The Transfiguration


I do not understand the Transfiguration. It is a bizarre, unprovable, and seemingly deeply personal experience. But that much, at least, I can understand. I have had bizarre, unprovable, and deeply personal experiences before and I believe that they have changed me. When I was a young child, I had a dream where I saw myself standing in front of a computer generated image of a city. And since I grew up at an earlier stage of technology, the image was closer to that of Nintendo or even Atari than it was to any computer generated images today. But nevertheless, it was clearly a city. Suddenly, there was an angel standing next to me who put his hand on my head and said "watch this!" and the city buildings fell to the ground. Even though the event was clearly a dream, and I knew it was, it was also very personal and real to me. When the angel put his hand on my head, I could feel it as much as I have ever felt anything, almost you


could say more than I have ever felt anything. A warm and deeply serene sensation ran through my body. I was no more than ten or twelve years of age when I had that dream. There is much in the way of fun and mindless things a boy of that age likes to think about, but when I awoke, all I wanted to do was to go back to sleep. I have never forgotten that dream. I have had other experiences too but I think the point I am trying to make has been made. Just because an experience is odd, unverifiable, or personal, doesn't make it insignificant or unreal. But when it comes to transfiguration of Jesus in Luke's Gospel, the question we should be asking is not whether or not things like this can happen or whether or not they should count as real evidence for an argument being made, but rather, what is Luke trying to do with it? Why does Luke give us this unverifiable story? Luke told us that his Gospel was written after information from expert story-keepers and eye-witnesses had been interviewed (Luke 1:1-4). What does Luke expect his readers to take away from this story? For some of us, this story may appear as Luke's version of Joseph Smith's golden tablets descending from the sky. According to the teachings of "the Latter Day Saints" or the Mormon religion, Joseph Smith received a revelation of God while he was alone in the woods. Angels appeared to Joseph and revealed to him some golden tablets which would be the basis for his authority for "restoring the church" as the teaching goes. I am not a believer in this acclaimed experience of Mr. Smith, and it is understandable of you are a cynic about Luke's story of Jesus. Is this Luke's evidence that Jesus is God? No, I don't think it is. But I do believe that it is because generations of Christians have seen it more or less that way that has paved the way for the Joseph Smiths of the world to make such ludicrous claims and to be believed. In other words, if Christians can believe that story, why not another one like it?


So what is Luke's point? I believe that the evidence that Luke wants to present his readers with in this story is not the story itself so much as the change it made in the three disciples who witnessed it. I am NOT saying that I believe Luke made this story up. I am only saying that Luke is not attempting to use this one-off experience to "prove" Jesus' divinity in of itself. This is one event among many that Luke presents to us as the means by which the disciples began to view Jesus with another lens. When they began this journey, they saw themselves as more or less equals with Jesus. But as they story goes on, the disciples find themselves standing back again and again, looking at Jesus with awe and wonder. It is not just the resurrection or just the walking on the water or just the transfiguration that caused the disciples and all who would eventually come to believe in Jesus, to worship Him as God. It was the whole package put together. Luke does not expect us or anyone else to read this story and then say, "See, Jesus is God because supernatural occurrences happen around Him." No, Luke is saying that this special occurrence, witnessed only by three of the disciples, was representative of the way that all of the disciples view of Jesus was changing. This doesn't mean that they had come to know and worship Jesus as God yet, but only that the seed of fullness of Jesus' identity had been planted, had germinated, and was beginning to come to the surface. It would still not be until the resurrection that the whole picture becomes clear and the disciples "worship Him" (Luke 24:52). If Jesus was patient for His disciples to draw this conclusion and if Luke let's the evidence mount until the climax at the end of His Gospel, let us not rush ourselves or anyone else to make forced conclusions before the whole Gospel is heard. If we want to know the fullness of who Luke believes Jesus to be, we ought to read the whole Gospel in one sitting as it was meant to be read, rather than reading it in the western style of personal devotional of a few paragraphs or a chapter at a time. And YOU can do it right now! Is Jesus God? Drop what you are doing and read the Gospel of Luke from beginning to end in one sitting and you too will see Jesus transfigured before your eyes.


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The Gospel for Planet Earth, USA