Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Luke 9.28-36 [37-43a]
Last Sunday after the Epiphany - Year C
Transfiguration of Our Lord

Other texts:


Note: even though the extended reference goes through verse 43, it should only go through 43a -- that's what is printed in the Lectionary for Worship -- and that's how it should be. V. 43b starts a new paragraph in NRSV, NIV, TNIV, and CEV.

Should you use the extended lesson and read vv. 37-43a? These verses present an entirely different event from the transfiguration -- the healing of a demon-possessed (or epileptic) boy.

On one hand, there are enough messages to be gleaned from the Transfiguration Story (vv. 28-36) without adding this extra miracle.

On the other hand, this is the only opportunity in the three-year cycle to look at this miracle. The parallel verses (Mt 17:14-21; Mk 9:14-29) are not assigned to any festival in RCL. It provides an important balance to the transfiguration event -- the disciples' "mountain-top experience" followed by failure in the valley.


A study of our text(s) should begin with reading all of chapter 9. Except for our text and 9:51-62 (Proper 8 C), nothing else in the chapter is read in the Revised Common Lectionary.

It begins with Jesus giving the twelve power and authority over all demons and diseases and sends them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal. They go about curing diseases everywhere (vv. 1-6).

In contrast to their power and success, Herod is perplexed about Jesus and wants to see him (vv. 7-10).

The apostles return (vv. 10-11). I'm sure that their mission was full of all kinds of glorious moments. They come back with all kinds of stories about the great things they had done. A crowd gathers around Jesus and his disciples.

It is getting late. The disciples tell Jesus to send the crowd away so that they might find food and lodging. Jesus tells these men, "You give them something to eat." The twelve wonder, "Who us? How can we feed all these people?" Their mighty bubble is burst. They have just come back from their glorious missionary journey. They had been performing miracles right and left. They had been preaching God's message. All the glory of the past is wiped out with one question, "You give them something to eat" (vv. 12-17). They have gone from being powerful to being powerless.

Like Herod, the crowd isn't quite sure who Jesus is, but Peter answers rightly (vv. 18-20). The powerful one (Herod the ruler) is powerless to properly understand Jesus. Those without power (a fisherman who has left everything), rightly confesses.

Peter finally gets something right and Jesus tells them all, "Don't tell anyone." Jesus gives the first passion prediction (vv. 21-22). The powerful one -- the Messiah -- will become powerless. This is not followed by Peter rebuking Jesus in Luke! Luke jumps right to the teaching about discipleship (vv. 23-27).

Luke connects the transfiguration more closely with what has gone before it than the other accounts. Literally, v. 28 reads: "It happened after these words (logoi), about eight days, ..."

Within this teaching, Jesus talks coming "in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." Only Luke includes the word "glory" (doxa) in his account of the transfiguration (vv. 31, 32). Again, Luke connects the transfiguration with the prior teaching:

"Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (9:26).

Could Luke be presenting the transfiguration as the coming of Jesus in glory?

If the disciples think that this is Jesus' final glory, they are mistaken. The resurrected Jesus will tell the disciples: "Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" (24:26). The path to glory is through suffering and the cross.

Related to the command from the voice, "Listen to him," certainly we are to listen to everything that Jesus says, but I think that the teaching just prior to the transfiguration, is the specific reference to what we are to listen to -- Peter's confession (vv. 18-20), Jesus' prediction of the passion (vv. 21-22), and the demands of discipleship (vv. 23-27).

Could it also be that the saying: "There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God" (v. 27) was fulfilled when some of them saw Jesus in all of his glory on the mountain?

Another connection in Luke's Gospel is that Jesus is praying before he asks his disciples about his identity (v. 18) and before the transfiguration (vv. 28-29) -- and before his baptism when similar words from the sky are heard.

Similar to Peter's confession about Jesus being the Messiah, which was followed by a command not to tell anyone, seeing the glory of Jesus on the mountain is followed by silence (v. 36).

Following the transfiguration, Luke does not have the conversation between Jesus and the three disciples about the coming of Elijah. It might be that Luke's audience was not concerned with Micah's prophesy about Elijah coming first.

The four come down the mountain and are met by a crowd and the report about the inability of the disciples to cast out a demon from the man's only son. This chapter started with the disciples being given "power" (dynamis v. 1) over demons, but now they "can not" (ouk dynamai v. 40) drive it out. They have become powerless.

This miracle is not followed with Jesus explaining to the disciples why they couldn't drive it out, but with the second passion prediction (vv. 43b-45), which the disciples don't understand. This is followed by further illustrations that the disciples do not understand.

Note the different titles commentators give the section 9:37-50:

Green (The Gospel of Luke) includes 9:37-50 writes about this section:

Thematically, although it is not without christological import, this larger unit focuses above all on the disciples, and especially on their failure. After the christological high point of the transfiguration scene, the deficiencies they exhibit in the current scene are positively disastrous. Previously, they were indicted for failing to exhibit their faith while responding in fear (8:22-25); now, however, they not only display fear but are actually ruled by Jesus to be "faithless" (vv. 45, 41). They fail to exorcise a demon (v. 40), fail to understand Jesus' message about his passion (v. 45), spar over relative status (v. 46), and attempt to exercise control over one whose ministry succeeds where theirs had not (v. 49). [p. 386]


A simple connection of these two stories can be the "glorious mountaintop experience" is followed by "coming down into the valley to serve."

Craddock (Luke, Interpretation Commentaries) writes about this:

That there is truth to the analysis that life's rhythm consists of occasions of routine and pedestrian duty is not to be contradicted. That pastors need to address with both correction and encouragement those who experience religion as totally one or the other is widely confirmed. [p. 132]

Another theme might be the contrasting revelations in these two stories. In one, the voice from the cloud declares that Jesus is God's Son, the Chosen. In the other, the voice from Jesus declares the people to be a "faithless and perverse generation."

On the mountain, Peter wants to make the event last forever through the erection of shrines. In the valley, Jesus wonders how much longer must he be with these people and bear with them. There is also the contrast between wanting to stay on the mountain -- at the sight of glory; and the disciples running away when Jesus is arrested.

THE TRANSFIGURATION (with an emphasis on Luke's unique contributions)

Although I have found no satisfying explanation, Luke has this event occurring eight days later. Matthew and Mark have it coming six days later.

Only Luke has Jesus going up the mountain "to pray" and it is while he is "praying" that he is transfigured -- although the word "transfigured" [Gk metamorphoomai] is not used in Luke. Luke simply describes the change in Jesus' face and clothes.

Jesus at prayer is an emphasis in Luke. Only he has Jesus praying following his baptism when heaven opened and the Holy Spirit came down and a voice spoke. Besides the similar content from the heavenly voice, the act of prayer also connects these two events. Jesus frequently prayed by himself (5:16; 6:12; 9:18; 11:1 -- all or unique to Luke).

Only Luke uses the phrase "two men" (vv. 30, 32). This most closely relates to the "two men" who are sitting in the empty tomb in dazzling clothes (24:4). There are speculations that the transfiguration story was originally a resurrection appearance. Luke does make a connection between the two events by the phrase "two men."

Only Luke tells us that the two men "were speaking with" Jesus. This could be an image of Jesus fulfilling what was written in the law and the prophets. Luke has an emphasis on "The Law of Moses and the Prophets." The rich man and his brothers should listen to "Moses and the prophets" (16:29, 31). When Jesus teaches the two on the road to Emmaus, he begins "with Moses and all the prophets" (24:27). Later that day, with the other disciples Jesus teaches them that "everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled" (24:44). For Luke, the Jesus story does not stand on its own, but flows out of "Moses and the prophets."

Verses 31-33a are unique to Luke. We hear a little about what the three glorified figures are talking about.

They speak of Jesus' "departure" (lit. exodos), which he will fulfill in Jerusalem. Like the word "departed," this word refers both to the trip to Jerusalem and Jesus' upcoming death. However, with Moses present, the connection of "exodus" is important. "Jesus' exodus will be a journey to liberation that will establish his kingdom for his people. This exodus will involve not merely Jesus' death but also his resurrection and ascension" (Tannehill, Luke, p. 161).

Luke emphasizes that the subject of discussion at this glorious, mountaintop experience is Jesus' upcoming death! The glory revealed here is only preliminary to the glory that he will receive after his suffering.

Luke talks about the disciples' sleepiness. It is not clear whether they were actually asleep (lit. "having been weighed down with sleep") and then woke up; or if they were close to being asleep, but stayed awake. The Greek word (diagregoreo) has both meanings: "to stay awake" and "to become fully awake". This is the only place it's used in the NT.

We are reminded that the disciples fall asleep in the Garden when Jesus has asked him to pray with him (22:45-46). However, different words for "sleep" are used; and in Luke, Jesus does not separate Peter, James, and John from the other disciples like they are in Mt and Mk. It seems more likely to me that the sleeping disciples on the mountain indicate their denseness about what's going on and/or perhaps how easy it can be to miss Jesus' glory.

It is only in Luke that Peter calls Jesus, "Master" (v. 33). This word only occurs only in Luke, which was probably more familiar to Luke's reader(s) than "Rabbi" (Mk) or "Lord" (Mt).

Culpepper (Luke, New Interpreter's Bible)

When Moses and Elijah had withdrawn, Peter responded, suggesting that they build three booths or dwellings there. The term for these structures suggests that Peter saw in the event the fulfillment of Israel's celebration of the wilderness wandering at the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, each year. Again, however, Peter has only partially grasped the significance of the event. He wants to freeze the moment and commemorate the place, but faithfulness will require following Jesus to the cross, not commemorating the place of the transfiguration, which -- fittingly -- is not named in any of the Gospels. [p. 206]

I don't know how many times I've heard testimonies that referred to a wonderful, life-changing event in the person's life -- "a mountaintop experience." I'm certain that for some of these "evangelists," they continue to talk about that one event for years and years. They have frozen that event. What I think is more important are questions like: What role has Jesus played in your life last week -- or today?

Are we ever guilty of "not knowing what we are saying," as Peter did in this text? What was it that he didn't know? I find it wonderfully humorous that the cloud/God interrupts Peter "while he is speaking." Is this an angry cloud? Related to what the Voice will say, it appears that non-verbally God tells Peter, "Shut up and listen." At times, the more Peter talks, the more he gets himself in trouble. At times, the more we talk and/or the more we do, the less able we are "to listen".

The first line of the Voice's speech recalls Jesus' baptism. Although the Voice at the baptism, in Luke, spoke only to Jesus: "You are my son" (3:22), which is a quote from Psalm 2:7. Here the voice is speaking to the three disciples.

Only Luke has the voice calling Jesus, "the Chosen" or more literally, "the one having been chosen" -- (a passive participle from eklegomai). The same verb was used when Jesus chose the 12 apostles (6:13). A related word is used to scorn Jesus on the cross (23:35). Perhaps one significance of this is Isaiah 42:1: "Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, (eklektos) in whom my soul delights; ..."

I think the key to the transfiguration is the short phrase "listen to him." "Listen" (akouete) is a present imperative, implying continuing action: "Keep on listening to him" or "Continue to listen to him." God gave Ten Commands in the OT. In the NT, God only gives this one command. Which is easier to keep?

This command may also hearken back to the prophet like Moses. Dt 18:15 (LXX) reads: "A prophet from your people like me, the Lord your God will raise up for you. You will listen to him."

This command to listen contains enough possibilities for many sermons. Connected to Romans 10:17, we can conclude that the Christian faith comes through our ears: "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ."

Connected with Luther's explanation to Holy Communion -- the benefits come through our ears: "The benefits of this sacrament are pointed out by the words...."

This could be an opportunity to talk about silence in worship. Without explanation, silence in the liturgy can be interpreted as "somebody forgot something". It is an opportunity to unplug the noise from our ears and tune in to God.

This could be an opportunity to talk about the importance of listening to others in our evangelism efforts. Too often evangelism is seen as talking. Effective evangelism begins with listening. I've used this quote before: "You don't throw a drowning person a sandwich -- no matter how good the sandwich might be." To know what aspect of the good news one needs to share -- so that it is "good" to the hearer, the evangelist first needs to listen to hear the need of the other. If one is hungry, a sandwich is good news. If one is drowning, a rope or a life-jacket is good news.

I'm sure that every church has a cadre of "doers." Unfortunately, sometimes these very valuable workers are not always willing to stop doing (or talking) and listen to God -- to come to and participate in Bible studies, to have private devotions, to practice silence in the presence of God, etc.

The ELCA's Model Constitution for Congregations states (as probably do most other governing documents of congregations):

The Congregation Council shall have general oversight of the life and activities of this congregation, and in particular its worship life, to the end that everything be done in accordance with the Word of God and the faith and practice of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. (C12.04, boldface added)

How can the council do everything "in accordance with the Word of God" if they aren't listening to it? (The same can be asked about the "faith and practice of the ELCA.")

What are they to listen to in our text? While "all the words from Jesus" is a general answer, a more specific answer from our context are Jesus' teaching just before our text (9:18-27). I think that we have difficulties hearing Jesus' call to costly discipleship -- denying self, carrying cross, losing life stuff.

Immediately following our text is Jesus' second passion prediction:

"Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands." But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. (9:44-45)

They hear, but they don't understand. "Hearing" (akouo) requires more than just sounds entering the ears. Hearing Jesus words and acting on them is like the man who builds a house on a firm foundation (6:47-48). Like seeds planted in good soil, those who hear the word need to "hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance" (8:15). Members of Jesus' family are those who hear the word of God and do it (8:21).

Can we hear this word about Jesus' betrayal and suffering? I would guess that our picture of the mighty messiah of God -- the holy Son of God -- would be much more like what the disciples saw on the mountaintop -- Jesus in all of his glory, shining bright in dazzling white. Seeing that, we would know that he is God's Son -- the Chosen One. However, seeing Jesus dying on the cross, we might not be so sure about him. Hearing that voice from heaven, we would know Jesus is God's son. However, when we hear nothing -- the silence on Good Friday -- the silence at "down times" in our lives, we might wonder about Jesus. Seeing that dazzling white engulfing Jesus on the mountain, we would be sure. However, seeing the dark red of blood streaming down his face, we wouldn't be so sure. When Moses and Elijah are at Jesus' side, he is really somebody special. However, when it's two convicted criminals, we might wonder about this Jesus. When Jesus heals the sick and raises the dead, we know his power. When our friends get sick and die, we question if Jesus has the power to do anything for us. On the mountain, Peter talks about building dwellings or shrines to this glorious moment -- and he doesn't know what he is saying. However, at the trial, Peter denies he knows Jesus -- does he know what he is saying then? On the mountain it was easy to believe. At the cross, it was damn near impossible. It shouldn't have been so difficult at the cross. Jesus had told them about it numerous times before the event, but they hadn't listened to him.


Luke's version of this miracle has less than half the words as Mark's account (9:14-29). Mark has extended conversations between Jesus and the boy's father, which culminates in the father exclaiming, "I believe. Help my unbelief!" This, as I've said before, is the central message of Mark. Mark also has Jesus answering the disciples' question of why they could not cast out this demon.

Luke's abbreviated version simply highlights the disciples' inability and Jesus' ability to cast out the demon.

This is the third time in Luke that Jesus has been confronted by a parent of an only child. (The same word is used in John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18 of God's only son.) Previously in Luke the word was used of the widow's only son at Nain (7:12) and Jairus' only daughter (8:42). These are the only occurrences of the word in the Gospels.

As I mentioned above, chapter 9 began with the disciples being given power (dynamis) and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. Apparently they were successful in the preaching/healing/exorcising mission. So why are they unable (adynamai) to cast out (ekballo) the demon of this man's only son?

I don't know if Luke intended a connection, but both these words, dynamai and ekballo (3 times) also occur in 6:42:

Or how can (dynamai) you say to your neighbor, 'Friend, let me take out (ekballo) the speck in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.

Could their inability to cast out the demon be related to this verse? Shortly after our text, the disciples try to stop a man who is casting out demons in Jesus' name, because he was not following "us" (9:49-50). They judge him for doing what they were unable to do. Perhaps they had become too arrogant after their successful missionary excursion, so that they were no longer able "to cast out" the logs from their own eyes; and thus they were unable to "cast out" the demon from the child.

"This generation" (genea) comes under all kinds of criticisms in Luke:

They are like children in the marketplace who will not dance with the flute playing or weep with the wailers (7:31-32). They are apathetic.

It is an "evil generation" because it asks for a sign, but Jesus will give no sign except the sign of Jonah (11:29).

This generation will be judged because they don't desire to listen to Jesus as the Queen of the South listened to Solomon. They will be judged because they do not repent at the proclamation of Jesus as the people of Nineveh repented at the proclamation of Jonah (11:31-32).

This generation will reject Jesus (17:25).

Especially the criticism about not listening nor repenting connects with our text. There was the command "to listen" to Jesus. If the disciples' inability to cast out the demon comes from the "log in their eyes," that indicates an unwillingness to repent. Perhaps Jesus' complaint in our text might also have arisen because this generation was just looking for a sign -- another miracle so that they might be amazed at Jesus.

The adjectives "faithless" and "perverse" can indicate "a refusal to believe" and "a turning away from what is correct" -- "to pervert." How often have we experienced people who refuse to believe what we say or twist it to their own purposes so that it becomes unrecognizable from the original saying? When this happens in congregations, how many of us ask, "How much longer will I be with you and endure you?" How often do we "do it myself" so that it gets done the right way, after others have screwed it up?

Would it be fair to have Jesus think or say: "If only they would have listened to me...!"? -- which returns us to the heavenly command of the transfiguration story.

The result of this miracle is not faith but "amazement" or, more literally "to be frightened out of one's senses" (ekplessomai) at the majesty of God. Is this a good response or not? Does it indicate that "this generation" needs a miraculous sign before they will respond to God?

Similar to the cloud interrupting Peter's speech in v. 34; Jesus interrupts their "amazement" (thaumazo) in v. 43b by talking about his upcoming betrayal. The "majesty" of God is not in the healing of a boy, but in the betrayal of Jesus. We can understand majesty in a miracle -- or in the glow on the mountain; it's the divine majesty revealed in the betrayal, suffering, death, and eventual resurrection that is incomprehensible to us -- when the powerful becomes powerless.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901