“Transfiguration is a special change in appearance and nature which is wrought upon a person. This divine transformation is from a lower to a higher state; it results in a more exalted, impressive, and glorious condition” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 803). Most reported transfigurations have happened to prophets or Christ as they talk with God, but latter-day revelation and experience show that this can also happen to ordinary faithful followers and even the earth.
Examples of Transfiguration
MosesAaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh to him” (Ex. 34: 29-30). Moses had to place a vail (veil) over his face so the people would come near enough to hear what he had to say. Apparently this light or glow on his face frightened them because they didn't understand its cause, showing that transfiguration isn't a common occurrence--or wasn't at that time or with that group of people.
Paul, known to describe himself in the third person, described his own transfiguration as thus: “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth). . . and heard unspeakable words, which is not lawful for man to utter” (2 Cor. 12: 1-2). While Paul doesn't use the word transfiguration, it's obvious from his words that this is what he experienced and that he considered it as a vision. Paul does not make clear what immediate purpose the vision served, but it's also clear that it was so he would have a sure testimony that he might strengthen and enlighten his brethren in the gospel.
Jesus was transfigured before his apostles, an event that greatly impressed them. “Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up unto an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them; and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was a white as the light” (Matt 17: 1-2). When Mose and Elias appeared to Jesus, “a bright cloud overshadowed them; [and] behold, a voice [came] out of the cloud, which said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5) When they left the mountain, “Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man.” So Jesus described what the apostles had seen (Moses, Elias, the cloud, the voice, and the transfiguration) as a vision. Since Christ is The Authority, transfiguration is, at least sometimes, a vision. Mark also said that Jesus “was transfigured before them” (9:2), but he described the transfiguration this way: “And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them” (9:3). A fuller was a person who whitened clothes with borax or a salt similar to (or the same as) modern baking soda. Mark reports Jesus charged “them that they should tell no man what things they had seen” (9:9), but doesn't describe the experience as a vision or say that Jesus had described it as a vision. His not describing transfiguration as a vision doesn't mean it wasn't, of course. Luke's account was that “the fashion of his [Jesus'] countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering” (9:29). Luke gives the additional information that this change happened while Jesus was praying. He reported, as did the others, the appearance of the dead prophets Moses and Elias, the cloud, and the voice. As for reporting the things which they had seen to people not present, Luke only said that “they kept it close, and told no man” (9:36).
Mormon Revelation of Moses' Transfiguration
Moses 1:11 in The Pearl of Great Price gives Moses' account of one time he was transfigured. “But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.” Moses' reference to spiritual eyes shows that he also saw God in vision and was transfigured during that process.
Mormon Revelation of Jesus' Transfiguration on the Mount
“This very important event [on the Mount of Transfiguration] in the New Testament occurred about a week after the promise made to Peter that he would receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16: 13-18).” (Bible Dictionary, p. 786). Verse 19 of Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Elder McConkie said, “It was on this occasion that Peter, James, and John 'were transfigured before' Christ, received from him and from Moses and Elias the keys of the kingdom” (Mormon Doctrine, p.803). So Christ's apostles also experienced transfiguration as they were in Christ's, Moses', and Elias' presence.
Book of Mormon Transfiguration
Christ explained to the people of His time that “other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” ( John 10:16). Latter-day revelation has revealed those “other sheep” as Israelites who were led to the American continent, some of who were ancestors of modern American Indians. Three of those Israelites, who by then were called Nephites, “were caught up unto heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things. . . . And whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell: for it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them, that they were changed from this body of flesh into an immortal state, that they could behold the things of God” (3 Ne 28: 13, 15) “And now, whether they were mortal or immortal, from the day of their transfiguration, I know not” (3 Ne 17). In this case, Mormons believe that apostles were transfigured from their mortal state to an immortal state and still wander the earth today. This type of transfiguration is, obviously, not a vision, but a literal change.
Mormons believe that death will be different in the Millennium. D&C 63:51 says, “Wherefore, children shall grow up until they become old; old men shall die; but they shall not sleep in the dust; but they shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye.” Mormons believe that this change of state from mortal to immortal is a special form of transfiguration that will replace death in the Millennium. This type of transfiguration is also not a vision.
Doctrine and Covenants 63: 20-21 says that “he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration will come; When the earth shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown to my apostles upon the mount; of which account of fullness ye have not yet received.” The new earth that John saw in Revelations 1:1 is one that's been transfigured to a Millennial or paradisaical state. After the Millennium, Mormons believe the earth will again be transfigured, this time to a Celestial state. This transfiguration is similar to what will happen to the faithful. It is also not a vision.
The most common kind of transfiguration today, glowing or shining, may happen during a vision or be a vision and may last awhile after the vision. While this transfiguration usually happens to prophets or divine beings, it isn't limited to them. However, the only others it happens to are worthy of divine companionship. This companionship is an implied cause of the glowing.
Another type of transfiguration is not a vision; it is a transformation from a mortal to an immortal condition. It may be a transitional stage or a final stage.
Things, as well as people, may be transfigured. Mormons believe that transfiguration is more than just change from one form to another, but being changed to a much improved form by God. This could be looked on as a physical conversion, much like a spiritual conversion is a change from a lower to a higher state.