Pastor David B. Curtis


The Transfiguration

Mark 9:2-10

Delivered 10/01/2006

We have been looking at the account of Jesus' dialogue with His disciples at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asks His disciples who they say He is:

Mark 8:29 (NASB) And He continued by questioning them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, "Thou art the Christ."

"Christ" is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew, Messiah. This title carried overtones of political power. The Psalms of Solomon was a Jewish writing of the Messiah as the son of David. Their Messiah was a warrior-prince who would expel the hated Romans from Israel and bring in a kingdom in which the Jews would be promoted to world dominion. Jesus, therefore, accepted Peter's confession and immediately spoke of the sufferings of Messiah to correct the disciple's idea of what the Messiah would be:

Mark 8:31-32 (NASB) And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.

For Peter, Messiah was a title of a glorious personage both nationalistic and victorious in battle. They believed that Messiah would come and rule; they had no idea of Him coming, then leaving, then coming again. Peter reacts strongly when Christ talks about His death. His death would be the end of their hopes and dreams; they couldn't understand Him being put to death. The Jewish understanding of Messiah is clearly expressed in:

John 12:34 (NASB) The multitude therefore answered Him, "We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'? Who is this Son of Man?"

They didn't conceive of Messiah leaving once He had arrived. They thought He would come and set up His rule.

Micah 5:2 (NASB) "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Too little to be among the clans of Judah, From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity."

The word "ruler" is the Hebrew word mashal, which means: "make to have dominion, governor, have power." They viewed Messiah as a Ruler:

Psalms 8:6 (NASB) Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet,
Zechariah 6:12-13 (NASB) "Then say to him, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD. 13 "Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices."'

Branch it is a familiar title for the Messiah (Isaiah 4:2 and 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5 and 33:15). So you can easily understand that they were not looking for Jesus to leave, but to set up His kingdom. Jesus talked to them about His death and going to the Father, but they did not understand it at all:

John 13:33-36 (NASB) "Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You shall seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, I now say to you also, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' 34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." 36 Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, where are You going?" Jesus answered, "Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you shall follow later."
John 16:16-17 (NASB) "A little while, and you will no longer behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me." 17 Some of His disciples therefore said to one another, "What is this thing He is telling us, 'A little while, and you will not behold Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me'; and, 'because I go to the Father'?"

This account in John takes place after He had given them the Olivet Discourse, and they still didn't understand that He was leaving them. Even after the crucifixion, they still didn't understand that Jesus was going to rise from the dead:

John 20:8-9 (NASB) So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb entered then also, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.

We are a collection of what we have read, heard, felt, imagined, and been taught by those crossing our paths as well as by tradition. Sometimes that produces blessing, other times a curse! Inevitably, our concepts of God, His Son, and eternal issues get confused in the mixture, much like that of the disciples. So when our concepts of Christ fall short of truth, we must be instructed by the Word of God to correct our thinking. Wrong thinking about Christ affects everything about us. We cannot properly trust One whom we do not know. We certainly cannot face death with confidence and assurance if we have a fuzzy picture of the Judge before whom we shall stand. In similar fashion, the disciples kept hearing Jesus talk about the "kingdom." They knew what they meant by that term. So when Jesus spoke about the kingdom, they funneled it through their own paradigm of kingdom understanding. That's why Peter could react to Christ's prediction of His impending suffering and death. He was being true to his own understanding. So through the Transfiguration, Jesus begins to correct the disciples' thinking, which would ultimately transform everything about them.

Jesus followed up His teaching of His suffering and death by teaching that even the way of the disciple must involve self-denial, taking up his own cross, and then following Christ. Again, this likely puzzled the disciples who still had visions of earthly grandeur in their kingdom concepts. So Jesus pointed to the certainty of future glory in His kingdom, a glory that was not earthly but heavenly. But how would they be able to grasp this reality? That's where the Transfiguration comes in:

Mark 9:2 (NASB) And six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them;

He opens with the words "Six days later." That's unique in the fact that Mark almost never gives any kind of a chronological reference, so to say this happened "six days later" is very unusual. Matthew and Mark both say six days later, but Luke says:

Luke 9:28 (NASB) And some eight days after these sayings, it came about that He took along Peter and John and James, and went up to the mountain to pray.

Luke says, "about" or "some" eight days after. His source probably included the day when Jesus spoke (9:1) and the day of the Transfiguration itself, not just the six days in between. Luke's time period is only a generalization, which could be stretched to be a little longer or shorter - in this case, the latter of these options is necessary.

"Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John" ­ These three are also the ones chosen who alone accompany Jesus when He raises the ruler's daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37) and are the same three that Jesus takes with Him when He goes into Gethsemane to pray before His arrest (Matthew 26:37) when all the others are left behind.

"Why did Jesus pour more into Peter, James and John than the other nine?" I think the answer is fairly easy. It is because they wanted it more. If you read through the Gospels, it's evident these three just hungered for Jesus more than the others. And Jesus was happy to give His time to those who wanted it.

Jesus is taking His inner circle of disciples, Peter, James, and John, up onto a high mountain for a time of solitude. Luke tells us they, "...went up to the mountain to pray." This kind of thing was not unusual for Jesus. He was always stealing away to a solitary place to pray. But this time, He had brought His inner circle of disciples.

Why did Jesus take these three disciples to this mountain retreat to pray? Probably because they needed to be encouraged. Six days earlier the Lord had revealed to them the inevitability of His eventual suffering and death. They'd had to grapple with the reality of the Cross, and they were stunned by it. Peter had objected and received a devastating rebuke from Jesus. Jesus had gone on to share that if any would follow Him, they must also take up their own crosses as well.

What they were about to experience on that mountain would be the most incredible sight they had ever seen. They wouldn't understand it. They would be totally blown away by it. There is no doubt they would replay this event in their minds for the rest of their lives, seeking to plumb the depths of its meaning and to understand its true significance. But what they would receive was encouragement. What was about to happen would be the most exciting thing they had experienced thus far ­ and they had seen a lot.

Which mountain were they on? We cannot identify this mountain with any certainty. Possible locations are Mount Hermon, near Caesarea Philippi. But it would have been snow-capped, so not a likely spot for an overnight stay, which Luke indicates happened (Luke 9:37), though one of Hermon's spurs could have been the place. We know that Jesus was certainly in this general region, but in the six days which have transpired since the last recorded event, there's certainly enough time for Jesus and the disciples to have been some distance away from the area.

The presence of scribes in the crowd that formed around the nine disciples in Mark 9:14 would necessarily have needed to be Jewish and, therefore, should be considered to be in predominantly Jewish territory (which Caesarea Philippi is not). Some have suggested Mount Miron on the way to Capernaum to be the mountain. Others have said Mount Tabor southwest of the Sea of Galilee is the place. I would say that Miron or Tabor are the best guesses.

They were alone on top of some mountain. Evening had fallen, and they were in prayer. Luke tells us that as the prayer meeting continued, His disciples were "very sleepy" and that they eventually dozed off. But then something amazing happened.

"And He was transfigured before them" ­ That word "transfigured" comes from a Greek word from which we get our English word "metamorphosis"--to be changed into something else. The Greek word is a compound word from "morphe" meaning: "form" and "meta," which implies change. Very simply, therefore, the underlying meaning of the word has to be "to change form," though this concept can be applied to relate to the essential character of something or to its external appearance and it's not always easy to attempt a definition as to which is being hinted at by the use of the word. We know from the following verses that Jesus' physical appearance changed.

Mark 9:3 (NASB) and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them.
Matthew 17:2 (NASB) And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.
Luke 9:29 (NASB) And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.

This vision prefigured what lay beyond the cross. It unveiled for a brief glimpse what believers shall gaze upon without hindrance in eternity. It foreshadowed the triumphant splendor of Christ the King.

Most commentators are quick to jump to the conclusion that what's being revealed is the intrinsic divine nature of Jesus, that the veil which was covering His own deity was being drawn back for the briefest of moments that the hiding of the incarnation might be temporarily reversed.

One commentator writes, "For a brief moment the veil of His humanity was lifted and His true essence was allowed to shine through. The glory which was always in the depths of His being rose to the surface for that one time in His earthly life."

Most view this as Jesus' divinity being the light which was now shining from Him that the incarnation had concealed within His human body and which was now being drawn back like some curtain to let the light be displayed for a short period of time. This is incredibly logical and certainly isn't based upon a wrong concept of the incarnation.

However, it seems to be a wrong conclusion based upon Peter's own commentary of the event in 2 Peter where the apostle who was present on the mountain tells us exactly where the light came from and what it was:

2 Peter 1:16-18 (NASB) 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.

Peter tells us "It was the Father who...clothed Him with glory" Luke 9:32 states that the three disciples, Peter, John, and James "saw His glory," and it's the same Greek word which is being used in both verses. Therefore, the connection appears to be fairly certain that the glory being referred to in both cases came from the Father Himself rather than as a revealing of what was within Him.

Peter stated quite plainly that the glory made known to the disciples as shining from Jesus was that which came not from within His own nature but from without, a clear bestowal of glory upon Him from the Father which reflected outwards.
The purpose of the transfiguration is to demonstrate the conclusion of the obedience of God's Servant when the time of His suffering is at hand. In this way, the discussion which Jesus is having with both Moses and Elijah, who appear also in glory, concerning His imminent death (Luke 9:31) becomes particularly relevant, and this experience becomes a reassurance to Jesus Himself that obedience to the demands of God the Father are vitally necessary for the glorification to be achieved.

I am sure this is what John is referring to in his Gospel when, though he does not give us an account of the transfiguration, he does say:

John 1:14 (NASB) And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Though he does not tell us where, it was undoubtedly this moment on the mountain that he remembered.

Mark 9:4 (NASB) And Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus.

If Jesus' transfiguration were not enough to blow them away, I'm sure the appearance of Moses and Elijah was. These were two of the greatest figures in all of Israel's history. They were mighty men of God. They were also no strangers to mountaintops. Moses had quite an encounter with God on Mount Sinai; as had Elijah on Mount Horeb. They had both experienced God's glory on the top of these two mountains. But in these two figures we see a symbol of the law and the prophets. And together they were talking with Jesus.

It's interesting that the disciples seem to have no difficulty at all in recognizing instantly who these men were? Jesus did not say, "Now, Peter, James, and John, I'd like to have you meet Moses and Elijah." No, they knew instantly who they were. This can only be explained as divine revelation. God made known to them that this was Elijah and Moses. Often in rabbinic writings, Moses and Elijah are put together to refer to the Law and the Prophets.

What were they talking about? I know exactly what they were talking about:

Luke 9:30-31 (NASB) And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, 31 who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

The word for "departure" is the Greek word exodos. There was an exodus that was to begin at the cross and start another forty year journey. The first exodus period is one familiar to all of us. Israel, after the flesh, was removed from bondage to Egypt at Passover, and they were put in the wilderness on a physical journey to a physical promise land. Now the more important and the spiritual exodus we are not so familiar with: This exodus runs from the Cross to A.D. 70. In this exodus, Israel, after the Spirit, left its bondage to the law of sin and death (Ro. 8:2) and begins a forty year spiritual journey to a spiritual inheritance, the Kingdom of God or the New Heavens and New Earth.

Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the consummate prophet, engaged Christ in conversation centered on His death, resurrection, and ascension (implied by Luke's term "departure"). Can you imagine being in on that conversation?

As Jesus conversed with the "living dead", Moses and Elijah, it gave the disciples assurance that His death would not be the end but only the beginning of eternity for all that believe.

Mark 9:5-6 (NASB) And Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and 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.

The disciples were overwhelmed. What they were witnessing was an otherworldly, terrifying experience. They stared in stunned silence. What was there to say? They had nothing to say, and Peter said it!

Interestingly, he called Jesus "Rabbi", the word by which he knew Him. In the circumstance of terror, Peter called Him that because he always called Him that.

"Jesus, let's build three tents!" It is interesting that Mark says Peter said this because he was terrified. He didn't know what else to say! You remember that Mark's source for this Gospel was Peter himself. You can almost hear Mark sitting down with Peter and saying, "Peter, why did you say that?" And Peter said, "I don't know; I was terrified!

"They became terrified" ­ this Greek word is only used here and in Hebrews where we read of Moses' fear in the presence of God at Mt. Sinai:

Hebrews 12:21 (NASB) And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, "I AM FULL OF FEAR AND TREMBLING."

It is a very strong word for fear. We are so used to the Transfiguration scene that it may no longer fill us with awe. But if we pause for a moment and think, perhaps the awe will overtake us. They had come up unsuspectingly into the mountain with Jesus and suddenly this immense change took place in Him, something brighter and more glorious than the sun in its splendor, and a sense of extreme whiteness, of awful holiness, and purity. And then the two greatest men ever known, as far as the Jew was concerned, appeared there with them talking with the glorified Jesus. No wonder it was all too much and turned Peter into a babbler.

It may be that Peter said this about building the tabernacles thinking that the necessity of the cross has passed and that the glory of God's presence has returned as would have been expected in the future establishing of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

Jesus has been talking about being rejected and put to death. They go up on this

mountain, and up on the mountain it's always more pleasant than it is down in the valley. And Peter is saying: This is more what I had in mind. Let's just build some tents and stay up here; let's set up camp on the mountain. Let's not go down again. But immediately there's this cloud that comes over them,

Mark 9:7 (NASB) Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, "This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!"

A "cloud" is used in the Old Testament as a symbol of God's presence (Ex 13:21, 19:9, 34:5, 2 Chr 5:13-14) and it's best to take the mention of such a cloud on the mountain as a supernatural phenomenon. It was the cloud of Shekinah glory that appeared on that mountaintop. Shekinah comes from a Hebrew root, which means "to dwell." The Shekinah glory of God was the manifestation of the presence of God.

When the Tabernacle was finished, this cloud descended upon it in such a manifestation of God's glory that Moses himself could not even enter it. When Solomon's Temple was completed, the cloud again descended so that the priests could not enter. The cloud symbolized the dwelling of God among men. And this shekinah glory of God had not been seen is Israel for six hundred years. But now, this luminous cloud not only came, but it enveloped all of them. The entire top of the mountain was covered by the glory of God.

If we look at all the synoptic gospels we see that the voice from heaven said: "This is My beloved Son, [My Chosen One (Luke), with whom I am well-pleased (Matthew)]; listen to Him!" The voice from the cloud strings together (in reverse order!) a phrase from the Torah, a phrase from the Prophets and a phrase from the Writings.

Deuteronomy 18:15 (NASB) "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.
Isaiah 42:1 (NASB) "Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations.
Psalms 2:7 (NASB) "I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'Thou art My Son, Today I have begotten Thee.

The Father himself is saying: Peter, do not put Jesus on a par with Moses and Elijah. You listen to Him. He is the one of whom Moses and Elijah spoke. He is the one who fulfilled all the predictions of the prophets and the sacrifices of the Law. Listen to him; this is my beloved Son.

Peter was trying to put them on equal footing: "one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." They were great men but still sinners; Christ alone must be worshiped! The writer of Hebrews express it this way:

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NASB) God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

God has spoken His final word in His Son. The message of the transfiguration is that Jesus is the one we must listen to.

"Listen to Him." ­ Listen is strong and means: "take notice and obey." He was greater than Moses, He was greater than Elijah. In Him came the full truth about God. All other messengers had been superseded.

What was the point of Moses and Elijah being there with Christ? It would have been no less spectacular if they weren't there. What was their purpose? They represent the Law and Prophets ­ the Old Covenant. Jesus is the minister of the New Covenant:

Hebrews 12:24 (NASB) and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
Hebrews 9:15 (NASB) And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.

On this mountain God is saying in picture form, The Old Covenant is being superseded by the New Covenant. Jesus has been saying and doing things that go against the Law:

Mark 7:18 (NASB) And He said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him;

Do you understand how radical this statement is? To the Pharisees and any Jew this statement went against their dietary laws. Food was a major consideration under the Old Covenant as is clear from even a superficial reading of Leviticus 11.

What do we do when there is a conflict between what Jesus teaches and what the Law taught? God the father said, "Listen to Jesus." The Old Covenant was to fade away in significance during the life time of the disciples:

Hebrews 8:13 (NASB) When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.

Moses and Elijah were there so God could say it is now time to listen to my Son.

Mark 9:8 (NASB) And all at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone.

Suddenly, Moses and Elijah were gone. God had spoken. He had singled out His Son. And now all that filled their vision was Christ. What God was saying was that His Son, Christ, was of supreme significance. All the other things were to point to Him.

What a vision! What an experience! I'm sure they could hardly wait to relate it to the other disciples. But Jesus forbids them:

Mark 9:9 (NASB) And 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 should rise from the dead.

The word "orders" was a military term for placing under orders. He gave them orders not to say anything until He had risen from the dead. Jesus did not want the message to be His transfiguration. He wanted the message to be His Cross and resurrection. While the transfiguration is an interesting story, it cannot save anyone. The Cross is Christ's redemptive work. It is the Cross we preach.

Mark 9:10 (NASB) And they seized upon that statement, discussing with one another what rising from the dead might mean.

These same three, Peter, James, and John had been present at the raising from the dead of Jairus' daughter and the disciples had been with Jesus in Nain where He raised the widow's son from the dead. Their questioning and debating did not merely deal with what was meant by Jesus' statement of rising from the dead. It dealt more with the prophetic significance of it. What did it mean in relationship to the future kingdom and the suffering their friend Jesus was beginning to talk about.

Would you have liked to have been on that mountain to have seen the transfiguration? Do you think that if you had been there and had seen this it would have made an impact on your Christian life? Notice again what Peter says:

2 Peter 1:16-18 (NASB) 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.

Peter is saying, I was on the mountain, I saw Him glow with brilliant light, I heard the voice of God say "This is my beloved Son." We may think that Peter's confidence was built upon his presence on that Mt. of Transfiguration, because he was there, he saw and he heard. But the next verse in 2 Peter shows us were Peter found his confidence:

2 Peter 1:19-20 (NASB) And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation,

Peter is saying that the Word of God, that we have before us this morning is more sure than that experience on the mountain top, that the Word is even a greater reality than what was seen and heard.

Why is the written Word more sure than the transfiguration experience? Your remembrance of an experience can change ­ we forget or even embellish. The written word is unchangeable! We can read it over and over, and it will always say the same thing.

We may marvel at what it would have been like to see the Glory of the Lord, to hear the voice of the Father ­ and yet every time we open the Bible, that is exactly what we are privileged to see and privileged to hear.

And so I would ask you: Have you been listening to Jesus Christ? He has spoken to us clearly through His Word. He leaves no room for speculation on what constitutes life and joy and God's purpose for humanity. Listen to Him!

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