Until I read Transfiguration and Transformation by Hywel Jones, just out from the Banner of Truth, I did not realize that our English translations translate the same word as transfigure when applied to our Lord and as transform when it is applied to us. Hywel asks an interesting question: Why is that so? What is the connection between the transfiguration of Christ and our transformation? As the Banner of Truth website says, Hywel’s new book “shows how the divine can penetrate the human without destroying it as in the Person of Christ, and how the human can become conformed to the divine without its ceasing to be human as in the case of the Christian. That kind of metamorphosis accords and exalts the Christian gospel over against the humanism of our culture, whether secularised or spiritualised.”
If you have read this site or Recovering the Reformed Confession, then you know how important to Reformed theology the categorical distinction is, i.e., the distinction between the Creator and the creature. Hywel argues that distinction can never be obliterated not in the Christian and not even in the Christ (who is true God and true man). Nevertheless, the “communion between the God-Man and his believing people will result in each Christian being fully conformed to the perfect humanity of Christ while retaining his or her own individuality. It will not result in a faceless absorption into the divine but face to face communion with the triune God for ever” (Banner website). Hywel writes: ” ‘The transfiguration of Christ shows how the divine can penetrate the human without destroying it. The transformation of the believer shows how the human can become conformed to the divine without its ceasing to be human. This is the ultimate metamorphosis that is compatible with Christian truth.”
It was a pleasure to read this book because it is well-written and because Hywel not only taught me things but he fed me. You should read it and let him feed you too. Indeed, I intend to re-read this book and I rarely do that. It is available in hardcover for $16.00. It is available in North America from the Reformation Heritage Books. If you have not read or heard Hywel, I encourage you strongly to take a look at the resources below.
1. What attracted your attention to Christ’s transfiguration?
I had been invited to address a Conference in Wales in August 1989 and needed to choose a portion of Scripture and a subject for the four sessions involved. In the course of devotional reading I came to one of the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Transfiguration—I cannot now remember which one it was—but it was as if I had never read the passage before. I knew that it was what I was to deal with. It was a case of the Holy Spirit doing his wonderful work of speaking through the Word in answer to prayer.
2. What was The Transfiguration?
It was a change in Jesus’ body, temporary but actual. It affected his “face” and not only his clothes with “glory.” He did not effect the change himself as he had in the bodies of other human beings. It happened as he was praying to his Father. He had just spoken of being the Messiah (the “Son of Man”) who would die, rise and come again and the Transfiguration was his Father’s confirmation of that to him and to his disciples. His earthly human-ness became suffused by the splendour of Deity in advance of his horrific disfigurement on the Cross. It was between his birth and death which is why its place is in the Gospels.
3. The transfiguration of Christ (e.g., Matt 17:1–8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36) occurs in the Synoptic gospels and it is a major episode in the life of our Lord and in the life of the disciples but it does not seem to attract as much attention as other episodes. Why is that?
There can be no doubt that the episode has not been given due attention even by those who acknowledge its historicity. I found that it is passed over lightly in commentaries where I expected to find some help and the fact that more was made of it by Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic scholars was disconcerting. But to avoid censuring others I will acknowledge that it was nowhere near as manageable as I thought it would be. It did not fit easily in the human life of Jesus, exceeded all other identifications of Jesus’ messiahship in the first three Gospels, and it seemed to clash with his lowly servanthood in his state of humiliation. It was like a jig-saw piece whose shape did not fit the hole in which I wanted it to go. It was a challenge to a tidy mind that likes to have things condensed and categorised. It was so multi-dimensional that it could only be understood as “the great mystery of godliness” of “God manifest in the flesh.”
4. How did you come to link the transfiguration to the Christian’s transformation?
In the addresses which I gave I did not make this link. But subsequently I became aware that Thomas Manton, an English Puritan, had preached a series of sermons on the Lord’s Transfiguration. In reading them I came across the following exhortation “Be transformed that you may be transfigured.” That opened a side-window on the matter which was confirmed by the fact that both are described by the same verb in the New Testament which gives us our word metamorphosis.
5. What does the transfiguration teach us about the nature of the Christians sanctification in this life and after?
The human nature with which the Son of God united himself in his incarnation was just like ours, sin apart. It was sinless and becoming more and more righteous as his obedience was increasing in his frail and finite body. It was that which was transfigured and it is that which will be transformed in the Christian, increasingly in life in earth and perfectly beyond death by the resurrection.
6. What did you learn during this project that you did not know before you started?
Thirty years is a long time to be mulling over a subject and many things have been learned in the process which are in the book. Reflecting on the whole project now leads me to realise that I have learned much more about what I thought I knew and also that there is much more still to learn when looking through a glass darkly is past. But what stands out for me now is that everything I regard as true, sure and precious is endorsed and enhanced by the light of the Transfiguration.
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- Heidelmedia Resources
- The Ecumenical Creeds
- The Reformed Confessions
- The Heidelberg Catechism
- Recovering the Reformed Confession (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008)
- Hywel Jones: The Lamb is the Lamp (Rev 21:23)
- Hywel Jones: Between Resurrection and Ascension: In Lockdown
- Office Hours: Hywel Jones On The Role Of The Holy Spirit In Sanctification
- Office Hours: Hywel Jones on Hebrews 8
- Office Hours: Hywel Jones on Preaching the Doctrine of Regeneration (You Need to Hear This)
- Audio: Hywel Jones on Counseling from Job
- Audio: Hywel Jones on Gen 2:8-3:6
- Audio: Hywel Jones on Gen 3:1
- For Jesus’ Sake: Hywel Jones’ Message to WSC Grads
- Hywel Jones on Preaching Sola Fide
- Hywel Jones on the Apostle John’s Opposition to Idolatry
- More resources from Hywel Jones.