Perhaps, the most remarkable thing that happened during Jesus’ three-year ministry was his transfiguration. Only three of Jesus’ disciples were allowed to witness this amazing event. Following his disclosure to his disciples that he would suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised from the dead (Matthew 16:21), Matthew tells us Jesus took Peter, James and John “and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart” (Matthew 17:1). The private place he took these men to may have been somewhere Jesus went to on a regular basis. After Jesus had fed the five thousand and sent his disciples away in a ship, Matthew tells us, “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was alone there” (Matthew 14:23). It could be that on this particular occasion Jesus didn’t want to leave Peter, James and John alone. They were most likely disheartened by the reminder that Jesus would soon be killed and needed this beneficial experience of seeing the end result of Jesus’ death and resurrection to get them over their discouragement.
Matthew’s description of his transfiguration indicated that Jesus became like a shining star, “his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Since Matthew wasn’t present at the time, it is likely his description of the transfiguration was based on his interpretation of what he heard Jesus looked like. Luke said of Jesus’ transfiguration that “the fashion of his countenance was altered” (Luke 9:29), meaning literally, Jesus became a different person. A deeper understanding of the words used by Matthew and Luke to describe what happened to Jesus show that the change that took place was an inward and real change of Jesus’ character and likely had nothing to do with his physical appearance. The root word morphe (mor-fay’) has to do with the nature or essence of a person, “not in the abstract, but as actually subsisting in the individual, and retained as long as the individual itself exists (3444). From this standpoint, it appears that when Jesus was transfigured, he took on or was given a different identity.
An interesting aspect of Jesus’ transfiguration is recorded in Matthew 17:5 where it says, “a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” As if there might have been some confusion as to who he was at this point, his Father made it clear that Jesus was still the same person he was when he was baptized (Matthew 3:17), the Son of God. In other words, Jesus didn’t or wouldn’t become God at some point in time. Jesus was and always would be God’s son. From this standpoint, you could say that when Jesus was transfigured, he took on or was given a different nature, not identity, meaning he changed from who he was in the form of a man into who he was in the form of God. An example of this is water turning into steam or ice. It still has the same chemical makeup, but looks completely different. Another way of looking at it would be a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. They are one and the same creature, but look nothing like each other.