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The TransfigurationMark 9:2-10
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
The Saviour transfigured
‘I wish I had been there’. Are there events in the Bible that make you wish you had been there? Maybe the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the Law at Sinai, David defeating Goliath, or in the New Testament, the birth of Jesus or the raising of Lazarus? One of the most striking episodes in the Gospels, and one which left a deep imprint on the memories of those who were there, was the transfiguration of Jesus – what would it have been like to be there?
In Mark 9:1 Jesus speaks about some people not tasting death before they see ‘the kingdom of God come with power’. Immediately afterwards three disciples accompany him to the top of a high mountain and there see something of the glory of the King and his kingdom. Let’s consider Mark 9:2-10 The Saviour transfigured.
1. His transformation
During the whole of his ministry on earth Jesus appeared to be just like any other man. He grew up from a child and lived a normal human life, sharing our human nature with the sole exception of sin. Although he was the Son of God, nevertheless, as Paul says, ‘he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men’ (Philippians 2:7). He veiled his divine glory for the period of his humiliation on earth. He never ceased for a moment, however, to be the perfect reflection of his Father. He was ‘the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being’ (Hebrews 1:3).
The eternal Word (John 1:1) came in servant form. On the mountain top, however, 3 disciples were privileged to see something of the radiance of the Son of God. On the mountain, away from the other disciples, the veil was partly drawn aside: ‘he was transfigured before them’ (v2). Each evangelist describes it in his own way. Mark says, ‘his clothes became dazzling white’ (v3), using the homely image of a bleacher. According to Luke, his clothes became ‘as bright as a flash of lightning’ (Luke 9:29). In Matthew’s account, ‘his face shone like the sun’ (Matthew 17:2). What the 3 disciples saw was almost beyond description.
The language used in the Gospels draws on the description of the ‘Ancient of Days’ in Daniel 7:9. It is the very glory of deity, an indication of Jesus’ true identity. Peter writes later that ‘we were eyewitnesses of his majesty’ (2 Peter 1:16). He is the eternal Son of God, sovereign and glorious. Here we have a foretaste of the glory to come at his resurrection and, ultimately, at the Last Day when he returns. The suffering and death of the Saviour should not blind us to his deity and glory. He is worthy of all of our worship and service.
2. His conversation
At the transfiguration, Jesus is not alone. As v4 tells us, ‘there appeared before them Elijah and Moses’. They represent the Prophets and the Law, summing up the whole of the Old Testament. Their presence at this crucial event is a visible token that what they spoke and wrote about is fulfilled in Jesus. They were permitted to appear with him and also they ‘were talking with Jesus’. Here is an indication of the reality and the closeness of the fellowship enjoyed in heaven, even before the final resurrection. That surely is encouraging knowledge for us to have.
What was the subject of their conversation? We are told in Luke 9:31 ‘They spoke about his departure which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem’. The focus is on Jesus’ death. Notice how it is described: it is (literally) ‘his exodus’. His leading the people of God out of the bondage of sin was foreshadowed in the bringing of Israel out of Egypt. In Jesus there is true liberation – as he says in John 8:36, ‘if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’. In him, God’s eternal plan of salvation is being brought to fulfilment. In his conversation with Elijah and Moses, there is a joyful anticipation of victory at the cross and the empty tomb.
3. His vindication
In v7 we are told ‘a cloud appeared and enveloped them’. It is a manifestation of the presence of God, as in the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites during the exodus. In it, God reveals himself yet at the same time veils himself. There is also a ‘voice’ (v7), again a reminder of the voice heard at the giving of the Law at Sinai (Exodus 24:16). The transfiguration recalls in so many ways God’s meeting with his people at Sinai, again at a mountain.
The voice of God speaks an authoritative word: ‘This is my Son whom I love’. The Father identifies with his Son, as he did at the beginning of his ministry, at his baptism (Mark 1:11). The words used signify ‘my only-beloved’. The unique eternal relationship between Father and Son has not been broken by the incarnation. The Father expresses his full approval and endorsement of the path that Jesus treads. The Son has successfully resisted all temptations to turn aside and he is now strengthened for his final walk to the cross. Thus the Saviour is given great encouragement by his Father at this vital moment. He will lay down his life for his people and will accomplish full salvation for them.
‘Listen to him’ is the Father’s command. Jesus is the authoritative Revealer and Redeemer. We must hear and obey him. The only proper response from us is to submit to his every word and trust in him for salvation.
4. His prohibition
It is no surprise that the 3 disciples are amazed, afraid and confused – who would not have been? As usual, Peter is the one who speaks, although ‘he did not know what to say’ (v6). He proposes putting up three shelters for Jesus, Elijah and Moses, perhaps to prolong this amazing experience. They have been the privileged recipients of a special revelation of the Lord’s glory and they are still struggling to grasp its significance. What does it tell them about Jesus’ identity and his mission? As yet they are not ready to put all the pieces together – only later, with the help of the Holy Spirit will they do so, and realise that he is the Messiah who has come to save.
If you have undergone some amazing experience, your first thought will probably be to tell someone else. The disciples’ natural reaction is certainly to try to tell others, probably beginning with the rest of the disciples. Jesus, however, ‘gave them orders not to tell anyone’ (v9). There is the danger of misunderstanding his true mission and raising expectations he will not fulfil. An end to the prohibition will come: ‘until the Son of Man had risen from the dead’. In the light of his completed atonement, the whole story can be told. We have the duty to proclaim the message of what Jesus has done to save sinners and how we have met with him in a life-changing way. We have seen his glory and look forward to the full revelation at his return.