Christian Transfiguration

Matthew and mark both record that Jesus was ‘transfigured’ in the presence of Peter, James and John. ‘Transfigured’ comes from the Greek metamorphoo, from which metamorphosis is derived and which occurs in nature in the physical change which takes place, for example, in the development of a tadpole into a frog or a caterpillar into a butterfly.

Remarkably, Paul used the same word used of Christ’s transfiguration to describe the change in Christian experience, not a physical, but a spiritual metamorphosis; not of a future state but of present experience. Like the tadpole or the caterpillar, the Christian can be transfigured into a superior state than before conversion, and experience a higher level of living.

Romans 12. 2 says ‘And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed (Gk. metamorphoo) by the renewing of. your mind’. Christ’s transfiguration was from within to without; His radiant face and bright clothing manifested an inner glory which was ordinarily veiled in flesh. Similarly, Christian transfiguration is also from within to without, as the words ‘be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind’ indicate. Such inward renewal is manifested in outward behaviour, first, negatively-‘Be not conformed to this world’, cf. Ps. 1. 1, and second, positively-'present your bodies a living sacrifice’, cf. Ps. 1.2. Renewal begins at Christian conversion, when the believer becomes ‘a new creation’, 2 Cor. 5. 17, thereby initiating a process of change which continues throughout life, whereby progressively old things are passed away and all things are become new.

Naturally, we bear Adam’s image, which is incapable of renewal. Spiritually, God seeks to renew in us the image of Christ, marred through the fall, which Paul described as ‘the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him (i.e. Christ) that created him’ (i.e. the new man), Col. 3. 10. Elsewhere, Eph. 4. 22-24, Paul wrote, ‘put off concerning the former conversation the old man … And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man’. Renewal leads to consecration-'present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service’, Rom. 12. 1. The word ‘service’ is that elsewhere used for divine service, Gk. latreia, of. John 16. 2; Rom. 9. 4; Heb. 9. 1, 6. F. R. Havergal expressed the thought in her hymn ‘Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord, to Thee’. A renewed mind will be seen in a sober assessment of our own abilities and limitations-‘For I say … to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly’, Rom. 12. 3; nor, one might add ‘more lowly’, for that, although less likely, would not be sober thinking either. ‘Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits’, 12. 16.

2 Corinthians 3. 18 says ‘But we all, with open face … are changed (Gk. metamorphoo) into the same image’. The chapter presents a series of contrasts between (a) the greater glory of the Gospel than that of the Law and (b) the greater experience of the Christian under the Gospel than that of Moses under the Law. First, Moses’ experience at Sinai was limited to himself; the Israelites did not share this, it could not be transmitted to them from Moses, as it had been transmitted to Moses from God-’they were afraid to come nigh him’, Exod. 34. 30. While he spoke with them, Moses veiled his face, vv. 33, 35. When he returned to the mount, he discarded the veil and the divine radiance on his face was renewed, w. 34, 35. Contrariwise, Christian transfiguration is for all believers; it is not only for an elite class-‘But we all, with unveiled face reflecting …’, R.v. In deference to his brethren, Moses veiled his face; not so the Christian. Second, the glory on Moses’ face was transient, like the Law itself, of which it was a sign-‘which glory was passing away’, 2 Cor. 3. 11, 13 R.v. In 2 Corinthians chapter 3 Paul gave a deeper meaning to the fact that Moses veiled his face from his brethren; it was not only in deference to their alarm at the phenomenon, but ‘that the children of Israel should not stedfastly look on the end of that which was passing away’, v. 13 r.v., i.e. that they should not see that the glory on his face was fading and destined to disappear. Contrariwise, Christian transfiguration is unfading, like the Gospel itself-’the glory that remaineth’, w. 10, 11 r.v. Rather, it is not only unfading, but increasing, ‘changed … from glory to glory’, v. 18, as Chas. Wesley wrote ‘Changed from glory into glory, Till in heaven we take our place’. Third, Moses’ glory was only skin deep-’the skin on his face shone’, Exod. 34. 29, 30, 35, i.e. it was superficial, not proceeding from within, but from without, a reflection of God’s glory, without inwardness to sustain it. Contrariwise$ Christian transfiguration is from within, cf. Rom. 12. 2; it permeates character and affects behaviour. The Sanhedrin trying Stephen ‘saw his face as it has been the face of an angel’, Acts 6. 15. He had seen ‘the glory of God’, 7. 55. Doubtless his angelic face reflected that glory. It also changed him into the same moral 'image’ as that of his Lord, as his dying words show, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge’, v. 60, of. Luke 23. 34 and ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’, v. 59, cf. Luke 23. 46.


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