiguration of our Lord

by Fr. Dr. V.C.Varghese, Sugar Land, TX

The Festival of Transfiguration/ Koodaara Perunnal

Bible Reading: Matt.17:1-13; Mk.9:2-13

The Holy Orthodox Churches celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord on August 6. During August and September time the Jewish people celebrate their Festival of Tabernacle or Ingathering (aka The Festival of Booths) from 15th to 21st Tishri, which marked the completion of the whole harvest by ingathering of grapes. Because this was the time when everyone went out into the vineyards and lived in tents. It was an excellent time to remember the religious lessons of the forty years when the whole nation had been living in tents between Egypt and Canaan.

Location: Tradition enlists as Mount Tabor and scholars say Mount Hermon. Mount Tabor rising to a height of 1,843 feet in the northeast portion of Plain of Esdraelon, Mount Carmel to the west and Mount Hermon to the north. Even though it is not as high as Mt.Carmel and Hermon, Psalmist and the prophets compare it to those mountains (Ps.89:12; Jer.46:18). It may have been a sacred mountain from early times (Deut.33:18-19). It is not mentioned in the New Testament, but since second and third century A.D. it has been associated with the Transfiguration of our Lord.

Why the transfiguration took place on a "high mountain" top? There are three important scenes our Lord's life took place on mountains. On one He preached the Beatitudes, on the second, He showed the glory that lay beyond the Cross, and on the third, He offered Himself in death as a prelude to His glory. Mountains are dominant feature of the biblical geography
and accordingly have influenced greatly the way of life, belief, and worships of the ancient Israelites. Two sacred mountains inextricably associated with God are Mount Sinai or Horeb and Mount Zion. In NT Jesus makes it clear that the worship of God not restricted to any particular mountain (John 4: 2-24). But many important events occurred at mountains in the life of Jesus and His ascension site was Mount of Olives (Luke 24: 50; Acts 1: 9-12). The high mountains offers challenge, sequester and serenity. Where else in this world may one find such awesome grandeur of nature? Perfect place to commune with our Creator.

When we examine the passage of this incident about the time, since feeding of five thousand in April (Spring time- people sat on grass) and look forward to the festival of Tabernacles we can come to the conclusion at the month of August. What a perfect time August 6th for the Transfiguration envisioned by our Holy Fathers. Matthew and Mark say that the Transfiguration took place "six days" after the great confession (Matt.16: 13-20; Mk.8: 27-30; Lk. 9: 18-21), but Luke says "eight days". Evidently Matthew and Mark were counting the intervening days only; Luke counted also the terminal days. Luke tells of Jesus' season of prayer which preceded the transfiguration, and of the three disciples' vain struggle to keep awake. The transfiguration revealed some important aspects of the glory of Jesus Christ the King.

As far as the record is concerned, this is the only time Jesus revealed His glory in this way while He was on earth. The word 'transfigured' gives us the Greek word 'metamorphosis'. A metamorphosis is a change on the outside that comes from the inside. When a caterpillar builds a cocoon and later emerges as a butterfly, it is due to the process of metamorphosis . Our Lord's glory was not reflected but radiated from within. There was a change on the outside that comes from within as He allowed His essential glory to shine forth (Heb.1: 3).

This event would strengthen the faith of the disciples, particularly Peter who had recently confessed Jesus to be the Son of God. Had Peter made his confession after the Transfiguration, it would not have been so meaningful. Peter believed, confessed his faith, and then received assurance. Many years later St. John recalled this event as the Spirit guided him to write " And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,....( John 1:14). In his Gospel, St. John emphasized the deity of Christ and the glory of His person (John 2:11; 7:39; 11:4; 12:23; 13 :31, 32; 20: 31).

Part 2

Jesus Christ laid aside His glory when He came to earth (John 17:5). Because of His finished work on the Cross, He received back His glory and now shares it with us (John 17:22, 24). John 13:4,5 states "rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded" (NKJV). There are seven distinct actions mentioned in the above 'Feet washing' episode by John which related to His glory and humility. Rising, laying His garments aside, taking a towel, putting it about Him, pouring water, washing the feet, wiping with towel. The scene reported by John was a summary of His Incarnation. Rising up from the Heavenly Banquet in intimate union of nature with the Father, He laid aside the garments of His glory, wrapped about His Divinity the towel of human nature which He took from Mary; poured the laver of regeneration which is His Blood shed on the Cross to redeem men, and began washing the souls of His disciples and followers through the merits of His death, resurrection and ascension. St. Paul expressed it beautifully "For the divine.......( Phil.2: 6-8). ( Fulton J. Sheen, Archbishop).

The Glory of His Kingdom: Matthew 16: 28 Jesus promised that some of the disciples would see " the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom". He selected Peter, James and John as witnesses to this event. These three friends and business partners (Luke 5:10) had been with Jesus in the home of Jairus ( Luke 8: 51), and they would go with Him into the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. All these three occasions had to do with death. Jesus was teaching these three men that He was victor over death. The transfiguration taught them that He was the Lord over the death and what lay beyond.

The presence of Moses and Elijah was significant. Moses represented the Law and Elijah the prophets. All of the Law and Prophets point to Christ and are fulfilled in Christ ( Luke 24:27; Heb. 1:1). "For how could Peter known Moses and Elias, except (by being) in the Spirit? People could not have their images, or statues, or likenesses; for that the law forbade. How, if it were not that he had seen them in the Spirit? And therefore, because it was in the Spirit that he had now spoken, and not in his natural senses, he could not know what he had said. .... He ( Christ) selects from His disciples three witnesses of the impending vision and voice. And this is just the way of the Creator. "In the mouth of three witnesses , He says, shall every word be established" (Deut.19 : 15; Luke 9: 28). He withdraws to a mountain. In the nature of the place I see much meaning. For the Creator had originally formed His ancient people on a mountain both with visible glory and His voice. It was only right that the New Testament should be attested on such an elevated spot as that whereon the Old Testament had been composed".. ( Tertullian against Marcion : Ante- Nicene Fathers, Vol. III pp.383,384).

The conversation of Jesus with Moses and Elias was breathless interest to the disciples. It centered upon the very topic which was breaking their hearts, the death of Christ. Luke gives us the detail using the word " exodus", the going forth from earth back to heaven through death. The grave was not the terminus of Jesus' glorious ministry. "Earth's exodus is heaven's genesis, and what we call the end, celestials call the beginning" ( R.C. Foster ; Life of Christ).

Part 3

The conversation with Moses and Elijah showed that the forthcoming death of Christ was in full harmony with the law and prophets. The climax was the voice of God speaking from heaven and warning them not to put Jesus on the same plane with Moses and Elijah, nor to hesitate to follow Him because God the Father is well pleased with the conduct and course of His beloved Son.

The glory of His submission : Peter could not understand why the Son of God would submit to evil men and willingly suffer. The Transfiguration was God's way of teaching Peter that Jesus is glorified when we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. The world's philosophy is "save yourself" (Matt. 27: 40), but the Christian philosophy is "yield yourself to God." As He stood there in glory, Jesus proved to the three disciples that surrender always leads to glory. First the suffering, then the glory; first the cross, then the crown.

Each of the three disciples would have a need for the important truth. James would be the first of the disciples to die ( Acts 12 : 1-2). John would be the last, but he would go through severe persecution on the Isle of Patmos (Rev.1: 9) Peter would experience many occasions suffering and, in the end, gave his life for Christ. Peter opposed the Cross when Jesus first mentioned His death (Matt. 16 : 22). In the Garden he used the sword to defend Jesus. In fact even on the Mount of Transfiguration Peter tried to tell Jesus what to do. He wanted to build three booths (tents) (Tabernacles) for Jesus, Moses and Elias so that all of them could remain there and enjoy the glory. But the Father interrupted Peter and gave other directions: "Hear Him." The Father will not permit His beloved Son to be put on the level of Moses and Elijah. "Jesus" was the only one of the God's pattern. Jesus cautioned them not to reveal what they had seen and heard even to other nine disciples.

"In man, the body is a kind of cage of the soul. In Christ, the Body was the Temple of Divinity. In the Garden of Eden, we know that man and woman were naked but not ashamed. This is because the glory of the soul before sin shone through the body and became a kind of raiment. Here too in the Transfiguration, the Divinity shone through humanity. It was restraint to hide the Divinity that was in Him. "As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. .... who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease (exodus) which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" ( Luke 9 : 29-30). ( Fulton J. Sheen- Archbishop).

Many years later, Peter realized and boldly proclaimed, "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased". And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the Holy Mountain" ( 2 Peter 1 : 16 - 18). No mortal can fully understand the Glory of God ( Shekinah ), for I am but the despicable dust of the earth. May God bless us all.

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