The Transfiguration


‘After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.’ Mark 9:2

The mountain in question is either Mount Taber in modern-day Syria or Mount Hermon in Israel which is the highest mountain in Israel. Peter, James and John were with Him in Jairus house, the synagogue ruler, when Jesus healed his daughter, Luke 8:49-56. Peter, James and John went with Him when He went to pray at Gethsemane, Mark 14:33.

Why did they go up the mountain? Luke 9:28 tells us they went up the mountain to pray.

Why didn’t He take the other disciples with Him? Why did Jesus take only Peter, James and John up the mountain? He simply was preparing them for leadership, remember that Peter had just confessed that Jesus is the Christ. Mark 8:28-38.

The transfiguration was the conformation of Peter’s confession, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. It also points to a change from the law and the prophets to the One to whom the law and prophets pointed, Luke 24:44.

Peter was given the keys to the kingdom and Jesus says to him, ‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Matthew 16:19. Which means he was given the right to teach the new law of forgiveness with its terms and conditions.

James was executed by Herod, Acts 12:1-2 which tells us that James must have been a man of influence or Herod wouldn’t have bothered to kill him.

John seems to be the quiet one but at the cross of Jesus, he was given the responsibility of looking after Jesus’ mother, which also tells us that by this time Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather was dead. John 19:26-27.

How do you think the other disciples felt when Jesus only took Peter, James and John to certain places?

They possibly felt a little jealous, that’s possibly why they started arguing among themselves about who was the greatest. Luke 9:46 / Luke 22:24. This could be possible because Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what happened up on the mountain. Matthew 17:9.

The Transfiguration

‘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.)’ Mark 9:3-6

Jesus had taken three of His closest friends with Him to a high mountain, there, whilst Jesus was praying, Luke 9:29, He began to glow with breath-taking brilliance.

The word transfigured, ‘metamorphoo’ means to be changed or transformed and so, in some way Jesus’ appearance was changed into a state of heavenly glory in order to manifest His deity, John 1:14.

Matthew 17:2 tells us that ‘His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.’ This light was an outward appearance from within, the light came from within Jesus, John 18:6 / Exodus 34:35 / 2 Corinthians 3:13.

Imagine Being There!

I can imagine James and John tugging one another’s cloaks and saying to Peter, ‘Peter, Peter is it just me or is Jesus’ head glowing a little?’ And the more he glows, the more they say, ‘He’s definitely glowing’. We read these passages like they went and got a drink and they went and got a burger and chips. Just as though it was the most normal thing in the world for Jesus’ head to begin to glow.

I can imagine the jaws of those men would have dropped, I can imagine them backing away, even from the Lord that they knew and here is glowing as though God is ripping open the flesh of Christ and letting divinity itself peak out. And as that bright light is shining and as Jesus is glowing and what an amazing scene, it just gets better. For all of a sudden appearing with them are Moses and Elijah and it seems the disciples knew and recognised Moses and Elijah.

Moses And Elijah

Just then, Elijah and Moses appeared, talking with Jesus, and the disciples were awestruck. We don’t know how the disciples recognised Moses and Elijah, the only possible explanation is that God opened their eyes.

Moses was the great Lawgiver, John 1:17, the one who had led Israel out of Egyptian bondage and through the wilderness. Elijah was a great prophet, one of two men in the Old Testament who went directly to heaven without dying.

Notice they were talking to Jesus, but what were they talking about? Luke 9:31 tells us that ‘they spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.’

Luke tells us they were discussing the fulfilment of the purpose for which both Moses and Elijah came to do their work and talking about the fulfilment of the promised ‘head crusher’ that started with the seed of woman in Eve, Genesis 3:15 and had continued to Jesus, Luke 9:31.

‘Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.’ Luke 9:32

The disciples were now fully awake, and Peter was profoundly moved by the occasion and suggested that they build three shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah.

There are times when we simply need to listen, rather than do. Peter’s problem was that he needed to connect everything with something he needed to do. Peter always jumped up and said, ‘Well Lord I guess I need to say something’.

Peter was always the one who would jump up and say, ‘I’m not going to let that happen to you Lord, well, I’ll be the last one to leave you, Lord’.

And the Lord finally had to say, ‘Peter, will you just hush up, put that sword down, before the rooster crows three times you’ll deny me’.

And Peter is still doing it, he’s here on the mountain and James and John are saying, ‘look at this’ and Peter jumps up and what does he say?

‘We’re very glad to be here.’ That’s literally what he says, he jumps up and says, ‘Well, I’m glad I came here today.’ ‘It’s good for us to be here Lord’. ‘In fact, we need to do something about this, we need to build a shelter for Moses and a shelter for Elijah.’

No doubt he felt that it would honour Jesus to receive a shelter alongside Moses and Elijah, but it seems as though Peter wanted to stay on the mountain for a while and enjoy the company but there was work to be done in the valleys.

According to Jewish tradition, these shelters would have been temporary places of prayer and meditation, Leviticus 23:34 / Exodus 25:8-9. Peter may have been suggesting that places of honour be placed at the location for the honour of Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

God’s Voice

‘Then a cloud appeared and covered 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 9:7-8

God’s voice boomed from heaven, ‘This is My Beloved Son, listen to Him’. The voice of God is very seldom heard in the New Testament, in fact only three times. Mark 9:7 / Matthew 3:17 / John 12:29. Matthew 17:6-7 tells us ‘When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’

Notice that when the disciples heard the voice of God, the natural reaction was worship, 2 Peter 1:18 / Revelation 1:17, remember that prophets weren’t worshipped. And so, because Jesus was God, all three disciples worshipped as a natural response to their realisation of the presence of God.

They had obviously fallen to the ground in reverence and so Jesus reassuringly touches them and tells them to get up. I can imagine the disciples being very afraid after hearing God’s voice, no wonder Jesus reassures them that they have nothing to be afraid of.

Moses and Elijah vanished and only Jesus remained. They used to listen to Moses and Elijah but now they must listen to Jesus. Acts 4:12 / Hebrews 1:1-3. No other prophet assumed to be the Son of God.

The Descent

‘As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.’ Mark 9:9-10

As they descended, Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone about what had happened until after He was raised from the dead. Peter, James and John didn’t believe in the death of Jesus, at this time, never mind believing that He would rise from the dead, Mark 9:10.

Remember the disciples and the Jews as a whole had no concept of the resurrection, every blessing in the Old Testament was all about the land and long life. This is why the disciples never really understood anything Jesus taught about the afterlife or they were afraid to ask Him about it. The resurrection from the dead was a whole new concept because it was Jesus who brought immortality to light, 2 Timothy 1:10.

Why were they told not to say anything to anyone?

One plausible reason could be if the disciples spoke about what had just happened publicly, especially during this crucial point in Jesus’ ministry, it may have caused a lot of unnecessary confusion among the people.

There’s also the possibility which we alluded to earlier that the other disciples may possibly have become jealous of Peter, James and John for having the special treatment, Mark 9:34 / Luke 22:24.

‘And they asked him, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’ Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.’ Mark 9:11-13

By the appearance of Elijah on the mountain, their thinking was focused on the prophecies of the coming of Elijah, Mark 4:5 but Elijah had already come in the sense that John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah, Luke 1:17.

The teachers of the Law had correctly understood and interpreted the Old Testament law concerning the prophecies that a messenger must first come before the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah 40:3 / Malachi 3:1 / Malachi 4:5 / Matthew 11:14.

These prophecies were of John the Baptist who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, Luke 1:16-17. He came preaching repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, Mark 1:1-4, but the teachers of the Law failed to understand and accept that these prophecies were fulfilled in John Himself.

As it is with most people who don’t understand one thing, this leads to another misunderstanding about something else. The Jews didn’t recognise John as the fulfilment of prophecy in preparation for the Messiah, so they wouldn’t recognise Jesus, John 1:11. This is clearly seen later because they will eventually want to crucify Christ, because of their refusal to believe who He was, the Son of God, the Messiah. Mark 9:12.

The Greatness Of Jesus

God’s refusal of Peter’s suggestion to construct three shelters teaches us a lot of things. The problem with Peter’s plan was that it put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah, He isn’t. Jesus is above everyone in this case, above the greatest figures of the Old Testament era.

Our problem is like Peter’s, we often tend to build multiple shelters, one for Jesus and one for our parents or one for Jesus and another for our preacher, or a favourite activity. Jesus must have the only shelter, He must be the supreme authority in our life, nothing else can be on a par with Him.

Through the years people have built cathedrals to honour Jesus, people have fought wars to honour Jesus, people have gone on fasts to honour Jesus and people have thrown banquets to honour Jesus, people have married multiple wives and people have remained celibate to honour Jesus.

But God calls out to us all and says, ‘before you go building your booths, or making your plans before you do what you think will honour Me, will you please stop and ‘Listen to Him’.

The world would be a better place if it stopped to actually listen to Jesus’ words and obey them, and our churches would be in better health if they stopped to listen to what Jesus actually teaches on any given subject. Our own Christian walk would be totally transformed if we stopped long enough to listen and apply Jesus’ words to our very lives.

Who are you listening to?