Continuing with a study of the verses from the Gospel of Mark omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, this week’s entry begins with the period of ministry wherein Jesus focuses on preparing His disciples for His death and resurrection.

As the following passage is not in the Lectionary, it becomes part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

Today’s passage comes from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Mark 9:1, 9-13

1And 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.”

The Transfiguration

9 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. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12And 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? 13But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

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Jesus’s massive public ministry is now over. He and His disciples are now in Caesarea Philippi.

In verse 1, Jesus intended to show three Apostles the glory of the world to come: Peter, along with the two brothers James and John, the Boanerges (‘sons of thunder’, Jesus’s name for them, alluding to their religious fervour).

Why did He not show everyone? Partly because the Jews understood the importance of having two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). However, what He revealed to them a few days later to these three Apostles was so wonderful and terrifying that it would have to be kept private in order to help them to understand what was about to happen to Him. This awe-inspiring event was the Transfiguration. Matthew Henry observes:

All the saints are a people near to Christ, but some lie in his bosom. James was the first of all the twelve that died for Christ, and John survived them all, to be the last eyewitness of this glory; he bore record (Jn. 1:14); We saw his glory: and so did Peter, 2 Pt. 1:16-18.

All three Synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Mark and Luke — recount this event; see Matthew 17:1-13 and Luke 9:28-36. Mark’s follows:

2 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, 3and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5And 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.” 6For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

Note how, despite being scared, Peter wished to contain and preserve the Transfiguration (verse 5), as if to say, ‘This is so marvellous, let’s stay here. We could even make You, Moses and Elijah your own tents.’  When I used to read and hear this as a youngster, I empathised with Peter’s proposal. As staggering as it was, it was also so beautiful, you wouldn’t have wanted it to end.

However, as Henry reminds us:

But observe, While Peter was for staying here, he forgot what need there was of the presence of Christ, and the preaching of his apostles, among the people. At this very time, the other disciples wanted them greatly, v. 14. Note, When it is well with us, we are apt to be mindless of others, and in the fulness of our enjoyments to forget the necessities of our brethren; it was a weakness in Peter to prefer private communion with God before public usefulness.

Where exactly did the Transfiguration take place? Henry thought it was likely to be

a high mountain which Josephus speaks of, near Caesarea.

John MacArthur thinks it was

Mount Hermon [which] towers over the Caesarea Philippi region where Peter’s confession in these moments have taken place. Very likely that mountain.

Just as quickly as Jesus was so brilliantly transformed in all His glory, the Transfiguration — very real and not a vision — ended. God overshadowed them with a cloud and instructed the three Apostles to listen closely to His Son. MacArthur says:

That is not a generic command, that is a specific command. Listen to what He has to say about His death because that was the topic of conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah. They were talking about His departure, or His death. Listen to Him. It’s another way of saying, “Stop talking and start listening to what He says about the cross.” The cross is critical. The cross is essential. There can be no Kingdom for anyone, no salvation for anyone, no heaven for anyone apart from the cross and the resurrection.

How do we know that Jesus, Moses and Elijah were discussing His imminent death? Refer to Luke 9:30-31:

30And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

For these three Apostles as well for the Jews in general, the Messiah was supposed to establish a powerful earthly kingdom. MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

They had a carefully crafted Messianic view. What they believed was what all the Jews believed, what the scribes believed, what the leaders of Israel believed, those who were students of Scripture and what they taught the people and therefore what the people came to believe, and that is that Messiah will come and when He comes it will be the day of the Lord experience, which is an Old Testament term for a judgment.

He will conquer His enemies. He will then bring salvation to the Jews. He will then elevate Israel to world supremacy. He will rule the world from Jerusalem. Having destroyed all of the enemies of Israel and all of the enemies of God, He will establish His Kingdom of righteousness, peace and knowledge which will fill the earth. Messiah will be worshiped and He will pour out divine blessing across the planet while crushing any rising evil.

The nature of life on earth would dramatically be altered and everything would be glorious and joyful and peaceful. They drew all that out of the Old Testament prophets. That’s what they expected.

This is why (verse 9), Jesus told them to keep quiet about what they had seen until after the resurrection. They didn’t understand what He was talking about because it was antithetical to Jewish belief. In the weeks which followed, MacArthur explains:

when they heard Jesus repeatedly say that He was going to suffer, be arrested, be mistreated and be killed, and then rise again, it was just not acceptable. It was a horrendous thought, a frightening thought.

Yet, in light of the Jewish rejection of Jesus, they already sensed that what was supposed to have been a powerful Messianic future was not going to plan. In today’s reading, they wondered about His death and, even more perplexing, His rising again (verse 10). What did that mean?

Then, they asked Him about Old Testament teaching from the scribes regarding the return of Elijah (verse 11). They were referring to Malachi 3 and 4. Jesus affirmed what the prophet said (verse 12) in Malachi 4:5:

5 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.

He then mentioned His own suffering which would soon follow, prophesied in Daniel 7:13.  They would have to understand this and readjust their Messianic preconceptions. The reality would be much different.

Jesus concluded by saying that Elijah had already come (verse 13). Henry and MacArthur both say that He referred not to a literal Elijah but a prophet ‘in the spirit of’ Elijah. That was John the Baptist.

Although Mark does not include this direct reference, Matthew 17:13 says:

13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

MacArthur unpacks this for us:

Turn to Luke 1…Luke 1:13, “An angel comes to Zacharias who is a priest, he’s a very old man, his wife, Elizabeth, very old and they’ve never had a child. The angel says, ‘You’ll bear a son, you’ll give him the name John..this is John the Baptist. You will have joy and gladness, many will rejoice at his birth.’” And then it describes him. “He’ll be great in the sight of the Lord. He will drink no wine or liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God.” That’s what John did, he had a ministry of repentance, didn’t he? “It is he who will go as the forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah.”

… It’s not literal Elijah. In John 1:21 when it was suggested that John the Baptist was Elijah, he says, “No, I’m not Elijah.” But he came in the spirit and power of Elijah. He is a prophet of great power, like Elijah. He is a divinely inspired prophet like Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and that’s a direct quote from Malachi. And the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

… Matthew chapter 17, a very important … parallel passage to the one that we’re looking at in Mark, and in verse 12, “I say to you that Elijah already came and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they wished, so also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” He is that Elijah-like prophet that came. They didn’t recognize him. They did to him whatever they wished, which, of course, as you know was to cut his head off. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands, verse 13, “Then the disciples understood that he had spoken to them about John the Baptist.” He is not the actual Elijah but, believe me, from his youth his father must have told him a thousand times about the angelic visit, that he would come in the spirit and power of Elijah as the forerunner to the Messiah and prepare people for His arrival.

MacArthur goes on to say that John the Baptist was only a ‘preview’ of Elijah’s return. He would have been the Elijah of the New Testament had the repentance which his ministry generated continued by a widespread belief that Jesus was the Messiah. As we know, this did not happen. Therefore, MacArthur — and other scholars — conclude that Elijah will precede the second coming of Christ as mentioned in Revelation.

By contrast, Henry, writing a few centuries earlier, dismissed this out of hand:

… it is groundless fancy; the true Elias, as well as the true Messiah promised, is come, and we are to look for no other. These words as it is written of him, refer not to their doing to him whatever they listed (that comes in a parenthesis), but only to his coming. He is come, and hath been, and done, according as was written of him.

The important thing is for us to focus on the Transfiguration and how Jesus used it to reveal His full glory. As MacArthur concludes:

What we need to learn from this is the tremendous consistency of Scripture’s pattern. The death and resurrection of Christ, the coming glory, are all assured realities affirmed by the Old Testament, even as to the individual players, affirmed by our Lord Jesus, affirmed by the presence of the glorified saints… Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration, affirmed by the Father Himself, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” the full statement, “Listen to Him as He tells you about His cross.” Let it be said clearly then, beloved, there’s no glory without the cross and the resurrection. There’s no gospel without the cross and the resurrection. They needed to understand it and they needed to know it all fit with the prophecies.

Next time: Mark 9:49-50

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