Where is the Transfiguration in John?
The synoptic Gospels–Matthew, Mark, and Luke–each tell the story of Jesus’ transfiguration from their own perspective. Click on the thumbnails below to see them in their context. John does not tell this story.
In each synoptic’s version of the story, the Transfiguration serves as the turning point in the narrative. Jesus had been wandering around Galilee, teaching boldly, performing miracles, and building a huge following. Then, he takes his closest disciples aside and warns them that he is going to die and if they follow him, they will too. He takes Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain where he is transfigured before them, meaning his appearance somehow changed and his clothes shone with dazzling brilliance. Moses and Elijah appear with him. The voice of God becomes audible and they hear God say, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”
The vision suddenly disappears. They descend the mountain and take the journey toward Jesus’ death. This journey is embodied in our liturgical practice of Lent. We climb to the mountain top this Sunday to catch a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, then we gather on Wednesday to receive the imposition of ashes and remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.
If you would like visual resources to present this story in a fresh way, CLICK HERE, to preview and download the PowerPoint. I’ve put together images from all three versions of the story in one Mega Pack called A Cartoonist’s Guide to the Transfiguration. Enjoy!
So, Where is the Transfiguration in John!?!
Those of us who preach from the Narrative Lectionary are faced with a challenge on Transfiguration Sunday. John does not include the story of the transfiguration. Do we:
- Abandon John in deference to the Liturgical year, and so preach from a synoptic. or
- Preach the Narrative Lectionary text in John–Healing of the Man Born Blind in John 9:1-41–and ignore the story. or,
- Somehow find connective elements between the concept of transfiguration and Jesus’ work with the healing in John 9. or,
- Seek to find some equivalent in John’s Gospel that addresses the themes of Transfiguration.
Allow me to offer commentary and resources for each option.
Option 1: Preach Transfiguration
See the links above, or CLICK HERE for visual resources to take the traditional road and preach the Transfiguration.
Option 2: Preach John 9, Healing the Blind Man
CLICK HERE to view resources to preach and teach from John 9. Jesus heals a man who was born blind. This blind man sees Jesus for who he is while the religious leaders remain blind.
Option 3: Find Connective Themes between John 9 and Transfiguration
See the links above for resources. Here’s a possible connective theme. The blind man is the first witness to see Jesus and testify in the city of Jerusalem. The Samaritan woman testified in Sychar (chapter 4), but this is the first breakthrough in the Holy City. The transfiguration happened so that the disciples could see Jesus fully. Isn’t that what’s happening here?
Option 4: Find an equivalent passage in John.
Easter Lutheran Church, where I serve as an associate pastor, has chosen this path. We are preaching on John 17:1-12 this week.
The connective thread between John’s Gospel and the Transfiguration in the synoptics is the word glory. John 17 comes at the end of Jesus’ farewell speech that occures during the Last Supper. He is talking to God about his disicples. Verse 10 says:
All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
When we hear the word glory it is easy to imagine beams of light shooting from a radiant figure. Of course it is, isn’t that how it is depicted in the synoptics?
However, that is not what the word actually means. The English term glory is translating the Greek term doxa. It means “a notion, true or false.” To have doxa in the Greco-Roman world was to be held in high esteem; to be famous. Some Greek philosophers taught that the only way to live forever was to acheive such high doxa that you would never be forgotten.
The doxa of Jesus, according to John 1:14, is that Jesus is the only Son of God. Jesus sits on God’s lap and enjoys the full relationship and access to God that any beloved child would have with a loving parent.
The key to Jesus’ doxa is relationship. This, in my opinion, is the key to the entire Gospel according to John. God reminds us through the ministry of Jesus that we are beloved children of God, created to be in life-giving relationships with God, with each other, with ourself, and with all of creation.
Notice how this rings true in Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Jesus claims that he is glorified through the relationships he has with his disciples. They are in him, just as Jesus is in God.
So, as we preach through John this year in the Narrative Lectionary, it seems that every story is a transfiguration story. Each sign in the book of signs (chapters 2-11) testify to Jesus’ true identity as Jesus is in relationship with those he meets. His power is revealed. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear see his glory. He is transfigured again and again.
May we shine the glory of Jesus to our world this week as we testify to who Jesus is and what God is doing in, around, and through us each day.
Glory to God.
δόξᾰ, ἡ, (δοκέω) a notion, true or false: and so,
1. expectation, ἀπὸ δόξης otherwise than one expects, Hom.; παρὰ δόξαν ἤ. . Hdt.; opp. to κατὰ δόξαν, Plat., etc.; ἀπὸ δόξης πεσέειν, Lat. spe excidere, Hdt.; δόξαν παρέχειν τινί to make one expect that, c. inf., Xen.
2. an opinion, judgment, Pind., Att.
3. like δόκησις, a mere opinion, conjecture, Aesch., etc.; δόξῃ ἐπίστασθαι to imagine, suppose (but wrongly), Hdt.:—also, a fancy, vision, dream, Aesch., Eur.
II. the opinion which others have of one, estimation, reputation, credit, honour, glory, Lat. existimatio, Solon, Aesch., etc.; δόξαν φέρεσθαι, ἔχειν Thuc., etc.; τινός for a thing, Eur.:—rarely of ill repute, Dem.
2. the estimate popularly formed of a thing, Id.
III. of external appearance, glory, splendour, effulgence, N.T. Hence δοξάζω
H.G. Liddell, in A Lexicon: Abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996), 209.