Dramatic events have continued to surround the life of Jesus. After Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus has taught His disciples that He would be rejected, suffer many things at the hands of the religious leaders, die, and be raised again in three days. Peter did not accept this view of the Messiah and rebuked Jesus for these words. Jesus, in turn, rebuked Peter and then taught what is required to be His disciple. In concluding that sermon, Jesus also preached that the kingdom of God would come with power. Further, Jesus said that some that were standing there would see the kingdom of God come. We noted in our last lesson that the signs of the kingdom coming with power were the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, which all the Jews saw, and the destruction of Jerusalem, which the whole world saw. Six days have now passed by since Jesus has preached this lesson to the multitudes and His disciples. One can imagine the silence and pondering that may have taken place in the minds of the apostles as they considered the teachings of Jesus. How could it be that the kingdom could come with power and yet Jesus says that He will be rejected, suffer, and die? Jesus has taught that He would establish a kingdom, but He was not going to fulfill the characteristics of a Messiah that the people longed for; nor would His kingdom be one that would be political. With these things in mind, we begin to read Mark 9:2.
Throughout the scriptures, we read of amazing things happening on mountains. Abraham was led to Mount Moriah to offer his son Isaac as a type of God and Christ. We are all familiar with Mount Sinai, as the children of Israel who were led by Moses came to the mountain that was burning and shaking. From Mount Sinai , God spoke the ten commandments to the people. Upon mount Gerizim the blessings of God were shouted for those who obey, while upon mount Ebal the curses of God for disobedience were shouted. On Mount Carmel, Elijah had his contest against the prophets of Baal, as God sent fire down from heaven consuming Elijah’s sacrifice proving the prophets of Baal to be false. One of the temptations of Christ took place on a very high mountain. Further, Jesus would go and pray on the mount of Olives, the very place of His betrayal and arrest. The prophecies of God’s kingdom have always been spoken of in terms of Mount Zion. Important events happen upon mountains in the scriptures.
In this section of text, we will see that this would be no exception. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John and led them to a high mountain. Traditionally, this mountain has been understood to be Mount Tabor, which lies south of Galilee. However, Mount Tabor only stands at 1900 feet, a lower elevation than the Mount of Olives. This description does not fit Mark’s statement about going to a high mountain. This has led others to believe that we are speaking about Mount Hermon, which is closer to the region that Jesus was in at the time. Mount Hermon rises up to 9200 feet and more likely fits the description of “a high mountain.” Caesarea Philippi, the last town we read Jesus preaching in, is right next to Mount Hermon. This causes me to believe that this is the mountain of the transfiguration, though we cannot say with any certainty.
It remains to me a curiosity as to why Jesus from time to time pulls Peter, James, and John aside for these great events. The last time Jesus pulled these three aside was in Mark 5:37 when Jesus went to heal Jairus’ daughter. Perhaps Jesus knew that these three would be monumental pillars after Jesus’ ascension in preaching the gospel. More likely, these three may have been the only ones up to this point who could handle seeing such miraculous events. Jesus previously protected His disciples when the crowds came to make Jesus a king by sending them back to the other side of the sea of Galilee. Perhaps only these three would be able to resist the urge to take Jesus to Jerusalem and make Him king. We do not know exactly why, but we again see that Jesus will use Peter, James, and John to witness something special.
While on the mountain, Jesus was transfigured before them. What does it mean when the writer says that He was transfigured? The Greek word is metamorphoo which is where we get our English word “metamorphosis.” The HCSB translates this word “transformed” which captures the idea. The word is not discussing a simple change, like a changing of clothing. Instead, the word refers to a complete transformation, such that the original is no longer the same anymore. We speak of caterpillars going through a transformation to become a butterfly. Peter, James, and John are witnessing a radical transformation from Jesus. In verse 3 we see that Jesus’ clothes became dazzling and extremely white. His clothes were so white, as no launderer on earth could whiten or bleach. What a fascinating image that Mark gives us in trying to describe how blindingly white Jesus’ clothes became. What exactly was happening? I believe the clue is in the word “transformed.” This word means that the inside changes the outside. To be conformed is to have the external things changing the inner person. To be transformed is to have the internal change the external. For a moment, it appears that Peter, James, and John were allowed to see, to some degree, the glory of Christ. The glory of God had been contained and housed inside that human body. Now that glory was being revealed on the top of the mountain. Further, if this were not dazzling enough, Elijah and Moses appear beside Jesus. The appearance of Moses and Elijah would carry great symbolism and significance to the Jewish people. Moses was the great lawgiver and Elijah was one of the first great prophets. Moses and Elijah represented to the people the Law and the Prophets, respectively. To see Moses and Elijah would have validated that Jesus is the one that was spoken of in the law and the prophets of the old covenant. This was another sign which indicated that Jesus was the fulfillment of all things that had been spoken of by Moses and the prophets. Moses and Elijah had become two witnesses who testified that Jesus is the Messiah. What a testimony this was!
In the middle of this scene, if you can imagine how stunned we would all be to witness these events, Peter has some things to say. First, Peter says that it is good for us to be here. The transformation had the intended effect upon Peter, James, and John. They understood the power of Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah and the implications this had upon Jesus. After arguing with Jesus that He could not suffer as the Messiah, they are given confidence and a reason for faith in Jesus. But Peter is not finished speaking. If it were myself, I think I would be content to remain quiet and see what was going to happen next. However, Peter also says, “Let us make three tabernacles, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” We ask immediately, “Why did Peter say that? What a crazy thing to say!” But verse 6 tells us that they were afraid and did not know what to say. They are so overwhelmed by the experience and terrified, that Peter, in searching for any words to come to his mouth, says to build some shelters so we can all stay awhile.
Then a cloud appears, overshadowing them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.” Again we are given a matter of symbolism with the use of the cloud. The Lord uses clouds to speak of His power and majesty. The Lord led the children of Israel through the wilderness with a pillar of cloud. When the tabernacle and temple were constructed, the cloud of the glory of the Lord filled the chambers of the tabernacle and the temple. Not only was Jesus the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, but now we see God Himself testifying to the person of Jesus. The Lord says that this is His beloved Son; listen to Him.
This ends the transfiguration experience. Peter, James, and John look around and they no longer see anyone except Jesus. We are left with the assumption that everything has changed back to the way it had been before they had climbed up this high mountain. Jesus then orders Peter, James, and John to not speak a word about this event to any person until after Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter records this event for us in 2 Peter 1:16-18. “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice, which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.” Peter says that they were eyewitnesses of His majesty. They were able to see the glory of Jesus Christ revealed to them for a momentary time.
Questions of the disciples
As they are coming down the mountain, you can see that Peter, James, and John have some questions about all that they have seen. First, we see they begin discussing what this means about rising from the dead. This is the second time Jesus has said this within the last week. The disciples have not understood yet that Jesus would die and rise again. But seeing Moses and Elijah seems to recall some of prophecies in the Old Testament concerning Elijah. They ask Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” This seems to be an argument that the scribes were using against Jesus, saying that Elijah had not come yet, therefore Jesus could not be the Messiah. Malachi prophesied in Malachi 4:5 that Elijah would come before the great day of the Lord. Jesus had been preaching repentance because the day of the Lord was coming. So where is Elijah? Jesus validates that Elijah must come first. But their confusion was not merely chronological. The question refers back to how there can be glory and suffering together. Elijah was to restore all things (9:12). As Jesus poses for the disciples to consider, how is it that the Messiah will suffer many things though Elijah has prepared the way? Jesus shows that the scribes had misinterpreted these passages. Jesus first points out that Elijah had already come and he suffered for the message he brought in preparing the way. Further, implied in this text for the disciples to think about, is that Jesus was not coming to inaugurate a physical kingdom. If He had, it would not make sense for Him to suffer. This is what Jesus is implicitly teaching to Peter, James, and John. Since Jesus is going to suffer, and Elijah has already come who has suffered, the kingdom that is restoring all things must not be physical. We can see that Jesus left the teaching at that to allow those words to soak into His disciples.
Be transfigured now (Romans 12:2)
The word “transfigured” occurs only in two other places in the New Testament outside of this event. The first place we see the word is in Romans 12:2. Paul says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” There is a transfiguring, if you will, or transformation that is to occur within each of us. A transformation is not just a slight alteration or minor change. It is a radical overhaul such that the original is no longer seen, just like our caterpillar to butterfly illustration. The Lord has told us that we are to have a radical overhaul in our lives such that the old person of sin is no longer seen. Instead, we are to be a new creature in Jesus Christ. Too often we think of Christianity as just making some changes to our lives. We need to stop this, we need to do this better, and we think of following Christ as doing some minor touch-up work. But that is not what transformation is about. The Lord wants to see a new “you.” Anything resembling the old person is not a transformation. How can we go about this transformation?
See the glory of Jesus. We need to see Jesus for who He really is. He is not just a man. He was not just a good teacher who had some good rules to live by. We need to see Jesus with all of His glory transfigured on that mountain. The gospel of Mark has repeatedly tried to enable us to see the great power and majesty that Jesus possesses. Paul used this imagery in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 where he says, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For it the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Those who do not see the glory of Christ are blinded by the god of this world and are perishing. We cannot be looking to this world because it blinds us and conforms us to its image. We must be fixing our eyes on Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith. Any other focus will not lead to transformed lives.
Listen to Jesus. As the cloud descended upon the mountain and enveloped Peter, James, and John, God spoke that Jesus is His beloved Son. But then the Lord gave a command: “Listen to Him!” With our eyes fixed upon Jesus we must go forward by listening to His words. This does not mean that we have simply heard His message. Transformation will only come when we put His words into our hearts. The words are the power unto salvation and can transform any person. We must allow these words to sink into our minds so we can be new creatures. Have you heard Jesus today? Are His words transforming you? Or will we go home the same person that we were yesterday. The word of God is about transforming yourself. Stop applying it to everyone else. It was written to you as well so that it will change you. Listen to Him.
Be transfigured in the end (2 Corinthians 3:18)
When we are transformed from the old man of sin into the new creature in Christ, we are given the promise of one other transfiguration that will happen. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Do we see what is happening? When we see the glory of Jesus and listen to Him, we, too, are being transformed. Transformed into what? We are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. We were already made in the glorious image of God, according to Genesis 1:26. But when we are obedient to His commands we are in the process of being changed into the glory of the Lord. If you were to look up the word “glory” in your concordance you would see that it occurs about 352 times. While many times the scriptures speak of the glory of the Lord, the scriptures also speak of the glory we are to receive. 1 Peter 5:1, “…also a partaker in the glory that will be revealed.” 1 Peter 5:4, “…you will receive a crown of glory that does not fade away.” We are in the process of being changed to be like our Father. This change will be complete when He returns in glory to give glory to His children. For we will be changed, in the twinkling of an eye, when our corruptible puts on the glorious incorruptible (1 Cor. 15). Be transfigured now and you will be transfigured in the end into the glory of our Lord Jesus.