The glorious event of Christ’s Transfiguration has been related in detail by St. Matthew (17:1-6), St. Mark (9:1-8), and St. Luke (9:28-36), while St. Peter (II Peter 1:16-18) and St. John (1:14), two of the privileged witnesses, make allusion to it. About a week after His sojourn in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them to a high mountain apart, where He was transfigured before their ravished eyes. St. Matthew and St. Mark express this phenomenon by the word metemorphothe [metamorphosis], which the English renders ‘transfiguration‘. The Synoptics explain the true meaning of the word by adding "his face did shine as the sun: and his garments became white as snow," according to the Latin Vulgate, or "as light," according to the Greek text.
This dazzling brightness which emanated from His whole Body was produced by an interior shining forth of His Divinity. False Judaism had rejected the Messiah, and now true Judaism, represented by Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, recognized and adored Him, while for the second time God the Father proclaimed Him His only-begotten and well-loved Son. By this glorious manifestation the Divine Master, who had just foretold His Passion to the Apostles (Mt 16:21), and who spoke with Moses and Elias of the trials which awaited Him at Jerusalem, strengthened the faith of his three friends and prepared them for the terrible struggle of which they were to be witnesses in Gethsemane, by giving them a foretaste of the glory and heavenly delights to which we attain by suffering. – The Catholic Encyclopedia
On His pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to go up to his death for our salvation, Our Lord strengthens the faith of His apostles by giving them a consolation and a foretaste of the good things to come. That this relates directly to Our Lord’s death we see from His command: “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.”
What is interesting about what the Apostles finally do tell us about the Transfiguration, after Jesus was indeed “risen from the dead” as He foretold, is that they use the Greek word “metemorphothe” to describe it. This from which, in the English, we hear “metamorphosis” [meta-, meta- [to go beyond]+ morphê, form.]. The dictionary defines metamorphosis as “a profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism…”. What our Lord is telling – or rather showing – His Apostles is that bodily, physical death is not an end in itself. Rather, physical death is but part of life; a part whereby the human person, because endowed with an immortal soul, will undergo a change to “become likened unto the angels in heaven” [Mt 22:30]. Is there any likeness in this world to this kind of metamorphosis? Certainly. People often us the image of the caterpillar and the butterfly to depict this kind of transformation of the Christian from death to new life in Christ.
When the caterpillar undergoes the metamorphosis into the butterfly it enters into a stage called the chrysalis or pupae, which encases the insect in a hardened shell so that over the developmental time the new butterfly can then emerge. What is interesting about metamorphosis is that the caterpillar does not just change a little. Rather the caterpillar undergoes such a transformation that its old body virtually liquefies! This means that the transmutation it undergoes is, not even merely radical, but is one that replaces roots and all to change what was before into an entirely new thing! Caterpillar and butterfly are defined as two entirely different things. We don’t call it a ‘cater-fly’ or a ‘butter-pillar’ because it is a totally new thing.
What this likeness to the butterfly does for the Christian is to help us understand the total difference that entering into eternity will make. This is because God must totally transform us to become something new. St. Paul says that the Christian becomes a “new creation” [II Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15]. St. John The Beloved does not even venture to say what we will be like, as it is so totally different from our life here on earth. He merely says: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall become has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him (God), for we shall see Him as He is [I Jn 3:2].” Again, St. Paul reminds his hearers “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him… [I Cor 2:9]”.
Finally, St. Peter speaks about a kind of liquefaction that will take place in this metamorphosis that the Christian – and indeed all creation – must undergo…
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells [II Peter 3:10]. Fr. T. Deutsch