Luke 9:28-36 The Transfiguration.
The transfiguration occurred after Jesus took Peter, John, and James up to a mountain to pray (v. 28).* Both Matthew and Mark wrote that this occurred six days after Jesus teaching concerning His death and resurrection, and the taking up of one’s cross and following him (Mt. 16:24-17:1; Mk. 8:34-9:2). Luke writes that it was “about eight days after.” (v. 28). Luke’s inclusion of the word ‘about’ shows us that the exact number-whether six days or eight, was not a crucial point. In fact, it cautions us not to put too much into the number six in Matthew and mark. Luke’s inclusion of ‘about’ also blunts the argument that this is somehow an error in scripture, since Luke himself makes no claim to absolute exactitude as to the precise number of days. It was about a week. What mattered was the connection with what precedes. The subject of their discussion was His impending death and resurrection (vv. 21-22), and taking up their cross and following Him (vv. 23-26).
As Jesus prayed the cloud of the Glory-Presence came, and Moses and Elijah appeared with Him. These two men symbolized the law and the prophets, who in a visual physical presentation showed their continuity with Christ. Until the glory appeared the disciples could not stay awake (v. 32). When they did wake up Peter wanted to keep Moses and Elijah with them and make their meeting with Jesus to last longer (v. 33). Perhaps he thought that with the Glory, tabernacles were appropriate, for it was at the Tabernacle/Temple that the Glory once appeared. In any case, the purpose of this event seems to be that it showed that revelation was moving forward and not staying static, and that revelation pointed forward to Jesus. Up until that point the disciples were observing the cloud from a distance. But while Peter was speaking the cloud enveloped them, and they found themselves in the Glory-Presence of God’s council chamber (v. 34).
Within the cloud the disciples heard with their own ears, the testimony of the Father concerning Jesus. So here they had the witness not only of Moses and Elijah, but of the Father Himself (v. 35). The Father’s testimony concerning Jesus, was that He was His beloved Son, and they must hear Him (Cf. Ps. 2:7; Mt. 12:18-21 [Is. 42:1-4]). Jesus was the giver of revelation from the Father. This testimony echoes what was given at the beginning of His ministry (Cf. Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11; Lk. 3:22; Jn. 1:14). Miracles, wonders, and signs also attested to Him (Acts 2:22). When the cloud left we are told that Jesus stood alone with them, and they committed to not speaking of this event until after His resurrection (v. 36 Cf. Mt. 17:9; Mk. 9:9-10). The next time they would see the cloud would be at Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:9). Peter would later connect this event with his own prophetic ministry, giving it as proof of Jesus person and work (Cf. II Pet. 1:16-18).
There can be no doubt that the disciples would have understood the significance of the cloud, for it was the same cloud and Glory-Presence which led Israel out of Egypt (Ex. 13:21). It is also significant that the word which Luke uses for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension is the greek word for ‘exodus’. A better word than the NKJV’s “decease” would be ‘departure’, for it really refers to more than His death. The entire redemptive work of Christ is in view, as Paul also drew on this connection (I Cor. 10:1-4). The command of the Father that men should hear His Son, is also an echo of the past, showing him to be that Prophet who was promised (Dt. 18:15). As Moses face shined in the past even so did Christ’s in this cloud. After this event Jesus would also return to normal, but with the ascension the glory would not cease.
[*There is some debate about what mount is referred to, but with what follows in Luke, it seems that they were traveling through Samaria to Jerusalem. Could this mount have been Gerizim, from where the blessings of the covenant were once uttered (Cf. Dt. 27:12)? It is certainly the case that in Christ there is new covenant renewal, even as there is an old covenant lawsuit which took place on those who did not receive Him.]