The Metamorphosis

Yeshua's disciples saw him undergo a metamorphosis before their eyes, but into what did he transfigure and what did it mean?

As Yeshua prayed, “He was transfigured before them” (Mark 9:2). The Greek text of Matthew and Mark uses the word metamorfoo from which we derive the English word “metamorphosis.” A metamorphosis is the process of substantially changing (or transfiguring) from one physical state to another. In what manner did Yeshua change from one state to another?

From the description in the Gospels, it appears that he became like a luminous being, clothed in light: “His face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2) and “His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them” (Mark 9:3). What’s the significance?

We find a clue in Matthew 16:27. Shortly before the story of the transfiguration, Yeshua told his disciples that some of them would not taste death before they had seen the Son of Man coming “in the glory of his Father” (Matthew 16:27). The Bible often depicts the glory of God as visible light. For example, Isaiah 60:1 compares God’s glory to the light of the sun: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” Likewise, when the angels announced the birth of the Messiah, “glory shone around” (Luke 2:9). The mystics called the light of God’s glory “the radiance of the Divine Presence.”

Human beings sometimes reflect the radiance of God’s glory. For example, after Moses had spent forty days and forty nights in the cloud of glory on Mount Sinai, his face shone resplendently reflecting the glory of God. The rabbis said, “The radiance of Moses’ appearance was like that of the sun and he was like an angel of the Lord of hosts.”

According to Jewish legend, garments of light and glory clothed Adam and Eve prior to their sin. The rabbis said, “Adam’s garments blazed like a torch. His heel outshone the globe of the sun; how much more the brightness of his face!” When they sinned, Adam and Eve forfeited their divine garments and found themselves to be naked.

Jewish eschatology teaches that 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 13:12)

A brilliant countenance and blazing garments of glory appear frequently in apocryphal and rabbinic literature to describe angels, celestial beings, and the resurrected righteous. White and luminous garments clothe them. When the risen Messiah appeared to His disciple John, “His face was like the sun shining in its strength” (Revelation 1:16). Moreover, Yeshua 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).

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