The Vision Atop the Mount
John A. Tvedtnes
D&C 63:21 speaks of a time “when the earth shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount; of which account the fulness ye have not yet received.” From this it seems that the apostles Peter, James, and John were shown the celestial world, which is what the earth is destined to become (D&C 88:25-26).[i] Yet this information is not found in the New Testament accounts of the events that occurred atop the mount of transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and his three chief apostles and the Savior was transfigured before them (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36; 2 Peter 1:16-19; cf. John 1:14).
In the Ethiopic version of the early Christian text Apocalypse of Peter 16-17, we read that when, on the mount of transfiguration, Peter offered to construct tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, Jesus opened the eyes of the apostles so they could see the heavenly tabernacle and they gazed into the second heaven, where Jesus conversed with the ancient prophets.[ii] From the LDS perspective, the second heaven would be the terrestrial kingdom, named after the earth, which is called terra in Latin.
The apostle John, who had accompanied his brother James and Peter atop the mount of transfiguration, later wrote of the heavenly temple and of the heavenly Jerusalem, which he saw in vision while he was on the island of Patmos (Revelation 3:12; 11:19; 14:15, 17; 15:5-6, 8; 16:1, 17). He also recorded that he had seen, in the same vision, the new heaven and the new earth to which the heavenly Jerusalem would descend in the last days (Revelation 21:1-3, 10). But he never indicates, in the gospel of John, that he had seen such a vision at the time of Christ’s transfiguration and, unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he did not describe the transfiguration itself.
The pseudepigraphic Revelation of John seems to conflate several New Testament accounts, including John’s vision on the island of Patmos (as recorded in the New Testament book of Revelation), the ascension of Christ, and the transfiguration of Christ. It begins by saying that “after the taking up of our Lord Jesus Christ, I John was alone upon Mount Tabor,” which is the traditional site of the transfiguration.[iii] In the vision, John saw the future of the earth, including the sounding of the trumpet that will make the earth shake at the time humans will be resurrected.[iv] As in Revelation 3:12; 21:2, 10, John sees the heavenly Jerusalem coming to earth.[v]
[i] A Gaelic (Irish) pseudepigraphon, The Vision of Adomnán 2, after noting that “the apostle Paul was raised up to the third heaven,” adds, “Moreover, on the day of the death of Mary, all the apostles were brought to see the pains and pitiable tortures of the wretched, when the Lord ordered the angels of sunset to open the earth before the apostles, so that they might see and contemplate hell with its many torments, as he himself had promised them long before his crucifixion. Máire Herbert and Martin McNamara, eds., Irish Biblical Apocrypha: Selected Texts in Translation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1989), 137.
[ii] J. K. Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 611; Wilhelm Schneemelcher, New Testament Apocrypha, transl. R. McL. Wilson (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992), 2:634-35.
[iii] Mt. Tabor rises from the Jezreel Valley not far from the Galilean city of Nazareth. According to Matthew 28:16-20, Jesus’ ascension took place at a mountain in Galilee, though Luke placed the event on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-12; cf. Luke 24:50, where the event takes place in Bethany, which is on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives).
[iv] Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., Anti-Nicene Fathers (reprint Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994), 8:583.
[v] Ibid., 8:584.