Seeing the Son of God

Posted: March 4, 2014 in Mark
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Mark 9:1-13, “Seeing the Son of God”

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”  Have you ever had someone attempt to explain things to you, but nothing really makes sense until you see things with your own eyes?  Some things need to be seen to be understood – like attempting to describe colors to a person who was born blind.  Words can sometimes just fall short.  Until you come to a point of experience and true understanding, you’re just left confused.

That’s the way it was with Peter and the other apostles.  Peter had confessed (on behalf of all) that he believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  He knew the words of the doctrine, and had a basic grasp of some of what was involved, but he lacked a fuller understanding. 

Peter made that much obvious when he had the gall to pull Jesus aside and attempt to rebuke Him.  Jesus had begun to teach the disciples about His coming suffering, death, and resurrection.  All of this sounds standard to us, but we look back with 2000 years of Christian teaching, in light of the finished resurrection of Jesus.  Peter had none of this.  All Peter had was the standard Jewish expectations of the Messiah/Christ.  To be sure, the Scriptures were clear in its prophecies that the Messiah King was to suffer on behalf of the nation in addition to ruling over it in glory.  But true to human nature, people tended to concentrate their teachings on Messiah’s victory, rather than His sufferings.

This was the same understanding that Peter & all of the disciples had.  They expected a reigning King; not a Servant sent to suffer & die.  Yet that is the reality.  Not just for Jesus the Christ, but for all of those who follow Jesus as Lord.  Jesus gave up His life for us, and we are to give up our lives for Him.  The call of Christ costs us everything, but the cost is worth it.

So what was Peter & the disciples supposed to do with all of this?  They were learning that their expectations for the Messiah (and for themselves) were upside down.  That could leave anyone confused – even despondent.  After all, if the Messiah was to suffer and die, and if His followers are to deny themselves to the death, then that’s pretty bleak.  That’s it, right?  That’s all there is?

But that’s not it.  There’s more: resurrection and glory.

Just because the Messiah was to suffer didn’t mean that the Messiah would not be glorified.  Jesus had taught this when He referred to His resurrection and His coming in glory with the angels, but Peter & the disciples didn’t get it yet.  That’s what he had to be shown.  The truth of Jesus’ imminent death was sinking in, but they needed to be reminded there was more…much, much more.

So do we.  There is suffering now, but there is more to come…much, much more.  That’s what was shown in the Transfiguration.  Peter had confessed Jesus as the Christ; now he would see Jesus as the Christ.  God gave him the gift of a visual aid – a picture to help him fully see Jesus for who He truly is.  He needed to see Jesus as fully God – One who would suffer, but for whom suffering was not the end.  He needed to see Jesus as the glorious God who rules over all the earth.

Is this how you see Him?

Mark 9:1–13
1 And He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.”

  1. The first thing we need to remember is that the chapter breaks and verse numbers are not inspired.  It can be difficult to read our Bibles and not pay attention to the chapter headings and divisions, but those were additions by editors and scholars over the years.  The break in Ch 9 can cause us to think that what Jesus says here is unrelated to what Jesus was saying in Ch 8, but it’s all the same teaching.  Jesus had not finished teaching about discipleship; 9:1 is the conclusion of what began in 8:34.  … So with that in mind, what was Jesus saying?  He was teaching of His 2nd Coming.  He would come in the glory of God the Father and with the holy angels to judge those who chose the adulterous and sinful generation over following Jesus as Lord.  He taught of the time that He (as the Son of Man) would come and set up the kingdom.  It would be incredibly glorious, and the fulfillment of prophecy.
  2. The best part?  It would be witnessed.  That is the day to which we look forward as believers – this is part of how Jesus taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come.”  We long for the kingdom of God, and the Bible is clear that Jesus could come back at any moment for His church, and then the fulfillment of the kingdom is at hand (only a little while away).  As born-again believers, we will witness it all.  We won’t miss a moment as we will forever be with our Lord Jesus.
  3. Yet Jesus taught something mysterious here.  It’s not just that Jesus’ followers would see the eventual fulfillment of the kingdom.  At Jesus’ speaking, it was still 2000 years off, and it’s still future for us today.  Yet Jesus said that some of the people who were listening to Him at that very moment would see it for themselves.  They would “not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.”  Did Jesus mean that some of the disciples would never die?  Of course not.  In fact, He told them that they would all suffer – and to at least Peter, Jesus told him the specific way that he would be killed (Jn 21:19).  From history we can surmise the various ways that all of the disciples died…and yet the kingdom is still future.  Did Jesus lie?  Perish the thought!  God is not a man that He should lie (Num 23:19) – it goes against His very character & nature.  Jesus is the truth & He speaks the truth. 
  4. So what did Jesus mean?  There are three main ideas: (1) the fulfilled coming of the Kingdom, (2) the resurrection/ascension, (3) the transfiguration. 
    1. The first idea can be written off easily.  Again, the fulfillment of the kingdom is still a future event for us today.  When Jesus ascended, He told the disciples that it wasn’t for them to know the times of the things that God had put under His own authority (Acts 1:7) – the kingdom wasn’t coming quite yet.
    2. There is a sense that Jesus might refer in part to the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.  After all, that’s never far off from anything Jesus teaches at this point in His ministry.  At the same time, that doesn’t seem to be the focus here.  Jesus said that there were “some” who were standing there that would not die until they saw this; not “all.”  It seems unlikely He was referring to the resurrection, which all of the disciples would see (except Judas).  In fact, there would be many other witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, including over 500 people at one time.  Jesus implies a much smaller number would witness the thing He’s talking about here.
    3. If it’s not the fulfilled 2nd coming, or the resurrection, there’s only one thing left: the transfiguration.  It was limited to a small group (only 3), yet still directly tied in with the kingdom in power & glory – and still allows for 2000 years of history to take place.  Just from the standpoint of the book itself, Mark (and the other gospel writers) seem to try to emphasize that the transfiguration is the fulfillment of Jesus’ words, since the event is linked so closely together with the prophecy.
  5. In the transfiguration, the disciples would see the kingdom “present” – literally, “having come in power.”  They would witness the fact that the kingdom was already there, in that the kingdom is present wherever the King is.  Jesus was not always revealed in His glory, but He never once stopped being the glorious God.  That is what would be revealed to the three disciples on the mountain.  Like Moses who saw the back parts of the glory of God (Exo 34), so would the disciples very briefly see the power and the glory of God the Son.

2 Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.

  1. If you do a comparison with the synoptic gospels, you’ll notice a difference in how the timing is described.  Both Matthew & Mark say “after six days,” while Luke writes, “about eight days after.”  Different?  Yes.  Contradiction?  No.  Differences are not contradictions.  If Mark had said “exactly 6 days later,” and Luke had said, “no less than 8 days had passed,” we’d have a problem.  But that’s not the case – both write in general terms.  Both are writing to different audiences and have different backgrounds, which accounts for the different way of describing exactly the same time frame.  If I gave a preview of next Sunday’s service, we’d say it was 7 days away.  Yet if we started our count including today, we’d come up with about 8.  At the same time, we could describe next week’s service as being “after 6 days” and be completely accurate.  That’s all that takes place here.
  2. The whole point that Mark (and the other gospel writers make) is that barely a week had passed from Jesus’ statement about the kingdom, and the transfiguration.  It was quick!  Again, it seems to be the most natural fulfillment of what Jesus was just speaking of – they saw the presence of the kingdom in power.
  3. Where was the mountain?  No one really knows, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter.  The traditional site is Mount Tabor in Galilee, but it is by no means considered a “high mountain,” and it was populated at the time of Jesus & the disciples.  It would have been difficult for the four of them to get away completely “by themselves,” without anyone else being a witness.  The more likely candidate is Mt. Hermon far to the north, not terribly far from Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus & the disciples had just been & where Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ.  But again, the location doesn’t really matter at all; the fact that it happened is the important point.  (We don’t worship shrines; we worship the Son of God.  He may have walked in the area, but the ground isn’t any more holy than anywhere else.)
  4. Jesus only took three disciples with Him: “Peter, James, and John.”  Why He only took 3, the Bible never tells us.  We know that Jesus took these same three with Him alone on other occasions: when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mk 5), and later in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mk 14).  These three seemed to be Jesus’ inner circle, perhaps His closest friends within the larger group of disciples.  Why these three?  Who knows…  It certainly wasn’t anything due to the 3 men themselves.  Peter had repeatedly shown himself as impetuous, and Jesus just got done calling his actions out as satanic.  James & John had terrible tempers, and started a division among the disciples when they tried to jockey for the best positions in the future kingdom.  Yet Jesus chose these three.  That is His prerogative. He didn’t have to choose to reveal His glory to anyone…but He did.  He chose three unworthy guys, and gave them a gift that would impact them the rest of their lives.
    1. Much of the same could be said about us in our own relationship with Jesus.  Why did Jesus choose to offer salvation to us?  It’s certainly not due to anything we’ve done or deserved.  When it comes to things we “deserve,” we deserve God’s anger; not His grace!  Yet in the loving prerogative of God, Jesus DOES offer grace.  Amazing!
  5. The three disciples was a small group, but it was a sufficient group.  What they were about to experience was amazing, and if any one of them had seen it alone, they may not have believed their eyes.  They may have thought they witnessed a vision or a dream, and that it didn’t happen in reality.  Yet together, the three of them could confirm that each saw it, and that it really did happen.  More than that, the three of them provided a sufficient witness to others.  Not all of the disciples saw it take place, but enough saw it to establish it in the historical record.  For the Jews, 2-3 witnesses were necessary to establish evidence in a court of law (which is why the Sanhedrin had such a difficult time convicting Jesus of a crime – they couldn’t find witnesses that would agree with one another).  The other disciples could be sure this did indeed happen, because there were 3 witnesses who could agree on the events.
    1. BTW – we believe a historical faith.  When we talk about the life of Jesus (or anything in the Bible), we’re not talking about myths or fairy-tales.  We’re not studying legends or other things that have no basis in reality.  We’re talking about real history.  Our God really did create the heavens and the earth, and our Jesus really did walk among us, go to the cross, and rise from the grave.  This is all historical fact, and if it was not, we’d have no reason whatsoever to believe it.  But because it IS fact, we have every reason to tell the world!
  6. What actually took place on the mountain in view of the three disciples was astounding.  There was a reason God had to show it to them visually, because words fail in describing it.  Even Peter’s own description to Mark seems to fall short.  He tries to come up with an analogy, all the while knowing that analogies just don’t cut it.  This always seems to be the reaction of people who have seen the glory of God.  Moses couldn’t hardly describe anything at all, but the glow from his face told the whole story (and people couldn’t take it; he had to veil himself!).  The prophet Ezekiel described wheels within wheels in an attempt to explain what he saw.  Paul comes right out & says that he saw Paradise, but the things he heard were not lawful to utter (2 Cor 12:4).  The whole book of Revelation is John’s attempt to write of the things of glory that he witnessed, and there’s a reason that the book reads so mysteriously at times…it’s tough to describe infinite glory!  At the transfiguration, what Peter, James, and John witnessed was the utter transformation of the Lord Jesus – His very being changed right before their eyes.  One moment, Jesus looked like any other man – the next moment, He looked completely glorious & shone forth the radiant glory of God.  It wasn’t just His clothes were clean; this was supernatural…a point Peter/Mark directly emphasizes: “such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”  This was no earthly event; this was supernatural.  Whitened clothes would be superficial, but this was something vastly more than that.  This was metamorphosis (literally!) – this was complete transformation in a way in which the disciples had never seen.
  7. This is the glory of God!  This is the glory that God the Son always had from eternity past, the glory that He has today at the right hand of the throne of God, and the glory that He will have throughout all of eternity.  His glory was veiled for a time when He walked among the disciples, but for a brief moment the veil was stripped away & the disciples saw Jesus as He truly is.  Not who Jesus would one day become, but who He truly was all along.  Jesus did not “graduate” into becoming a god; Jesus IS God & has always been God.  God the Son was present among the disciples the whole time, and they only barely realized it.  Now (for a moment), they saw God the Son in His fullness.
    1. For at least one of the apostles, it wouldn’t be the last time he saw Jesus like that.  John described seeing the glorified Jesus again as the book of Revelation begins.  Revelation 1:14–16, "(14) His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; (15) His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; (16) He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength." []  THIS is our Jesus!  This is how Jesus is today, and will be throughout all eternity.  His countenance is so bright & glorious that there will be no need for the sun in heaven because Jesus Himself will be our light.
  8. Is this how YOU see the Lord Jesus?  Is this how you know Him?  Praise God that Jesus came meek & mild for us, gently calling us to Himself to be saved – but Jesus was meek & mild for but a moment in history.  His eternal being is utterly glorious.  It can be so easy to lose sight of this.  We tend to be like Peter, confessing Jesus as the Christ, asking Him to be our Savior & Lord, but not really coming to grips with the fact that Jesus is the glorious God.  Sure, we call Him “God,” using the words – but does the reality of that sink in?  When we come to worship Jesus & lift up His name, do we realize to Whom we sing?  Do we come in with the realization that we are singing directly to God?  When we pray, do we pray with the understanding that we have an audience with the glorious God of creation?  When we think of our salvation, do we remember that it was THIS Jesus who laid down His life for us?  This is no mere man – this is no simple prophet – this is GOD.  This is Whom we serve & worship.
    1. For some, it’s when you come to grips with this fact that you actually come to faith in Jesus for the first time.  You may have described Jesus as God in the past, but you didn’t really acknowledge it in your heart.  You never acted as if you believed it.  Yet there comes a moment when you realize that God is GOD – when you see God (through faith) as the glorious God that He truly is.  That kind of realization can shake you up, maybe even be a bit frightening.  That’s a good thing.  Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." []  When you realize the glory of God for what it is, that’s the starting point.  That’s the point that you come to grips with the fact that there is indeed a Holy God to Whom you must answer, and that you need to be saved.
    2. Keep in mind that everyone will one day see what Peter, James, and John saw.  We will ALL see Jesus in His glory.  The question is when.  Will you see Jesus this way through eyes of faith today – or will you see Him that way in judgment later?

4 And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

  1. This is one of those times that we wish there was more written down in the Bible.  There are some conversations and prophecies that are spoken of, but not actually recorded for us – this is one of them.  Wouldn’t you love to know what they spoke about?  Luke tells us that the general topic of conversation was Jesus’ coming death in Jerusalem (Lk 9:31), but that’s it.  The disciples don’t say anything more about it.  It’s possible that Peter, James, and John were too far away to hear the words – it’s possible that they were so overcome with fear that they didn’t comprehend anything – it’s possible that they simply didn’t pass along what was said.  This much is plain: the focus of the time on the mountain was NOT the conversation; it was glory of Jesus.  That’s what the gospel writers passed on to us, and that’s the main idea of the transfiguration.  If we’ve missed that, then we’ve missed the point.
  2. Even that Moses & Elijah were present serves to emphasize the glory of Jesus.  After all, the two of them seem to emphasize the whole of the previous Scriptures.  Moses wrote the Law, and Elijah is representative of the prophets (though he seemingly never wrote a word).  They both appear with Jesus, yet only Jesus is described in the terms He is.  Luke mentions that Moses & Elijah appeared in glory (Lk 9:31), but only Jesus is described as being transformed the way He was.  Only Jesus is described as shining forth light; not Moses nor Elijah.  The prophets from the past were there with Jesus on the mount, but they were not equal with Jesus; He showed Himself to be far superior, far more glorious than they.
  3. Interestingly, these two prophets had their own experiences with God on high mountains.  Moses and Elijah each met with God on Mt. Sinai/Mt. Horeb.  Moses, when he received the 10 Commandments & the rest of the law from God, and Elijah when he heard God’s still small voice of reassurance.  In addition, they each experienced their last earthly moments in the presence of God.  Moses died upon Mt. Nebo prior to going into the Promised Land, but God personally buried him (Deut 34:6).  Elijah never experienced death, but was taken to heaven in a whirlwind, with chariots of fire (2 Kings 2:11).  Now, here they are again with the Lord, speaking of the things to come – things of which they themselves had received some revelation, but now were seeing come to fruition.
    1. BTW – because of their appearance with Jesus in the transfiguration, it seems possible that Moses and Elijah are the two witnesses of Revelation 11, who give the testimony of God for 3.5 years in the Tribulation, unable to be killed by their enemies.  These two witnesses are described doing much of what Elijah and Moses had done in the past, so it’s quite possible that the transfiguration was a bit of a preview of what is still yet to come in the last days before Jesus’ 2nd coming.
  4. Obviously this would have been an incredible, mind-blowing experience.  None of us would have likely known how to respond, and neither did Peter…

5 Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— 6 because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.

  1. Peter’s impetuous statement is easy to understand.  What exactly does someone say when they see the Son of God in His glory standing with the two most foundational prophets of Hebrew history?  That Peter could find his voice to say anything at all is amazing!  What he said was a bit foolish, but even he acknowledged (though Mark) that “he did not know what to say.”  We need to be careful about reading too much theology into Peter’s words because even Peter walks back from what he spoke.  Luke tells us that they had all been on the verge of sleep by the time this took place, so this isn’t the statement of someone who’s thinking clearly; it’s the statement of someone who was startled awake with the overwhelming light of the glory of God shining in his eyes, and recognizing two prophets who had each passed from the earth centuries earlier.  It’s no wonder what he said was confusing!
    1. Sometimes words aren’t needed; worship is.  There are times that we need to shout for joy, but there are other times we ought not speak at all.  It’s OK to be overwhelmed with the glory of God.  If we’re never overwhelmed into silence, perhaps we haven’t really understood His glory.
  2. We know this much from Peter’s words: he wanted to make things last.  He wanted to “make three tabernacles,” one for each of them, in order that the event could go on forever.  Where the three disciples would sleep, Peter didn’t say.  All he knew is that he saw his Lord & two honored prophets, and wanted to honor all of them with shelter.  There are two problems with this:
    1. The moment wasn’t supposed to last.  If Jesus had stayed up on the mountain in His glory, He would never have gone to the cross.  The very topic of conversation was about His impending death; He HAD to suffer and die.  Peter had just gotten a rebuke from the Lord for trying to talk Jesus out of going to the cross, and now Peter was unwittingly doing it again in his confusion.
      1. The transfiguration showed Jesus in His glory, but it was a preview of what they would all experience later.  It was a reassurance that although the Messiah would suffer now, that He would be raised to fulfill all the prophecies of the Kingdom.  The Son of God would be killed, but He cannot be forever destroyed…it’s impossible!  The disciples needed to know the true glory of Jesus so that they would have faith during the sufferings to come. (So do we!)
    2. The second problem is that Peter made all of them equal.  It’s not that there ought to be three tents for each of them.  If there was to be anything, there ought to have been one tent for Jesus, and everyone else was set apart.  Moses & Elijah was not greater than the apostles, and they certainly were not on equal footing with the Son of God.  Jesus is greater than all!
  3. God bring correction, and how! …

7 And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

  1. This is the 2nd appearance of the glory of God.  The first was the bright “shekinah” glory of God shining from the person of Jesus; the second is the weight “chabod” glory of God that comes in the cloud.  There were many appearances of God’s glory as a cloud throughout the OT: the descent of God upon Mt. Sinai – the pillar of cloud that led Israel through the wilderness – the glory of God that filled the tabernacle, and then the temple, etc.  The glory of God is seen here at the transfiguration, was seen again at the ascension of Jesus, and will be seen once more when Jesus comes in power with the clouds.  IOW, this isn’t merely an overcast day; these are clouds with purpose!  This is the glory of God overshadowing them.  (An overwhelming day for the disciples, for sure!)
  2. God the Father basically cuts Peter off mid-sentence (Mt 17:5, “while he was still speaking”), interrupting his rambling to get the focus back on Jesus.  This was not the time to make up inventions and start planning the things of men; this was a time to look to Jesus for who He is, and to listen to Him.  God affirms a couple of things here:
    1. Jesus is God’s “beloved Son.”  This was the same description God spoke of Jesus at His baptism (1:11), and an affirmation that Jesus is different than all the rest.  He’s not on the same level as Moses & Elijah.  They were prophets of God & Moses was even called a friend of God (as would be the disciples later on), but only Jesus is the “beloved Son” of God.  Through the grace of Jesus, everyone who is saved is made a child of God, but Jesus is still set apart from us all.  There is no one in all the universe that is like Him.  He is not like any other human, or even any other king of Israel – He is God Himself.  The glory of God is not reflected off of Jesus; it emanates from Him.  He is God’s Beloved Son.
    2. Jesus was to be heard.  This is important for all, but especially for Peter.  Peter had tried to tell Jesus that His plan was no good, and that the Messiah should not talk of suffering and death.  It wasn’t Peter’s place to instruct Jesus on anything.  Peter was supposed to listen to Jesus; not the other way around.  Jesus is the One from whom we hear the words of God.  Jesus is the One from whom we hear the invitation to be saved.  Jesus is the One to whom we must listen!  Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice and follow Me.” (Jn 10:27)  If we don’t hear the voice of our Shepherd, then we cannot be sure we are His sheep.  We must “hear” Jesus and follow Him.
  3. Again, all of this has to be kept in light of Peter’s earlier confession of Jesus as the Christ.  Peter knew that much…he could acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, and the King of all Israel.  At least, he could say the words and believe them, even if he couldn’t truly wrap his mind around the concept.  Now God personally underscores it all, and shows it to him in a fantastic way.  “Yes, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  You got that much right, now SEE Him.  SEE who the Christ is & see what that means!  Stop trying to push your own plans and agenda upon Jesus.  Hear HIM.  Hear what He’s come to do, and what He’s calling you to do.  See and hear the Living God!”

8 Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.

  1. With the affirmation from God the Father, nothing else needed to be said.  Moses & Elijah were gone, and Jesus’ form had returned to its previous humble state.  Matthew tells us that at the words of God, the disciples had fallen on their faces, being greatly afraid (understandably so!), and that Jesus came to them & graciously touched them to let them know things were OK (Mt 17:6).  It had been quite the event, but now it was over.  They got a glimpse of the glory of God (both in the light & in the cloud) – they heard the voice of God the Father affirming the identity of God the Son – and now Jesus was before them again.  Do you think they were looking at Jesus a bit differently?  It would have been impossible not to!

9 Now as they came down from the mountain, He commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen, till the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

  1. As with many other times, Jesus gave the command for silence.  Yet this time, the silence had a specific expiration date given: “till the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  No doubt, the minds of Peter, James, and John were reeling by the things they had just seen.  They had enough difficulty trying to describe it years after Jesus was risen from the dead…imagine their attempt to describe it even to the other apostles prior to the cross!  There simply was no way to understand the transfiguration apart from the resurrection – it wouldn’t make any sense.  Why would Jesus appear in glory as God if God was killed & stayed dead.  If God the Son stayed dead, He wouldn’t truly be God the Son; He would have been an imposter.  Only God has power over the grave, thus only God has power to rise from the grave (and can give the power for others to do the same).  Jesus was shown in His glory as God in advance to show the disciples what to expect; the proof would be when He actually did according to the expectation & rose from the grave.  After that point, the proof would be abundant.
  2. In fact, that’s exactly the event Peter himself referred to when talking about the historical truth of Jesus.  2 Peter 1:16–18, "(16) For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. (17) For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (18) And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain." []  In light of the resurrection, the glory of Jesus is proven in abundance.  It’s proof of His identity, and the assurance of His promises.  Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can trust that everything that was testified of Him, whether by the apostles’ teaching or by God the Father Himself, is absolutely true.

10 So they kept this word to themselves, questioning what the rising from the dead meant.

  1. It’s not that Peter, James, and John had never heard of the resurrection.  They were observant Jews, likely raised under the teaching of the Pharisees.  They understood about a future resurrection for the people of God.  What they didn’t understand was what Jesus meant by the resurrection in terms of the Son of Man.  Jesus set that apart as a separate resurrection (as He had many other times & would do so again).  That was a mystery to them, but they apparently hesitated to ask Jesus about it at the time.  It would become clear, soon enough.
  2. But they did have at least one other question…

11 And they asked Him, saying, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

  1. It was a natural question.  They had just seen Elijah on the mountain, and they knew the teaching of the scribes from the prophet Malachi, that Elijah would come prior to the day of the Lord (the coming Kingdom).  Elijah would teach in such a way that he would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to their fathers (Mal 4:5-6).  IOW, there would be a great restoration among Israel just prior to God’s glorious coming.  The question on their mind was simple: had they just witnessed it?  Elijah was only there for a moment – he didn’t go out and minister among the people.  But was that the fulfillment of the prophecy, or was there more to come?

12 Then He answered and told them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and restores all things. And how is it written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I say to you that Elijah has also come, and they did to him whatever they wished, as it is written of him.”

  1. Jesus’ answered in two ways.  (1) “Elijah is coming,” and (2) “Elijah has also come.”  There is a ministry of Elijah yet to come.  Jesus uses the present tense to refer to the restoring, but the context is plainly future.  The “restoring” takes place at Elijah’s “coming.”  There is a time coming that Elijah arrives, and he will begin that work of restoration (most likely a reference to Revelation 11, as he witnesses for 3.5 years).  At the same time, in a sense, Elijah had already come.  Matthew explicitly tells us this is a reference to John the Baptist (Mt 17:13).  Jesus had taught earlier that John had fulfilled one of the roles of Elijah (Mt 11:14), in that John prepared the way of the Lord.  He preached repentance and restoration in preparation for King Messiah, just as Elijah will preach repentance and restoration in preparation for the coming Kingdom.  John was not the physical person of Elijah (the Bible knows nothing of reincarnation), so John could only fulfill the role of Elijah.  Because the Bible says Elijah will come, Elijah will most certainly come – which is affirmed here by Jesus in the way He answers.
  2. Even in speaking of Elijah and John, the focus isn’t so much on the glorious kingdom (which is what the disciples were thinking of), but on the suffering that would come first.  Elijah did many works of power, but he was also a persecuted prophet.  The reason Elijah was on Mt. Horeb when he heard God’s voice was because he was running for his life away from Queen Jezebel.  Likewise, John the Baptist was persecuted. He was jailed for his preaching, and lost his head due to the vindictiveness of another pagan queen who sat in the palaces of Jerusalem.  The forerunner of the Messiah suffered greatly, being no greater from the One he proclaimed.  Jesus would suffer, and that would not be avoided.  The prophecies to which the disciples looked did not stop the sufferings of Jesus; they predicted it.
    1. The disciples (like so many of us) kept getting things backward.  They thought that because Jesus would reign, that He could not suffer.  In reality, if Jesus had not suffered, He would not reign.  He’d still be God, but there would be no Kingdom because there would be no one left!  All of us would be lost in our sin if Jesus had not first suffered.  It’s only because of His suffering at the cross that we have the promise of living in His glory later.

How do you see Jesus?  Is He just another guy, to whom we can give advice?  Is He a great teacher or prophet, in a long line of great teachers and prophets?  He’s so much more than that!  He’s GOD.

That’s relatively easy for us to say, but it can be a bit more difficult to comprehend.  Actually, it’s impossible to comprehend until we make the decision to truly humble ourselves before Jesus and actually hear Him.  The streets are filled with people who have the right terminology about Jesus.  You could walk up to any person in Tyler, ask them who Jesus is, and 9 times out of 10, they will respond along the lines that Jesus is God.  The real question is if they’ve ever really come to grips with that fact.  They can state the right words, but they haven’t really seen Jesus as God by faith, and they haven’t heard Jesus’ words to be that of God.

That’s what God showed the disciples during the transfiguration.  Peter, James, and John (for a moment) saw Jesus in His unrestrained glory.  And they were left fearful, dumbfounded, and amazed in response.  What the disciples saw on the mount is what we will be seeing for all eternity.  It’s the way that our Lord Jesus is right now.  He is not the weak babe in a manger, or a dead man hanging limply from the cross.  That’s how the world chooses to remember Jesus, but that’s not who He truly IS.  Popular culture prefers to see Jesus as a nice guy to be around, perhaps even a bit of a revolutionary against religious hypocrites – but they stop short of seeing Jesus as the Lord GOD.  Yet that is exactly who Jesus is.

Is this how you see Him?  Christian, beware of falling into the trap where “Christ” is simply another name, and Jesus is another guy whose advice we can take or leave.  Too many people want the promise of Jesus for salvation, but neglect the reality of Jesus as the glorified God.  Know Whom it is we worship – remember to Whom we listen & obey!  Hear Him as God the King, and see Him in His glory!  That ought to change the way we worship – the way we pray – the way we serve.  We’re not just doing it to “do Christian things”; we’re doing it because we’re interacting with the glorious almighty God of the Universe.

  1. John Warren Jr. says:

    One of Peter’s best qualities is that he is always ready to give an answer. Probably the most shining example was on the day of Pentecost.

  2. timburns says:

    I agree. There are times he said things he would later regret (like all of us!), but he was a great example of a person with bold faith.

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