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Mark 9:1-13 – The Transfiguration of Jesus

In our last study from Mark 8:34-38, Jesus gave a very challenging message to those who were considering becoming His disciples. He told them it would require commitment. He told them it would affect their lives. He told them that it would require complete loyalty. “But in the same breath he goes on to speak of His future kingdom and glory. He takes off the edge of His ‘hard sayings,’ by promising a sight of that glory to some of those who heard Him. And in the history of the transfiguration, which is here recorded, we see that promise fulfilled.”

  1. The Statement (Mark 9:1)

    In this first verse, you will find that Jesus makes a statement that is somewhat difficult to understand completely. So let’s keep our eyes open and ask God’s Holy Spirit to illuminate our study so that we can understand what is being said.

    What does it say?

    Note that this verse should be connected to Jesus’ speech at the end of chapter eight (Mark 8:34-38). The last thing He said to that crowd and His disciples is recorded in Mark 9:1. He said that they could be assured that there were some people standing in the crowd who would not die until they had seen the kingdom of God come with power.

    What does it mean?

    It is not difficult to understand the words that Jesus uses here. He said that some people in the crowd would see the kingdom of God come with power. The problem is understanding what those words and phrases mean. So, we need to answer at least one question.

    What event was Jesus referring to?

    When we think of the kingdom of God, we often think of the future millennial kingdom where Christ rules the world for a thousand years. This was promised by God and revealed by Old Testament prophets. “Daniel said that ‘the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed’ (Daniel 2:44; cf. 7:13–14), and many of the other prophets predicted the same thing (e.g., Obadiah 1:21; Habakkuk 2:14; Micah 4:2; Zechariah 14:9).”18

    However, when Jesus made this statement, He appeared to be saying that the kingdom was something that would be revealed in the lifetime of some of the people who were in the crowd. Since Jesus has not reigned over an earthly kingdom to this point, it would appear that He meant something else or that several of the people in the crowd are still alive today waiting for the kingdom to appear. I think that it makes more sense to say that Jesus was not referring to the actual kingdom of God but something else. We will consider that later as we work through this passage.

    “Varied have been the views concerning what event in the lifetime of certain of the disciples was meant. Among those advocated are (1) the transfiguration; (2) the resurrection and ascension; (3) Pentecost; (4) the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70; (5) the manifestation of the kingdom in the church.”7 While some have had other views, I believe that Jesus was referring to the Transfiguration mentioned in the following verses. Here are my reasons:

    (1) The very next thing that happens is the Transfiguration.
    (2) During that event, Jesus is revealed in brilliant glory.
    (3) The disciples are terrified by His glorified and powerful presence.

    With these thoughts in mind, I think that it fits best to think that Jesus was speaking not of His future kingdom being revealed on earth, but that these men would see His powerful glory on the mountain and know that He was the coming, future King who would rule the earth. In other words, the Transfiguration was a precursor reveal of what the coming King would look like in the future.

    How does it apply?

    The Bible tells us to “Be diligent to present [ourselves] approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). This should cause us to be careful before jumping to conclusions, but it should also motivate us to study each part of the Bible in context. When we take the time to study the Bible and ask God’s Holy Spirit for guidance, we will normally be able to understand difficult passages and find the true meaning of what God is saying. Just be sure to do a careful study and not jump to conclusions.

    As we look at the rest of the passage, let us carefully look at what the Bible says so that we can see what Jesus was talking about.

  2. The Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8)

    In this part of the passage, Mark tells us about an astounding event that took place on a mountain top. What happened there was witnessed by three of Jesus’ disciples and made a big impact on their lives.

    What does it say?

    Six days after Jesus’ peculiar statement, He took Peter, James, and John up to a high mountain by themselves. On the mountain, Jesus was transfigured in front of them. His clothes began to shine white as snow and whiter than a laundromat worker could ever make them. He was joined by Moses and Elijah who talked with Him. Peter was frightened and didn’t know what to say, but he chose to speak anyway. Peter told Jesus that it was good for them to be there and that they could make three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Before any action could be taken, a cloud appeared and covered them all. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, Hear Him.” After that, the cloud and visitors disappeared and the disciples were alone with Jesus.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus was revealed in His heavenly glory.

    At some point on the mountain top, the three disciples saw Jesus transfigured. That is not a word we normally use, so we may need some help. The word translated as transfigured means “to change the external form, transfigure; mid. to change one’s form.”8 “For a brief time Jesus’ human body was transformed (glorified) and the disciples saw Him as He will be when He returns visibly in power and glory to establish His kingdom on earth.”1

    To this point, the disciples had only known Jesus to look like a normal person. John later wrote that they interacted with him as any other person would (1 John 1:1-2). But he and Peter also mentioned what they saw on the mountain top. He was so glorious and powerful looking that they didn’t know what to say or do. That reminds me of how John described Jesus in the Book of Revelation.

    Rev. 1:12-15 – “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters.”

    John’s response at that time was to fall before Him … in a similar way to how he and the other disciples did at the Transfiguration. All of this shows us what Jesus is truly like when revealed in all His glory. And He has this glory because He is not just a man but is God the Son. This is important to understand. Jesus is both God and man. And that leads us to our next statement.

    Jesus is more important than Elijah or Moses.

    I find it curious that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus during the Transfiguration. Moses was the one to whom God gave the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. He was a godly man whom God used to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the edge of the Promised Land. Elijah was a prophet who lived during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He was one of only a few people who remained faithful during that wicked time. And at one point, God showed His mighty power by sending fire from heaven in answer to Elijah’s prayer. These two men were biblical heroes whom every Jewish person would remember.

    Why did they appear at this point? In the other gospels, there is some more information about what these men did, but Mark only mentions that they were there with Jesus. Some have suggested that Moses represented the Old Testament law while Elijah represented the Old Testament prophets. Others point to Malachi 4:4-6 where both are mentioned in conjunction with the restoration of Israel. “The appearance of Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration narrative likely recalls this passage and their prophetic roles as joint preparers of the final Prophet to come.”13 Before we come to a conclusion about this, we should notice two things that happen after their appearance.

    Peter, the disciple who often acted impulsively, was terrified by what had happened but still found the courage to say something to Jesus. He suggested that they make tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Perhaps he wanted them to stay for a while so as to bring in the kingdom of God on earth? But before he could enact his plan, a cloud appeared and covered up everything. Then God spoke from the cloud about Jesus: “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” God the Father was telling the three frightened disciples that Jesus was His Son and that they should listen to what He taught them. “God the Father’s response to Peter’s suggestion set forth the true meaning of this event.”2 God was endorsing Jesus as His Son and also showing the disciples that Jesus was more important than Moses and Elijah. “Jesus, not Moses or Elijah, is now God’s authorized Ruler and Spokesman.”4

    How does it apply?

    Who Jesus is will make a difference in your life.

    This is the repeated application throughout the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is the Son of Man and the Son of God. As God and man, He must be believed and obeyed. When you come to the place where you receive Him as such, it will change your life completely. It starts with faith that begins a relationship with God through Jesus. After believing, God transforms your life and gives you the right desires where you love Him and want to listen and obey His commands. Then as you follow His leading, He will make a big difference in your life.

    We live in the New Testament age now.

    A second application is based on what God the Father said about His Son, Jesus. After the cloud covered up Moses and Elijah, God the Father announced that Jesus was His beloved Son and that they should listen to Him. The application here is that we no longer live under the Old Testament Law. Moses and Elijah have been removed and Jesus is now the One whom we are to follow. While much of the Old Testament was designed to point us to Christ, we are not under obligation to adhere to the Law anymore. Instead, we are to listen to Jesus and follow His teaching. This teaching is found in the 27 books of the New Testament. This is not to say that the Old Testament has no value anymore as it does point us to Christ. But we are now to follow what Jesus says in the New Testament. Be sure to read it and find out what God desires for you.

  3. The Explanation (Mark 9:9-13)

    You can imagine that the three disciples were a bit wide-eyed when the events during the Transfiguration were finished. As they walked their way down the mountain, what were they thinking? What did they say? Who was the first to speak?

    What does it say?

    As they descended from the mountain, Jesus commanded the disciples not to tell anyone what had happened until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They obeyed His command but wondered what He meant about rising from the dead. As they traveled, the three disciples asked Jesus what the scribes meant by saying that Elijah must come first. Jesus acknowledged that Elijah needed to come first and restore all things. But He also asked them why it was written that the Son of Man would have to suffer and be treated with contempt. Then He told them that Elijah had come and people did to him what they wished just as it was written about him.

    What does it mean?

    Jesus didn’t want everyone to know right then (Mark 9:9-10).

    Peter, James, and John had been terrified on the mountain top. But as they walked down the mountain, Jesus no longer showed His heavenly glory. He once again looked like a normal person. It may have taken a while, but they must have wanted to talk about it with the other disciples or even their families. But this was not Jesus’ plan for them. He made it very clear that they were not to tell anyone what had happened. They were to wait until He had risen from the dead. Why was that?

    At this point, “they did not yet understand the true significance of what they had seen.”10 Talking about the Transfiguration would only bring up more questions and cause people to want to crown Him king. Jesus was not focused on an earthly kingdom at this point. He was focused on the cross and being the payment for the sins of the world. These other things about Him were not be revealed until after His resurrection. For then, it would all make sense. Jesus first had to die for our sins and then rise again. Then, at a later time, He would return to reign over the earth. But that was not important at the moment. The cross must come first.

    The disciples did not understand Jesus’ timeline (Mark 9:11-12).

    The disciples obeyed Jesus and agreed not to tell what had happened. But they had plenty of questions. What was this about Jesus rising from the dead? And after seeing Elijah on the mountain top, they asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Their question came from something the Old Testament prophet Malachi had said.

    Mal. 4:5-6 – “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

    Do you see how quickly the disciples have forgotten what Jesus said in Mark 8 about His coming rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection? All they could think about was the coming kingdom Jesus said they would see before dying. Now that Elijah had been seen on the mountain, they were no doubt wondering if the kingdom was right around the corner.

    In response to their question, Jesus acknowledged that Elijah was to come first to restore all things. But He did not let them get too excited about the kingdom yet. Instead of following their thinking, He asked them a counter question. Why did the Old Testament prophets write that the Son of Man would “suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” Mark doesn’t record a response from the disciples. But I can imagine that they had never considered that as being true of the Messiah. Remember how Peter had rebuked Jesus earlier? They still didn’t understand.

    It appears that the disciples were thinking that the coming of Elijah would restore everything and lead to Jesus being publicly revealed as the Messiah and the kingdom not far behind. They had just seen Elijah and Jesus had revealed His glory and power, so why wouldn’t these things happen soon? What they had missed were the prophecies that talked about Jesus’ suffering. Consider this one.

    Isa. 53:3-5 – “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.”

    Elijah had already come (Mark 9:13).

    A moment ago, the disciples had asked about the coming of Elijah. Now Jesus reveals that Elijah had already come. He said that he had come and that people had done what they wanted with him. But it wasn’t the appearing of Elijah on the mountain top that Jesus referred to. “In a veiled way Mark recorded how Jesus identified John the Baptist as the one who fulfilled at Jesus’ First Advent the role … expected of the end-time Elijah (cf. Mark 1:2-8; Matt. 17:13; Luke 1:17).”5

    How did John the Baptist fulfill the role of Elijah and restore things to where they should be? He did just as Malachi had prophesied. He preached repentance which led many people to turn from their sins and to get right with God. The end result was that the hearts of both fathers and children were turned back to where they should be. But John’s preaching was not appreciated by everyone as we learned earlier (Mark 6:14-29). Herodias convinced her husband to kill John the Baptist and he did. After hearing what Jesus said, the disciples understood that He was talking about John the Baptist (Matt. 17:11-13).

    How does it apply?

    Do you understand why Jesus came the first time?

    The disciples didn’t understand that Jesus came first to go to the cross. Do you understand why Jesus was willing to die on the cross? He was willing because He knew that we needed Him to pay for our sins. We couldn’t do it because we are all sinners who deserve God’s judgment. But Jesus was willing to die on the cross and to shed His blood to pay the horrible price for the sins you and I have committed against God. He did that for you and for me. And now God calls on us to repent of our sins and put our faith in Him. Will you do that today?

    Romans 10:9-10 – “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

    Are you looking toward the future, when you should be focusing on your present situation?

    The disciples were so bent on bringing in the kingdom that they didn’t understand what God wanted for them right then. He wanted them to understand some things that you should consider for yourself. First, have you allowed God to convict your heart of your own sin? God sent John the Baptist to convince people that they were sinning and needed to repent and get right with God. If you are holding on to some sin, today is the day that God wants you to repent of your sin and turn to Him. Second, if you are a Christian who is focused on heaven and the future, please don’t let that focus keep you from being faithful to the task God has given you now. Instead of longing for heaven, see if you can tell someone about Jesus so they can go with you. Instead of longing for escape from a difficult circumstance, think of how God can use that to make you more like Christ.

Conclusion

In today’s study, we have studied the Transfiguration of Jesus. The disciples saw the Son of Man come in His power and glory on the mountain top. It was something they would never forget. But there was still much to be learned from Jesus. As we will see in the next paragraph, the disciples had a lot to learn!

Footnotes

1 Grassmick 142.
2 Grassmick 143.
3 Ryle 174.
4 Grassmick 143.
5 Grassmick 144.
7 Hiebert 242.
8 μεταμορφόω as viewed at https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/metamorphoo on 3/2/2024.
9 Hiebert 245.
10 Hiebert 248.
13 Edwards 265.
17 Lenski 363.
18 “What is the kingdom of God?”

Bibliography

Barnes, Albert, “Matthew and Mark” in Notes on the New Testament, Notes on the Gospels, Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint 2005 (originally published 1847).

Edwards, James R., The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Grassmick, John D., “Mark” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1983.

Hiebert, D. Edmond, The Gospel of Mark, Greenville: BJU Press, 1994.

Lenski, R. C. H., Columbus: The Wartburg Press, 1946.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Matthew through Romans, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1983.

Ryle, J. C., Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume One, Matthew – Mark, Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint 1977.

“Was Jesus’ statement that ‘some who are standing here will not taste death’ in Luke 9:27 (also Matthew 16:28; Mark 9:1) incorrect?” as viewed at https://www.gotquestions.org/not-taste-death.html on 3/2/2024.

“What is the kingdom of God?” as viewed at https://www.gotquestions.org/kingdom-of-God.html on 3/2/2024.