Luke 9:28–36 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
Within a period of only a few days, Jesus' disciples have experienced tumultuous times. They've seen the storm-whipped waves of the Sea of Galilee calmed, a raving demoniac clothed and returned to his right mind, and five-thousand-plus people fed fully from only five loaves and two fish. On retreat from active ministry, Peter has voiced their unanimous verdict: Jesus is God's Messiah, the One sent to deliver Israel. But a few minutes later, Jesus begins to unfold a troubling and dissonant future, one that they utterly fail to comprehend — that the Son of Man will suffer and be rejected, killed, and resurrected.
First Prayer, then Training the Three (v. 28)
It begins simply enough with Jesus' invitation to Peter, James, and John, to pray with him on a mountainside. What a privilege it must have been to be asked by Jesus to be with him as he prayed! Little did they know what was in store for them. Realize for a moment that only these three "inner-circle disciples" would accompany Jesus on three unique occasions: (1) inside the room where Jesus healed Jairus' daughter (8:51); onto the mountain where Jesus is transfigured before them (9:28); and in the Garden of Gethsemane where, when praying in agony Jesus sweats drops of blood (Matthew 26:37, Mark 14:33, Luke 22:44).
Why does Jesus exclude Andrew, Thomas, Bartholomew, and others? Consider this possibility: Jesus is in the business of training men to follow him, and to lead the church after he's ascended. He looks for those having the greatest spiritual maturity and leadership skills, and takes them aside for further instruction; some are more ready to learn than others. It's also possible that Jesus needs people with whom he can share himself more openly. Yet, he has a difficult role that's familiar to leaders: He must occasionally rebuke those closest to him. If we're to learn the training methods of Jesus, we must prioritize the importance of training an inner circle of leaders according to their degree of giftedness, readiness, and willingness, opening our lives to them as wise mentors, in order to develop them. This training aspect isn't based on fairness; it's based on fulfilling the mission of the kingdom.
The Transfiguration of Jesus' Appearance (v. 29)
The appearance of Jesus' face changes suddenly. Luke tells us in v. 29 that "the appearance of his face changed," while Matthew writes: "His face shown like the sun" (Matthew 17:2). This is reminiscent of "the radiant face of Moses" when he talked to God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:29–30). And Paul describes God in this way: ". . . who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen" (1 Timothy 6:16). It's this "unapproachable light" that Peter, James, and John see upon the face of Jesus this day of his transfiguration.
Luke describes Jesus' clothing in a similar striking manner: ". . . and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning" (v. 29). How bright is a flash of lightning? Bright, indeed! When you watch the brief "Jesus" film video clip (linked below the two passage links), you'll clearly see that, one minute Jesus has a normal ruddy face and beard and dusty clothing from the trail, while the next minute his face is shining like the sun and his clothing is as bright as lightning! He becomes transfigured in divine glory before their eyes.
Moses and Elijah Speak with Jesus (vv. 30–31)
In a similar display of heavenly glory, Moses and Elijah appear miraculously (v. 30) and speak with Jesus. What they speak about is striking: "They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem" (v. 31). The word translated "departure" (NIV) in Greek is exodos, and though it can mean both "a going out, a departure from a place" and "death," it's significantly the same Greek word used (in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament) to refer to Moses' leading the people of Israel out of Egypt to their salvation and freedom. Luke clearly presents Jesus as the New Savior of Israel.
The phrase "which he was about to bring to fulfillment" is a pretty literal translation of the Greek. Jesus' salvation fulfills what the Father had planned long before, something that Jesus has been preparing for, and now will carry out. Moses, who represents the Law, and Elijah, who represents the Prophets, are talking to the Messiah concerning what he's about to do to deliver his people. Wow! And the three disciples are witnessing this amazing conversation documenting the continuity of salvation's history.
Enter Peter the Planner (vv. 32–33)
Witnesses, yes. But they're sleepy witnesses. It's as if they, especially Peter, are spiritually dull or not quite tuned in, similar to how they'll again be found in the Garden of Gethsemane in chapter 22: "spiritually asleep." And what was Peter thinking when he proposed constructing three shelters (or tabernacles, tents, or booths)? If there were an inappropriate thing for Peter to say, he voices it here. Luke graciously explains Peter's sleepy comment: "He did not know what he was saying."
Fearfully Entering the Cloud (vv. 34–35)
Jesus doesn't answer or rebuke Peter. Instead, as he speaks, a cloud appeared on the mountaintop, covering and surrounding everyone. The cloud blows around them, utterly blotting out the disciples' ability to see. Then out of the cloud comes the Father's clear voice: "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him" (v. 35). God's voice drives out any question in the disciples' minds as to whether Jesus knows what he's talking about concerning Jerusalem's upcoming suffering. Though they don't understand what Jesus is talking about when he predicts his sufferings and death, or what Moses and Elijah mean by Jesus' "exodus," they no longer question it. They've seen Jesus in his glory and heard the Father's voice; there's no doubt; dazed, overwhelmed, uncomprehending, they simply believe.
“Quiet Everyone!” (v. 36)
Ever had a mystical or spiritual experience? If so, you might have felt awkward about sharing it. Perhaps it was too personal or too impossible for people to believe. Likely you'd be embarrassed to share it with others. Such "mountaintop experiences" are often vivid and powerful, causing you to keep quiet because you're afraid that people would think you were weird if you were to tell it. Whether or not you've had your own spiritual experience or heard someone tell you about theirs, we shouldn't discount the value of them. God is the dispenser of such marvelous experiences; sometimes he feels that we definitely need to experience one. This was one of those times for Peter, James, and John.
Why Was the Transfiguration Necessary?
This "mountaintop experience" was necessary for several likely reasons:
1. Jesus' inner circle of disciples needed to see his glory so they'd be able to grasp better who he was to them. They'd been confused by Jesus' teaching of suffering and death. They needed to integrate his suffering with his glory.
2. Jesus had enabled three witnesses to testify later, as only eyewitnesses can, who Jesus really was. Two of them documented their impressions in writing (John 1:14 and 2 Peter 1:16–18).
3. Jesus himself may have needed reassurance and confirmation of his role, as he began the next phase that included his confrontation, suffering, and death.
A Few Visible Glimpses of God's Glory, Then and Now
Jesus is fully Man, yet here and there we find glimpses of his glory as "the Only Begotten of the Father" (John 1:18): (1) The glory of God and an angel choir on the night of his lowly birth in Bethlehem (Luke 2:8–20); (2) A dove alighting on him and his hearing his Father's voice at his baptism (3:22); (3) Today's splendid Transfiguration on the mountaintop (vv. 28–36); (4) His resurrection from the dead (chapter 24); and (5) His ascension into heaven (24:50–51), being hidden by a cloud (Acts 1:9–11).
Sometimes it can be similar for us as we, too, experience the ups and downs of life, its hardships and struggles, and the joys and warmth of love. Thankfully, there are times when we see a clear beam of light coming down and we're able to catch a glimpse of the Father's glory, the glory that we'll one day experience with Jesus. Life might seem pretty dark some days; but today, God wants us to look back at and delight in those times of his clear and bright revelation, so we'll confidently look forward to his ultimate deliverance of us into his divine glory.
- Q. 1 What about Jesus' transfiguration is important to you?
- Q. 2 Who exactly confirms that Jesus is God's Son? How should you respond to that truth?
- Q. 3 When it comes to listening to Jesus, how hard of hearing are you right now?
New International Version (NIV) [To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 9.]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "The Transfiguration."
28About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, "Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (He did not know what he was saying.)
34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35A voice came from the cloud, saying, "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.