This must make skeptics crack up. Jesus climbs a mountain with three disciples. Suddenly he’s transformed. His clothes become brighter than the best detergent could get them. Dead-for-centuries Moses and Elijah appear chatting with him. Fog drifts in and envelops them. A surround-sound voice booms: “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” Then, instantly it’s all gone. Jesus is alone with three terrified followers. Right.
It’s widely held that Peter served as Mark’s source for writing his Gospel. And, since Peter’s been known to suffer from foot-in-mouth disease, maybe the high altitude dizzied Peter’s powers. But, if it happened, what’s the point?
Here’s Mark’s report . . .
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 enveloped 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 (Mark 9:2-8).
Let’s investigate. First, we recall that the “star” of Mark’s Gospel is Jesus who came “proclaiming the gospel of God”, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:14,15). We’ve already seen Jesus do some pretty mind-boggling things, like driving controlling unclean spirits from men, making leprosy disappear from a man’s skin, setting a paralytic walking, restoring a man’s withered hand, calming a storm at sea with a command, raising a dead girl to life, feeding 5000 with a few loaves and fish, and walking on water. This is what the new normal will be when God’s kingdom fully comes. Wonder-ful!
Second, in view of Jesus’ signs and wonders, transformation into eye-squinting brightness from the inside out doesn’t seem that big a deal. That’s especially true because of our familiarity with computer-generated “miracles”. It does, however, reveal something about the person of Jesus. Not what he can do (walk on water) but what or who he is. More about that later.
Third, while the appearance of Moses and Elijah is kind of strange, at the very least it shows Jesus has some kind of connection with them. It’s also interesting to note that Moses died on Mount Nebo, having been banned from the Promised Land by the LORD. Yet here he is chatting with the One who’s announcing the greater Promised Land, the kingdom of God. And Elijah never died. He got a fiery-chariot ride into the heavenly presence of God. Moses’ presence with Jesus brings to mind the word “mercy”, and Elijah’s the word “power”. Do those words connect with God’s kingdom Jesus is bringing? Do they connect with Jesus himself? Might their presence imply Jesus is the continuation of—even the fulfillment of—what God revealed through the Law (Moses) and through the prophets (Elijah)?
Fourth, think about Peter’s comment. If I were reporting this event to Mark, I would have conveniently forgotten the part where my terror made me sound like a babbling fool. “Man, Jesus, this is neat! How ’bout we set up some tents and hang here awhile?” ( . . . he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.) That he included his outburst seems a strong argument for believing the event really happened.
Fifth, the Father’s voice from the cloud is not without precedent. Remember Jesus’ baptism? “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased”–1:11). Then the words were directed to Jesus, probably to encourage him for what lay ahead. Here they’re directed to the three disciples to admonish them to pay careful attention to Jesus in light of what lay ahead for them all.
So what’s the point of this strange event? It’s as if Clark Kent got caught with his Superman clothes showing. Jesus exposed. Exposed as what? The full of glory God the Son. He’s not just a miracle-worker. Not just an announcer for God’s Kingdom. He’s God’s Son full of the glory of God.
Here’s what John and Peter themselves wrote later about this day . . .
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,
and we have seen his glory,
glory as of the only Son from the Father . . . (John 1:14).
. . . we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
For when he received honor and glory from God the Father,
and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory,
“This is my beloved Son with whom I am well please,”
we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven,
for we were with him on the holy mountain.
And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed,
to which you will do well to pay attention,
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:16b-19).
“Jesus exposed” was meant to draw our attention to Jesus. To properly fear him as “his majesty”. And to listen to him. In our world of incessant noise, to “climb a mountain” to a quiet place above it all, open his book and listen to him!