The transfiguration of Jesus demonstrated who He really is.

elijah gospel of mark jesus moses transfiguration

Some years ago, I was in attendance at the funeral of a pastor I had become friends with while serving in northeastern Pennsylvania.  I always enjoyed my conversations with him, and I found him to be rather pleasant and thoughtful.  He was a little on the quiet side though, as was his wife.  They were a joy to interact with, but they rarely talked about themselves and that sometimes made me feel like there was still much about them I didn’t know.  At his funeral, several pastors I was friends with spoke, as did one of the man’s sons, but I honestly wondered what they were going to say.

 Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt like there was a lot of mystery about our friend’s background because most of us were surprised by what was shared during the funeral service by people who knew him during the seasons of his life.  We heard stories about his heroic military service, his involvement in community organizations, hidden talents that he didn’t frequently reveal, and the great respect people had for him.  Even his son acknowledged how surprised he was to see the turnout for the service and the ways in which his father’s life impacted people in surprising ways.  I remember leaving that service with a realization that even though I was friends with this pastor, it sort of felt like I barely knew him.

 I wonder if that’s a fitting way to describe the nature of the relationship many people have with Jesus.  What do they assume about Him?  What do they actually know about Him?  If they took the time to get to know Him more deeply, what would they be surprised to discover?  What would He reveal about Himself to those who were closest to Him?  We see an example of what it looks like to make assumptions about Jesus, but then to see Him for who He really is when we look at Mark 9:1-13.

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.”  (Mark 9:2-4)

 Prior to the events of this passage, Jesus made a point to share details about what He was about to endure at the hands of the religious and governmental leaders.  Jesus spoke of His rejection and crucifixion.  He also told His disciples about the resurrection He would experience after those events occurred.  The disciples weren’t excited to hear these details, but now they were about to learn even more about Jesus - information that would bolster their faith and fill them with deeper-level confidence during some very testing days in the not-so-distant future.

 We’re told that Jesus took three disciples, Peter, James, and John up a high mountain.  These men seemed to serve as an inner circle of Christ’s followers and there were certain things He revealed to them before making the details known to others.  People debate which mountain this may have been.  Some suggest Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon, but no one knows for sure, so most writers simply refer to the place as the “Mount of Transfiguration.”

 While on the mountain, Jesus was changed or transfigured before them.  Peter, James, and John were given a glimpse of the eternal glory of Jesus.  He wasn’t merely a man, He was divine, and appearing with Him were Elijah and Moses, two men who were used mightily by God to serve the Jewish people in previous centuries.  Moses had lived about 1500 years earlier and Elijah ministered about 900 years prior to this event.  

 Before the New Testament was written, people would frequently refer to the Old Testament as “the Law and the Prophets.”  God used Moses to write down the books of the law, and Elijah was often considered the most prominent Old Testament prophet, so their presence seems to represent that era fittingly.  As they appeared, they began talking with Jesus, likely about His upcoming crucifixion and resurrection.

And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  (Mark 9:5-6)

I don’t know what you think your default reaction would be if you were allowed to witness an event like this, but I imagine you or I would be terrified.  In fact, that’s precisely how the disciples felt.  They didn’t know what to say or do, but Peter, being the kind of guy who always felt like he needed to react to whatever was going on around him, suggested that he make three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  That may seem like an odd suggestion, but he may have had in mind the booths that were used to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles when the Israelites dwelt in booths for seven days (Lev. 23:34-42). Peter may have been expressing the desire to stay where they were a little longer.  I also wonder if he was attempting to show honor and hospitality to these men whom he respected.

And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.  (Mark 9:7-8)

I find it interesting to see that as Peter was scrambling and talking in the midst of his terror, a cloud overshadowed them and a voice began speaking.  It was the voice of God the Father who said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”  The Father was inviting Peter to take a break from thinking he always had to have something to say.  He was also demonstrating that while the primary figures of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, had valuable things to say, their teaching was ultimately pointing to Jesus who is the fulfillment of “the Law and the Prophets.”  Jesus, the eternal Son of God was present and it was time to listen to what He came to say.

“And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.”  (Mark 9:9-10) 

I wonder what Peter, James, and John thought about Jesus at this point.  Up to this moment, they didn’t really seem to fully understand who He was and what His mission entailed.  But now they had seen His glory, yet for the time being, Jesus told them to keep that information to themselves.  After His resurrection, they would be free to speak about it, but for a little while, this wasn’t something they were permitted to reveal publicly.

 I also find it fascinating to read that they still struggled to understand what Jesus meant when He spoke about rising from the dead.  That revelation wasn’t clicking for them yet, but the day was coming when it would.

 Do you recall the days when some of these details didn’t yet make sense to you?  We’ve all had seasons when Christ’s divine nature wasn’t clear to us.  We’ve all experienced moments when we failed to realize that the most significant historical event in the history of mankind was the resurrection of Jesus.  Maybe you’re in the midst of one of those seasons right now.  If so, understand that you’re in good company because even Christ’s disciples who were part of His inner circle struggled to make sense of some of these things when the details were initially revealed to them.

And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”  (Mark 9:11-13)

 Having just seen Elijah, the disciples had a few theological questions for Jesus about him.  The scribes of the day taught that before the messiah came, Elijah would come first.  Jesus agreed, and in Matthew 11:13-14, Jesus explained that the Scriptures that referenced Elijah coming first were actually referring to John the Baptist who ministered in the spirit and power of Elijah.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers,”  (Malachi 4:5-6)

“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”  (Matthew 11:13-14)

 I can’t help but wonder if the prophecies about Elijah coming before the day of the Lord may have a dual fulfillment, one related to Christ’s first coming and another relating to His second coming.

 The book of Revelation speaks of two witnesses who will be granted authority to prophesy for 1,260 days during the Tribulation period that is yet to come.  One of the most popular theories as to their identity is that they may be Moses and Elijah.  Some also believe they may be Enoch and Elijah while others believe their identities are unknown, but this is what the Scripture tells us…

“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”  They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. (Rev. 12:3,6)

It may be that one of those witnesses who will minister during the Tribulation and before the second coming of Christ is Elijah, but at this point, we don’t know for sure.  It is interesting, however, to speculate about their identities.

 But one identity we don’t have to speculate about is Christ’s.  He revealed Himself to His apostles and He is making Himself known to us as well.  He desires that we not only know about Him but that we know Him in a relational sense as well.  And just as Peter, James, and John came to know Christ in the deepest sense after seeing who He really is and watching Him fulfill not only His promise to be crucified for the sins of man, but to defeat the power of death through His resurrection, so too can we know Him in this way.

 After Christ rose, these men were free to speak about Christ’s transfiguration openly.  Scripture records John and Peter’s words specifically, and there’s much we can learn from what they said…

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  (John 1:14)

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.  (2 Peter 1:16-18)

© John Stange, 2024


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