In Matthew 17:1-13, Jesus takes three of His disciples (Peter, James and John) up on a mountain. During their time there, Moses and Elijah appear and Jesus is “transfigured” before them.
When something is “transfigured” it goes through a change that makes it more beautiful. Transfiguration creates a new outward appearance.
In Matthew 17:2, Matthew tells us Jesus was transfigured, and suggests Jesus’ appearance completely changed. The description makes it seem like His outward flesh went away and the divine person beneath was allowed to shine forth. It says Jesus’ face shone like the sun. His clothes became like light.
The Greek lemma behind this transformation is a word that’s pronounced “metamorephoo”. That should sound familiar to English speakers. We describe the change a caterpillar undergoes to become a butterfly as metamorphosis. Interestingly, the same Greek lemma is also used to describe the transformation a believer experiences through faith in Christ.
In Romans 12:2, Paul encourages believers not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed (metamorphoo) by the renewing of their minds. It’s like people crawl into a relationship with Christ a caterpillar and, through faith, fly out a butterfly. That’s an incredible picture of transformation.
When believers enter into a relationship with Jesus through faith, they begin to take on the attributes of their Savior. They begin to be transfigured into the image of Christ. Paul again uses this same Greek word when he describes this faith transformation in 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NASB95*),
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (metamorphoo) into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
In the Old Testament (Exodus 34:29-35), Moses went up on Mt. Sinai and stood in the presence of God. When he came down off the mountain his appearance had changed. His face shone because he had been speaking with God. Moses’ brother, Aaron, was afraid to come near him… so Moses put a veil over his face.
But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take off the veil. That’s the situation to which Paul alludes in 2 Corinthians. Paul suggests that believers too are in the presence of the Lord with an “unveiled face”.
The linguistic tie between the “transformation of believers” and the “transfiguration of Jesus” is just one of the items I cover in The Matthew Study video lesson for chapter 17. You can watch the entire lesson below… or preview the other videos in The Matthew Study by visiting: THE MATTHEW STUDY VIDEOS page.
*emphasis and parenthetical comments have been added.