The Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus as presented to us in Mark 9 it is directly connected to the end of the previous chapter. Here the Lord speaks about His own death on the cross and the glorious Kingdom. In the story of the transfiguration we see something of the promise of everlasting life after this earthly one is over. This earthly life might be hard for the believer but there is an eternal reward awaiting him.
The glorious event
“And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus.” (Mark 9:1-4).
Jesus went up the mountain to commune with His Father, “And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering” (Luke 9:28-29). What were Jesus, Moses and Elijah talking about? According to Luke 9:30-31, they were discussing His death on the cross. “And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” It is interesting, in light of Moses’ presence, that the word for “decease” in Greek means “exodus”. Jesus never ceased to exist but departed from one place to another.
Behind this glorious event is the teaching of eternal peace and joy in Heaven. The Lord Jesus was lowly and poor throughout His earthly life, but here the three disciples caught a glimpse of the royal majesty of the Son of God. It is meant to teach us that when He appears the second time, His saints, just like Moses and Elijah, will appear with Him. Though the believer, as with Jesus, is reviled and persecuted in this life, because they belong to Christ, will one day be clothed with honour and glory in His presence. The events on the mount of transfiguration foreshadow the millennial reign of Christ with His saints. “In the transfiguration we have in miniature form all the salient features of the future kingdom in manifestation” (W. H. Rogers).
Some commentators speak of Jesus’ transfiguration as “dazzling splendour” radiating from His Person, so that even His clothing shone whiter than pure snow. The mount may have been the snow-capped Mount Hermon, which adds significance to the mention of snow in the text. The transfiguration of the Lord brightens our perspective in this dark, sinful and Christ-rejecting world. The glorious event on the mount speaks of the wonderful things that God has prepared for us. One day He who was crucified on Calvary will return in power and great glory. “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4) … “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:30-31).
The presence of Moses and Elijah, besides speaking of the Law and the Prophets, can represent all saints who have died, and those who will be translated directly into Heaven as Elijah was (see 2 Kings 2).
The good experience
“And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid” (Mark 9:5-6).
The disciples did not see everything that took place on the mount, for God allowed a sleep to come over them just after Jesus was transfigured, “But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him” (Luke 9:32). It was only when they were fully awake that they saw Moses and Elijah.
Up until now the disciples only saw Jesus through fleshly eyes, but God allowed them to see the unveiled glory of Christ. Peter realised that they were sharing in a wonderful and Heavenly experience on the mount, but his words showed that he did not yet understand the purpose for Jesus’ coming into the world to suffer and die for sinners. Neither did he appreciate the pre-eminence of Christ, but instead placed Him alongside Moses and Elijah. Like so many today Peter viewed Jesus as just another prophet like Moses or Elijah. It was out of fear that Peter spoke of building three tabernacles. The event stirred his heart to want to do something to commemorate what they had seen. If the vision of two saints in glory quickened Peter, what is it going to be like for believers who will take part in the rapture of the church? The three disciples had a foretaste of what we will experience in all fullness.
The grand encouragement
“And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves” (Mark 9:7-8).
Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets. Their appearance was to testify that the Old Testament finds its completion in Jesus Christ. Their disappearance speaks to us of the fact that only Jesus is the Saviour. We notice that the Father spoke of Jesus as the One man should hear. He alone has the chief place and He alone must reign in our lives. As God, Jesus will not share His glory with another.
The “cloud” here may have been the Shekinah glory of God which filled the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament. It was the visible expression of God’s presence amongst His people.
The great explanation
“And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him” (Mark 9:9-13).
The disciples would not understand the full significance of what they had experienced until after Jesus had risen from the dead, but for now they questioned certain Old Testament prophesies, especially the one found in Malachi 4:5, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” If Elijah had not come, then surely Jesus could not go to the cross. But Elijah had come and the people failed to acknowledge him. They abused and rejected him, and put him to death. They rejected the forerunner and would reject the King, “But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them” (Matthew 17:12). John was not literally Elijah but came with the same anointing, “And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17), “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come” (Matthew 11:14). Matthew 17:13, explains that the disciples understood that Jesus was referring to John the Baptist, “Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.”
Those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ are called to listen to His voice, not the voice of religious leaders or the world, but He who alone has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). If we obey His voice then we will never fall or be led astray. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Peter tells us that obeying the Scriptures is more profitable to the believer than seeing the Lord transfigured, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:16-19).