By Abraham Cho
In many traditions, February 15 was Transfiguration Sunday, a day to consider Jesus in the fullness of his glory. The Transfiguration was a singular event in Jesus’ life that left an indelible impression on the three disciples, Peter, James and John, who were there to witness it (see 2 Peter 1:16-18).
The Transfiguration was so central to the imagination of the early church that Paul uses it to help Christians see how they themselves were being transformed: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The word “transformed” here is the same word translated “transfigured” in all the Gospel accounts. We are being transfigured into the image of Christ.
Therefore, Christ’s Transfiguration, though unique in revealing his divinity, is also a preview of the destiny of all God’s people–a firstfruits. This, it would seem, is why Jesus instructs the disciples not to speak of it until after he had resurrected (Mark 9:9). It was a pulling back of the curtain to reveal how all of creation would be transfigured beginning on that first Easter Sunday.
At Redeemer, we think it is of utmost importance that we help people develop a robust theological understanding of their work. We often frame this in terms of “transforming” or “redeeming” culture through our work. But, could thinking in terms of the ”transfiguration” yield new insight? Here are four possibilities:
1. Transfiguration emphasizes the decisiveness of God’s work over ours. Transfiguration does not have the finality of the language of “transformation”. There is something tentative–even fragile–about this metaphor that more accurately captures the work of the hands of mere creatures. Yet, there is also something enduringly meaningful in our work as well. Our work offers the world a glimpse of how the world will look when Christ returns to renew it.
2. Transfiguration emphasizes the “already-ness” of God’s work before ours. Transfiguration says that our work is simply revealing a reality that already is there. Transformation, on the other hand, can imply that our work introduces something decisively new. If we think of work as transfiguration, we understand that human work rightly done merely uncovers the “already work” of the Spirit.
3. Transfiguration emphasizes the perceiving of God’s work within ours. Transfiguration emphasizes the need to see with new eyes. To see reality as it truly is from the vantage point of the work of the Triune God requires constant cultivation and attentiveness to God’s work. It requires a renewed imagination steeped in Scripture about what is already true of the Kingdom and therefore what is now possible in the Spirit. So, transfiguration effects a change in the believer before it seeks to effect a change in an industry.
4. Transfiguration emphasizes the mystery of God’s work above ours. While transfiguration is a revelation, it is also a profound mystery. What is revealed is far beyond the ability of the creaturely mind to fully comprehend. And so, transfiguration creates room for uncertainty, allowing for mystery in God’s intentions that lies beyond the understanding even of the person who is working for the good. This creates profound humility.
Seeing the Statue
Bauer’s Greek lexicon defines word for ”transfiguration” as: “Of the transformation of raw material into a statue”. One can’t help but think of the quote attributed to Michelangelo: ”Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” This is what it means to be transfigured. Paul in 2 Corinthians encourages Christians by reminding them that they are being “transfigured” as God’s own handiwork. The statue (image!) inside the block of our ordinary, frustrating, simple, sinful, glorious lives is the image of Christ himself. We are God’s workmanship being transfigured into the image of Christ.
But our own workmanship is also a transfiguration. The statue is already there–the blazing creation of Another. In our work, we called to see a truer vision of the statue within the stone. But every artist, even the masters, would grant that their work, however glorious, does not yet fully capture the glory of the statue that is already there. And so we must eagerly await that day when Christ will return to make this, and all other “statues,” new. The day when transfiguration becomes resurrection.