Time of the Transfiguration

Leaving Bethsaida, He goes with His disciples to Mark viii. 27-33. Cassarea Philippi, Whilst upon the way, He asked them Matt. xvi. 13-23. 41 whom do men say that I am? " He then asks them Luke ix. 18-22. their own opinion of Him, and Peter replies that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This truth He commands them to tell to no one; and now begins to teach them respecting His approaching rejection by the Jews, His death, and resurrection after three days. Peter would rebuke Him for these words, but is himself rebuked. Jesus afterward addresses the disciples and Mark viii. 34-38. the people, and teaches them what is involved in follow- Matt. xvi. 24-28. ing Him, and speaks of the rewards He would give to Luke ix. 23-27. all when He should come again in the glory of His Father. He adds, that some standing before Him should Mark ix. 1-10. see Him come in the glory of His kingdom. Six days Matt. xvii. 1-9. after He goes to a high mountain, taking with Him Luke ix. 28-36. Peter, James, and John, and is transfigured before them.

It is much disputed whether the journey to Csesarea Philippi, and the Transfiguration, followed immediately upon the miracle at Bethsaida, or whether an interval elapsed

during which He may have journeyed in other directions. The connection of the narratives does not decide it. It is said by Matthew (xvi. 13) that, "When Jesus came into the coasts of Csesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples," &c. This leaves the time of His coming indefinite. Mark (viii. 27) says: " And Jesus wrent out—efyXSev—and His disciples into the towns of Csesarea Philippi." The phrase " went out," naturally, though not necessarily, refers to a departure from the place before mentioned, which was Bethsaida. " Neither Evangelist assigns the date of this transaction, even by connecting it expressly with the previous context as immediately successive. Into the villages or towns dependent upon this important city, Jesus came with His disciples; when or whence is not recorded. ' Went out' throws no light upon this point, as it may refer to any going forth for any purpose, even from a private house, upon a journey, or from Capernaum as the centre of His operations on a new official circuit." x

If, then, the Evangelists do not decide the point by their language, it must be decided by other considerations. It is said on the one side, that the Transfiguration most fittingly finds its place at the end of the Lord's Galilean ministry, and therefore at a later period. As at His baptism, when about to begin His work, there was a voice from heaven, saying: " This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased ;" so now at its close the Father gives a like testimony.2 The announcement, also, (Matt. xvi. 21,) that He must go up to Jerusalem to die, implies that His next journey thither would be His last. Some, therefore, as Lichtenstein, place the journey to Jerusalem to the feast of Tabernacles (John vii. 2) after the miracle at Bethsaida, and before the journey to the coasts of Philippi.

i Alexander in loco. See the same word, v. 11. " The Pharisees came forth," whether from their homes, or from the surrounding villages, or from Capernaum, is matter of conjecture.

a Hofmann in Lichtenstein, 307.

Stier, who makes Jesus to have returned to Galilee after the feast of Dedication, (John x. 22,) places the Transfiguration after that return. But on the other side, the natural inference, as we have seen from the narratives of Matthew and Mark, is that the Lord journeyed directly from Bethsaida toward Cassarea Philippi, and that there was no return to Capernaum or visit to Jerusalem before the Transfiguration.1

It deserves, however, to be noticed that the Transfiguration was, in any event, very near the close of the Lord's ministry in Galilee. His labors after this, as indeed for some time previous, seem to have been devoted chiefly to His disciples, till He commenced His last journey, when they again assumed a public character.

From the direction given to the blind man at Bethsaida, not to speak of his cure, as well as from the statement (Markix. 30) that He desired to pass secretly through Galilee after the Transfiguration, we infer that this circuit, like the preceding, was not so much to teach the people at large as to escape the crowds that followed Him, and to find opportunity to teach His disciples.2

The apostles, in their answer to His question, "Whom do men say that I am ? " give the opinions most current among the people generally in Galilee. It is not certain whether He was, through ignorance, confounded with John the Baptist, as if the latter were still living, or was thought to be the Baptist raised from the dead. The latter is most probable, and perhaps reference may be made to the opinion of Herod and his party. How intimate was the connection in the Jewish mind between the resurrection, and the, kingdom of heaven and the advent of the Christ, is shown

by Lightfoot, (on John i. 25 :) " The Jews believed that at the coming of the Messiah the prophets were to rise again. The nearer still the 'kingdom of heaven' came, by so much the more did they dream of the resurrection of the prophets."

1 So most harmonists, Teschendorf, Robinson, Krafft, Friedlieb, Greswell, Newcome.

3 From Mark viii. 34, Ellicott infers that His object was public teaching and preaching.

It is to be noted that no important part of the people seem to have regarded Jesus as the Christ, or else it would have been mentioned by the apostles. It is apparent that He was regarded rather as a forerunner of the Messiah than as the Messiah Himself, though public sentiment may have changed from time to time in regard to His Messianic claims.1 On the one hand, He had been pointed out as the Messiah by John, and His mighty works manifestly proved His divine commission; yet, on the other hand, He did not openly avow Himself to be the Messiah, and His whole course of conduct was in striking contrast to their Messianic expectations. Whilst a few here and there said, " He is the Christ," the general voice was that He was but a forerunner. After the feeding of the five thousand, there was a desire to make Him king; but this does not show any real belief in His Messiahship. It was the natural effect of so stupendous a miracle upon the restless Jewish mind, eager to cast off the Roman and Idumean yoke; and the next day many of His disciples, and perhaps those most zealous to make Him a king, repelled by His words, " went back and walked no more with Him." This confession of Peter, which was that of all the apostles, was therefore a great turning point in their history. To others He was only the Baptist, or Elias, or one of the prophets; to them " He was the Christ, the Son of the living God." This confession involves much more than that at Capernaum a little earlier, (John vi. 69.) The latter was but an expression of their belief that "He was the Holy One of God." x " This," says Alford, " brings out both the human and the Divine nature of the Lord."

* Lange on Matt, xvi. 14.

This mystery of the Lord's person as both Divine and human, was something not to be known through any exercise of the understanding. If known, it must be through the revelation of God. That Peter should have discerned it, Jesus thus ascribes immediately to the revelation of His Father in heaven, (Matt, xvi. 17.) This truth, so far surpassing all the common Jewish conceptions of the Messiah, of the united Divinity and humanity of the Lord, being known and confessed, Jesus could begin to open to them other truths till this time concealed. Now He could teach them that His first work in the flesh was to suffer; that He must be rejected by the Jews and be put to death; that He must rise from the dead, and afterward establish His kingdom. These truths, so new and strange to the disciples, so foreign to all their modes of thinking, they could not for a long time comprehend. The very fact of the Divinity of Jesus made it still more incomprehensible how He could suffer and die, nor could the plainest words of the Lord make it intelligible. How repugnant to their feelings was the announcement of His sufferings, is graphically shown in the language of the impetuous Peter, " Be it far from thee, Lord; this shall not be unto thee :" language which brought upon him the severest rebuke.

From this time the teaching of Jesus to His disciples, and also to the people at large, (see Mark viii. 34; Luke ix, 23,) assumed a new character. Gradually, as they were able to bear it, He showed them how the great purpose of God in the Messiah must be effected through His death, and how His sufferings had been foretold by the prophets. So far from establishing any earthly kingdom, in which they should have distinguished places, He must be put to a most ignominious death, and all who received Him as the Messiah, should do it at the peril of their lives.

1 Beading approved by Teschendorf, Alford, Meyer.

Yet, as a counterpoise to the gloomy picture, He s]3eaks of an hour when He would come again, and then every disciple should have His reward. Thus He confirmed to them the great fact that He was to establish a kingdom in power and glory. To prevent the disciples from seizing upon this fact, and indulging in dreams of a reign corresponding to that of earthly kings, the Lord was pleased to show certain of the apostles, by a momentary transfiguration of His person, the supernatural character of His kingdom, and into what new and higher conditions of being both He and they must be brought ere it could come. The promise that some then standing before Him should not taste death till they had seen " the Son of man coming in His kingdom," (Matt. xvi. 28,) or had seen "the kingdom of God come with power," (Mark ix. 1,) was fulfilled when, after six days, He took Peter, James, and John into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them. These apostles now saw Him as He should appear when, having risen from the dead, and glorified, He should come again from heaven to take His great power and to reign. They saw in the ineffable glory of His person, and the brightness around them, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of God as it should come with power; and were for a moment " eye-witnesses of His majesty," (2 Peter i. 16.) Many errors still remained to be removed from their minds, especially respecting the time of its establishment, (Acts i. 6,) but the great fact of its supernatural character they could not mistake. Henceforth the phrase "kingdom of God" had to these apostles a significance which it probably had not had to any of the prophets, and certainly had not to any of the Rabbis or priests.

The three apostles were commanded to tell no one of the vision till Jesus had risen from the dead. It therefore remained for a considerable period unknown to the other apostles and disciples. It was natural that they should question one with another, as they descended the mount, what the rising from the dead should mean, (Mark ix. 10.) They had just seen the Lord transfigured. He had not died, yet had His body been invested with heavenly glory. It was not then necessary to die and to rise again in order to be glorified. What, then, should the death and resurrection of which He had spoken mean ? Not a literal death and resurrection, but a spiritual death—some act of suffering, or self-sacrifice, upon which supernatural glory should follow. And thus the resurrection from the dead, as a preliminary to the kingdom, became still more incomprehensible.

The statements of the Evangelists do not enable us to decide where the Transfiguration took place. Matthew and Mark speak of it as " a high mountain;" Luke as " the mountain," To opos. A tradition, dating back to the fourth century, gives Tabor as the site. So generally received for many centuries wras this tradition, that Lightfoot (Mark ix. 2) says : " I know it will be laughed at if I should doubt whether Christ was transfigured on Mount Tabor, for who ever doubted of this thing." According to Robinson (ii. 358) the first notice of Tabor as the place of the Transfiguration is as a passing remark by Cyril of Jerusalem, and afterward by Jerome. Before the close of the sixth century three churches were builded there, and afterward a monastery was founded. Arculf, A. D. 700,1 says : " At the top is a pleasant and extensive meadow surrounded by a thick wood, and in the middle of the meadow a great monastery with numerous cells of monks.

» Early Travels, 9.

There are also three handsome churches, according to the number of tabernacles described by Peter." Robinson and Stanley think it conclusive against this tradition, that at the time of the Transfiguration " the summit of Tabor was occupied by a fortified city." Thomson, however, (ii. 139,) does not regard this as presenting any difficulty. " There are many secluded or densely wooded terraces on the north and northeast sides, admirably adapted to the scenes of the Transfiguration. After all that the critics have advanced against the current tradition, I am not fully convinced." Admitting that much may be said in favor of Mount Tabor as " the high mountain" of the Evangelists,' still their narratives lead us to place this event in the neighborhood of C&sarea Philippi rather than on the west of the lake, and so near Capernaum. " The Evangelists," says Lightfoot, " intimate no change from place to place." The expression of Mark, (ix. 30,) that "departing thence He passed through Galilee," would imply that He was not then in ,Galilee. We are therefore made to look for some mountain in the vicinity of Caesarea, and Mount Hermon at once rises before us.1 " Standing amid the ruins of Csesarea we do not need to ask what that 'high mountain' is. The lofty ridge of Hermon rises over us, and probably on one or other of. those wooded peaks above us that wondrous event took place."2

The difference in the computation of Matthew and Mark on the one side, who say, ■" After six days He taketh Peter, James, and John into a high mountain apart," and of Luke, who says, " About an eight days after these sayings, He took," &c, is easily reconciled if we suppose that the latter included, while the former excluded, both the day on which the words were spoken, and the day of the Transfiguration. Some, as Meyer, prefer to take Luke's phrase " about an eight days" as indefinite, but this is contrary to the use of wcrei, with numerals by this Evangelist.

1 Lightfoot, Reland.

2 Porter, ii. 447; so Stanley, Lichtenstein, Hitter.

The six days, according to Lange, are probably to be counted from the day of Peter's confession. Others, as Lightfoot, count from the day the words of Matt. xvi. 28 were spoken. Not improbably the days were identical. It is not certain at what period of the day the Transfiguration took place, but most probably during the night, or at the early dawn. Darkness was not indeed, as some have supposed, necessary that the glory of the Lord's person might be plainly visible, for when He appeared to Paul, (Acts xxvi. 13,) it was midday, yet the light that shone around Him was brighter than the sun. Nor does the fact that the apostles slept, show that it was njght, for their sleep seems to have been not so much natural sleep, the result of fatigue, as stupefaction caused by the marvellous apparition, (Rev. i. 17.) Nor does the fact that He was at that time engaged in prayer (Luke ix. 29) determine it. But as He did not descend from the mount till the day following, it is not probable that He ascended upon one day, was then transfigured, remained after this during the night, and the next day returned to the disciples. It is most reasonable to suppose that the Lord went upon the mount at even, that He was transfigured at the early dawn, and soon after descended..