One of the most intriguing texts on study of eschatology is that of the transfiguration. What happened in that text is more than meets the eye of the average reader. Further, it challenges the modern prophetic concepts of a long drawn out protracted parousia. Our aim in this writing is to answer those questions. Namely, “How does the transfiguration confirm the imminent coming of Christ?”
The Transfiguration Scene and the Lord Coming in Glory
On the surface it does not appear that this text has anything to do with the Lord’s parousia (second presence). However, a more careful reading of the text reveals that almost every verse is focused on that event. If our reasoning fails to lead the reader to that conclusion, we have a more sure word of evidence from an eyewitness whom we will call to the witness stand a bit later.
It is important to note the placement of this text by all the synoptic writers. In each case, Mark 9, Luke 9, and in Matthew the transfiguration follows the discussion of Christ coming in the glory of His Father in his kingdom. This does not appear to be coincidental but highly suggestive of the content of the verses which follow, even though the actual event occurs six days later.
Christ is Transfigured
In some manner Christ is transfigured before the disciples. He underwent a visible, noticeable change. A couple of observations here. This transformation to greater glory may be indicative of the “more glory” of the Christian era, compare to that of Moses. For more on this see 2 Cor. 3:7-11). Further, it was a change or transformation that God allowed these first century disciples to witness.
Moses and Elijah Appear
Following Christ’s transfiguration, Moses and Elijah, prophets of the Old Covenant, appear and speak with Christ. The details of that conversation are not given in Matthew. However, in reading the other accounts, Luke records the specific subject of their conversation. They spoke concerning Jesus’ death which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Interestingly, the word “death” is not our usual word “thanatos” but rather, the word “exodus,” the same as that of the Old Testament book.
While it is understood that anyone who dies makes an exit from this world, the term exodus means to lead out, implying that Christ was about to lead others out, the same as Moses who lead the people out of Egypt. In other words, Christ was about to make a departure from the Old Covenant world of Judaism to the world of righteousness in God’s presence as a forerunner for all believers.
Peter, excited about the events unfolding before him, asked if Christ would allow them to make three tabernacles for the each of these great leaders. However, as the most high does not dwell in temples made with man’s hands, he was interrupted by a voice out of a cloud which said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” ( v. 4-5) There are so many references of events which ocurred during the exodus.
- The presence of God in the cloud is exodus imagery.
- The making of the tabernacle.
- At the given of the Law, Moses wrote (Deuteronomy 18:15), that every soul must hear that prophet whom God would raise up from among their brethren.
- The disciples fell on their faces in fear, as did the people who feared the voice of God who spoke from the mount in Exodus.
Transition from the Three to the One
After Christ’s touches the disciples who were yet trembling on the ground, they arise and see no one but Christ. Again, very important words. The vision ended in a complete change from the three men, Moses and Elijah on the one hand giving way to the greater glory and power (authority) of Christ. The words, “hear him” are all about the authority of Christ. In Deuteronomy they are followed with the idea that every soul who does not hear that prophet would be cut off from among the people. This takes us to the next point, i.e. judgment.
Judgment and Parousia Context of the Transfiguration
That God meant to bring to their minds the concept of judgment and the end time is event from the words hear him. After Christ has risen from the dead, Peter uses the same quote as a warning and message of blessed hope to Israel.
For Moses truly said the fathers, ‘The Lord you God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. ‘And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ (Acts 3:23-24). See also Deuteronomy 18:15-19)
Can there be any question that these words from God in the Mount of Transfiguration evoked thoughts of judgment and the parousia? This certainly is what the disciples concluded. Why? Because they asked Christ, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
Here is another eschatological question. What did the coming of Elijah have to do with the event in the transfiguration? Everything when we understand how it relates to the parousia and judgment. According to Malachi 4:5-6, Elijah must come before the great and terrible day of the Lord. It is evident that the disciples did not mistake Elijah in the vision as the fulfillment of that text.
Elijah Had Already Come
Yet to show that they were right on target with their question, Christ affirmed that Elijah who would fulfill the prophecy in coming before the great day of the Lord comes, had indeed already come. Now the significance of that as related to the vision is huge. Christ is saying that the event or sign that the great and terrible day was near had already come.
Indeed Elijah had appeared. But who was this Elijah? In all counts in the New Testament, Christ affirms that John the Baptizer, fulfilled the prophecy of the coming of Elijah. See Matthew 11:14; Luke 1:16-17, and here in our text.
“But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know whim but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.: (v. 12-13)
Now, if John, (the Elijah prophesied by Malachi) had already come, then the day of the Lord had drawn near. That’s centuries before the Television was invented and hosted our modern day “coming again soon preachers.” It also demonstrates that Islamic leader, Mohammed of Mecca, and Elijah Muhammed of the Muslim movement in the USA, have no relationship whatsoever to Bible prophecy.
How Does the Transfiguration Confirm the Imminent Coming of Christ?
As mentioned, there is one more piece of evidence that adds to the reasoning presented above, the testimony of an eyewitness. According to 2 Peter 1:16, Peter saw the event, said “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
So, here are the words of the apostle confirming the arguments above that what they witnessed was a vision of Christ’s parousia and the jugment before the event occurred. Peter was then writing about the near proximity of that very event. But what did he actually see that led him to that conclusion?
What he and his brethren saw was the transition from the authority and covenant of Moses to that of Christ alone. In other words, when the Law and the Prophets had passed away, indicating their fulfillment, the parousia of presence of Christ would occur. That’s what the vision meant. That’s what they saw. The event, was imminent or near in that John the Baptist, the Elijah who was to come had already come and been killed. Jesus was about to suffer the same.
The events which followed Jesus’ death and resurrection as outlined in the New Testament document the soon to come parousia and judgment as expressed in the events of the transfiguration. It is more compelling evidence that these events occurred in the first century generation.