In Matt 17:1-9, Jesus was transfigured on the mount.
The incident as recorded in Luke 9:28-29 tells us that Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to the mount to pray and that Jesus was transfigured while He was praying. We have another witness that prayer is involved in the process in 3 Nephi 19:25 when the Nephite disciples pray and are transfigured just like Jesus.
I looked at other incidents of transfiguration in the Topical Guide and it seems transfiguration may occur after intense spiritual experiences. Moses’s face shone after having talked with God in the tabernacle or on the mount. (Ex. 34:29) (Evidently it also happens during those experiences too so that mortal men may endure the glory of God, e.g. Moses, Enoch, etc.)
Other times transfiguration happens when people are standing as witnesses in very difficult circumstances. Abinadi was transfigured when preaching to King Noah and the wicked priests (see Mosiah 13:5). Stephen was transfigured when preaching to the Jewish council that later stoned him (see Acts 6:15).
Other times, heavenly fire is involved as a protection as when Lehi and Nephi were in the Lamanite prison and fire surrounding them prevented them from being taken and killed (see Helaman 5:23). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given power to stand unharmed in fire, which likely required their transfiguration (see Daniel 3:23-25).
When the twelve Nephite disciples were baptized, they were filled with the Holy Ghost and fire, and they were encircled about with fire that came down from heaven (see 3 Nephi 19:14).
What difference does it make to know of the transfiguration of Christ on the mount with Moses and Elijah? I think His transfiguration was a sign to Peter, James, and John that Jesus was at the very least as good as Moses and Elias (Elijah), who both had been translated so as to not see death. (Also the words of God the Father “This is my beloved Son: hear him” (Luke 9:35) showed that Jesus was above Moses and Elias. The witness of God the Father of Jesus’s approved Sonship was the best witness one could ever have, and Peter later spoke of it so in 2 Peter 1:16-19)
What does this mean for us to know about transfiguration? Is it only something to read about that we may never experience ourselves? Actually, I think that we may attain to it ourselves, and I’ll show you some verses that suggest this.
After the twelve Nephite disciples are transfigured, Jesus prays thus:
28 Father, I thank thee that thou hast purified those whom I have chosen, because of their faith, and I pray for them, and also for them who shall believe on their words, that they may be purified in me, through faith on their words, even as they are purified in me.
From these verses it seems that transfiguration has something to do with being purified and it happens through strong faith. We also see that Jesus wanted more people to experience this purification. It may be that this purification and transfiguration are inseparably connected and that to have the one is to experience the other. Jesus seems to speak of them so.
I also notice that Jesus asks that all those the Father has given him out of the world may be purified this way. This shows that there is a difference of spiritual status between being “given to Jesus out of the world” and being purified in the way Jesus speaks of. It also teaches us that it is something that Jesus wants for all his followers in all ages of the world.
I also just realized something about that request “that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one, that I may be glorified in them” (v29). I think this tells us how Jesus sees the glowing part of transfiguration. He considers it to be a manifestation of Himself in someone, as a time when the manifestation of Himself is glorified or manifests glory. It’s a time when the righteousness of the spirit literally shines through the tabernacle of clay.
If we were to use a scientific metaphor for this, perhaps the body of sin is like a darkened window and the spirit can’t shine through the body of sin. But if the body is purified, somehow the opaqueness transforms into translucence and the spirit shines through.
How do we achieve this? We have several clues given us.
1. Be purified.
2. Faith in Christ
3. Oneness with Christ
4. Already given to Jesus out of the world
Transfiguration is a cool thing to talk about, and it is neat to think that we can experience it ourselves, but I think too often we may approach it from the less mature perspective of just wanting to glow because “glowing = awesome,” instead of from the more mature perspective of truly desiring the spiritual qualities that are required. For instance, how many of us really want purification, faith in Christ, oneness with Christ, and to be given to Christ out of the world just for its own sake? I personally don’t think I understand those four things with the depth that I should.
Looked at it another way, if the only benefit from transfiguration is that your body glows, then it isn’t necessarily one that you can fully enjoy because you can’t fully see yourself. To glow would be to bless others more than yourself. This makes me think there has to be more to it, there has to be spiritual blessings from transfiguration that are felt much more than seen and that the visible shining of transfiguration is only a small part of the experience.
I believe that experience is within reach for each of us. I also believe Jesus wants us to have it; if He prayed for all those the Father gave Him out of the world to have it and not just those who were in His presence, then He wants us to seek for it too. I think the first steps are praying sincerely to be purified in Christ, praying for Christ to be in us and one with us as He is one with the Father, and praying that Christ be glorified in us. I sense that our efforts can't be of the fleeting and perfunctory type.
Who knows what marvels it may lead to?