He was Transfigured Before Them | Mark 9:2-13
O brothers and sisters, do not pine after the experience of Peter, James, and John; instead, ascend the mountain of Scripture and beg the Spirit to enlighten the eyes of your heart to see the glory of Christ, to see the radiance of His goodness shining forth through His Word!
And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”
Mark 9:2-13 ESV
After bringing His people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, the LORD led the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through the wilderness and to the foot of Mount Sinai, also called Horeb, the mountain of God. Once there, the LORD’s presence descended upon the mountain as a thick cloud of fire and darkness. From Sinai, God assembled His people together and spoke directly to them, declaring His Ten Commandments, yet the people begged the LORD to speak to Moses alone, fearing that God’s holy presence would burn them away like stubble. The LORD did so, but even when Moses descended after speaking with God, the Israelites needed to cover the prophet’s face since the light of God’s glory reflected from him too sharply for their eyes to bear.
Our present text is similar to the display of God’s glory upon Sinai, except in one critical manner, as Tim Keller says:
Moses had reflected the glory of God as the moon reflects the light of the sun. But Jesus produces the unsurpassable glory of God; it emanates from him. Jesus does not point to ‘the glory of God as Elijah, Moses, and every other prophet has done; Jesus is the glory of God in human form.
May we behold His glory today in the light of His Word.
The Transfiguration// Verses 2-7
Our passage begins by telling us that these events took place six days after Peter’s confession and Jesus’ revelation to His disciples of His coming suffering, death, and resurrection. Now we are simply told that Jesus took three of His disciples with Him to the top of a high mountain. Jesus, of course, already pulled these three disciples apart to witness the raising of Jairus’ daughter back in chapter 5, and He will again do so at Gethsemane.
Upon the mountain, Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. We rightly call this event the transfiguration since Jesus was transfigured before His disciples. The Greek word is the source of our word metamorphosis; thus, we might also say that Jesus was metamorphosized before them. If you remember elementary science, butterflies have likely already popped up in your mind, for we call the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly metamorphosis, which literally means changing form. Just as a butterfly, while being the same creature, has an entirely different form from when it was a caterpillar, so Jesus displayed an entirely different form upon the mountain. But what was that form?
In Philippians 2:6-8, the Apostle Paul beautifully describes the humbling of Jesus, and to do, he begins with Jesus’ normal, eternal state: “he was in the form of God.” The word that we translate as form is morphe, which means something like the essential nature of something. Thus, Jesus was of the same essential nature as God the Father, or as the Nicene Creed puts it: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Yet Jesus displayed His humility by not grasping onto His equality with the Father but rather by “taking the form [morphe] of a servant.” Thus, when Jesus descended to earth, taking on human flesh as an infant within Mary’s womb, Jesus’ form was changed. He certainly did not cease to be God, yet there was a very real emptying of Himself, a forsaking of His divine glory in order to tabernacle among the people that He Himself made.
The Transfiguration of Christ upon the mountain, therefore, appears to be a momentary lifting of that earthly veil, a brief glimpse, however small, of Jesus’ preincarnate glory. Indeed, the unearthly nature of this metamorphosis is described in radiance and intensity of His clothing. They were whiter than humanly possible. The subtly of this description reminds me of the stone that “was cut out by no human hand” in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:34, 44-45). Both objects are glaringly ordinary, clothing and a stone, yet there was something altogether extraordinary about them. They were beyond human production. Nothing short of the glory of God was emanating out of Jesus.
To make matters even more astounding two of the greatest Old Testament saints appeared with Jesus to speak with Him: Moses and Elijah. The only two men from the Old Testament who bear as high of a status as these two are Abraham and David, who were both within Jesus’ direct lineage. Oh, to be present as Peter, James, and John were as our Lord conversed with Moses and Elijah! What did they speak about? What deep and heavenly mysteries were unfolded in their conversation?
While we are not given direct dialogue (and given verse 6, I am sure that they forgot most of the details), Luke 9:31 does tell us the subject of their discussion: they “spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” The ESV footnotes that departure in Greek is literally exodus. They spoke of Jesus’ exodus, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
What a strange reversal! Upon Horeb, Moses was sent by God rather unhappily to Egypt to accomplish the exodus of God’s people from their bondage to Pharaoh, which would result in Moses being exalted in everyone’s sight. Now on this mountain, Moses was sent to encourage the Son of God as He was readying Himself for the greater exodus that He would accomplish, the liberation of God’s people, both Jew and Gentile, from their slavery to sin, which would result in Him being lifted up for all the world to look upon with scorn and contempt. An exodus that would require the Author of life to humble Himself even further “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).
Both Elijah, who represents the prophets, and Moses, who represents the law, clearly understood the vocation of the Messiah. They knew Jesus had to die, and they knew why. They came to the second person of the Trinity with their comfort and their encouragement, reminding Him of His destiny that they had foretold centuries before. Elijah, who had been carried up to heaven in a chariot of fire, set foot once more in the Holy Land. Moses, who had been denied entrance into the Promised Land, at last stood there after centuries.
In response to all of this, Peter speaks, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” G. Campbell Morgan says that “This is surely what they were thinking on the mount. Lord, not that Cross to which Thou art going; let us stay here! Let us build three tabernacles here. Let us stay in this light, in this glory, in this holy conversation. Yet the conversation was of the exodus; and if they had stayed there, the exodus had never been accomplished!”