The Transfiguration has many allusions to the Old Testament. It occurs on a mountaintop, as did Moses’ initial encounter with God at Mount Sinai and the subsequent delivery there of the Ten Commandments establishing the covenant between God and Israel. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets respectively. The color of Jesus’ clothes matches God enthroned in Daniel 7:9. The references to “glory” use a word associated with God’s presence in the Old Testament. Jesus’ impending departure in Jerusalem is called an “exodus,” reflecting God’s liberation of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. Peter’s desire to build three tents suggests the Feast of Tabernacles, which recalls the Israelites’ mode of shelter at Sinai. Finally, the voice from the cloud quotes Psalm 2:7 while also alluding to God’s chosen servant (Isaiah 42:1) and the command to listen to the anticipated prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).
The Transfiguration, therefore, clearly links Jesus to the traditions of the Jewish people while giving Peter, John, and James a glimpse of his true nature. Despite the humiliating death he will suffer in Jerusalem, Jesus is revealed here as divine. It is significant that this happens while they all are praying, showing us that when we take the time to enter into God’s presence, we really can encounter the God of Israel who is manifested in and through Jesus himself.
John L. McLaughlin