He saved the best for last.
Raphael’s Transfiguration has long been considered one of the greatest paintings in history. Five centuries after its creation, this Renaissance masterpiece still impresses modern viewers as it hangs in the Pinacoteca Apostolica (Art Gallery) in the Vatican.
Its vibrant color, use of light (particularly the highlighting of Jesus), as well as the painting’s size of 15.2 feet by 9.2 feet, combine to make it unforgettable, enhancing its appeal and its prominence alongside works by other contemporary artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo.
The Italian Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino – Raphael for us – started this work in 1516, painting on wood, not on canvas, and was not finished when he died on Good Friday in 1520. Raphael’s assistant has applied the final touch.
The Transfiguration is actually two scenes in a single painting. The upper half depicts the transfiguration of Jesus on top of the mountain under the gaze of the disciples Peter, James and John. The lower half shows the remaining disciples of Jesus simultaneously at the foot of the mountain struggling with their inability to heal a demon-possessed boy.
Cardinal Giulio de Medici (who later became Pope Clement VII) commissioned the piece. While it was originally intended to be an altarpiece for Narbonne Cathedral in France, the cardinal loved it so much that he temporarily kept it himself before passing it on.
The painting took a circuitous route over the next few years. For more than 250 years it adorned the high altar of the Church of Saint Amedeo in San Pietro in Montorio in Rome. However, French troops removed it in 1797 and it was later installed in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Emperor Napoleon considered Raphael the greatest Italian artist and the Transfiguration his greatest work. It was returned to the Vatican in 1815.
Raphael’s Transfigured Christ, bathed in heavenly white and blue light and flanked by Elijah and Moses (with two kneeling holy martyrs watching from far left), floats in the transcendent glory of God. The three disciples cowering below are shocked and intimidated, just as the observers of the Transfiguration are still today.
Chapter 17 of Matthew of the New Testament gives details of this event in the life of Jesus. “Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and made them go up alone on a high mountain. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as the light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with him (Jesus)…behold, a shining cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have delight ; Listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.
The transfiguration was God the Father giving these three disciples a glimpse of the true glory of God the Son. Jesus was an eternal God, who took on a human body and became a man, Immanuel — “God with us.” Until now, the disciples knew Jesus as a companion of flesh and blood. However, during the transfiguration, Jesus figuratively peeled off his skin a little to reveal a glimpse of his divine glory locked within.
The three apostolic observers have never forgotten the wonder of this scene. Writing nearly 50 years later, the Apostle John said, “We have seen his glory, glory as the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. Peter wrote: “We have been eyewitnesses to his majesty.
As if the heavenly luminescence were not enough, Jesus spoke with Moses, the revered lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet. Both Moses and Elijah had been physically dead for centuries, but their spirits were alive and well and recognized the supremacy of Jesus.
But wait, there’s more! The voice of God rang out from Heaven, confirming exactly who Jesus was: the Son of God. Moses and Elijah were great men. However, they were only men, not divine, not from Heaven, and not sons of God. Almighty God never spoke of anyone other than Jesus of Heaven when he said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have delight; Listen to him.”
God gave us another miraculous reason why we should listen to Jesus. God raised him from the dead! If Jesus had been an impostor, an impostor or a liar stretching the truth, or simply ignorant and false about what he taught and affirmed, would God have glorified him, raised him from the dead and taken him to heaven?
With the other apostles standing beside him, the apostle Peter set the record straight in Acts 2:32-33a. “This Jesus whom God raised, and we are all witnesses to it. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God…”
The Transfiguration and Resurrection reveal the glory of Jesus and tell the story of who He was, is, and always will be.
Did you believe the voice of God? “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to him.”
Gregg Nydegger is the evangelist for Christ Church in Monticello.