The Public Life of Our Lord: Jesus is Transfigured

From The Public Life of Our Lord by Bishop Goodier

Up this mountain Jesus climbed along with His three companions. Evidently this was nothing strange to them. They had grown accustomed to these retirements; of late in particular they had become frequent, as if, after the disappointments of His months of activity, He were preferring to revert to His original method of prayer. They came up the hill, expecting nothing strange; indeed when they reached the summit they were very weary. Here, as was His custom, Jesus went aside to pray; the three left together did likewise, with goodwill enough, but their eyes and their limbs were heavy. In a very short time they were lost in slumber, closely akin to sleep.

But very soon they were awakened. They had come up on the evening; by now it was deep night; yet they found themselves surrounded by light, brighter than the light of day. The light came from the spot where Jesus had knelt down, and in spite of themselves their eyes were drawn towards it. There in front of them standing and looking towards them, was a figure that filled them with fear. Was it Jesus? If so, then He was completely changed; so changed that at first they could not recognize Him. His very countenance was no longer the same. Could it be called human? At all events there were no human words with which it could be described. It shone so brightly that as they looked at it their eyes were dazzled; a light seemed to shine through it from within, brilliant and blinding as the very sun itself. His clothing, too, was shining; His rough workman’s garment was transformed, Solomon in all his glory was never clothed as He. One might call its colour white, yet was it whiter than white, whiter than dazzling snow, whiter than any man could make white, brighter than the whitest light.

“And whilst he prayed

He was transfigured before them

And the shape of his countenance was altered

And his face did shine as the sun

And his garments became white and glittering

And exceeding white as snow

So as no fuller on earth can make white.”

For awhile the three men were spell-bound. They forgot themselves, they forgot their surroundings; they were lost, paralysed, carried utterly beyond themselves, dead yet alive, in the fascination of the vision before them. It was glory, it was triumph; it was magnificence beyond imagination; it was an ecstatic moment, when eye, and mind, and heart, and soul, each beheld with its own peculiar power of vision, and was caught, and enthralled, and enraptured, carried out of life, yet thereby made to feel in the very essence of their being the utter joy of living. It was heaven; it was freedom from all bondage; it was the light which was the life of men, the light shining in the darkness, the light enlightening every man that cometh into the world. Jesus Christ, the Light, the Life, the Son of the Living God! Their hearts were fit to burst with the fulness of it all, the fulness of all grace, of all truth.

Presently they became aware that there were not alone; besides themselves were other spectators of the vision. As their eyes grew more accustomed to the dazzling brightness, or as they turned away for relief, they discerned two men— or were they men? They seemed too full of light, too majestic!—standing on His either side, and holding conversation with Him. They were holding serious discussion, as three men might who had gone apart to make some plan for future. What were they discussing? That, too, they soon discovered. One spoke of the first son of Eve, Abel, slain by his brother, Cain; of Isaac offered in sacrifice by his father, Abraham, of the blood of the lamb that was spread upon the door-posts in Egypt, and saved the Hebrews from the angel of death; of the lamb that was killed and eaten to commemorate the great delivery; of the cross uplifted in the desert to save the people from their doom; of the sacrifices, of the scapegoat, of all those signs that pointed to Him who was to come, and therefore

“Of his decease

That he should accomplish in Jerusalem.”

Then spoke the second figure. He dwelt on the message of the prophets, their words, their warnings, and their doom; on the suffering that awaited everyone who spoke the word of God to this stubborn and stiff-necked people; on the picture of the Messias that had grown in ever darker colours as the ages had advanced; on the prophecy contained in the story of Israel itself, perishing and again its dead bones given life. Long was his tale; prophecy followed prophecy, but the sign foreshadowed was clear to demonstration. The prophet spoke, too,

“Of his decease

That he should accomplish in Jerusalem.”

In a dazed state the three men listened, overcome by what they saw, hearing the words that were said, paying little heed to their significance; only long afterwards, when at last the whole drama was complete, did it all come back upon them. In the present they could not think; only by degrees, from the words that were said, from an interior recognition, they came to perceive who were these two that spoke with Jesus. They were Moses and Elias; Moses the Giver of the Law, Elias the founder of the school of the prophets.

For some time these three figures standing in the brightness held their conversation. At length there came an end; the two that had come began to fade away into the surrounding mist of the light. Then speech returned to Peter. He was still beside himself; being more spontaneous, more enthusiastic, he was more beside himself than the others. What he said he scarcely knew, nor did he greatly care but his bursting heart must say something, whatever words came first to his mind. And what words could more express his heart at that moment than words of joy in prayer? Oh! The delights of such prayer as this! Oh! The satisfaction of living forever thus alone with the Lord! This was indeed to live; this was the light, the life; and since it was that, why, then let it go on forever! Let the weary world go by, the weary, disappointing world! Here on this mountain, with him, Peter, as the rock foundation, Jesus and they would begin forthwith to build their Church, and the gates of hell should not prevail against it.