"As He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered . . ."—Luke ix. 29.
Luke carefully dates the Transfiguration as occurring "about eight days after these sayings," namely, the plain announcement of the approaching crucifixion. The connection between the two things was not merely chronological, as we shall feel, if we try to realise what the intervening week must have been both to the disciples and to Jesus. For them it would be a time of startling, almost bewildering, fading of their fairest hopes, and of pain to the hearts that, however ignorantly, loved Him. For Him, we dare not peer too curiously into what it was, but we know that His flesh shrank from the cross, though, blessed be God, the shrinking never mounted into the region of His will. Both He and they needed the calm of the mountain solitude to which He led them, and whatever message the Transfiguration had for them, it had a message for Him too.
But we are not about to dwell on the incident itself, so much as on the thought suggested by the Evangelist's note that it came to pass while Jesus prayed. The announcement of the cross was the remoter occasion, but Christ's prayer was the immediate cause. We may say that if there had been no prayer, there would have been no Transfiguration. Luke's Gospel is the source of our knowledge of most of Christ's prayers, and a study of the circumstances under which He prayed would yield much instruction. But none of the instances of His recorded prayer is more deeply impressive than this, that the forecast of the cross sent Jesus to pray, and the prayer was answered by the Transfiguration, which, therefore, in all its parts must have had a bearing on the state of Christ's mind which was expressed in His prayers. Such a bearing is unmistakable in the two other points in the incident. Moses and Elias spake with Jesus of what had been filling His heart, the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. The divine voice proclaimed the Father's good pleasure in the Son, and therefore implied the purpose and efficacy of His sinless death. Less obviously, but no less really, the Transfiguration proper, with which we are concerned now, was adapted and intended to minister strength to the Sacrifice, whose weak flesh felt a shrinking which His willing spirit did not share. That flesh was "apparelled in celestial light" and saturated with glory, which doubtless had for its accompaniment power and victory over its weakness. The primary purpose of all three stages in this incident was directed to Jesus, as is plain from the privacy in which it was shrouded both by the remote scene of its occurrence, and by the command to the three spectators not to speak of it till after the Resurrection. Jesus Christ needed to be strengthened to bear His cross, and He received the strength on the path of prayer.
It is noteworthy that our Lord's prayers were always offered up in solitude. May it have been that the same irradiation of countenance, which the favoured three were for that once permitted to see, was the constant accompaniment of Christ's solitary communion with the Father? It may be. Perhaps His face too shone like Moses',- and, if any had been near Him at such times, they would have seen "the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father" shining through "the veil, that is, His flesh." For this once spectators were admitted. The reason why they were was just because the three were so downhearted, and in their blundering, sincere way of love were so saddened by thought of His death. Therefore they were heartened and lifted up by a glimpse for a moment of the indwelling glory that was always there, in order that they might understand that, like a sunbeam passing through some weltering ocean, it would go through the great sea of death, and be unquenched and unrefracted. Thus once He revealed Himself as He always was. Let us think lovingly, and with a deeper sense than we often have, of the continual self-suppression which was involved in our Lord's incarnation. It was His own volition that drew the curtain, and that kept it so securely fastened that no rays of the light, except on this one occasion, passed out to men.
But be that as it may, this transformation is a pattern for us of what the effect of our prayers may and should be. If we have communion with God through Him, and as He had, the fashion of our countenances will be altered too. That is sometimes literally true. One has seen very homely faces transfigured by love and faith. There are people in the world of whom it is the case that "beauty born of" something deeper than "murmuring sound" has passed into their face; just as there are, on the other hand, people who bear written on their foreheads that they belong to the devil.
But a better transformation will follow true prayer. If we are really in touch with God, and if our days are passed in any real sense in communion with Him, whether upon the mountain-top, as Christ and the three were, or down in the valley trying to cure demoniacs, as was much more permanently the disciples' place and duty, we cannot but be made fair, noble, refined, pure, and have something of celestial light raying out from us. Christ entrusts almost all the task of assimilating men's character to His own, to the transforming power of communion with God through Him. "We all with unveiled face, reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image." If we gaze on Him we shall grow like Him. We can tell by the flush that lights up a face whether the man has turned it full to the sunshine or no. "As He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered "; and so will that of every man who truly and habitually holds converse with God.
The Transfiguration was a prophecy of what will be for all who love Jesus and are growing like Him here. "Soul is form and doth the body make," and when the spirit is made perfect, and is reunited again to the body prepared for it, it will mould all the members into immortal loveliness and perfection. The Transfiguration is a kind of parable of the heavenly state —which was for Him so near on that day, and for none of us is very far away. "We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed." And "when Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, we also shall be manifested with Him in glory." A face radiant as the sun, garments lustrous "so as no fuller on earth can white them "—these are but the symbolic expressions of the great truth far beyond our present comprehension, though well within the grasp of our faith, that the perfecting realised by all Christ's servants shall consist in the spirit being made perfect and dwelling no longer " in an earthly house of this tabernacle," which can be "dissolved," but in "a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens"—which shall be transparent so as to show all the beauties of the guest within, and mighty so as to perform all the bidding of the spirit that rules the body perfectly because it perfectly serves God. "We look for the Lord Jesus Christ as the Saviour who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of His glory."