The Synoptic Gospels record that Yeshua and His disciples traveled north to the area around Caesarea Philippi. They prepared there for a time of prayer atop a high mountain.
Yeshua had a lot to pray about. He had already come to realize that He “must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day” (Matthew 16:21). He climbed the high mountain to spend time in prayer, seeking guidance and further revelation. He brought His three closest disciples with Him because He knew that His words about His impending suffering and death concerned them. Perhaps He hoped that the LORD might confirm their confession of faith in His messianic identity and offer them some revelation as well. The night spent in a prayer vigil with those select three disciples foreshadows the night of prayer in Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.
They probably set out in the late afternoon or early evening, intending to spend the night in intensive prayer. They followed a path that wound around the slopes of the high mountain, and they found a place to pray through the night. “Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep” (Luke 9:32).
At some point, “while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming” (Luke 9:29). As He prayed, the Master “transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2). The Greek of Matthew and Mark uses the word metamorphoo, from which we derive the English “metamorphosis.” Metamorphosis is the process of substantially changing (or transfiguring) from one physical state to another. “His face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). “His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (Mark 9:3).
The Bible often depicts the glory of God as visible light. “The glory shone around” during Yeshua’s birth announcement. The rabbis and mystics called the light of God’s glory “the radiance of the Divine Presence.” Human beings sometimes reflect the radiance of God’s glory. After spending forty days and forty nights in the cloud on the mountain, Moses descended, his face resplendently reflecting the glory of God.
According to Jewish legend, Adam and Eve “were both naked and were not ashamed” because garments of light and glory clothed them (Genesis 2:25). They realized they were naked only after those garments of light had been stripped from them on account of disobedience (Genesis 3:7). Midrash Rabbah says that, prior to that time, “Adam’s heel outshone the globe of the sun; how much more the brightness of his face!” and “Adam’s garments blazed like a torch.” Likewise, the pious will shine like the original Adam in the time to come:
How do we know that the original glory of Adam will be restored to man in the days of the Messiah? We can infer that Adam’s resplendence will be restored from the text [in Judges 5:31], “Those who love Him will be like the rising of the sun in its might.” (Numbers Rabbah)
A brilliant countenance and blazing garments of glory frequently appear in apocalyptic and rabbinic literature to describe celestial beings and the resurrected righteous. In the future, the resurrected righteous, with faces shining like the sun and the moon, will welcome the Divine Presence. When the risen Messiah appeared to His disciple John, “His face was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:16). The Master told His disciples that at the time of His coming, “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). White and luminous garments clothe the righteous, the divine, and angelic beings.