The account in the synoptic gospels (Mark 9: 2–8; Matt. 17: 1–8; Luke 9: 28–36) of the supernatural transformation into glory of the appearance of Jesus. There is no mention of the event in the gospel of John, but there is a reference at 2 Pet. 1: 18. It has been held that the incident has been wrongly placed in the gospels in the ministry of Jesus, and that it was originally the account of a post-resurrection appearance. This, however, is unlikely; the form of the narrative is too different from that of the Easter narratives. It is possible to regard the event as a paranormal experience of luminosity, such as is recorded of some of the saints, which has been given an interpretation by the evangelists by means of the mention of Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the Prophets), who bear witness to Jesus; the cloud is a symbol for the divine presence (Exod. 33: 7–11). The glory of the Lord once settled on Mount Sinai (Exod. 24: 16) and the cloud covered it for six days. Mark says that Jesus took the three disciples up the mount ‘six days’ after the events of Caesarea Philippi, though Luke (9: 28) alters the date to ‘about eight days after’, possibly to make the theological point that the Transfiguration was a preview or anticipation of Christ's Resurrection glory—for ‘eight’ pointed to Sunday, the first (or eighth) day of the week.
Peter is recorded as thinking it would be appropriate to build three dwellings (or tents, booths), for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (Mark 9: 5)—a reference to the feast of Tabernacles when people lived as once the Israelites were believed to have done in the wilderness (Lev. 23: 42) and would do so again in the Messianic age. But Peter is rebuked for putting Jesus on a level with Moses and Elijah—‘this is my unique Son’ (Mark 9: 7).
The Transfiguration episode must therefore be understood against its OT background, especially with regard to Moses, whose face once shone with the reflected glory of God (Exod. 34: 29); on the mount Jesus' figure shone with its own glory, and his clothes were ‘dazzling white’ (Mark 9: 3).
The synoptic accounts of the Transfiguration (Matt. 9 etc.) with their imagery of light are accorded a greater liturgical significance in Eastern Orthodoxy than in the West. The human life of Jesus was not merely a revelation to the disciples but also a promise of what all believers are destined to enjoy. Eastern Orthodox theologians venture Irenaeus' word deification—signifying the ultimate religious union of the human person with God, meaning not that a human being might become a god, or part of a god, but that the divine image might be finally and fully manifested in a created being whose life had been lived in obedience to God.