The account, taken from Matthew’s Gospel, reads like this,
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him (Matt. 17:1-3).
The transfiguration of Christ, which is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels, was a supernatural manifestation of our Lord’s divine glory, and I think is more to be wondered at and admired than to be dissected for analysis. Nevertheless, there are some important lessons we may glean from it.
First, it shows us something of the power and glory of Christ. Paul tells us that before the incarnation Jesus existed “in the form of God” and was equal to God, but that he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6-7).
While on earth our Lord’s divine glory was obscured by the veil of human flesh; but in the transfiguration, God permitted some rays of that glory to break forth to be seen by men: “His face shown like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”
So in the first place, the transfiguration was designed to reveal something of our Lord’s divine majesty.
Second, as he was transfigured before them, “there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” Luke tells us what they were speaking “of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:31). That is, Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about his death and resurrection.
This symbolizes that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets. The Law is represented here by Moses, through whom God gave the Law; and the Prophets are represented by Elijah, who was regarded as kind of the prototypical prophet, the head of the line of prophets.
These two men appear and speak to Christ of his approaching death. Then, a bright cloud appears (representing the presence of God); and the cloud overshadows them all. From the cloud a voice is heard, declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). Peter, James and John, then fall to the ground in terror, and suddenly Moses and Elijah disappear, and Jesus is left standing there by himself.
All this teaches us that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets, a truth which is repeatedly emphasized in the New Testament (Matt. 5:17; Lk. 24:27, 44; Jn. 1:45; Acts 3:21-24; 24:14; 26:22; 28:23; Rom. 3:21-31). The sacrifices of the Law point to Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). The temple services, described by Moses, were living prophecies, or object lessons of the redemption Christ would bring. The high priesthood of Aaron foreshadowed the intercession of Christ at the right hand of the Father on behalf of the saints.
The Prophets, likewise, depicted many aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, as well as his death and resurrection. The appearance, then, of Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus about his “departure” symbolically portrayed his fulfillment of all that the Law and the Prophets spoken concerning him.