The Transfiguration

Two

After Six Days or About Eight Days?

By Steve Santini

 

The transfiguration on the holy mount is the highlight of Jesus' ministry. As he is, it is the essence of heaven on earth. This pivotal role in his ministry is brought forward by an account of the eight days traveled from Bethsaida to the transfiguration beyond the Jordan.

After Jesus told his disciples that there were some standing there who would see the kingdom of heaven before they died, he and his disciples departed from Bethsaida and traveled south towards the area beyond the Jordan. The distance from Bethsaida to the area beyond Jordan on the coast of Judea is approximately eighty miles by the most direct route. That route skirts the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, follows the western bank of the Jordan, and fords it at Bethshan as it joins the traditional Galilean pilgrimage route that passes through the area beyond the Jordan. The rate for foot travel on ancient routes ranged between fifteen to twenty miles per day. At this rate Jesus and his disciples would have come to the area beyond Jordan on the coasts of Judea after four days of travel. However, Luke stated that the transfiguration took place about eight days after leaving Bethsaida.

But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God. And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. Luke 9:27-29

How does scripture account for these four additional days? When Luke wrote about the transfiguration taking place about eight days after the departure from Bethsaida, he used a participle in the Greek past tense when referring to taking Peter, John and James and going to a mountain. In Robert Young's literal translation the verse appropriately reads: And it came to pass, after these words, as it were eight days, that having taken Peter, and John, and James, he went up to the mountain to pray. Matthew and Mark answer the question invited by Luke's usage of the past tense. That is: at what point in the past did Jesus select and begin leading Peter, John and James to a mountain for the transfiguration on the eighth day? Matthew and Mark wrote, in the present tense, of the three being taken and led after the sixth day.

And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, Matthew 17:1

And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. Mark 9:2

When subtracting the six days after which they began to be led from the about eight days when the transfiguration occurred results in about two days of travel to the location of the transfiguration beyond the Jordan.

So, during the first four days Jesus and his entourage traveled as far as the area beyond the Jordan. Scriptures do not account for travel during the fifth and sixth days yet by simple reasoning an account can be given. During the seventh and eighth days, Jesus led Peter, John and James to the Mount of Transfiguration located in the area beyond the Jordan. Reasonably, then on the unaccounted for fifth and sixth days, Jesus and his entourage had traveled to a location about two additional days away from the area beyond Jordan that they had previously passed through after the fourth day. From that location, about two days away from the area beyond the Jordan, he took Peter, John and James early on the seventh day and returned to the area beyond the Jordan for the transfiguration on the eighth day.

For them to travel two days further than the area beyond Jordan where the transfiguration was to eventually take place then to turn around and travel about two days back to the area where the transfiguration did take place appears to emphasize the significance of that location and the events that transpired there. There are a number of locations with prophetic significance about two days of travel away from the area beyond Jordan. None, however, approach the significance of Jerusalem.

Obviously, the transfiguration was a sign of things to come. Part of that signage was Jerusalem as the place that Jesus took Peter, John and James unto himself to experience the kingdom of God. Months after the transfiguration, events in Jerusalem established the parameters for entrance into the kingdom of God. As the way, the truth and the life, Jesus was crucified at the commencement of Passover and then, three days later, raised from the dead on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem.1 It is belief in his death, resurrection and lordship that is central to salvation for the kingdom of God. In Jerusalem, seven weeks after his resurrection, those that believed in him were committed unto the kingdom of God on the Day of Pentecost. In this light it seems prophetically fitting that, as a representation of the heavenly things yet to come, Jesus had selected Peter, James and John in the earthly Jerusalem to have a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom of God.

In scripture, where then do we find Jesus in Jerusalem and then departing for the other side of the Jordan River where the transfiguration occurred? According to the tenth chapter of John's gospel Jesus was engaged in a contentious exchange with the Judeans in Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication. When the Judeans tried to take him to stone him to death he escaped and went again to the area beyond the Jordan.

22 And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.

23 And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch.

24 Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.

25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me.

26 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:

28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.

30 I and my Father are one.

31 Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.

32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?

33 The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?

35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;

36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?

37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.

38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.

39 Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand,

40 And went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode.2

41 And many resorted unto him, and said, John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true.

42 And many believed on him there.John 10:22 - 11:1

In the fortieth verse, the word again in the Greek texts is palin. Lexicons define palin as "turning back to, return" and "backward direction" with verbs of physical movement.3 Accordingly, this word brings John's record in harmony with the assertion derived from the three synoptic gospels that Jesus and his followers had passed through the area beyond the Jordan two days earlier on their way to Jerusalem and then returned to the area beyond the Jordan for the transfiguration.

The subject of gods in Jesus' dispute with the Judeans during the feast presents a revealing prelude to the presence of Moses and Elijah with him on the holy mount. In his transfiguration, Peter, James and John awoke to see Jesus glistering as the Lord of the gods and, with him, Moses and Elijah as glorified gods.(Ps 136:2, 86:8, Dn 4:8) This paramount manifestation and its encompassing context is laden with significant times, places and events meant to point towards the coming kingdom of God. The selection of Peter, John and James in Jerusalem after the sixth day during the winter Feast of Dedication that year is among them.

 

Footnotes

1. Ernest L. Martin, The Secrets of Golgotha, pp. 80-88

2. The word abode is in the aorist tense referring to the time Jesus had dwelt in the area beyond Jordan through the time he was baptized by John the Baptist as recorded earlier in John's gospel. (John 1:37-39)

3. Timothy Friberg, Barabra Friberg, & Neva F Miller, A Greek-English Lexicon. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, #20362

 

Chapter Three

The Transfiguration and the Winter Solstice