The Enigma Of The Transfiguration

In all three Gospels that mentioned the Transfiguration, they were followed by the report of the deliverance of a demoniac (Matt 17:1-23; Mark 9:2-29; Luke 9:28-45). How are the two narratives connected?

We have a similar event at Mount Sinai, as Moses was summoned to appear before Yahweh when the Laws were given (Exodus 33). However, there is a significant difference; the glow off Moses’ face due to his time spent before God was a reflected glory, lasting for only a few days, whereas Jesus’ dazzling radiance was from within Him and permeating the surrounding environment. The Lord’s glory was normally hidden from humanity during His time on earth. Nevertheless, Jesus Himself was the source of God’s glory and the exact expression of the Infinite (c.f., John 14:9-11; Col 1:15-17; Heb 1:1-3). The human experience of God’s glorified Presence is always one of fear coupled with worship, invariably produced by His palpable holiness. Peter was petrified by the Divine Presence (Mark 9:5-6), and it induced him to suggest that ‘tabernacles’ be built to shelter His glorified state, to protect James, John and himself (apparently Moses and Elijah were not affected by it); implying that God’s immense glory is potentially destructive to sinful man! (c.f., Exodus 33:20). As if aware of this danger, a cloud formed immediately, completely shrouding this extraordinary encounter (what transpired or was spoken between Jesus and Moses and Elijah, we have no record), and God intervened, affirming Jesus as His Son to the three disciples (Mark 9:7). And as suddenly as it appeared, the cloud dispersed.

Following the electrifying Transfiguration enigma, the succeeding sequence of events seemed counter-intuitive; the initial failure at the deliverance of a demon-possessed boy by Jesus’ disciples (Mark 9:14-29). The deliverance story was peripheral to the important theme raised by the exchange between the boy’s father and Jesus, and subsequently, between the Lord and His disciples. When Jesus appeared on the scene, the ongoing heated exchanges among the scribes, the boy’s father and the disciples were on a possible alternative course of approach after a failed attempt at exorcism. Following the father’s explanation of his son’s condition, Jesus chastised His disciples and the crowd for their unbelief. The father said to Jesus, “But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” The Lord seemed a little perturbed by his request and repeated his question, “ ‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” To which the immediate reply by the distraught father was, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Despite an indeterminate answer, Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. Was being helpless and honest about his lack of faith interpreted nevertheless as faith?

In his confession, the father of the possessed boy obviously wore his heart on his sleeve, as he had trouble believing that anyone could help his son after so many years. He did not proffer his religiosity as an entitlement for assistance; I am sure he had also been through many Jewish exorcism rituals before coming to Jesus’ disciples. He was entrusting possibly his most precious possession (i.e., his son) to Jesus and was willing to accept any predicament as the outcome! That was faith. The only ones who had confidence in Jesus were probably Peter, James, and John, who had just descended from the mountain with Him. Everyone else’s faith concerning this confrontation with a demon at that point was hypothetical. Faith is always experiential, and its presence signifies a fundamental submission of one’s total control over oneself to God, inclusive of one’s possessions (c.f., John 12:24-26; Rom 8:12-19).

Following the excitement of the exorcism, Jesus and His disciples retreated to someone’s home, and there they began to privately question Him, “Why could we not drive it out?” “This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:28-29; c.f., Mark 9:19; Matt 17:20-12). The disciples assumed that they were able to overcome evil by the gift that they received earlier from Jesus (Mark 6:7-13), without waiting on God. However, this was a subtle form of unbelief as it encouraged them to trust in themselves rather than God. Their previous successes at expelling demons provided no guarantee of continued power. The power of God must be asked for on each occasion in radical reliance on His ability alone. When faith confronts the demonic, God’s omnipotence is its sole assurance, and His sovereignty is its only limitation. It is this faith which experiences the miracle of deliverance. The Transfiguration refocused us back on Jesus Christ and the expression of our faith in Him.