The Transfiguration: Is There A Contradiction Between Matthew, Mark, And Luke?

The Transfiguration by Raphael, c. 1520

In the Gospels, Jesus told His disciples that some of them would not die before they saw Jesus coming into His future kingdom.

“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. 28 Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” ~Matthew 16:27-28

The next week after Jesus spoke these things, He took Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain and the Transfiguration took place.

Matthew and Mark state that it was six days later; Luke said it was eight days later. Is This a contradiction between these texts?

First, let’s examine the three accounts together at once:

The Transfiguration

(Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36)

Matthew

1 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; 2 and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make here three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them and said, “Arise, and do not be afraid.” 8 When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.” 10 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11 Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. 12 But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.

Mark

2 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. 4 And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— 6 because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid. 7 And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” 8 Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves. 9 Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant. 11 And they asked Him, saying, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 Then He answered and told them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him.”

Luke

28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. 33 Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” 36 When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.

At first glance, and to the untrained, this certainly appears to be a contradiction. What is not understood by a majority of people who read these texts, is that the Jews marked days differently from conventional time keeping. In the Jewish way of counting time, a day begins at 6pm, and goes for 24 hours to 6pm the following day.

6pm-6pm = day 1 then days 2-3-4-5-6, then the partial day till-6pm the day after.

Matthew and Mark use the simple six days between the 6pm-6pm; Luke is always more precise. He includes the partial days before, and after.

No contradiction, simply a matter of understanding the texts and the manner in which the Jewish culture of that day marked time.

Additional notes on these texts:

We learn in the Old Testament that Mount Sinai was the location where God revealed His glory to Moses. Jesus, in these texts, after He promises that “some standing here shall not die before they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom,” He waits six days to ascend to the mountain to make the same point of Exodus 24:16.

Jesus takes three of the “elders,” Peter, James, and John, an allusion to Exodus 24:1,9, where seventy elders are described. We don’t know if the seventy elders in Exodus were present when Moses saw the glory of God at that time. Perhaps they were nearby. The point of both the Moses account where He sees the glory of God on Mount Sinai, and the disciples seeing the glory of God as Christ in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, appears to be for the same reasons; a future look of a coming kingdom.

These men did see the coming kingdom of the Messiah, before they died, just as Jesus promised.

The Preterist view of these texts, in harmony with the events of the Book of Revelation, is that Jesus was predicting the soon fulfillment of all these events, while the disciples were still alive, taking place in 70 A.D. or thereafter.

In my verse by verse commentary of the Book of Revelation, I demonstrate how this view is flawed, and demonstrate that all of the prophetic texts of Revelation are future, and were not fulfilled earlier in history.

See “The Book of Revelation: Verse by Verse Commentary,” by Robert Clifton Robinson.