Mark 9: 1 – 12 NLT
“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.”
Where were they as this amazing event took place? From the end of chapter 8, we know they were in the region of Caesarea Philippi. Steve Wilmhurst in his commentary, A Ransom for Many, says this about the location: “Caesarea Philippi is in the foothills of the Hermon range; it is reasonable to assume it is Mount Hermon that Jesus now climbs, along with the three who are his inner circle, Peter, James and John. The highest summit of Mount Hermon is over 9000 feet high and often has snow on it; so even if they don’t reach the top this is quite a hike. As they climb, they are no doubt wondering what Jesus wants to share with them. They don’t know what it is, but they do know that mountains are places where special things happen. They know that it’s on mountains, elevated as it were above and beyond the ordinary life of this world, that God has often met with and spoken to his people.”
We read about one of those events where a cloud covered a mountain while God spoke to Moses.
Exodus 24:12-18 (NLT)
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain. Stay there, and I will give you the tablets of stone on which I have inscribed the instructions and commands so you can teach the people.” 13 So Moses and his assistant Joshua set out, and Moses climbed up the mountain of God.
14 Moses told the elders, “Stay here and wait for us until we come back. Aaron and Hur are here with you. If anyone has a dispute while I am gone, consult with them.”
15 Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. 16 And the glory of
the LORD settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from inside the cloud. 17 To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the LORD appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. 18 Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”
Peter, James and John are overwhelmed by this experience. As usual, impetuous Peter is the one with something to say. I don’t know what he hoped would happen – would Moses and Elijah stay with them? The account says they were terrified, and really didn’t know what to say. But what they saw had an enormous impact on those three men who would become major leaders in the new church. It seems like God knew these men needed this glimpse of the future to take them through what would come next. Peter talks about this event in his epistle:
2 Peter 1:16-18 (NLT)
“For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17 when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” 18 We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.”
Mark tells us about the questions swirling through their heads when they came down from the mountain. What is Jesus talking about when he says he will rise from the dead? I don’t think that means they don’t know what those words actually meant; they are more perplexed about why he would rise from the dead. Does that mean he will die? How can that happen? They just saw Jesus in all his Messianic glory. To them, that must mean he has come to earth to set up his kingdom, so where does death come in? They are perplexed. They also wonder why Elijah hasn’t come yet as prophesied in Malachi 4: 5 – “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” Jesus explains to them that Elijah has already come, a verification of John the Baptist as the prophesied Elijah.
On the Mount of Transfiguration, we see Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Moses led the nation of Israel out of slavery into the freedom of their own country. Elijah foretold the coming of the Messiah, and he was present that day to be with Jesus. Jesus was the Messiah who had come to earth. What the disciples didn’t understand, was that his purpose was to free all people from sin and bring them into his family forever. They did believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but were confused about what that actually meant.
We need to remember that Israel was under the rule of the Roman Empire. It had been 400 years since the last prophet had spoken. They were consumed with the idea that the Messiah would free them from Rome, and make their country important again. Instead of Rome, Israel would be the head of a reigning empire. So, I’m not surprised at their confusion about what Jesus is talking about now. He has shown his power by healing, casting out demons, calming the seas – they are sure now that he is the Messiah. So why is he talking about suffering and death? I find it interesting that the prophecy in Isaiah was ignored. I don’t know what the priests and temple leaders thought those words were about. Obviously, they didn’t tie them to the Messiah.
We often get confused in our relationship with God too. We believe that Jesus died and rose again to deal with our sin. But then we worry about the things we’ve done wrong, and wonder if
God has truly forgiven us. We carry around the shame of our mistakes. We wonder if we can lose our salvation. What would happen if we died in some unforeseen event, and we hadn’t confessed our sin? We need to read our Bibles and get the whole picture too, and not be like the Jewish leaders who forgot about Isaiah. For example, in answer to the questions raised in this paragraph, the Bible says when we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for us, we belong to him.
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 38 – 39 NLT
In closing, I thought I’d include that passage in Isaiah that the Jewish leaders ignored. It’s a good one to read and think about.
Who has believed our message?
To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm?
2 My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot,
like a root in dry ground.
There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.
3 He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all.
7 He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
8 Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.
But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
9 He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.
10 But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.”
A Ransom for Many: The Gospel of Mark Simply Explained, Wilmhurst, Steve – Chapter 13 – Welwyn Commentary Series, Evangelical Press, 2011