Mark 9—The Transfiguration
Imagine the scene as Jesus led His chosen disciples, Peter, James, and John up the slopes of the tallest mountain in the Middle East—Mount Hermon. Just days before, Jesus and His disciples had been in Caesarea Philippi where Jesus had His disciples confirm that they believed in Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God, and then Jesus began to teach them new and even more important doctrine about Himself. Jesus shocked them by saying that He must go to Jerusalem to be arrested, suffer, and be crucified. Naturally this jolted the disciples with the reality of the coming suffering and crucifixion of their Lord Jesus, and they argued with Him about it. The cross was totally out of sync with their own selfish expectations. Now Jesus was leading the inner circle of Peter, James, and John up to have God the Father identify Jesus again and also verify Jesus’ teaching. When Jesus reached His destination the disciples beheld Him transfigured before them and He was seen in His glorified state. In the history of the church, the Transfiguration was a pivotal moment when heaven met earth, and human nature met God with Jesus as the connecting point acting as the bridge between heaven and earth. This encounter on the mountain supported the revelation that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is the Word of God who must be listened to and believed in. The Transfiguration is also considered a preview of the resurrection. Concerning our own resurrection, we witness Moses and Elijah in their eternal state, which reminds us of Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection in Matthew 22:32, “God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living”. The presence of Moses and Elijah guarantees our own life after death as well. In Mark 9:2-13, the disciples were on top of the world with Jesus with the most spectacular view of heaven and earth ever beheld.
Mark 9:1-13, the Preview of the Glorified Christ
Mark 9:1 probably belongs with the previous section of ch.8 as it provides a reassuring conclusion to the idea of the coming judgment. Theologians have been puzzled for 2000 years over what Jesus meant by saying that some of them would not die until they saw or had a peek at the kingdom of God. Most likely He was referring to the Transfiguration where the three disciples saw the glorified Christ as He would be in the Kingdom. It was like a preview that would prove up everything Jesus had been teaching. Verse 1 also provides a good connection of the teaching in ch.8 to the Transfiguration. The Greek word we translate as the transfiguration is metamorphosed, meaning He was completely changed into a different form, not just a different appearance. For that brief period the veil of humanity was lifted, and Jesus’ true essence was allowed to shine through in all his glory. Moses and Elijah also appeared with Jesus and “they were talking with Jesus”. These Old Testament heroes represent the Law and the prophets, both of which anticipated Jesus and the Kingdom of God. Both men are presented in the O. T. as end time figures.
In Mark 9:5, the impetuous Peter interrupts these three heavenly figures to offer to build three temporary structures for them. Can you even imagine being in the presence of the glorified Christ speaking to Moses and Elijah and you interrupt them? They didn’t even answer him, but just spoke over him. What were Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus about? We find the answer in Luke’s account of Luke 9:31 that they were talking about Jesus’ death and departure which also confirmed Jesus’ earlier teaching about the cross that awaited Him. We can assume that since Zechariah 14:6 says that in the Kingdom they would celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, Peter was expecting the Kingdom at that moment, and so he was trying to make himself useful by “making three tabernacles”. At the same time, v.6 tells us the disciples’ state of mind—they were terrified.
Mark 9:7-8, and Then God Showed Up
Suddenly in the midst of the glory on the mountain, a great cloud formed overshadowing them, and God the Father spoke from the cloud saying “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him”. In this short but powerful message, God confirmed the identity of Jesus and His teaching on His death and resurrection. Notice that God clearly differentiates between Jesus and the prophets. As soon as God spoke the prophets were gone, and God’s words were directed solely to Jesus. “Listen to Him” was a clear reference to Jesus’ teaching on His coming suffering, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem. The Transfiguration was given to take away the sting of these announcements about Christ’s death and offer assurance of His ultimate vindication. From this point on, Jesus would set His sights and destination on Jerusalem. Therefore the Transfiguration was a bridge between Jesus’ ministry in Galilee and His passion in Jerusalem.
Clueless on Mount Hermon
Once again after an amazing event, the disciples were dumbfounded. On the way down, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after He rose from the dead. In v.10 they discussed what he could possibly be talking about rising from the dead. I think Jesus was restricting them at that time because they just didn’t get it yet, and He didn’t want them trying to interpret their wrong conclusions to everybody. They were struggling with working out the entire order of prophetic events since heretofore they had only focused on the setting up of the Kingdom. This was evident by the question they asked Jesus in Mark 9:11 about the prophecy of Elijah. This was based on Malachi 4:5-6 that Elijah would come before the Christ to restore all things. Therefore how can the Christ die and need to be resurrected? Jesus replied that both were true that Elijah will come, but first the Son of Man (Jesus) must suffer many things. Not only that but Elijah had already come. This sounded like a contradiction that “Elijah is coming, and has come”. In Luke 1:17, at the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, we read that John the Baptist would be “the forerunner in the spirit and power of Elijah”. This meant that John would be like Elijah as a prophet who would announce the Messiah, but Elijah himself will come back in the end times before the second coming of Christ. God’s plan called for the suffering and humiliation first and then Christ would be exalted.