Mark 9:2-9: Jesus’ Transfiguration

The time for Jesus’ earthly miracles was fading fast.  And soon, His popularity would begin to wane, as well.  For now, we find ourselves at the midpoint of Mark’s Gospel, where Jesus turns His face toward the task of dying and rising.  Jesus begins to teach His disciples that He will have to suffer.  He says the religious leaders will reject Him and have Him killed; but, on the third day, He will rise.

Jesus began to speak such somber truths to His followers, for the only way to have true life was to die with Him.  Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come with me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:24).  Death and resurrection are the only way.  Life entails losing your life and trusting Jesus.

That’s tough talk.  Peter doesn’t want to hear it.  So, Peter takes Jesus aside and begins to set Him straight.  This isn’t the Messiah we want.  Let’s get back on track here.  We don’t like this death-and-resurrection talk.  It’s depressing.  We want miracles and mountaintops.  We prefer the glad and happy, not the gloom and doom of the valley of death.

But Jesus is making His way toward the stony slope of death.  This begins to unsettle His disciples.  Where was that in the small print when they left their fishing boats to follow Jesus?  Where’s the glory, the power?  What’s this depressing talk about suffering, death, and resurrection?  Who wants that?

Jesus then looks at His disciples–those doubting and uncertain followers–and assures them that everything is as it should be.  Do you want power?  All right, Jesus says, “Some of you will not taste death until you see the kingdom of God come in power” (Mark 9:1).

Then Jesus lets those words hang in the air for a week.  But none of the disciples dared ask Jesus what He meant.  So, six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a short retreat, high up on the mountaintop.  Jesus didn’t bring the other disciples.  He didn’t even bring Peter’s brother, Andrew.  Jesus only brought Peter, James, and John.

They were the ones who wouldn’t taste death until they saw God’s kingdom come with power.  Why not the other disciples?  This vision wasn’t for everyone but only for those three.  Jesus even told them not to tell the other disciples until after He had risen from the dead.  That’s because, like earthly miracles, visions are not the substance of faith–the crucified and risen Jesus is.

But Jesus doesn’t want everyone to see Him this way–at least not yet!  On the Last Day, everyone will see Jesus shine like the sun and flash like lightning in the sky.  But now is not the time.  Right now, that wouldn’t be safe for us.  We’d be toast.  And that’s so like Jesus–He doesn’t’ use displays of power to persuade the world.  He uses the cross and resurrection, the Word and the Spirit.

So, Jesus transfigures before Peter, James, and John.  The Greek word is “metamorphosized”; we might say “morphed,” changed.  Jesus changed before them.  This was a Jesus that they hadn’t seen before.  He was shining, glorious, radiant, and glowing.  He was brighter than the brightest light.  His clothing was an unearthly white.  He was shining as God of God and Light of Light, His divinity shining through His humanity.  Every corpuscle of His human flesh gleamed with God’s brilliance.  They saw the second Person of the Undivided Trinity beaming with the glory of God!

Even more, they also see Moses and Elijah standing next to Jesus, talking to Him!  They’re the greatest two people of the Old Testament.  Moses was “Mr. Torah” and Elijah was “Mr. Prophet.”  “The Law and the Prophets” show up to testify of Jesus, just as they did in the Old Covenant.  St. Luke tells us that they were talking about Jesus’ “exodus,” His death and resurrection.

Moses’ and Elijah’s lives were signposts that pointed forward to the Messiah.  Moses was the covenant mediator.  He was the go-between between God and the Israelites.  He talked with God onMt.Sinai.  His face glowed with the glory of God, pointing to the glory that all God’s saints would have in Christ Jesus.  Elijah was the prophetic preacher of the Word.  His fiery ascension into heaven was a picture pointing forward to Christ’s ascension.  Both of their lives pointed to Jesus.

And now they stand with Jesus on His mountain.  But how did Peter, James, and John know who Moses and Elijah were?  There were no introductions or name tags.  It’s because the Transfiguration was a little preview of coming attraction, a sneak peak of the Resurrection on the Last Day.  That’s when our bodies will rise in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.  That’s when, in Christ Jesus, all will know us in our full personhood.

This mountain is a glimpse of the Resurrection on the Last Day.  That’s when you will rise and shine with the glory of Jesus, and you will be known.  Like Peter, James, and John, you will know all who have been joined to Christ; and they will know you.  You’ll know others that you haven’t known before in this life.  They’re the “whole company of heaven” who worships with us during every Divine Service.  We’ll finally get to meet them.

So, there’s Peter.  He comes up with a bright idea.  “It’s good we’re here, Rabbi.  I tell you what, let’s put up three tents: one for You, another for Moses, and another for Elijah.   What do you think?”  Mark tells us that Peter didn’t know what he was saying.  Although fearful, Peter still wanted to revel in the glory and not let the moment pass.  He wanted to have this mountaintop experience continue and not have to trudge down into the valley.

But Jesus had a different focus.  Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory with Christ, spoke of His departure, which He was about to carry out atJerusalem.  That’s the crux of Jesus’ mission.  He came to give His life on the cross.  He came to earth to suffer and to die for your sins.  That’s the way of the cross.  Jesus came to serve and give Himself as a ransom.  He came to buy you back from sin, death, and the devil and make you His own.

So, God pulls the plug, and the transfiguration lights go out.  A thick cloud swallows them up.  Then, the Father repeats what He said at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to Him.”  Listening is what takes place with your ears, not your eyes.  Faith comes by hearing, not looking.

Jesus’ transfiguration was a piece of evidence.  Peter later wrote about the Transfiguration.  “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty.  He received honor and glory from God the Father and a voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory” (2 Peter 1:16-17).  Peter then doesn’t say, “Now, go off and have your own mountaintop vision.”  Instead, he says, “We have the prophetic word more-fully confirmed.  You will do well to pay attention to it, as you would to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).

Listen to Jesus’ words to you.  He has the words that count.  His words are Spirit and life.  He has the words of eternal life.  The preached Word of Christ–that’s your holy mountain, that’s where the Lord meets you face-to-face.  That’s where God reveals His glory to you.  Yes, the glory is hidden, hidden behind clouds, but still it is God’s glory.  There’s no “shine Jesus shine,” just words, words to make you righteous, words that wash away your sin–Jesus’ words!  Hear them and trust them.

The three disciples then looked around and saw “only Jesus.”  They saw no one but Jesus alone.  Yes, it’s thrilling to see Moses on the mountain.  But Moses doesn’t save you.  His commandments can’t save you.  They can’t even make you a better person or even change you.  Yes, it’s exciting to see Elijah.  But Elijah doesn’t save you.  Even the holy vision of God whisking Elijah to heaven without dying doesn’t save you.  That was a sign of something greater to come–a greater One to come.

Yes, they saw no one but Jesus.  It wasn’t even the shining Jesus they saw.  They saw just the everyday, earthy Jesus.  For only the earthy, flesh-and-blood Jesus dies and rises to take away your sins.  Only in the real, flesh-and-blood Jesus does God the Holy Spirit restore and redeem you to God the Father.  Only in Jesus does God the Father forgive you.  Only in Jesus are your sins gone as far as the east is from the west.  Only in Jesus do you have life, life as God intends it to be, and life in all its fullness.

Jesus’ transfiguration is a sneak peak of the Resurrection on the Last Day.  That’s when Jesus will appear in His glory, not just to three, select disciples, but to the entire world.  That’s when His light will flash like lightning filling the sky from east to west.  That’s when the dead will rise in the power of His resurrection, and we will be changed, transfigured, to be like Him in His glory.

Yet, even now, asSt. Paulsays, we reflect His glory and are being transfigured.  God the Holy Spirit, through the Word of Christ, is changing us into the likeness of Jesus, from glory to glory.  Of course, you can’t see it, for now you walk by faith.  But it’s true, it’s real, nonetheless.

But first you too must die and rise, just as Jesus died and rose.  It’s then that Jesus will reveal to you what He’s been up to with you.  Then, you will see what the glory of Jesus looks like–in you, on you, and through you.  But now you are to believe and trust that when God looks at you, He sees you through His Son, in the Holy Spirit.  And the sight of it is glorious, indeed!  Amen.