Mark 9: 2 – 13 The transfiguration
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. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
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.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
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. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.
And they asked him, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’
Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.’
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The Transfiguration is one of the key events in Jesus’ life. Matthew (Matthew 17: 1 – 13), Mark (Mark 9: 2 – 13) and Luke (Luke 9: 28 – 36) include detailed accounts in their gospels. The accounts agree.
In addition, Peter describes it from the point of view of an eyewitness in his second epistle (2 Peter 1: 16 – 18). “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” (Note, though, that there is controversy as to whether this letter was actually written by Peter the apostle. Although the consensus among scholars seems to be that the epistle wasn’t written by Peter, there are some persuasive arguments in favour of Peter’s authorship.)
Finally, John is probably referring to it obliquely in his gospel. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Why is it so important?
The experience shook Peter, James and John to the core. Mark says, of Peter, “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.” And yet, at the same time, Peter seems to have wanted to prolong the experience, saying ‘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.’
The transfiguration revealed a little of the transcendent God to Peter, James and John. Peter, in his epistle, refers to this revelation as “the Majestic Glory”. It must have been awe-inspiring. It showed the reality of God beyond the physical world. Peter, James and John were given an experience of Jesus as he is in spiritual form. They saw him talking with his predecessors, Moses and Elijah, who symbolised the Law and the Prophets. They heard a voice from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
What Peter, James and John saw, what they remembered, what they caused to be written down in the gospels, was Jesus as he exists beyond our material world.
On the way down the mountain Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until after he had risen from the dead. Why did he do this?
The disciples were finding it very difficult to understand that Jesus was going to suffer and die. We saw in Mark 8: 31 – 33, for example, how Peter was rebuked by Jesus because he rejected Jesus’ teaching that the Son of Man must be put to death.
I suspect that Peter, James and John needed time to think about what they had seen and experienced. By adding “until the Son of Man has risen from the dead” to his order not to tell anyone, Jesus linked the transfiguration with the resurrection in the minds of Peter, James and John, and that helped them make sense of the events of Holy Week. The vision of Jesus in power would have helped sustain them during the horror of the crucifixion and the mingled joy and terror of the resurrection.
We, too, can experience something of the reality of God’s power displayed in Jesus, through the in-dwelling Holy Spirit. We just have to ask, listen and obey. The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth – including the truth of God’s power displayed in Jesus. I once experienced the shadow of a reflection of the “Majestic Glory,” and it was breathtakingly wonderful.
Still, perhaps the best explanation of the importance of the Transfiguration is from John.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Thank you for sending Jesus to us. Thank you for revealing him as he is eternally, in power with you. Please, through the power of your Holy Spirit, allow your present-day disciples to glimpse Jesus transfigured and in power.
In Jesus’ name, Amen