Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up a mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.Luke 9:28b-36 (Lectionary)
Exodus of Christ
As the Cross loomed ahead, Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus on a mountain about his coming “exodus” (exodos) or departure from earthly life. Fulfilling the original Exodus from Egypt under Moses, the new Moses will enter the Promised Land through his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. In the midst of dazzling light, the Suffering Servant set his “face like flint” toward Jerusalem.1
Suffering and Glory are One
Passion and resurrection are inseparable on the way of the Cross. Leading up to the Transfiguration, Jesus had predicted he would suffer and rise “on the third day.” Now, with Peter, John, and James as witnesses, he spoke of nothing but his passion in the midst of blazing glory.
Hearing, but not comprehending, Peter offered to make three booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Overwhelmed by the theophany, Peter’s action suggests that he thought the Lord’s reign on earth was beginning. Hebrew tradition linked the reign of Christ with the feast of Booths.
Everyone who is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem will go up year after year to bow down to the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the feast of Booths.Zechariah 14:16
“This is my Beloved Son”
Bewildered, the three disciples found themselves overshadowed by a cloud. Like Moses on Mount Sinai, Jesus met his Father “face to face,” covered by a cloud of glory.2 Receiving his identity and mission from the Father, Jesus heard familiar words from a psalm of David and a Servant Song of Isaiah:
“You are my son; today I have begotten you. Psalm 2:7
Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Isaiah 42:1
Matthew clearly records this combination of Hebrew verses:
While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”Matthew 17:5
“Listen to Him”
At the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah confirmed Jesus as the fulfiller of the Law and the Prophets. Manifesting his glory in the cloud, the Father conferred all authority on his Son: “Listen to him.”
Moses and Elijah, God’s prophets sublime,
Spoke of Christ’s exodus in Yerushalaim.
1 Isaiah 50:7.
2 Exodus 19:9; 24:18; 33:11; Numbers 11:25.