An Exposition of Mark 9:1-13
Prior to the presidential election in 2016, psychologists were sounding the alarm that the pre-election stress seemed to be at an all-time high. At least, in recent memory, members of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and Independents were all stressed out about the potential outcome of the November election. There was anxiety, there was concern about which direction the country was headed.
Ultimately, whichever candidate won, there would be millions of people who were dismayed. True to expectation that not only happened, but psychologists, particularly in areas where Hillary Clinton was significantly favored, reported a huge spike in post-election stress. Psychology Today even asked the question as to whether or not there ought to be an official disorder known as Post Election Stress Disorder.
And while most experts would challenge such a notion, citing this as a normal part of life, the symptoms were significant. Dr. Ellen Slawsby a director at the Massachusetts General Hospital who has been practicing for 20 years in these areas said the this is more significant that people’s responses after 9/11. She says:
Things like GI symptoms have escalated in some of my clients. Sleep disruption, shortness of breath, palpitations at times…
What the article fails to address though, is the underlying issue as to why political uncertainty and political defeat is so disturbing. The truth is that for many people, their entire sense of well-being, of safety, of comfort, is to live a society that where their view prevails. And it isn’t as if we can’t relate to this as Christians. I like it when people agree with me and see things from my viewpoint.
But some voters, watching the presidential election was unraveling. It was a huge loss of influence and control. It was contrary to their values and hopes and dreams. It was shattering their expectations for what the future might hold. In a word, it was devastating.
And that emotional devastation is the exact mental state of the disciples right now. They are suffering from acute post Messianic mission clarification let down. For almost two years, they have followed Jesus, believing that they are on the campaign trail with the future ruler of the nation. They are believing that their party so-to-speak is about to come to power. They have expectations as to all of the changes that are going to be made that will put society back on the right track.
And then, like a November 4th election night loss, they find out the news. This Christ isn’t about to ascend to receive a crown, but a cross. Instead of worship and adulation he will get rejection and abuse. Instead of power and glory he will get weakness and humiliation.
Your candidate just lost by a landslide. And you lost your majority in the Senate, and the House, and a couple of Supreme Court Nominations. And so that sets the psychological state of the disciples right now as we enter into the events recorded in Mark 9:1-13.
This morning we come to the record of the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ. To put it in plain language, it is the account of Jesus, momentarily stripping off the earthly veil, which covered his heavenly glory for the encouragement and empowerment of his choice disciples.
That’s the point.
These men are literally reeling from dashed expectations. Their hearts are heavy with sorrow. They are in the spot where when you wake up in the morning you have a bad feeling, and you lay in bed for a few minutes and then you remember why you feel so sad.
It’s time for some divine encouragement. And as a result, this passage is a treat for us. Because it came in the midst of devastation to provide encouragement, and it will do the same thing for our hearts today if we hear it and believe.
The transfiguration is a foretaste of the glory to come. See, in our salvation we look back to what Jesus did previously on the cross, and then we look forward with anticipation to what he will do in the future in the clouds when He returns. The transfiguration says, “here’s a glimpse of the moment you’ve all been waiting for.”
By way of comparison, it functions as a movie trailer. It whets the appetite by giving a little glimpse of what can be excepted in the full-length motion picture. By design it isn’t satisfying. No one says that was an awesome trailer, it was so good I don’t even need to see the movie. Quite the opposite. It builds anticipation and expectation.
For 30 years Jesus has kept his glory hidden, and now for one afternoon it is going to be marvelously revealed. 30 years of seeing Jesus with eyes of faith, and for a number of minutes they will see him as he really is.
When God reveals himself in a visible appearance it is called a theophany. An appearing of God. And so, here we have a theophany.
Seeing a theophany always brought about a new source of strength and empowerment—
- Abraham and the vision of God and the covenant where God passed through the animal carcasses
- Jacob wrestles with God at Bethel
- Moses sees the burning bush
- Isaiah sees the pre-incarnate Son of God high and lifted up and the train of his robe filling the temple with glory
Rare and impacting, it is now the turn of Peter, James and John. What they witnessed this afternoon left an indelible imprint on their lives. In case you are wondering the origin of expressions such as a mountaintop experience with God, here it is.
2 Scenes as Jesus Unveils His Majestic Glory to His Privileged Witnesses
- A trip up the mountain to disclose the splendor of his majesty (1-8)
The first point will take the bulk of our time in vv. 1-8 seeing the transfiguration itself. Then 9-13 will be a brief summary toward the end.
- A trip down the mountain to discuss the significance of the moment (9-13)
- The situation (1-2a) exclusive gathering
(1) And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
Mark’s language here would seem to indicate that he is inserting this comment that Jesus made as a link between these two sections. In other words, Jesus said v. 1, but it wasn’t in the same conversation as v. 38, and as we will see it happens almost a week before the event that Mark connects it to.
Truly I say to you… listen up this is important and I’m giving it to you by way of oath. Right now within the sound of my voice are standing some who will not taste of death before they see my kingdom.
Some view this statement as a comfort and a balm, softening the challenging words that have just preceded them. My issue with that is that it only involves some. If I said, hey guys let’s take a trip to Mexico… some of you will die before we get there, but some of you will live to see it, that doesn’t exactly fill your heart with confidence. Which some are you in?
And tasting death is a Semitism which alludes not merely to death, but even a violent death. This isn’t passing with hospice and your loved ones around your bedside. It is the lonely humiliation of martyrdom as a criminal whose crime is professing allegiance to the Lord Jesus.
He has just set the agenda of suffering and rejection. Now Jesus says that certain individuals standing here right now will get a special view of the splendor of the kingdom.
So, what in the world did they think this meant? Of course, the immediate expectation would be a few of us will survive into the kingdom coming in its fullness. Victory in battles to regain our national territory. A new palace in Jerusalem. Peace and unity.
Challenging to determine exactly what Jesus is speaking of here when he says:
see the kingdom of God
For the sake of simplicity, I will boil it down to three main views:
- Jesus is speaking of the second coming, and that took place within the lifetime of these disciples (so He already came back, this is called preterism, derived from Latin meaning past).
- Jesus is speaking of the kingdom which will be see in power at his resurrection, at Pentecost, and the establishment and spread of the church.
- Jesus is speaking of the transfiguration that the disciples are about to witness.
- Option 1 is clearly not a viable option. John wrote Revelation after 70 AD, when Jesus would have needed to appear by, and we have no comment made about Jesus appearing. There are no historical records of this.
Many other chronological issues with this, but it is a misunderstanding of this passage and people want to protect the language of Jesus that He said those standing here won’t taste death. When Jesus says the kingdom in power they believe that must be the return of Jesus and nothing less would fulfill that language.
- Option 2 is viable. The strengths are that the resurrection and Pentecost both are associated with power. Judas never saw this power. So, the some of the disciples could apply to that. The biggest weakness here is that he doesn’t say most or many or all but one.
- Option 3 is my preference here. Mark puts the transfiguration here immediately after this statement, as does Matthew and Luke, which provides a strong correlation in all of their minds. I think it is the best connection. The main challenge here is that it seems a little unusual to say some of you are going to live to see an event I will show you a week from now.
Furthermore, Option 3, that Jesus is speaking of his transfiguration fits the larger context of where the disciples are at right now, and the importance of providing this event for them right now. Mark gives us a timestamp:
(2) Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves.
Luke says it was eight days. Just means that Luke is recording from the words in vv. 34-38, Mark from the statement in v. 1.
Jesus pulls three guys out to go on a hike. This high mountain is probably Mt. Hermon, which is 14 miles north of Caesarea, sitting at 9,200 feet. That’s roughly the same elevation as Broken Top or Mount Bachelor in Oregon. 2,000 feet lower than Mt. Hood. It would have been snow-crested.
Significance of high mountain? Jesus accomplishes important ministry on top of mountains. But more pointedly, the mountains were an important place where God and humans would meet.
- Moses met God on Sinai (Exodus 24)
- Elijah met God on Horeb (1 Kings 19)
And now, these privileged disciples get their own mountain-top theophany.
Perhaps you are asking yourself, why these three? Two reasons. First, these were the inner circle. They were the closest men whom Jesus spent the most focused time pouring in to. You have limited time, you need to invest it wisely.
But there is another reason. These men were going to serve as witnesses to the glory they saw. Something amazing about God is that he normally confines himself to rules. God established the standard for the burden of proof.
Deuteronomy 19:15—… on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.
And so now he has three men with him to witness his glory.
Side note. Sometimes there is important truth to glean from that which isn’t recorded I the text. You realize there was a real human dynamic here. Nine men were left out.
Ever think of Andrew in these dynamics? I’m sure that he had to wrestle with being left out of the inner circle while his brother went on ahead. It was an opportunity to worship Christ by submitting joyfully to the station God called him to.
Jesus takes some and leaves the rest. And Luke records they are praying. Actually Jesus is praying and the disciples are sleeping (Luke 9:28, 32). While Jesus is praying he is transfigured.
- The situation (1-2a)
- The transformation (2b-4) glory
(2b) And He was transfigured before them; 3 and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.
Talk about an economy of words. We get one verb describing what Jesus underwent. It’s about as minimalistic as you can get. He was transfigured. μεταμορφόω meta—change, morphoo—form. He looked different.
Romans 12:2—we are transformed (changed) by the renewing of our mind in the truth, and we are transformed 2 Corinthians 3:18 as we gaze at the glory of Christ.
His face shone like the sun (Matthew 17:2, Luke 9:29). God is always associated with light. We won’t need the sun in heaven because He will shine so brightly. His glory has been veiled while on earth, but He will be revealed in all His splendor as He is in this moment. Angels must cover their eyes because they can’t behold the sight.
Clothes that went through the wash using hot water and the optical brighteners of OxyClean couldn’t touch this. Modern laundry uses optical brighteners to coat the fibers of fabrics and make them appear brighter. Not even close to this light.
Nothing changed about Jesus in his nature. Like the prince dressed as a pauper in Twain’s fictional account, wearing rags didn’t change Prince Edward’s identity, it merely veiled it. And so, it is here.
Edward accidently took the place of a pauper, intending merely to experience wearing the clothes, not adopting the position. But Jesus knew what he was leaving behind, and yet he gave it up to please the Father and to purchase you and me.
Can we pause here for a minute and consider this?
Suddenly so many passages come into sharp relief. He left glory. He left light and unending angelic worship. He left fellowship with the Father…
Philippians 2:7–8—7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And now his temptation by Satan is all the more meaningful. Listen freshly to the words recorded by Matthew in chapter 4…
Matthew 4:8—Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;
Jesus deserves glory. Jesus has glory. And he has set it aside and the temptation is to gain it back quickly and cheaply without carrying out the Father’s plan. Jesus’ own words penetrated my heart this week as I considered freshly the words of his high-priestly prayer in John 17.
Jesus is vulnerable, he is crying out the Father right before Calvary, and part of his request?
John 17:5—Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
I want the glory back. It isn’t selfish ambition. It is rightly his. And as he nears the end of his mission he says humbly—I’m ready for things to go back to the way they were before.
Boy I’ll tell you what—that has a way of humbling our pride. The pettiness of not admitting your failure, asking for forgiveness, being corrected, giving up your preferences—all the many manifestations of self-oriented pride we cling to.
Jesus has endured rejection and set aside his glory for 30 years. My friends it was not without cost. We think of…
Matthew 27:46—About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”
That was surely the peak of suffering, but humility marked the path all the way to that moment. And then suddenly next to Jesus are two others:
(4) Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus.
I wonder if there was a greeting—Hey, it’s good to see you again. It’s been like 30 years. A little sanctified imagination here. I think I would be saying, we’ve missed you Lord. It’s good to be with you again. Heaven’s just not quite been the same since you left.
Moses was the representative of the old covenant. He was the prophet of whom a greater Moses was expected to come one day. Elijah was present at the coming of the Lord and was a great prophet.
They are testifying to Jesus before Peter, James and John who will later testify concerning this event.
- The situation (1-2a)
- The transformation (2b-4)
- The conversation (5-8) Peter/God talk
So, Peter doesn’t know what to say. He’s feeling scared. Good rule of thumb is to keep your mouth shut if you don’t know what to say. But that isn’t Peter’s style.
(5) Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified.
They became terrified the text says. Why? Well as John MacArthur describes this moment:
They have just experienced something that filled them with holy terror, they fell over in a sort of a semi-coma that knocked them flat to the ground, the way the Apostle Paul was knocked flat when he saw the glorified Christ, the way Ezekiel fell, the way Isaiah fell, the way John fell in Revelation 1, under the overwhelming presence of God, or the Lord. They had been stunned in holy terror… They saw the Shekinah appear and the voice of God come out of it. They saw a glorified Moses and Elijah representing the Law and the Prophets, giving testimony to Christ as Messiah. They saw Christ in full blazing glory.
And so, Peter starts talking. I love the detail here. I just can’t help but crack up. I resonate with Peter.
Sometimes you just over speak. You’ve made your point, everyone gets it, and yet you feel compelled to over explain. He says let’s make three tents. In case you guys don’t know why I’m saying three, not more me and James and John, but one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah.
People give Peter a hard time, but this isn’t coming from a foolish fisherman, but a devout disciple. Peter is a pious Jew and the hope of Israel is that God would tabernacle with his people again.
His humble request is, can we set up the tabernacle for you guys? Peter is caught up in the moment. I’m liking what I’m experiencing right now. His misunderstanding is that Jesus himself is dwelling among us as a tabernacle… then in human form, now by his Spirit.
Peter is caught up by the glory of Christ and He never wants to leave it. I can so appreciate this. Friends, this is to be our heart’s cry. Remember the words of the apostle Paul—Look, if it were up to me right now, honestly I’d rather hang it up and go be with Christ, but I need to remain here to carry out the purposes he left me here for.
It wasn’t so that Paul could experience and savor the earthly pleasures on his bucket list before departing.
Do have moments of your day or your week where your heart is so caught up in the adoration of Christ that you forget this life for a few minutes. Perhaps it is contemplating the greatness of God, or reflecting upon his kindnesses to you, or singing praises to his name? Your heart is gripped by the reality of God, and you have a glimpse of how much greater He is than anything else you could set your hope upon?
Sure, Peter is out of turn right now as we will see. And yes, he wants the glory now without the suffering. But can you blame him? He sees Jesus glorified and is saying, this is what I want.
Well suddenly there was a shift and things went from light to dark.
(7) Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!”
Then a cloud formed. The cloud symbolizes the presence and protection of God throughout Exodus. Now the Father speaks and affirms his son.
His only begotten (completely unique, one-of-a-kind) Son.
The Father has already affirmed the Son in this way once before at the inauguration of the ministry of Jesus at his baptism by John in the Jordan River. But none of these guys were around yet. The baptism and affirmation was pre-Peter, pre-James, pre-John. They had never seen or heard anything like this.
In fact, this was probably the greatest thing any of them had ever witnessed. The closest thing to this would have been that memorable night in which Jesus walked on the water appearing as a ghost.
Be quiet, and hang onto his words. The Father’s affirmation of the Son.
(8) All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone.
And as quickly as it started it was over. Field trip is over guys. Time to get back on the bus and head home. Must have been a strange moment. A bit disorienting to say the least. I like to talk, but I imagine in that moment you would want to just soak in the moment in silence for a bit.
- A trip down the mountain to discuss the significance of the moment (9-13)
- A trip down the mountain to discuss the significance of this moment (9-13)
- The caution (9) don’t tell
(9) As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead.
You’re on the descent part of the hike. And Jesus for what feels like the thousandth time says, don’t tell anyone what you’ve seen. Specifically, don’t relate it. You can’t talk about it amongst yourselves, but don’t spread it.
This one would be so difficult. It is a temporary gag order, which will be lifted in a year with the Son of Man is raised from the dead.
Luke 9:36 affirms that they didn’t go talk to anyone else what they had seen. It was good that they had each other to talk to about it.
If word got out as to what they’d seen it would generate greater hype, greater buzz, greater crowds, but it would work counter to the plan. Right now, if this got out it would be the first century, Jewish equivalent of the health, wealth and prosperity gospel. Jesus wants his glory to be revealed in conjunction with the humiliation of the cross. They go together.
And if you doubt that was the issue, Mark tells us that James and John would remember this moment. We will find them discussing it in Mark 10, and it results in them asking who will have a better seat next to him they asked in Your Glory (10:37).
Their sinful hearts began to daydream about their own personal greatness that would come as a result of this glory. For now though they are confused.
- The caution (9)
- The confusion (10-11) death and Elijah?
(10) They seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead meant.
Interesting that in 8:31 Jesus was saying the same thing, but it wasn’t penetrating their hearts at that moment. Here now the cling to it, the seize upon it.
It’s like when a little one becomes fixated on something and can’t stop thinking about it. You drive by a bad car accident or a burned down building and you are getting questions about it for days. Why? Because it awakens something emotional and powerful. Jesus rising from the dead.
What do you think that means? They are probably viewing the succession of events as being death, resurrection and then quickly the kingdom glory. You remember in Acts 1:6 a few weeks after the resurrection. Is it now? Are you restoring the kingdom now?
(11) They asked Him, saying, “Why is it that the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
Good question. Good theology. We looked at this when we were in Mark 1, but it’s worth revisiting.
The scribes said Elijah must come first because they knew the Scriptures. The had studied what Malachi had written. Before the day of the Lord, in 3:1—
Malachi 3:1—“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts.
Kings had forerunners—heralds would come and announce their arrival. “Make way for the king… make way for the king…” Malachi said there is going to be a forerunner to come before the Lord of hosts to prepare the way.
And then the identification of this messenger gets more specific…
Malachi 4:5–6—5 “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6 “He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”
The confusion as we have said had to do with the clarity that there were going to be two comings of the Christ. And so, Malachi is saying that when the day of the Lord comes, when Jesus comes in judgment (this is the second coming) Elijah will come first.
- The caution (9)
- The confusion (10-11)
- The clarification (12-13) Elijah’s come
(12) And He said to them, “Elijah does first come and restore all things. And yet how is it written of the Son of Man that He will suffer many things and be treated with contempt?
We see from Jesus response that there was a question behind the question the disciples were asking. The significance was that in their minds Elijah comes and makes it all better—he is the restorer, and meanwhile Jesus is still talking about this suffering and death stuff.
Jesus is asking them if they can see the coming suffering and contempt. And then while Jesus is at it, he throws another prophecy on the table for them to consider.
(13) “But I say to you that Elijah has indeed come, and they did to him whatever they wished, just as it is written of him.”
When Zacharias, the father of the John the Baptist was given the rundown by Gabriel about what to expect concerning his son before he was born, the angel said in
Luke 1:17—It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, [quoting Malachi 4:6] and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Elijah is still coming before the day of the Lord. John was a preview of what is coming. John brought a ministry of repentance and restoration and preparation. John was asked straightforwardly by those who observed him—are you Elijah? John 1:21. What was his answer? I am not! (my tonal inflection).
So how do these connect? Well you remember in school when you would find a question on one part of the test that would give you an answer to another part? It was like a freebee. Well sometimes we get a freebee from another part of Scripture.
Matthew bails us out on this difficult statement by providing a couple of details that Mark leaves out:
Matthew 17:12-13—but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.
He was the Elijah-like prophet. Elijah was rejected, but they didn’t kill him, God took him to heaven. John was pursued to death.
Before we close I want to draw your attention to a connection between this moment and Peter’s ministry. Turn with me to 2 Peter 1.
This will help us apply this text.
My dear friends the day is coming to see Jesus face to face, to know and be known in a way that you’ve never experienced before.
2 Peter 1:16–18—16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales 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, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
Let me give you confidence that we ourselves are bearing witness. We are testifying. And then what is his exhortation to the believers:
2 Peter 3:11–14—11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless,
Peter is calling the church to look to what is coming. Imagine it. Daydream about it. Talk about it in your home. Ponder it. Anticipate its arrival. Sing about it. Let your current practice be shaped by the coming reality.
2 Corinthians 4:18—while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
There is coming a day where all of creation from mankind to the animal kingdom will be crying out in unison:
Revelation 5:13—And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”
When We See Jesus as the songwriter states:
Though the Word of God is trampled on by foolish men though the wicked never stumble and abound in every place we will all be humbled when we see Your face .
All our sins will be behind us through the blood of Christ erased and we’ll taste Your kindness when we see Your face.
We will see, we will know, like we’ve never known before, we’ll be found, we’ll be home, we’ll be Yours forevermore.
When you see the glory that is to be revealed, based upon the glory that has been revealed your prayer is come, Lord Jesus come. You are loving his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). You are saying, your kingdom come.
Not come Lord after I get married, or after I finish decorating my house, or travel the world, or enjoy retirement, or see my grandchildren… rather there is nothing better than Jesus, and so I want Him to come so that I can be with him. Friends, I plead with you—don’t waste your life by spending it on this life. There is something so much greater and more compelling to live for.
In a short season will be eating and drinking with him around the table at the wedding feast. We will be changed and our bodies will be glorified and we will behold this glory.
This is the foretaste these privileged men saw on that day. It was what John meant when he would right, that we beheld his glory. That means we beheld his value. We saw his worth. We saw his compelling nature that is unrivaled compared to anything on the earth below.
Oh God, help us to fix our gaze securely on that glory that is to be revealed.
Where the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.