Jesus’ Transfiguration – Mark 9:1–13

Read the Passage: Mark 9:1-13

Context (9:1–4)

Mark 9:1–13 records the transfiguration of Jesus, an event reported in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, at John 1:14, as well as in the book of 2 Peter (cf. 2 Pet. 1:17–18). Interestingly, in all three Gospel accounts of the transfiguration, this event follows Christ’s instructions about the cost of discipleship and His teaching on the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ reference to the Kingdom of God (cf. Mark 9:1) is best understood as Christ’s promise to His disciples that they would soon see His royal splendor. The reason why Christ chose to reveal His divine glory at this time, which he had earlier set aside (cf. John 17:5; Phil. 2:7), is uncertain. However, it is clear the transfiguration was a planned event that likely occurred for the disciples’ own benefit (cf. Rom. 15:4). Note also, as Luke reports, that Christ’s practical reason for ascending the mountain on which He would be transfigured—taking with Him Peter, James, and John—was to pray (cf. Luke 9:28).

In Luke’s narrative of the transfiguration we learn that upon ascending the mountain, which as likely Mt. Hermon, the disciples dozed off, for they “were heavy with sleep” (Luke 9:32). While they slept, Jesus was transfigured into a glorious state and He talked with Moses and Elijah. None of the Gospel writers records the exact content of this conversation between Jesus, Moses, and Elijah; however, Luke summarizes their discussion in writing that they “spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). It seems logical that Moses’ represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets. The law and the prophets were a Jewish euphemism for the entire Old Testament. Of course, both the law and the prophets repeatedly prophesy and testify about Jesus’ birth, death, burial, and resurrection (cf. Deut. 18:15–22; Ps. 22; Isa. 53).

Conversation (9:5–8)

Each of the Synoptic Gospels records the presence of Moses and Elijah, as well as Peter’s recommendation upon seeing Jesus’ transfiguration. Here Peter says, “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” (Mark 9:5). It is unclear exactly why Peter made this suggestion; however, Mark does observe that Peter made this suggestion “because he did not know what to say” (Mark 9:6) and Luke records that Peter spoke “not knowing what he said” (Luke 9:33). Further, both Matthew and Luke observe that Peter made this suggestion as Moses and Elijah were departing (cf. Matt. 17:5; Luke 9:33). Peter’s suggestion may have been made because he thought Jesus was physically inaugurating the Kingdom of God at that time (cf. Zech. 14:16) and wanted to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. Deut. 16:13–17).

Peter, James, and John must have eventually learned that they were a special focus in Jesus’ ministry. Note that Christ only allowed Peter, James, and John to see His raising of Jairus’ daughter (cf. Mark 5:35–43), here He allowed them alone to see His transfiguration, He would later give them alone special teaching about the end times (cf. Mark 13:3–28), and they alone would see Jesus’ anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Mark 14:32–42). Yet, at this point in time the disciples seem unaware that they were participating in a special event as members of Christ’s inner circle. Upon seeing Jesus transfigured—that is, supernaturally transformed or changed in form—the disciples were greatly afraid. Their fear was surely exacerbated when they heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Mark 9:7). Note that God had delivered a similar message, which is a paraphrase of Isa. 42:1, at Jesus’ baptism (cf. Mark 1:11).

Command (9:9–13)

After the departure of Moses and Elijah, Jesus commanded the disciples not to disclose these events to anyone until “the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9). While Christ had earlier referred to His own resurrection (cf. Mark 8:31), the disciples were still clearly confused about this coming event. Furthermore, the disciples were still dazed by Christ’s transfiguration, for here they do not even ask Jesus to explain His resurrection from the dead. Rather, still focusing on the implications of the Kingdom of God related to the events they had just witnessed, they asked about the Pharisees’ teaching on Elijah. Jesus responded by reminding them, in accord with Mal. 4:5–6, that Elijah would precede the coming of the Messiah. Further, Christ taught that “Elijah has also come” (Mark 9:13). Matthew notes the disciples rightly understood this to be a reference to John the Baptist (cf. Matt. 17:12).

Application Question:

  1. What is the purpose of Jesus’ transfiguration? Why did Christ only reveal His glory to Peter, James, and John? Why did Jesus command them to keep this event secret?
  2. What is the connection between Jesus’ teaching on the coming of the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ transfiguration, and Christ’s dialog with Moses and Elijah?
  3. In what ways will our future, glorified bodies be similar to Jesus’ transfigured body (cf. Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:49; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:20–21; 1 John 3:2)?
  4. How did Peter, James, and John know the identity of Moses and Elijah? Why did Peter suggest the construction of three tabernacles?
  5. How could John the Baptist clearly teach that he was not Elijah (cf. John 1:21), while Jesus clearly taught that John the Baptist was Elijah (cf. Mark 9:13)?

Published by

David W. Jones

David W. Jones is a professor and author working in the field of Christian Ethics. You can following him on Twitter @ethicist.