Likewise, it must have been disorienting to then hear Jesus teach that He must suffer, must be rejected, and must be killed. When Peter balked at this news, he was soundly rebuked by Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Surely such a rebuke stung even after six days.
As if that wasn’t disheartening enough, Jesus wasn’t finished. He said, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” That did not seem especially pleasant (it still doesn’t today), but those are the conditions of discipleship for all who will follow Christ.
This was not unfolding according to their plan (although it was unfolding exactly according to the Father’s plan). This is not what the Apostles had expected. It was not at all in step with their Messianic expectation. They were discouraged, disoriented, and disheartened.
They needed to be encouraged, and Jesus was about to provide that encouragement. There are two sides to discipleship. We have already been introduced to one: sacrificial, self-denying, loyal obedience (Mark 8:34-38). In Mark 9:1-13 the Lord spectacularly reveals the second side of discipleship. The hard realities of serving Christ are here balanced with the gloriously positive realities of following the Lord.
The last section of chapter eight hints at this when we read, “Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” And even though there is a chapter break following verse 38, do not think that verse one of chapter 9 is a different discussion. While detailing the cost of discipleship, Jesus continues, in the same breath, to speak of His future kingdom and glory. Jesus never gives us more than we can handle, and the apostles were weighted down just now. So He says to them: “Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”
Yes, the follower of Christ, like his Lord, must suffer many things, be rejected, and maybe even killed, but, like his Lord, the follower of Christ must rise again! The life of discipleship ultimately looks forward to sharing in the glory of the Messiah!
Before moving on we need to understand that Jesus was not promising that some of the Twelve would not die when He declared “That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” Verses 2 – 10 make a clear connection between what Jesus said and what Peter, James, and John experienced. These leaders of leaders were the “some” who saw the power and glory of God’s kingdom as they saw Jesus transfigured. It was a tantalizingly brief glimpse of glory, but it was the encouragement they needed. It was a preview of the Second Coming; a foretaste of the glory which Christ will have and will share with His people in His kingdom Oh, what a day that will be!
The Demonstration – Mark 9:2-3
The Lord led the three disciples on a hike of Mt. Hermon, a majestic mountain not far from Caesarea Philippi. We know from Luke’s account that He led them up there “to pray.” We also know from Luke that these men “were heavy with sleep.” It seems like every time Jesus gets these guys alone for some prayer time they can’t stay awake!
(Incidentally, sleeping in church is nothing new. It’s a sad fact that people have slept during church services from the very beginning, even services led by Jesus. This also happened to the Apostle Paul. You may remember young Eutychus who, Luke tells us in Acts 20:9, fell into a deep sleep “as Paul was long preaching.” He fell into a deep sleep and fell from the window where he was sitting. Three stories later the young man was in need of a miracle, and Paul did indeed restore him to life. All of this means that I can’t get too bent out of shape when people fall asleep during my sermons. I would advise against sitting in windows, however, because while I can’t blame you for doing to me what Eutychus did to Paul, I can’t do for you what Paul did for him!)
Imagine the eye-opener that Peter, James, and John had when they were roused from their slumber to see the transfigured Christ! His body and clothes were shining a brilliant white, brighter than any cleaner could possible bleach them. The word “transfigured” is “metamorphoo” in the Greek; it mean to change into another form, and it is from this word that the English “metamorphosis” is derived. These men witnessed a miraculous confirmation of their earlier confession. The Transfiguration authenticated that Jesus was the Christ.
The Christmas carol Hark, the Herald Angels Sing has a line in the second stanza which states: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” and for a fleeting moment on Mt. Hermon the veil was pulled back and Peter, James, and John “beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).
What is this “glory”? In Mark 8:38 Jesus said that He would return “in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And here at the Transfiguration Jesus is in His glory. What is that? “Glory” is another way to express the attributes, nature, and character of God. In Exodus 33:18 Moses said to God, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.” God’s immediate answer was, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.”
To witness God’s attributes is to have a glimpse of His glory, all that the fullness of His name implies. In His humanity Jesus traveled incognito; He purposefully veiled His glory (Philippians 2:6-8), but here on Mt. Hermon was Jesus in His pre-Bethlehem glory. Do not think that Jesus was reflecting the glory of God. The transfiguration means that His inner glory was unveiled. Christ was not reflecting but radiating glory! Momentarily, the true essence of God the Son radiantly shone through His body, and the disciples were given a glimpse of glory.
This demonstration not only confirmed that Jesus was the Christ, but it also promised His return. Both of Peter’s letters are filled with talk of the Second Coming (1 Peter 1:7-13; 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 5:4; 2 Peter 1:16-18; 2 Peter 3:3-4). There is little doubt that seeing the glorified Christ filled Peter with an expectant hope of the Lord’s return. John MacArthur writes that you could easily summarize Peter’s two letters as: “Fellow believers don’t worry about your pain, your hardship, your testing, your persecution, or your sacrifice. Jesus is coming!
Jesus’ transfiguration confirmed His deity, promised His return, and previewed the glory that awaits believers. There is coming a time when believers will be clothed in the shimmering beauty of Christ’s glory. The New Testament has much to say about the believers’ glorified bodies at Christ’s return. Here is just a sample:
- Philippians 3:20-21
- Romans 8:29
- 1 John 3:2
The Discussion – Mark 9:4-6
As the unveiled glory of Jesus shimmered before them Moses and Elijah appeared. These men were representative of the Law and the Prophets, and Peter, James, and John were privileged to eavesdrop on their discussion with the One who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of everything that the Law and Prophets testified. Everything that was spoken, accomplished, and hoped for by the Law and Prophets is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Mark tells us that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus, but he doesn’t mention the topic. Luke does. “There talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:30-31)
Moses and Elijah were not filling Jesus in on the happenings of heaven while He had been away! They were talking about His imminent crucifixion. They were talking about the Cross and Christ’s death. The Greek word translated “decease” is “exodus” and it simply means going out or departure. Just as the exodus from Egypt delivered God’s people from the bondage of slavery, Jesus’ exodus on the cross and from the grave would deliver believers from the bondage of sin and death.
- Galatians 1:4
- Colossians 1:13
- Hebrews 2:14-15
Of course, if ever there was a man who did not know when to keep quiet, that man was Peter. Some people are gifted (cursed may be the more appropriate word) with always having something to say when there is nothing to be said. Peter exhibited this quality in verse 5. “Peter answered” Mark said, but no one had asked Peter anything! No matter. He was nervous and afraid (Mark 9:6), and just as some people eat when they’re frightened, Peter talked.
It is likely that the Transfiguration occurred during or near the time of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (Tishri – October). This was a week long feast that commemorated the exodus, and during that week the people were to build and live in tabernacles – booths or tents. It’s conceivable that Peter picked up on this talk of exodus, and he wanted to observe the feast on the mountaintop with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
Whether or not this is the case we do not know. We do know, however, that Peter was afraid; probably excited as well, but that is no excuse for what he said; which was either ignorant or forgetful or both. Once again he was setting his mind on the things of man instead of the things of God. It had only been a week since Jesus plainly taught them that He must go to the cross. Perhaps Peter wanted Jesus to hold on to the glory apart from the suffering, but this was not God’s plan. As Sinclair Ferguson writes, “This glorious moment was not an escape from the cross, but the preparation for it.”
Plus, Moses and Elijah are not on equal footing with Jesus. They were representatives of the Law and Prophets and witnesses that Jesus was indeed He of whom they had prophesied. Peter needed then, much like we need today, to focus his attention on Jesus.
That’s not just my opinion. It is the testimony of God the Father, which He makes crystal clear in verse 7.
The Declaration – Mark 9:7
The cloud spoken of is the shekinah glory of God, the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites in wilderness (Exodus 13:21; Numbers 9:17), the cloud that covered the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 40:35), the cloud that filled the Temple in Jerusalem on the day of its dedication (1 Kings 8:10; 2 Chronicles 7:1), the cloud which Ezekiel saw departing from the Temple because of Israel’s apostasy (Ezekiel 11:22-25). This was the presence of Almighty God, and Peter, James, and John beheld God’s presence, and then they heard God’s voice declare, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.”
Jesus is the one of whom David prophesied in Psalm 2:7. Jesus is the One of whom Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15. Now God speaks directly to these witnesses and declares that Jesus “Is my beloved Son: hear him.” Listen to Him! The Law and the Prophets are partial expressions, He is the final statement, the fulfillment of all that they announced. Jesus is the ultimate expression of truth. This is restated in the first two verses of Hebrews where we read, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by [his] Son.”
Listen to Jesus! When He says that He must go to Jerusalem to die on the cross, hear Him! When he says that He will rise again on the third day, hear Him! When He tells you to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him, hear Him. When He says that He will come again in glory, hear Him. Hear Him! Trust Him! Obey Him! Follow Him!
Matthew says that when the disciples heard the voice from the cloud “they fell on their face.” Jesus touched them, and said, “Arise, be not afraid.” (Matthew 17:6-7) When they looked up all Jesus, who was no longer glowing, was all they saw. Moses and Elijah were gone, as was the cloud of God’s presence. All that remained was the Word.
What wouldn’t I give to have been on that mount?! To see the transfigured Christ, be witness to and listen in on the discussion between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, to have been surrounded by the shekinah glory of God, and to hear Him speak. Listen, the voice still speaks!! It is critical for us to pay attention to what God said from the cloud. He said, “Hear Him!” Not…
- “Don’t forget this vision.”
- “Pray for more spectacular visions.”
- “Remember what you’ve witnessed.”
None of that! He said, “Hear Him!” Years later Peter, who still remembered this unforgettable experience, said:
"For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”
Peter has taught us with these words that if we would see the glory of Jesus Christ now, we must read Scripture and live Scripture just as eagerly as Peter would have lingered on that mountain. The same voice speaks in both places! The memory of visions will fade, but the unchanging Word abides forever. The glorious vision was not an end in itself; it was God’s way of confirming Christ, the Living Word. “Hear Him!”