(Jesus Predicts His Death)
1 Jesus went on to say, "I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God arrive in great power!"
2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus' appearance was transformed, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 4 Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus.
5 Peter exclaimed, "Rabbi, it's wonderful for us to be here! Let's make three shelters as memorials - one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 6 He said this because he didn't really know what else to say, for they were all terrified.
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him." 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus with them.
9 As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept it to themselves, but they often asked each other what he meant by "rising from the dead."
11 Then they asked him, "Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?"
12 Jesus responded, "Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready. Yet why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be treated with utter contempt? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they chose to abuse him, just as the Scriptures predicted."
Having predicted that some of his disciples would see "'the Kingdom of God arrive in great power'" (Mark 9:1), Jesus takes the inner circle of Peter, James, and John to a mountain and reveals his glory to them. Moses and Elijah appear. As usual, Peter speaks up and says the wrong thing. God commands the disciples to listen to his Son, Jesus. Jesus instructs the three disciples not to say anything about what they've just witnessed until he (Jesus) comes back to life. They then question Jesus concerning Elijah, who was to be the forerunner to the Messiah.
The kingdom ... in great power (Mark 9:1)
Jesus spoke of his disciples "see[ing] the kingdom of God after it has come with power" (Mark 9:1, NASB). As God's rule or reign, the kingdom was the central focus of Jesus' message and mission. There are a number of ways in which the power of God's kingdom was demonstrated in and through Christ, including:
his casting out demons (Luke 11:20)
his promised future return (Mark 13:26; 14:26)
"the coming of the Holy Spirit on the great Day of Pentecost,"748 when the disciples were empowered to carry out the Great Commission (Acts 1:8)
the Transfiguration, which "offers the most dramatic proof that the kingdom had indeed come in the preaching and ministry of Jesus"749
Thus "Jesus' point was that his listeners would not have to wait for another, future Messiah because the kingdom was among them, and it would soon come in power."750
Transformed (Mark 9:2)
Mark records that as Peter, James, and John looked on, Jesus was "transformed" ("transfigured" NASB; Greek metamorphoo), a term meaning "to take on a different physical form or appearance."751 This is the same idea expressed in our English word metamorphosis: "a striking alteration in appearance, character, or circumstances."752 Jesus' transfiguration was a "wonderful visual revelation of his divine glory,"753 "a substantial prefiguring of the consummation of the kingdom,"754 "a striking preview and guarantee of His future coming in glory"755 (see John 1:14; 2 Peter 1:16-19). During his transfiguration, "the whole body of Jesus was allowed to shine with the light and refulgence [ = "a radiant or resplendent quality or state"756] of its heavenly divinity. Jesus now shines thus in heaven forever. From his conception onward he was the very Son of God, and here on the mount his divine glory was for a little while permitted to shine out through his body."757
Just prior to his transfiguration, Jesus had been instructing his disciples concerning the mistreatment and death awaiting him in Jerusalem. He also predicted a similar fate for anyone wanting to follow him. The transfiguration was "a heavenly endorsement" of Jesus,758 "God's divine affirmation of everything Jesus had done and was about to do. ... The Transfiguration clearly revealed not only that [the disciples] were correct in believing Jesus to be the Messiah (Mark 8:29), but that their commitment was well placed and their eternity was secure. Jesus was truly the Messiah, the divine Son of God."759 It also offered testimony to the fact that "[f]uture glory would follow present suffering for Him and [his disciples]."760 Thus: 1) "God's seal of approval comes on the heals of Jesus' commitment to the way of the cross"761; 2) the disciples are told to remain silent concerning Jesus' transfiguration until after the public display of his victorious resurrection power; and 3) the same word used to describe Jesus' change in appearance (metamorphoo) is used elsewhere in the NT to describe the process of becoming more Christlike in our attitudes and actions (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Regarding this third point, we should note that metamorphoo refers to "an outward change that comes from within,"762 a change in "the essential form or nature of something."763 ("Dazzling white" [v.3] "suggests supreme glory, purity, and holiness."764 ) In regards to the transformation that is to characterize the Christian, it means nothing less than "a radical, thorough, and universal change, both outward and inward."765
Moses and Elijah (Mark 9:4)
The Bible of Jesus' day - our OT - was commonly divided into the Law and the Prophets.766 At Jesus' transfiguration Moses appeared as a representative of the Law, and Elijah appeared as a representative of the Prophets767 - "both of which Christ had come to fulfill."768 "Their appearance showed Jesus as the fulfillment of both the Old Testament law and the prophetic promises."769 (Jewish rabbis drew many comparisons between Moses and Elijah, including seeing Moses as the first major prophet of Israel and Elijah the last.770) It is also possible to understand Moses as representing "the prophetic office (Acts 3:18-22)" and Elijah as picturing "the presence of the last days (Malachi 4:5-6)."771 "These two figures were both expected to return in some sense before the time of the end,"772 and they are mentioned together at the close of the OT, where it is foretold that Elijah will arrive ahead of the Messiah to prepare the way for him by "call[ing] the people back to the law of Moses" (see Malachi 4:1-6).773 ("Malachi 4:4-6 forms a kind of double appendix to the book. The appeal to Moses looks back to remind the nation that it is still under the law, thus linking the prophets to the ancient tradition, and the reference to Elijah, by looking forward, anticipates Yahweh's future return. ... [It is certain that Yahweh will come.] The only question is Israel's fate when he does, and that depends entirely on their response to Elijah."774) Both Moses and Elijah had received God's instructions on a mountain, and both of them had seen theophonies (= "any direct, visual manifestation of the presence of God"775) (Exodus 24:12-18; 1 Kings 19:8-18).776
There are a number of parallels between Moses's experience at Mt. Sinai and Jesus' transfiguration:
"Six days" - Exodus 24:16; Mark 9:2
The cloud - Exodus 24:16; Mark 9:7
God's voice - Exodus 24:16; Mark 9:7
Three companions - Exodus 24:1, 9; Mark 9:2
Transformation (Matthew and Luke specifically mention Jesus' face.) - Exodus 34:30; Mark 9:3
Fear - Exodus 34:30; Mark 9:6
A perverse generation - Exodus 32:20; Mark 9:19 777
Three shelters (Mark 9:5)
Peter's offer to make "three shelters as memorials" ("tabernacles" NASB) recalls the Feast of Booths/Tabernacles,778 established to commemorate the Exodus but "also understood by many as looking ahead to the glorious day of Israel's deliverance."779 Peter was ecstatic at the sight of Jesus' transfiguration - and rightly so. However, his offer to "make three shrines" reflects his desire for that "mountaintop experience" to continue.780 "Peter had forgotten (or was hoping to put aside) Jesus' words that suffering and death would come before glory. Peter saw the fulfillment of Christ's glory for a moment. He wanted the experience to continue, so he tried to capture it without going through Christ's suffering."781
A cloud (Mark 9:7)
During the transfiguration God's voice was heard from a cloud commanding the disciples to listen - meaning "be obedient"782 - to Jesus, God's Word incarnate (see John 1:1). "This was not a vapor cloud, but was, in fact, the glory of God. This was the cloud that had guided Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 13:21), that had appeared to the people in the desert (Exodus 16:10; 24:15-18; 34:5; 40:34-38), that had appeared to Moses (Exodus 19:9), and that had filled the temple with the glory of the Lord (1 Kings 8:10).
Peter's limited understanding was challenged by God's "unqualified endorsement" of Jesus.783 Jesus was/is greater than Moses and Elijah, and he is to be listened to (and obeyed). Moses had said: " ... 'The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him'" (Deuteronomy 18:15), and now that prophet (= Jesus) had come. The sudden disappearance of Moses and Elijah is both a literal and symbolic reminder that "[t]he time of Moses and Elijah is over. It is time to heed the words of Jesus."784 As one source puts it: "Their work was done and they were superseded. Jesus, not Moses or Elijah, is now God's authorized Ruler and Spokesman."785
"U.S. editor, publisher, and author"786 Elbert Hubbard once wisely observed: "Complete success alienates a man from his fellows, but suffering makes kinsmen of us all."787
Like all of us, Peter preferred "the mountaintop of transfiguration" over "the flatland of common experience," "a reassuring experience of God's presence" over "a frightening experience of evil."788 Here it is vitally important to remember two things: 1) the flatland where we encounter evil is home to countless people in dire need of the Gospel message that only we, as Jesus' followers, can offer them; and 2) we are never truly alone, since Jesus is always with us via God's holy Word and God's Holy Spirit. "As our spiritual vision improves and allows us to see and understand God better, we will also be able to see and understand evil better. We would be overcome by its horror if we did not have Jesus with us to take us through it safely."789 What's more, we are called not merely to endure evil and suffering, but to confront them with the power of the Gospel.790 "Christians today need to worship and pray, but they must also go out into the needy world to serve, work, confront, and intercept Satan just as Jesus did."791
We might also wish to note how "Peter mistakenly made all three men equal. He had missed Jesus' true identity as God himself."792 While certainly we are to respect Christian leaders, we must be diligent to guard against the ever-present danger of putting them on a pedestal and begin interpreting God's Word (the Bible) through their teaching rather than vice versa. We should be especially cautious - as in, "Shields up!" - when it comes to any leader who claims it is God's will that we be completely free of all suffering and hardship in this life.
??? What can this passage teach us about our common human tendency to choose ease and comfort over hardship and pain?