Luke 9:28-36: Transfiguration

This post is excerpted from The Testimony of Luke, by S. Kent Brown, 472-482. For this section, compare Matt. 17:1–9; Mark 9:2–10. Here are the New Rendition, Notes, and Analysis.

New Rendition

28 And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, after he had taken Peter, John, and James aside, he went up to the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying the appearance of his face became different and his clothing became white, flashing like lightning. 30 And behold, two men spoke with him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, began to speak about his departure, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem.

32 And Peter and those with him were overcome with sleep, but when they were awake they beheld his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 And it came to pass as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here. And let us build booths, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah,” not knowing what he was saying.

34 And as he was saying these things, a cloud came and covered them. And they became frightened as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, the Chosen One; hear him.” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days what they had seen.


9:28 eight days: The other two accounts record an interval of “six days” (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2). Why the discrepancy? It seems evident that Luke understands a full week to pass, including a Sabbath. The note about time may well come to him from his source, and may tie in some distant way to the high celebrations of the eighth day during the Feast of Tabernacles (see Lev. 23:36). Although Luke does not draw obvious attention here to this feast throughout these verses, he does preserve connections to the Exodus, which the feast celebrates. In a different vein, Luke offers no sense of timing in recording prior events in this chapter except the implied passage of time before the Twelve return (see 9:7–10). In fact, outside the forty days of Jesus’ fast (see 4:2) and the events of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem (see 20:1; 22:1, 7, 14; 23:54), no notations of time’s passing appear; and no evident chronological link exists between the Transfiguration and the Passion. Further, the eight-day notation apparently does not point to the requirement of a time period of ritual preparation for non-Judeans before worshiping at the temple (see the Notes on 18:36 and especially 23:26).

Peter and John and James: The order of the names, which differs in the other accounts (see Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2), may link to the time of composition of Luke’s Gospel, after the death of James, when he ceases to be important in the earthly church (see Acts 12:1–2). The same order appears in some manuscripts of the healing of Jairus’s daughter (see the Note on 8:51). In any event, these three men become “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16).

The Transfiguration, by Greg K. Olsen

went up: The verb (Greek anabainō) regularly points to the ascent to the holy city or to its temple (see 2:4; 18:10, 31; 19:28; Acts 3:1; 11:2; 15:2; 18:22; etc.). By implication, Jesus and the three Apostles are ascending to a place of holiness that in some way ties to and anticipates Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem—“his decease” (9:31).

a mountain: Elevated places are often associated with sacred events (see Ex. 3:1–4; 19:2–3, 16–20; 24:9–13; Isa. 2:2–3; 1 Ne. 11:1–6; etc.). The Greek term translated mountain (horos) is the place where Jesus prays (see 6:12) and whence he ascends into heaven (see Acts 1:12). Peter later describes the place of Jesus’ transfiguration as “the holy mount” (2 Pet. 1:18). Attempts to identify this mountain draw up two candidates. The setting for the preceding experience at Caesarea Philippi sketched in the other two reports (see Matt. 16:13; Mark 8:27) leads some to see Mount Hermon as the locale, for Caesarea Philippi lies at its base, and Mount Hermon forms the highest peak in the region at an elevation of 9,230 feet.[1] Others, noting “an high mountain apart” (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2), look to Mount Tabor which towers over the Jezreel valley in upper Galilee and stands by itself, rising to its crest at 1,843 feet a mere six miles east of Nazareth.[2]

9:29 the fashion of his countenance: Literally, “the appearance of his face,” this expression recalls the shining face of Moses (see Ex. 34:29–30). his raiment was white and glistering: It is not clear whether Jesus’ clothing changes colors, becoming white, or whether the radiance of his skin shines through his clothing so that it appears as radiant. Whatever the case, whiteness of clothing is characteristic of heavenly messengers in other passages (see Mark 16:5; Acts 1:10; Rev. 4:4; etc.).[3] The term translated “glistering” (Greek exastraptō) means to flash like lightning and underscores the inexpressible brilliance of his appearance.[4]

9:30 two men: Only Luke records the human-like characteristics of the two heavenly visitors (also 9:32). The same number of celestial visitors appears in the report of the women’s visit to Jesus’ tomb (see 24:4) and in the account of Jesus’ ascension (see Acts 1:10).

Moses and Elias: These two individuals are associated in other ancient accounts with the appearance of the Messiah because they do not suffer death, Moses being taken by the Lord and Elijah riding a whirlwind into heaven (see Deut. 34:5–6; Alma 45:19; 2 Kgs. 2:11; Mal. 4:5).[5] They may be the messengers of Revelation 11:3 who bear the powers of Elijah and Moses (see Rev. 11:6).[6] More than this, they come to the mount with their bodies intact, though in a translated state, allowing them to restore priesthood keys, or rights, by the laying on of hands, for the gathering of Israel and the authorized performance of priesthood ordinances.[7] It is these two who later appear to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, and restore priesthood keys (see D&C 110:11, 13–16). Significantly, the Joseph Smith Translation identifies the Elias in Mark 9:3 as John the Baptist, adding a third visiting personality (see JST Mark 9:3).

9:31 appeared in glory: The reference to glory, preserved only by Luke, points here to Moses and Elijah, but includes the Savior as well (“they saw his glory”—9:32), underscoring the common celestial bonds of Jesus and the visitors, as both Peter and John affirm elsewhere (see John 1:14; 2 Pet. 1:17).

spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem: Only Luke preserves the gist of the conversation between the transfigured Jesus and the two visitors. The term translated “decease” (Greek exodos) forms an indirect allusion to the Israelite Exodus but, in this context, means departure. By extension, it also refers to his death and, most likely, to his Atonement, as the Joseph Smith Translation underlines when it replaces the words “his decease” with the expression “his death, and also his resurrection” (JST 9:31).[8] As Luke notes, the discussion on the mount includes Jerusalem; no solid reason exists to suppose that Luke adds this detail only in light of what eventually happens to the Savior, but rather it is Jesus himself who links Jerusalem to his final days. Very soon, Jesus will turn himself toward Jerusalem, knowing full well what this action will bring (see 9:51).

9:32 heavy with sleep: The time must be night, as in the case of events at Gethsemane when the disciples cannot stay awake (see 22:45–46; Matt. 26:40, 43; Mark 14:37, 40). If it is daytime, then we must reckon with the possibility that the intensity of the spiritual experience causes their fatigue (see Ezek. 3:15; Moses 1:9–10; JS–H 1:20, 48). Because of their drowsiness, they apparently do not hear all of the conversation between the Savior and the visitors.

9:33 Master: This form of address (Greek epistatēs) is unique to Luke’s Gospel and appears throughout as a term of respect, chiefly on the lips of his followers (see 8:24, 45; 9:49; 17:13), perhaps the equivalent of “rabbi” (see the Note on 5:5). The word may also carry the sense that the disciples do not yet fully grasp who Jesus is, continuing an important theme of this chapter.[9]

three tabernacles: Some commentators express puzzlement over Peter’s suggestion of erecting three booths or tents unless there is a possible connection to the Feast of Tabernacles, which the notice of the eight days may point to, underscoring connections to the Exodus (see the Note on 9:28).[10]

not knowing what he said: Luke’s notation likely forms his attempt to understand why Peter suggests erecting three tents, much as Mark notes that Peter’s suggestion grows out of an engulfing fear (see Mark 9:6). But Peter says nothing about why he utters what he does, though his sleepiness may be a factor (see 9:32). Instead, we stand on firmer ground by assuming that Peter grasps some of what is occurring around him and that his suggestion is reasonable. If so, then Peter wants to erect three booths wherein he and his two fellow disciples can sit with one of the glorified persons and there receive instruction and blessing. Such a conclusion is warranted in part because, from the other Gospels, we learn that one tent is for Jesus, “and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (Matt. 17:4; Mark 9:5). Moreover, we who read these reports, although we “have not yet received” the full account of what happens on the mount (D&C 63:21), know that (1) the disciples, during the experience, are allowed to see the earth in its future transfigured state (see D&C 63:21), and (2) the disciples receive keys from Jesus and the two visitors,[11] plainly indicating that they do more than simply behold in wonder the Savior and his two visitors.[12] Thus, the experience is much richer for the three disciples than Luke and his two fellow Gospel writers report. This fact opens the real possibility that Luke does not know the whole story about other events, including Jesus’ multiple trips to Jerusalem, the salting of the large catch of fish, and his stay with Zacchaeus the tax collector (see the Notes on 5:6, 11; 9:22; 19:5).

9:34 there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: The Greek verb episkiazō occurs twice in Luke’s Gospel and means “to shade” or “to cover” (see Ex. 40:34). In the first occurrence, it carries the sense “to protect” in the angel’s words to Mary: “the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee” (see the Note on 1:35; also LXX Ps. 90:4; 139:7 [= Ps. 91:4; 140:7]).[13] When the verb “to cover” describes the cloud shading the desert sanctuary, it also conveys a sense of holiness because Moses is not allowed in “the tent of the congregation” at the cloud’s presence (Ex. 40:34–35). Such holiness is also implicit in the verb’s appearance in Mary’s story and in this account of the Apostles’ experience on the mount, conveying a sense of God’s towering majesty that overshadows them in their humility. In another vein, the cloud that covers the mount must be shining because it casts the shadows of the men to the ground (see 2 Sam. 22:10; Ps. 18:9, where a shadow is under God’s feet).[14] This observation points to a nighttime experience.

they feared as they entered into the cloud: This sentence points to more than the cloud simply enveloping the disciples but rather to the disciples marching into the cloud, probably by invitation. Their fear is understandable, not knowing what might happen to them within a brightly radiant and radiating mist. In contrast, Mark’s account notes their fear earlier in the experience, motivating them to propose erecting the three booths (see Mark 9:6).

9:35 a voice: The same term (Greek phōnē) occurs in 3:4 and, in that passage, heralds a special era, a new dispensation (also D&C 1:1; Moses 6:27, 50–51; see the Note on 3:4). Although the voice may be proclaiming something similar here, it now personally identifies who the Savior really is and how he is related to the God of heaven, just as the voice announces at his baptism (see 3:22). But the disciples are not present for the earlier announcement, and the voice heard on the mount utters a truth strictly for their benefit. As a threesome, they become first-rank witnesses of Jesus’ majesty, precisely in accord with the law that requires two or three witnesses to establish any matter (see Deut. 19:15).

This is: At the baptism, the voice spoke directly to Jesus, “Thou art,” making the revelation a highly personal experience (see the Note on 3:22). Here the words are addressed to the disciples, effectively answering the question of Herod Antipas, “who is this?” (9:9). Furthermore, the expression “this is” stands in a grammatical continuum with “I am,”[15] and this couplet forms a connection to Jesus’ role as the God of the Old Testament (see Ex. 3:14), much as the phrase “thou art” does (see 4:34, 41; the Notes on 3:22 and 22:70).

beloved: Although 2 Peter 1:17 preserves the reading “beloved,” the earliest texts of Luke’s Gospel read “chosen,” meaning chosen from more than one option (Greek eklelegmenos, participle of eklegomai in 45 and 75 [manuscripts from the early third century held in the Chester Beatty Library and the Vatican Library, respectively]; see a form of the same verb in 6:13 and 10:42; also Isa. 42:1; Moses 4:2)[16] rather than “beloved” (see 3:22; 20:13; the Notes on 18:7; 23:35; 24:26). The clear implication points to the moment that the Father chooses Jesus (see Moses 4:1–3; Abr. 3:27).

hear him: The audible, divine voice regularly pierces the expectant silence of those who seek for God. For “God’s thunderous voice is shaking heaven and earth, and man does not hear the faintest sound.”[17] The three disciples hear and are commanded to listen to the voice of God’s son, as if it were God’s own voice, mirroring other such occasions (see 3 Ne. 11:7; JS–H 1:17).

9:36 Jesus was found alone: Luke’s summary of the experience billows with two meanings. First, although Jesus now appears to be alone, he is not, as the disciples learn in breathtaking fashion. For he enjoys the support of and communion with the unseen divine world. Second, following any spiritual manifestation, recipients of such manifestations always find themselves back in the hard realities of this world, facing the need to go on, yet with deeper convictions that God is somehow connected to events that they experience.

told no man: According to the other accounts, it is Jesus who instructs the disciples not to disclose what they experience on the mount until after the resurrection (see Matt. 17:9; Mark 9:9). In typical fashion, Luke reports the resulting confidentiality rather than the reason for it.


Rising almost without peer as a defining moment in the Savior’s mortal life, the transfiguration ushers the three Apostles—and Luke’s readers—into the unseen world that constantly envelopes Jesus and is briefly uncovered, for instance, in the earlier temptations account. But the contrasts with the temptations cannot be more sharply drawn. In that earlier experience, the devil privately and menacingly challenges Jesus’ authority and power, promising him an exalted earthly stature that will assure results for his messianic ministry—if he will worship him. In the later incident, in the company of three trusted companions, Jesus is disclosed for who he is, the beloved Son who wraps within himself God’s work from ages past, all represented in the reverential approach of Moses and Elijah, who themselves stand for the ancient, sacred interaction between God and his people that the law and the prophets enshrine.

The fact that other scriptural accounts refer back to the transfiguration underscores its importance as a momentous decoding disclosure. For Jesus stands before the Apostles as he really is—pure, celestial, venerated. Peter, writing decades after the event, declares in undying astonishment that he and the other two are “eyewitnesses of [the Savior’s] majesty.” They behold as “he received from God the Father honour and glory,” an unparalleled moment in Peter’s memory “when there came . . . a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved son” (2 Pet. 1:16–17). But this is not all.

The Savior himself draws attention to this grand event in a revelation to Joseph Smith late in August 1831. In noting the unspeakable rewards that await the faithful, he declares that they “shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come; When the earth shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount” (D&C 63:20–21).[18] Plainly, the experience of the three Apostles embraces a stunning vision of the eventual transfiguration of the earth, a vision that the New Testament Gospels do not report. Although matters are not fully clear, the vision granted to the three includes much else, for the Savior observes that we have not yet received “the fulness” of what happens “upon the mount” (D&C 63:21). Clearly, readers of the Gospels live with abbreviated accounts.

Enough is preserved, however, to conclude that the experience is orchestrated, in large measure, for the benefit of the three Apostles. Even though it likely occurs at night, and the three therefore struggle against sleep (see 9:32), the fact that Jesus invites them to accompany him onto the mount illumines the first clue about the intended audience—these three men. Further, that the Apostles are allowed to overhear the conversation between Jesus and the visitors rolls out the second tip. For the three Apostles, the content of the discussion is open to them. But their obligation to keep matters quiet among themselves following the experience does show its special, sacred nature (see 9:36). Third, the erection of the three booths evidently allows the three Apostles to sit with and receive private and personal instruction from Jesus and the visitors. Such an experience will leave an indelible impression on the three. Finally, the voice of witness that the Apostles hear from the bright cloud comes specifically to them, enlarging their view. This aspect, as noted, is so memorable that it arises as Peter’s emphatic point in his later correspondence (see 2 Pet. 1:16–18).

We must also reckon that the experience is also for the Savior’s benefit. We learn from a later saying that he anticipates his suffering and death with apprehension: “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened [distressed] till it be accomplished” (12:50). In this connection, Talmage writes that for Jesus the transfiguration “was strengthening and encouraging. The prospect of the experiences immediately ahead must naturally have been depressing and disheartening in the extreme He had reached the verge of the valley of the shadow of death; and the human part of His nature called for refreshing.”[19] The transfiguration provides that refreshing.

Latter-day Saints carry a distinctive view of the extended purposes for the coming of Moses and Elijah. According to Matthew, on the earlier occasion of Peter’s confession—“Thou art the Christ”—Jesus promises that he “will give unto thee [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven” so that “whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). This promise is fulfilled when Moses and Elijah arrive. Although the transfer of keys does not appear in the Gospel records, it lies just below the surface. Malachi earlier prophesies that, “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” God “will send you Elijah the prophet” who “shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers” (Mal. 4:5–6). This welding of generations, past with present, comes through celestial binding powers, the very powers that Jesus promises to confer on Peter. This conferral occurs when the “Savior, Moses, and Elias [Elijah], gave keys to Peter, James, and John, on the mount.”[20]

For his part, Moses evidently confers on the three Apostles the same authority that he confers on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple: “Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth” (D&C 110:11). In an entirely different vein, Elijah arrives to “deliver the keys of the Priesthood, in order that all the ordinances may be attended to in righteousness” because “he holds the keys of the authority to administer in all the ordinances of the Priesthood.”[21] Therefore, on the mount the Apostles receive the “power to hold the key of the revelations, ordinances, oracles, powers and endowments of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood and of the kingdom of God on the earth.”[22]

The possibility of other visitors coming to the mount surges forward in the language of the Joseph Smith Translation. In Mark 9:4 the text reads, “there appeared unto them [the three Apostles] Elias with Moses.” The Joseph Smith Translation adds to this sentence: “there appeared unto them Elias with Moses, or in other words, John the Baptist and Moses” ( JST Mark 9:3). On this reading, Elijah and Moses are not the only visitors to the Savior and the Apostles. At least the deceased John, in his spirit state, comes as well. In his later words to the three, Jesus hints that this is so: “they have done unto him whatsoever they listed,” an evident reference to John’s execution (Matt. 17:12; Mark 9:13).

In particular, the presence of Moses invites us to see connections to the Israelite Exodus. As the notes above point out, the overlay of the Feast of Tabernacles is more than subtle. For seven days in the autumn, this festival celebrates the days of the Exodus (see Lev. 23:34, 36, 39, 42; Num. 29:12–34).[23] The reference to the eighth day, tied to this festival (see 9:28; Lev. 23:39; Num. 29:35), brings forward the first link. A second tie is visible in the three tabernacles that Peter proposes to erect (see 9:33), because those who celebrate this festival are to “dwell in booths” throughout the celebration (Lev. 23:42). The third connection consists of the cloud. The cloud that accompanies the Israelite wanderers, of course, serves as a guide (see Ex. 13:21–22; 14:19; Num. 9:17). But the cloud becomes more than that. The cloud also covers God, and thus discloses his actual presence, when he is among his people: “the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud” (Ex. 16:10); “the Lord descended in the cloud” (Ex. 34:5); “the Lord came down in a cloud” (Num. 11:25). In addition, the cloud regularly rests on the sanctuary, underscoring its holy character: for example, “the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle” (Num. 12:5); “the cloud covered the tabernacle” (Num. 9:15); “the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle” (Num. 9:22). All such observations hint that the appearance of the glowing cloud on the mount confers a sense of sacredness not only on events there but also on the place itself.


[1] Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 376; DNTC, 1:402; Plummer, Luke, 250–51.

[2] Gus W. Van Beek, “Tabor, Mount,” in IDB, 4:508–9; Rafael Frankel, “Tabor, Mount,” in ABD, 6:304–5; “The Land Jesus Knew, Part 1,” Ensign (December 1982): 43, quoting Spencer W. Kimball.

[3] Marshall, Luke, 383.

[4] BAGD, 273.

[5] Plummer, Luke, 251; Fitzmyer, Luke, 1:799–800.

[6] R. H. Charles, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, with Introduction, Notes and Indices also the Greek Text and English Translation, The International Critical Commentary, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1920), 1:280–82, 284–85; TDNT, 2:938–39.

[7] TPJS, 172, 337; Franklin D. Day, “Elijah: LDS Sources,” in EM, 2:450–51; Werblowsky, “Elijah: Ancient Sources,” 2:451–52; Andrew C. Skinner, “Moses,” in EM, 2:959.

[8] BAGD, 276; TDNT, 5:103–8; Marshall, Luke, 384–85.

[9] Green, Luke, 383.

[10] TDNT, 7:379–80; Marshall, Luke, 386; Fitzmyer, Luke, 1:801; Green, Luke, 383.

[11] TPJS, 153.

[12] Dale C. Mouritsen, “Mount of Transfiguration,” in EM, 2:968–69.

[13] Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, 657; BAGD, 298; TDNT, 7:399–400.

[14] TDNT, 6:627.

[15] Smyth, Greek Grammar, §325d; Blass and Debrunner, Greek Grammar, §277.

[16] BAGD, 241–42; TDNT, 4:172.

[17] Heschel, Prophets, 189.

[18] TPJS, 13: “they saw the glory of the Lord when he showed the transfiguration of the earth on the mount.”

[19] Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 373.

[20] Joseph Smith Jr., History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols., rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1959–65), 3:387.

[21] TPJS, 172; also 323, 336–38.

[22] TPJS, 337.

[23] Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 371; James C. Vanderkam, “Calendars: Ancient Israelite and Early Jewish,” in ABD, 1:816; Green, Luke, 377–79, 383.