The divine nature of Christ is revealed to the disciples which invites us to wonder, “Do I need to see more of Christ as he truly is?” What do we mean by the transfiguration of Jesus?

What we DO NOT mean by the transfiguration of Jesus

Part 2 of this Bible study can be found here.

Many images may come to our minds when we think about the transfiguration of Jesus.

In the book series Harry Potter, there is, of course, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Students at Hogwarts take a class called, “Transfigurations.”

First-year students in Transfiguration learn to change a needle to a match. By the third year, they are able to change a teapot to a tortoise. By graduation, they can change human body parts or even human form.

In the instance at Hogwarts, the thing or person being transfigured changes from their true state to something completely different than what they truly are. A needle is not the same as a match. And no kid wants a teapot for a pet. When we talk about the transfiguration of Jesus we are not talking about it like that kind of Hogwarts transfiguration, in which Jesus is being changed into something he is not. 

Lebron James broke the NBA total career points record by passing Kareem Abdul Jabar’s point record of over 38,000 points. Lebron James is a world-class athlete and he is a generational talent.

If you watch his high school basketball highlights you will see that even at that age he was well beyond his peers. And knowing what we know now, we look back at those highlights of young Lebron and say, “Of course. This superstar was there all along.”

Carving Bodies by Victor Hugo Pina See more here

We are not saying Jesus had potential and that fasting, prayer, and challenges chiseled him into this glorious self.

When we think of transformation, we might think of the process of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. First, the caterpillar eats and then forms a chrysalis, and then after a period of time, a butterfly emerges. The butterfly doesn’t act like the caterpillar and the caterpillar doesn’t act like a butterfly. The two never exist at the same moment. It’s one and then the other.

When we talk about the transfiguration of Jesus, we are not saying that Jesus was human with a rational mind and soul and then became divine. We are not saying that Jesus’ divine nature is growing and is beginning to emerge.

What we mean by the transfiguration of Jesus

The Church’s conversation over the past 2,000 years has led us to talk about Jesus as one person with two natures. Jesus has a human nature because he was born of a woman. Jesus also has a divine nature because he is the son of God. 

The two natures are separate and one doesn’t dilute the other. However, when the second person of the Trinity was born in Bethlehem, there was a self-limiting aspect to that where human nature was more prominent.

What is happening on the mountain (Mount Tabor) is that the disciples are being allowed to see part of his divine nature. Jesus is not becoming something he is not. Jesus is not getting rid of his former self. Though it is not as prominent on the pages of the gospel, this nature is always there. In this instance, the disciples are allowed to see it and when they do it terrifies them.

They are seeing more of Christ as he truly is.

Self-Limiting Christ

Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Phillipian church. The second person of the Trinity, Christ, was born on earth though he existed in the presence of the other members of the Trinity beforehand. He writes, “

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 

6 who, though he was in the form of God, 

did not regard equality with God 

as something to be exploited, 

7 but emptied himself, 

taking the form of a slave, 

being born in human likeness. 

And being found in human form, 

8 he humbled himself 

and became obedient to the point of death— 

even death on a cross.

When Paul writes “in the form of” he is not saying that Jesus appeared to be human but really wasn’t. Nor is he saying that Christ “appeared to be” God but wasn’t. Instead, Christ is co-equal and co-eternal with Father and Spirit and was born a human. He was 100% human and humbled himself to God’s will, even though that meant such a death.

What makes the transfiguration of Jesus so amazing is that the disciples finally get to see the divine nature that was always present but was often less prominent.

As we see in part 2, this has a significant impact on the disciples as the resplendent Jesus is met by Elijah and Moses. Read more here.

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