8. Preaching the gospel, 13:53-17:27

xii] The Transfiguration


Jesus takes Peter, James and John into the high country and there before their eyes his visage radiates a dazzling white. Moses and Elijah then appear with Jesus and the Father speaks from heaven.


As we once listened to Moses and Elijah, now we must listen to the words of Jesus.


i] Context: See 16:13-20.


ii] Structure: The transfiguration:

The account of the transfiguration, v1-8;

A discussion about the coming of Elijah, v9-13.

setting and Jesus' command, v9;

a question from the three disciples, v10;

Jesus' response, v11-12;

conclusion, v13.


Note: it is possible that v9 is tied to v1-8, rather than 10-13;


iii] Interpretation:

Matthew's account of the transfiguration is more detailed than Mark's. Matthew, as with Mark, focuses on the "listen to him" command, a command which is reinforced by his noting that "when the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear." Only Luke records the content of Jesus' discussion with Moses and Elijah, namely his coming death, his exodus. Both the placement of this episode and its Exodus / Sinai imagery indicates that the issue of Christ's exodus is not far below the surface, even if not specifically mentioned. For Matthew, the central theme is that of Christ the authoritative word of God. This theme is drawn out by the use of Old Testament motifs: i] The revelation of the Son of man in Daniel (shining face, Elijah... Dan.10:8f, 5f, 16); and ii] The Exodus, particularly the theophany on Mount Sinai (shining face, booths, cloud, and the presence of Moses. Ex.13:20f, 33:9f, 34:29).

So, within Matthew's narrative purpose of revealing the gospel at work, the transfiguration serves to present Christ as the glorious Son of God, who, wearing the prophetic mantle of Moses and Elijah, is the source of God's authoritative word - Jesus is the prophet we must "listen to"; to his gospel we must submit.


iv] Synoptics:

Mark and Matthew present a similar account of the transfiguration, Luke expands the account somewhat and Matthew adds v6-7 (part of his Word focus). The question and answer passage in Mark is somewhat messy, but is neat in Matthew, especially his editorial note in v13.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 17:1

i] The Transfiguration, v1-8. In the opening verse Matthew makes sure we don't miss the Exodus imagery found in this episode. He alludes to the "six days" Moses was on the mountain in the cloud prior to God appearing to him, Ex.24:15-18, and to the three special companions who accompanied Moses up the mountain, Ex.24:1.

meq (meta) + acc. "after" - [and] after [six days]. Temporal use of the preposition. Possibly just "on the sixth day", McNeile, but it is more likely that the phrase "after six days" purposely draws on a Sinai motif: the glory of the Lord was on the mountain six days / Moses was with the Lord on the mountain six days, cf. Ex.24:15-18.

paralambanei (paralambanw) pres. "[Jesus] took with him" - [jesus] took along with. This is the first of a series of dramatic / historic present tense verbs which serve to intensify the story. As on other occasions, only the inner circle of apostles, namely Peter, James and John, get to witness the inner-workings of Christ's mission.

anaferei (anaferw) pres. "led [them] up" - [peter and james and john the brother of him and] he brings up [them]. Jesus, as with Moses, leads his three friends up the mountain to confront the divine.

uJyhlon adj. "high [mountain]" - [to] a high [mountain]. The adjective again carries the Sinai motif. No particular mountain/hill is identified. Liefeld, Theological Motifs suggests Mount Meron, between Caesarea Philippi and Capernaum.

kat idian "by themselves" - according to ones own = privately. This common phrase expresses the sense "alone"; "where they were all by themselves", Cassirer.


In the presence of his disciples Jesus is transformed; he is visibly changed ("transfigured" comes from the Latin). The change images that of Moses whose face became radiant when he confronted God on Mount Sinai. Jesus, the Messiah, Son of God, takes on the mantle of "the prophet like unto Moses", as he does that of priest and king. In fact, the imagery may reflect the visions of Daniel's coming Son of Man - the one who comes to the Ancient of Days to rule in glory and might, Dan.10:8f, cf. Rev.1:13f, 17f.

metemorfwqh (metamorfow) aor. pas. "he was transfigured" - [and] he was transformed, visibly changed. Possibly a divine passive, ie., God does the changing. The focus of this transformation is Jesus' face, but Matthew tells us that his whole presence, cloths and all, radiated. There is something here of Christ's post resurrection glory. "He was transformed before their very eyes", Barclay.

emprosqen + gen. "before [them]" - in front of [them]. Spacial. "In the presence of", TH.

elamyen (lampw) aor. "shone" - [and the face of him] shone. Another Sinai motif; Jesus' face was radiant as was the face of Moses, Ex.24:29-35, cf., also Dan.12:3.

wJV "as" - as, like [the sun]. Comparative.

leuka adj. "white" - [and the garments of him became] brilliant [as, like the light]. Predicate adjective. Bright white clothing is a common Biblical motif for the garb of angels / heavenly beings, cf., Dan.7:9, also for the resurrected righteous. "Even his clothing became glittering white", Junkins.


The intended significance of the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus has been differently interpreted. Although often noted, it seems unlikely that they represent the Law and the Prophets. Some commentators have made much of the fact that both did not die (they were translated), although with Moses this is only assumed, and in any case, why didn't Enoch join the party? We know that they both met with God on a high mountain and that the return of Elijah and the prophet like unto Moses was anticipated and that he would announce the coming kingdom. The most obvious point to draw from the episode is that Jesus takes on the prophetic mantle and for this reason we must "listen to him."

kai idou "just then" - and look. "And behold", AV. The interjection serves to prompt interest; "take note of this."

wfqh (oJraw) aor. pas. "there appeared before" - [moses and elijah] appeared. Intransitive, taking a dative of persons; "appeared to them". The word is used of "beings that make their appearance in a supernatural manner", Morris.

autoiV dat. pro. "them" - Dative of direct object after the verb "to appear to."

sullalounteV (sullalew) pres. part. "talking with" - speaking with. The participle is possibly adjectival, "who conversed with Jesus", Moffatt, or adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of the appearing of Moses and Elijah, as NIV. The durative nature of the present tense may well be worth expressing; "and suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him", NJB. The content of the conversation, "of his exodus" / the cross, as in Luke, is not mentioned by Matthew.

met (meta) + acc. "with [Jesus]" - with [him]. Expressing association. Luke has the dative pronoun autw/, dative of direct object after the sun prefix imperfect verb sunelaloun, "talking with." It is little syntactical differences like this that evidences an original Aramaic oral tradition which is then translated into Greek by the different gospel writers. Such is open to conjecture, but it seems more likely than proposing that Matthew and Luke worked off Mark and Q + their own extra sources. Anyway, given the sun prefix verb, the preposition meta is unnecessary, but is usual form.


The feast of "Booths" commemorates God's presence and protection during the forty years Israel was in the wilderness. Peter realizes God's presence in the situation and rightly wants to build some shelters ("booths") to tangibly illustrate the experience. Luke adds "not knowing what he said." Building booths is not a problem, putting Jesus on a par with Moses and Elijah is.

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "[Peter] said" - [and] having answered [peter said]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said" - redundant.

tw/ Ihsou (ouV ou) dat. "to Jesus" - Dative of indirect object.

kurie (oV) voc. "Lord" - Vocative. Mark has "Rabbi" and Luke has "Master". In each case it is an address to the teacher.

einai (eimi) pres. inf. "to be [here]" - [it is good for us] to be [here]. The infinitive of the verb to-be forms a noun clause subject of the verb to-be estin; "for us to be here is good." The accusative hJmaV, "us", serves as the subject of the infinitive. "It is a wonderful thing for us to be here", Barclay.

ei + ind. "if" - if [you wish]. Introducing a conditional clause, 1st. class, where the condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, you wish, then I will make ....." Matthew expresses the condition as if Peter thought that this is what Jesus would want.

skhnaV (h) "[three] shelters" - [i will make here three] tabernacles, tents, booths. Accusative direct object of the verb "to do / make." Another allusion to the Exodus. It is not unreasonable for Peter to want to build some small shelters out of the weather, on the one hand as a kind gesture (there was a cloud hovering nearby and about to envelop them - rain and all that), and on the other hand to keep the discussion going (this is a discussion we would all give our eye teeth to listen in on).

soi dat. pro. "[one] for you" - [one] for you [one for moses and one for elijah]. As for Moses and Elijah, dative of interest, advantage.


From within the Shekinah Glory of God's presence, a presence represented by the cloud and light, the Father repeats his words to Jesus recorded in 3:17. It is a two-part Old Testament quotation: Psalm 2:7, speaking of the dominion and authority of messiah (David's son); and Isaiah 42:1, speaking of the suffering of God's Servant. Jesus is the prophet like Moses and we must hear him, listen to him, for he has precedence over all.

lalountoV (lalew) pres. part. "while [he] was [still] speaking" - [he] is speaking. The genitive absolute participle forms a temporal clause, as NIV. "He was still speaking when a bright cloud overshadowed them", Moffatt.

eti adv. "still" - Temporal adverb.

nefelh (h) "a [bright] cloud" - [behold a shining] cloud. "Bright cloud" serves as the nominative subject of the verb "to overshadow." Often a sign of God's presence, his shechinah glory. Again drawing on Exodus / Sinai imagery, Ex.19:9, 24:16-25.

epeskiasen (epeskiazw) aor. "enveloped [them]" - overshadowed, covered, enveloped. Possibly "overshadowed" / "cast its shadow over", Cassirer / "the shadow of a bright cloud passed over them", CEV, but better "enveloped", NIV, Torrey, Rieu, etc., as this sense best reflect Sinai imagery (reinforced by the voice from the cloud).

ek + gen. "from [the cloud]" - [and behold a voice] from [the cloud]. Expressing source / origin.

legousa (legw) pres. part. "said" - speaking. The participle is usually translated as a finite verb, "and from the cloud a voice said", although it is properly adjectival, attributive, limiting "voice", "and from the cloud a voice which was speaking."

oJ uiJoV mou oJ agaphtoV "[this is] my son whom I love" - [this is] the son of me the beloved. This statement, now a divine word to the disciples and not just to Jesus at his baptism, 3:17, is usually taken as an allusion to Ps.2:7 and Isa.42:1. Psalm 2 celebrates the crowning of the Davidic messiah and his victory over the nations, while Isaiah 42 speaks of the suffering servant of the Lord who, in the power of the Spirit of the Lord, achieves justice for the nations. Note Mark 9:7 and Luke 9;35, without en w|/ eudokhsa, "with him I am well pleased." Some modern commentators argue that it alludes to Gen.22:2. The corporate identification of Jesus with God's people and his vicarious offering on our behalf, fits well with the Genesis allusion. What seems unlikely is that the term "beloved son", the unique / one and only son, expresses a filial relationship with God the Father. The reference is messianic; Jesus is God's servant messiah, and for this reason we should listen to him.

en + dat. "with [him]" - in [whom I am well pleased]. Here adverbial, reference / respect, "with respect to him", as NIV.

autou gen. pro. "[listen to] him" - [hear] of him. Genitive of direct object after the verb akouete, "listen to". We are to listen to the words of the one who is the prophet like Moses, Deut.18:15, 18.


This verse, and the next, is peculiar to Matthew. These intimate observations - the disciples' fear and Jesus' touch - are unusual for Matthew.

akousanteV (akouw) aor. part. "when [the disciples] heard this" - [and] having heard. The participle is adverbial, probably best treated as temporal, as NIV.

epi + acc. "[they fell facedown] to [the ground]" - [the disciples fell] upon [face of them]. Spacial. A descriptive way of saying "they did obeisance."

sfodra adv. "terrified" - [and they were afraid] greatly. Adverb of measure. In the same way as the children of Israel were filled with fear when God spoke to them from the cloud covering Mount Sinai, the disciples respond in like manner.


kai "but" - and [jesus approached them] and. More likely coordinative, "and", but possibly adversative, "but", as NIV - the disciples were afraid but Jesus acted kindly toward them.

aJyamenoV (aJptw) aor. part. "touched" - having touched, held, grasped. The participle is usually treated as attendant circumstance, "Jesus came forward and touched", but possibly temporal, "and after touching them he said." Something more than a touch may be intended, eg. "took hold of them and raised them to their feet saying, 'Come on, up you get, don't be frightened.'"

autwn gen. pro. "them" - of them. Genitive of direct object after the verb "to touch."

mh fobeisqe (fobew) pres. imp. "don't be afraid" - [he said arise and] do not be afraid. It is argued by some that this negation with the present imperative is used to express a command which forbids the continuation of an act.


All is at rest.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step in the narrative - left untranslated.

eparanteV (epairw) aor. part. "when [they] looked up" - [and] having lifted [the eyes of them]. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV.

ei mh "except" - [they saw no one] except [jesus himself alone]. Expressing a contrast by designating an exception. The cloud / God's shekinah glory had dissipated, and Moses and Elijah had left the scene.


ii] Elijah and the Son of Man, v9-13. This next episode, the disciples question concerning the prophet Elijah, is closely linked to the transfiguration in that the transfiguration serves to foreshadow Jesus' resurrection and glorification (so Mark, although not Luke. Mark's account is rather awkward when compared with Matthew's). The disciples knew well that Elijah would herald the coming of messiah and yet he, with Moses, has disappeared into the cloud. Jesus reminds the disciples that Elijah has indeed prepared the way for messiah and has been set upon by a sinful generation, and that this is a precursor to the treatment the Son of Man will receive. The disciples understand that Jesus is talking about the Baptist. The pericope evidences controversy: the Scribes charge that Elijah must come first; the retort of faith is that Elijah has already come.

a) While coming down the mountain, Jesus asks his disciples not to mention his transfiguration. Those with eyes of faith may witness the messianic secret, but for the crowds there is only the "sign of Jonah" - the proclaimed word of God.

kai "-" - and. Coordinating; "And as they came down from the mountain", AV.

katabainontwn (katabainw) gen. pres. part. "as [they] were coming down" - [they] coming down. The participle stands within a genitive absolute construction and is best treated as temporal, as NIV.

ek + gen. "[the mountain]" - from [the mountain]. Expressing source / origin, or separation, "away from."

eneteilato (entellw) aor. + dat. "[Jesus] instructed" - [jesus] commanded, charged = gave instructions to.

autoiV dat. pro. "them" - Dative of direct object after the verb "to give instructions to."

legwn (legw) "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant, serving to introduce direct speech.

mhdeni eiphte (eipon) aor. subj. "don't tell anyone" - tell no one. The adjective mhdeni is a negation of eiV, "one". The negation mh with the subjunctive verb forms a subjunctive of prohibition. The aorist with mh expresses a command to not start an action, so Moulton. Again we see Jesus maintaining the messianic secret, in fact this is the fifth time that Jesus has commanded secrecy, although as stated here, only till the raising of the Son of Man. Jesus' reasoning is unclear. Some argue that it is to reduce the possibility of politically inclined messianic speculation which would inevitably attract attention from the authorities, so France. Carson argues that the resurrection is the prime manifestation of messiah's glory, and that the transfiguration only functions at a secondary level. The revelation of the messiah is progressive, as is the kingdom's realization (a step-by-step process), and so the disciples are not to get ahead of the divine plan.

to oJrama (a atoV) "what you have seen" - the vision. Accusative direct object of the verb "to see." "About this vision", NJB.

e{wV ou| + subj. "until [..... has been raised]" - until. This construction introduces an indefinite temporal clause referring to a future time, "until". Jesus has already explained the death and resurrection sequence to the disciples, although there is obviously continued confusion, a fact brought out in Mark 9:10.

oJ uiJoV tou anqrwpou "the Son of Man" - Jesus' favorite messianic title, drawn from the prophet Daniel - the living one / the risen one who comes to the Ancient of Days to receive glory and power; see 8:20. Jesus' words indicate that "the transfiguration was a foreshadowing of Jesus' glorious resurrection", Mounce.

egerqh/ (egeirw) aor. pas. subj. "has been raised" - The passive may be classified as theological / divine, ie., God does the raising.

ek + gen. "from [the dead]" - from [dead]. Expressing source / origin, or separation, "away from."


b) The disciples are confused and so ask Jesus a question, v10. They have just witnessed the appearing of Elijah. If the scribes are right in saying that Elijah precedes the messiah, why can't they tell everyone of Elijah's visit? Are the scribes wrong?

kai "-" - and. Connective; "the disciples meanwhile were asking questions", Peterson.

legonteV (legw) pres. part. "-" - [the disciples asked him] saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant, expressing action accompanying the verb "asked"; serving to introduce direct speech.

ti oun "why then" - why therefore. Resumptive and inferential; "so why then do the ......". What the disciples have seen is a hurried visit to earth by Moses and Elijah. Jesus then tells them that they are not to talk about it. Presumably this command prompts the disciples' question, the logic of which is not overly clear. Are the disciples questioning Jesus' command? If the Scribes are right and Elijah precedes the messiah, shouldn't the disciples tell everyone what they have seen?

oJti "that" - [the scribes say] that. Introducing a dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing what the Scribes say / teach.

dei "must" - it is necessary. This impersonal verb is often used to express divine necessity.

elqein (ercomai) aor. inf. "come" - [for elijah] to come [first]. The infinitive serves as the subject of the impersonal verb "it is necessary"; "to come first is necessary for Elijah."


c) Jesus says that the Scribes are right, but that they have misunderstood the role of Elijah, just as they have misunderstood the role of the messiah, v11-12. When the promised Elijah comes he will prepare for the messiah's work to restore all things. Sadly, the Scribes have not recognized this in the ministry of John the Baptist, rather they have ignored and rejected it. They will treat Jesus in exactly the same way.

oJ de "-" - he but/and. This construction, the personal pronoun with the conjunction de, is usually transitional, here indicating a step in the dialogue, as NIV.

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "[Jesus] replied" - having answered [said]" - Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said", virtually redundant.

men ..... de "to be sure ....... but" - The particle men linked to de in v12 forms an adversative comparative construction; "on the one hand [Elijah is coming .....] (v11b), but on the other hand [I tell you that Elijah has already come .....], (v12).

apokatasthsei (apokaqisthmi) fut. "will restore" - [elijah is coming and] will restore, reestablish / bring back / give back [all things]. The future tense is interesting. Tasker is surely right when he notes that Jesus is simply confirming that the disciples have properly understood the Scribes' teaching on the role of Elijah. The Scribes are right, but only partly so. They say "will", but of course Jesus says "has already." The sense of the word here is probably "reestablish". The Scribes may well be overstating Elijah's role in the restoration of Israel / the kingdom, but then the term is probably doing nothing more than identifying Elijah's part in the restoration work, his preparing the way for messiah. Possibly "will restore all things", is used in the sense of turn men's hearts, cf. Mal.4:6.


de "but" - see men .... de ..., v11.

uJmin dat. "[I tell] you" - [i say] to you. Dative of indirect object / interest.

oJti "-" - that. Introducing a dependent statement, indirect speech, expressing what Jesus is telling his disciples.

hdh adv. "[has] already [come]" - [elijah] already [came]. Temporal adverb. The eschatological age has come and the promised Elijah has fulfilled his inaugurating work; "Elijah has already appeared", Cassirer.

ouk epegnwsan (epiginwskw) aor. "they did not recognize [him]" - [and] they did not know, recognize [him]. Given the context, the "they" presumably refers to the Jewish leaders, those who should have known better. "They did not recognize the Baptist as the Elijah who prepares the way for messiah and so did not accept him, but rather ......"

alla "but" - but. Strong adversative serving in a counterpoint construction, "not ......, but on the contrary ....."

en + dat. "[have done] to [him]" - [did] in, to, with [him]. Probably simply expressing a dative of interest, disadvantage, but possibly adverbial, reference / respect.

o{sa "everything [they wished]" - whatever [they willed, desired]. "They did what they liked to him", Barclay, "whatever they pleased."

ou{twV "in the same way" - in this way, so, thus. Comparative; serving to enhance the parallel fate of Jesus and the Baptist. "So also the Son of man will certainly suffer", ESV.

kai "-" - Adjunctive; "so also."

pascein (pascw) pres. inf. "[is going] to suffer" - [the son of man is about] to suffer. The infinitive is complementary, completing the sense of the verb "is about".

uJp (uJpo) + gen. "at [their hands]" - by [the hands of them]. Instrumental, expressing agency.


d) Conclusion, v13. This verse is probably Matthew's comment about the episode, namely that the disciples understand what Jesus has told them, cf., 16:12.

tote adv. "then" - then. The temporal adverb here serves to indicate a step in the narrative, here the conclusion, but also indicates, in time terms, that the disciples have come to understand the Baptist's function as Elijah.

sunhkan (sunihmi) aor. "understood" - [the disciples] understood. The understanding of the disciples is obviously based on something more than v12 (their growing "knowledge of the Lord's messiahship", McNeile). Matthew's point is that unlike the Scribes, the disciples did come to understand the Baptist's role.

oJti "that" - that. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what the disciples understood.

eipen (eipon) aor. "he was talking" - he spoke. "The disciples understood then that he had been speaking to them about John the Baptist", Rieu.

autoiV dat. pro. "to them" - Dative of indirect object.

peri + gen. "about" - about [john the baptist]. Expressing reference / respect; "about, concerning John the Baptist."


Matthew Introduction



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