The Transfigi....What?

March 26, 2017

Why is it that in every story we read or watch on T.V. there is adversity? Well, it’s because adversity is what makes the story compelling and ultimately fulfilling. It’s compelling and fulfilling because adversity is the reality of the lives that we live. Whether you are born on the other side of the tracks or born with a silver spoon in your mouth, all of us experience adversity in life. Stories showing how people face adversity encourage us.

Today we are in Mk.9:2-13. It is not the easiest passage to understand and yet it is a significant moment in the life of Jesus. Plus, it has significance for all followers of Jesus. We are looking at the transfiguration of Jesus. Some are saying, “The what?” Well just follow along. Jesus’ transfiguration is a source of encouragement for all who follow him.


Six days after Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah and Jesus challenged his disciples to take up their cross to follow him, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a high mountain, which many believe to be Mt. Hermon. On the mountain Jesus was transfigured before them. In other words, his appearance was changed to the point that even his clothes became radiant, intensely white. And Elijah with Moses appeared. They were talking with Jesus. This amazing story is known as the Transfiguration. What is this all about?

One of the interesting aspects of this story is that it has a number of allusions to Mt. Horeb, otherwise known as Mt. Sinai, referred to in the Old Testament. Listen to Ex.24:15-18. “Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.” Moses was on Mt. Sinai and the cloud of God’s glorious presence covered the mountain.

It is also interesting to see that Elijah had an encounter with God on Mt. Sinai. In 1Kgs.19 Elijah was fleeing for his life and in v.8-11 it says, “And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He said, "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." And he said, "Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD."

What is the significance of Elijah and Moses appearing and talking with Jesus? Various suggestions have been offered. The suggestion that I find most compelling is that Moses and Elijah were not only two of the most significant prophets of the Old Testament, but as we have seen, both of them had encounters with God on Mt. Sinai. And to my knowledge they are the only Old Testament prophets that encountered God on Mt. Sinai. What is more, Moses and Elijah appear together in one Old Testament passage, Mal.4:4-6, a passage which figures into the coming of Jesus Christ. In Mal.4:4-6 the Lord says, “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.’"

In Malachi. we learn that Elijah is a forerunner of the Messiah. In Dt.18:15 Moses says, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers--it is to him you shall listen.” In Mk.9:7 God, speaking in the cloud, says to Peter, James and John, “Listen to him,” referring to Jesus. Moses and Elijah are connected to Jesus.

The transfiguration brings encouragement because it powerfully affirms that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promise to send a Messiah. Jesus is the prophet envisioned by Moses. Jesus is the one for whom Elijah, in the person of John the Baptist, prepares the way. In the unfolding of history of Israel, God is faithful. We can trust him.

We don’t know what Elijah, Moses and Jesus were talking about. I don’t think they were giving Jesus advice. The focus was not on Elijah and Moses. When the cloud disappeared so did Moses and Elijah. Only Jesus remained. Jesus is the faithfulness of God in the flesh. Trust him. Listen to him.

According to v.5, Peter, James and John were terrified. Maybe to alleviate his fear, Peter blurted, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." In other words, because this is such an astounding moment, it should be prolonged and preserved. Elijah, Moses, and Jesus all present together on the earth! “No. Peter you do not understand. Moses, Elijah and Jesus are not on the same level. They are not even close.”

We see that a cloud overshadowed them. The cloud of God’s presence was on Mt. Sinai with Moses. The cloud of God’s presence accompanied the people of Israel to Promised Land. The cloud that overshadowed on the mount of Transfiguration was also infused with the presence of God. And a voice came out of the cloud. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And with that Moses and Elijah were gone.

Clearly the focus is meant to be on Jesus. The ministries of Moses and Elijah are finished. The presence of God with men is found in the person of Jesus. John.1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacled, tented) among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Peter, James, and John saw the glory of God fully present in the person of Jesus, for Jesus is God. This is another encouragement. If you know Jesus, you know God. The presence of God dwells in you since Jesus dwells in his people.

Why listen to Jesus? Why take up one’s cross? It is because Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel and the world. It is because Jesus brings the presence of God to our very lives. In Jesus, God is with us in all his glory and he will care for us as we take up our cross. Jesus is the faithful presence of God with us.


Being up on the mountain was an incredible experience for Peter, James, and John. But at some point you have to come down from the mountain to everyday living. And with that in mind, Jesus tells them to keep what they saw and heard to themselves until after he has risen from the dead. Of course they did not grasp what Jesus meant by “risen from the dead,” but in the transfiguration one can see an anticipation of the glory of Jesus’ coming resurrection. They saw Jesus in his glorified state and this was meant to encourage them as they took up their cross to follow Jesus.

They had just seen Elijah and while they came down the mountain they had questions. One of their questions centered on Elijah. “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” Jesus confirms what the scribes say and we know from the gospels that the ministry of John the Baptist fulfills what was prophesied concerning Elijah.

But there is more to this question than meets the eye. After all, if Elijah comes before the day of the Lord to restore all things, why on earth would the Messiah have to die? If all things are restored, people are repenting and being reconciled, why can’t the Messiah just come and reign? They are not able to wrap their minds around the idea that Jesus, the Messiah should die.

So Jesus counters with a question. In v.12 Jesus says, “Yes, Elijah does come first to restore all things. But wait, how can it be written that the Son of Man should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” It’s like Jesus is saying, “Yes there is the prophecy about Elijah but there are also prophecies about the suffering Messiah.” In fact, many believe that in v.12 Jesus is alluding to Is.53:3, which says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Jesus is applying this verse from Isaiah to himself.

And then in v.13 Jesus points out that Elijah has come, referring to John the Baptist. And Elijah also suffered. When we think about John the Baptist we know that he was beheaded for preaching the need for repentance.

What is the point of all this? I believe that in this passage God wants us to understand that the way to enter into his glory is the way of the cross. They saw the glory of God in the person of Jesus. That is who Jesus is. But Jesus also wanted them to understand that those who follow him, those who embrace his story, will encounter rejection and suffering just as he did. The suffering of Jesus does not diminish his glory. The suffering of Jesus on the cross opens the pathway to glory through his resurrection. As we embrace or enter into our Savior’s story, we also take up the way of the cross in our own lives. It is the only way to life in God’s kingdom. It is the only way to righteousness, joy and peace.

How does one embrace our Savior’s story? Well, seeing that he is God in the flesh, seeing that he is the way to eternal living through the forgiveness of our sins, we bow before him. We repent of our self-directed living. We put our faith in him alone, embracing him as our Savior, Lord and king, and we follow him for all of life.

Sometimes it can sound as if Christianity is a kind of bait and switch game. Think about it. The first seven chapters of Mark show Jesus as a miracle worker who does amazing things for people and teaches about entering into the kingdom of God. Jesus lived the kind of life that most would aspire to. And it was slowly dawning on some of Jesus’ followers that he was Israel’s Messiah, who would overthrow Roman occupation and make Israel great again. Why not follow Jesus? But then we come to Mk.8 and Jesus starts talking about how he is going to suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise again. And he challenges his followers to deny themselves and take up their cross to follow him. It seems that Jesus is changing his tune. Instead of following him into the joy of the kingdom, now he tells us to follow him into suffering.

How many times have we heard someone share the gospel and make it sound like pie in the sky? If you turn to Christ everything will be great. All your problems will be gone, only to discover that the Christian life is far more challenging than was told to us. It sounds like a bait and switch. But it’s not a bait and switch. Jesus does indeed promise eternal living. He does indeed promise the forgiveness of sins. He does promise joy and peace. But this world is opposed to Jesus, and so those who embrace Jesus will also experience opposition from the world. Jesus’ transfiguration is a source of encouragement for all who follow him. We are encouraged because Jesus is God in the flesh who is faithful, present, and eternally alive. And he is living in us. Amen