Beholding the Glory of Jesus (Mark 9:1–13)

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Doug Van Meter - 16 June 2019

Beholding the Glory of Jesus (Mark 9:1–13)

Reading the New Testament, it is clear that the experience of the transfiguration had a profound impact on the disciples. Beholding the glory of Jesus had a comforting effect on those who followed him, as it does to those who follow him today. That is, those who take up their cross and follow him will indeed see the glory of the one who has been crowned King.

Scripture References: Mark 9:1-13

From Series: "Mark Exposition"

An exposition of the Gospel of Mark by Doug Van Meter.

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In the prologue to his Gospel, John writes of Jesus, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). In another place, John tells us that “God is light” (1 John 1:5). John may very well have been referring to the transfiguration experience recorded here by Mark. Peter writes specifically of this event in 2 Peter 1:16–18:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honour 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 pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

Clearly the experience of the transfiguration had a profound impact on these brothers. It was meant to. Perhaps when James was martyred, the remembrance of Jesus’ glory as revealed on the holy mountain gave him profound comfort. Beholding the glory of Jesus has such an effect on those who follow him. That is, those who take up their cross and follow him will indeed see the glory of him who has been crowned King.

In this study, we will consider the event of the transfiguration with a view to understanding what happened as well as its purpose. Mark approaches this from the perspective of what it meant for the disciples. What were they to learn? What are we to learn from beholding the glory of Jesus? We learn at least four things.

We Must Hope in Jesus

The first lesson is that we must hope in Jesus. We see this in 9:1: “And 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.’”

Jesus shocked his disciples with news of his impending suffering, which would culminate in his death (8:31). Speaking for them all, Peter, the leader among the disciples, rebuked the Lord for even suggesting such an outcome (8:32). After all, Jesus was the Christ (8:30) and there was no category in their nominal Judaism for a crucified Messiah. God forbid!

Jesus then instructed that those who would come after him must likewise deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him—even to execution, if need be. The outcome would be more than worth it (8:34–37).

He then concluded by warning that he would be ashamed of anyone who would not follow him but who rejected the shame of the cross. If they rejected his work of and on the cross, he would reject them when he came as crowned. Mark 8:38 makes this abundantly clear.

Without belabouring the point, the context of Jesus’ announcement and sufferings, as well as the immediate context of the cost of discipleship, makes the timing and the placement of transfiguration all the more significant. As we have seen, the cross is essential to the crown, yet we must not forget that there is indeed a crown!

It is this hope of a crown that we see in this passage. The Christian life is difficult, but glory awaits. Jesus more than hints at this here.

Apocalypse When?

Jesus was not speaking in 9:1 of a centuries-away event. He referenced the contemporary “generation,” which he characterised as “adulterous” and “sinful” (8:38). In other words, though Scripture reveals the final return of Jesus (often referred to as his second coming or Parousia), this is not his emphasis here. How can I say that?

First, when the scriptures refer to either God’s or Jesus’ “coming,” it does not always refer to a physical coming to earth. Often in the Old Testament, God “comes” to his people in judgement. Interestingly, Ezekiel records God coming in judgement upon Israel even though in the same book we read of his going up from them (chapter 10). That is, his going away is equivalent to his coming! God often came to Israel in judgement through the use of pagan nations who conquered the Jews—just as he would do in 70 AD. It is most probable that Jesus had a similar “coming” in mind here.

Second, don’t assume a downward direction when you read of Jesus “coming.” This verse clearly has Daniel 7:13–14 in mind, where Jesus is seen coming to the Father to receive his throne. Since holy angels surround the throne of God (Isaiah 6; etc.), this also fits. To summarise, dominion is the predominant idea here, not descent—ascent not descent (cf. Mark 16:60–64; Revelation 1:7).

Third, 9:1 clinches this interpretation. There should probably not be a chapter break here, for the discourse continues. Rather, the break occurs after this verse. Someone wrongly divided the word of truth!

Jesus continued by providing them with some encouraging and sobering news, commencing with the emphatic, “Truly, I say to you.” The eternal Amen gave his own amen. They were to listen carefully; they were to keep what he was about to say very close to their hearts. As they faced difficult days ahead, he told them to remember: “There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

What did Jesus mean? To answer this, we must first examine several words in the text.

Jesus was clearly referring to those who were “standing” there with him. That would include the crowd (8:34) and the disciples. Whatever he was referring to in 8:38 is also what he was referring to here. The two verses are textual Siamese twins. To separate them is to risk damage to the integrity of Scripture. This is precisely what many atheists have done throughout history. They have said the Jesus was either mistaken or dishonest about his promise to return and so have dismissed the Bible with its gospel as a fraud.

Taste and See?

When Jesus said “taste death” he was using a Semitic idiom for dying. But I would argue that it is not a simple synonym for death but rather refers to a death that is not natural. It refers to a death that involves suffering, either at the hands of God (John 8:52) or at the hands of men (Hebrews 2:9). The immediate context undergirds this. Jesus would die at the hands of men (and, amazingly, also at the hands of God) as would potentially those who followed him.

So, when Jesus says “taste death,” he was soberly telling them that, yes, many of them—if not most of them—would die because they had chosen to follow him (8:34–37).

But there would be some of them who would not experience death until they first “see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” They would all die, and many would die as martyrs, but some would live long enough to experience this wonderful apocalypse. That is, some would live long enough to witness the fulfilled promise of 8:38.

Let me defend this view by presenting another, popular view. Many say that Jesus was referring to the transfiguration. After all, the very next verse records this event, which took place six days later. As I have said, you can’t separate 9:1 from 8:38, though many try. By every conservative position, 8:38 is speaking of Jesus coming into his kingdom. We won’t debate the timing interpretations. Nevertheless, every orthodox eschatological position says amen that Mark 8:38 refers to Jesus coming into his kingdom.

In 9:1, Jesus continued to speak about the kingdom of God. He had the same theme in mind as at the end of Mark 8. So, here is the problem: If 9:2–13 is the fulfilment of 9:1, how could Jesus have entered his kingdom since he had not yet died and risen again to secure his kingdom? After all, you can’t have a kingdom and not have it at the same time.

But there is another problem, as I mentioned in a recent study. Jesus implied that it will be some time before 9:1 was fulfilled. Only “some” standing there would “not taste death” before this was fulfilled. Most would taste death. If the promise was fulfilled a mere six days later, how much sense would these words make? Very little. (It is somewhat humorously ironic that premillennials who interpret the passage this way prove to be more preterist than preterists!)

Now, there remains one more serious objection. We must turn to 2 Peter 1 to investigate. Peter refers to the experience of the transfiguration years later when he writes,

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honour 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 pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

(2 Peter 1:16–18)

That seems to be convincing proof. But, is it?

What Peter is Saying

Peter, and apparently other disciples, had previously instructed these believers concerning the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” One of Peter’s major themes (including in his epistles) had been the kingdom of Jesus Christ. He wanted them to believe the promise of his coming of judgement on Jerusalem in the face of naysayers (2 Peter 3).

To bolster that, he reminds them that he, James and John (“we”) were eyewitnesses of “his majesty.” They heard the Father’s affirmation of honour and glory when he thundered, “This is my beloved Son.” This glorious vision served as an encouragement that what Jesus had promised will come to pass. In other words, 8:38–9:1 would yet occur when Peter wrote, and 9:2–13 proved it would come to pass. After all, the majestic, sinless, Father-pleasing Son cannot lie. What he promised always comes to pass. He would come into his kingdom. He would come in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels. He would come into the kingdom of God with power. Jesus had promised it, and Peter had been privileged to get a glimpse of it. His readers could therefore count on it.

As Spurgeon said, “If a child were to read this passage I know what he would think it meant: he would suppose Jesus Christ was to come, and there were some standing there who should not taste death until really and literally he did come. This, I believe, is the plain meaning.” He was correct.

What Peter is Not Saying

In short, Peter is not saying that 9:2–13 was the fulfilment of 9:1. He is saying something more glorious: Jesus Christ had been enthroned, and he would uniquely demonstrate this when he came in powerful judgement, destroying the temple and forever separating Christianity from its nemesis, unbelieving Judaism. Therefore, the Christians to whom he was writing should persevere.

Brothers and sisters, this is precisely what the transfiguration says to you and me today. It reminds us that Jesus Christ is Lord, that he is majestic, that he is sinless, and that he is completely faithful and dependable. This vision encourages us that he is the King who is doing his thing and who can be trusted as our good sovereign King.

This is so essential because when we answer the call of the gospel—the command to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus—we will suffer. We will face times of deep grief. We will wonder whether this cross will ever come off our backs. We will wonder if the King will intervene. We may even be tempted to question whether King Jesus can intervene. That is, we may be tempted to question whether he truly is King. Oh, how this vision helps us!

When we remember that the thrice-hold God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ commends him without reservation, then we trust him.

Mark records that the Father did this at the commencement of his ministry (1:9–11), and he did so again, here, midway through his ministry (9:7). But he would do so ultimately at the conclusion of his ministry. By the torn veil and the subsequent confession of the Roman centurion, and finally, by his resurrection from the dead (15:38–39; 16:1–6), the Father commended Jesus for all eternity as the one in whom he was well-pleased.

Here is the point: Jesus Christ is King; Jesus Christ is trustworthy. We are fools if we do not trust him. We are fools if we refuse to trust and obey him. We are fools if we are not willing to leave everything to follow him. Do so today. Do so now.

Someone helpfully asked me recently, how does the experience of these three disciples of the transfiguration help us? That is, we were not there; the experience was limited to them. Practically, what is our take away from this?

I refer us back to Peter’s recollection. After telling of his personal experience, he writes,

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, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

(2 Peter 1:19–21)

Note the words, “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed.” He is most likely referring to Mark 9:2–13, which confirmed 8:38–9:1. “Peter indicates that the Old Testament prophets spoke of the same things he did and that their words are made more certain because the Transfiguration is a foreview of their fulfilment” (Edwin Blum).

But I must add that the fact that the transfiguration is recorded and preserved in Scripture means that we can relive it. It can be ours. And we need it to be ours. You see, Jesus has come into his kingdom, but we long for him to come into the fullness of that kingdom. We long, not for the commencement, but for its consummation. And sometimes we ache for it.

Are you ever discouraged by the slow progress of the gospel of God? Are you discouraged by what appears to be the imperceptible progress of the kingdom of God? Are you discouraged by the seeming failure to capture the next generation with the hope of the gospel and the truth of the Bible? Are you discouraged by the seeming advance of Islam with its chokehold on the discipling of the nations? Are you discouraged by the apparent power of pagan, secular governments to shut down church planting? Are you discouraged by the onslaught of wicked worldviews with their consequent debauchery? Are you ever discouraged by church growth, which seems to take one step forward and then at least one step back? Are you ever discouraged by once zealous church members who now are present and yet invisible—and miserable to boot?

I confess that at times I find myself discouraged, if not a bit disillusioned, by such observations. Don’t you find yourself desirous of some glimpse of glory? Some glimpse of success? Some glimpse of victory? Sure you do. I do. And God knows that we do!

All of this relates to the passage before us. The transfiguration of Jesus served as both the Father’s honouring of his Son (and an encouragement to him), as well as an encouraging motivation to the disciples. And if we properly appreciate this scene, we too will find deep encouragement to continue to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and to follow Jesus, the King—our King.

As we meditate on this portion of God’s word, we get a glimpse of the glory of Jesus Christ, and this provides hope. When we see his beauty, it stimulates our belief, and our behaviour. Brothers and sisters, in your grief, remember Christ’s glory. Behold his glory!

We Must Honour Jesus

Second, we must go our Jesus. Mark writes,

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

(Mark 9:2–8)

We are told that all of this took place, “after six days.” Is this significant? It might be, for a couple of reasons.

First, the mention of “six days” helps us to put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples. Having heard the cost of discipleship, and having been informed that following Jesus will cost them their lives, they may have been discouraged. No doubt they were sobered. They needed encouragement. The transfiguration of Jesus would have provided this. Yes, it was essential that they embrace the suffering Messiah. But they also needed to embrace the sovereign Messiah. The cross was a reality, but they needed to know that so was the crown.

Without a crucified and crowned Messiah, we are hopeless. We need his death with all its saving benefits, but we also need his resurrection and all its saving benefits. As Paul reveals in 1 Corinthians 15, if Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is futile.

Second, the “six days” may be significant because the time period parallels Exodus 24. There, Moses, Aaron, and the elders of Israel had been summoned by the Lord to a high mountain. Having experienced the exodus from bondage in Egypt, the Lord appeared in his glory to these leaders, and by extension, to his people. And, as in our text, God’s glory appeared in a cloud.

In Luke’s account, Jesus’ “departure” (literally, his “exodus”) is discussed at his transfiguration. It seems that there indeed is a parallel with Exodus 24. The one who is the head of the new covenant was going to be revealed to the leaders of God’s people and, as at Sinai, it would be a terrifying experience (v. 6; cf. Hebrews 12:18–21).

We are not told which “high mountain” Jesus climbed, but many believe it was Mount Hermon, which was near Caesarea Philippi (vv. 27–30).

Mountains in Scripture are significant in that they are often metaphorical for kingdoms. The point is that something of kingdom significance was taking place here. The King was being honoured and it is essential that those called to bear their cross, because he bore his, were exposed to this vision. The Father was about to honour the Son, and they must look and behold his glory!

Transfigured, Transfixed, Transformed

The word “transfigured” translates a Greek term metamorphis and it means to change into another form. The term is used only four times in the New Testament, and always speaks of a radical change (see Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Perhaps the idea of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly captures the idea: no change in essence, but change in appearance and function. There is not a change in nature but rather a change in expression of that nature. We can say that the transfiguration was a momentary revelation of the nature of Jesus Christ. The fullness of he who is was revealed. What a glorious vision!

The description Mark gives (no doubt from eyewitness Peter) is emphatic. He explains that no launderer on the planet could ever bleach a garment to such a degree that it would match the brilliance of the white of Jesus’ garment. The words, “radiant” (shining, gleaming, flash intensely, glistening) and “intensely white” stretch human language in an attempt to describe the glory that was seen (2 Peter 1:16–17).

Being clothed in “white” speaks of holiness and righteousness and is used often to describe saints—as well as the Lord—in the book of Revelation (1:14; 3:4; 3:18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13; etc.). The disciples were getting a glimpse of the holiness of God in Christ.

The Law and the Prophets

Elijah and Moses also appeared with Jesus. The famed law-giver and the famed prophet stood with Jesus. The law and the prophets, which for centuries had pointed to Jesus Christ (Luke 24:27, 44–47), were now in his very presence. Their ministry had come to an end. Jesus, the head of the new covenant, had taken pre-eminence over them and their ministry. In a sense, this mountaintop experience was the passing of the baton. I doubt the disciples understood this at the time, but they would later—and we should today.

We are told that Moses and Elijah “were talking with Jesus.” Again, Luke informs us that the main content of their discussion was his imminent “exodus” from this life through his suffering in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).

Most likely, this conversation included something like, “Jesus, our ministry prepared the way; we are saddened by what you will experience, and yet we are thrilled at what you will accomplish.” This fellowship with the saints no doubt was a means of encouragement to our Saviour. The law and the prophets continue to encourage us, for they point us to God’s faithfulness in Christ Jesus.

Again, Mark wants us to see that this was for the benefit of the disciples. They needed to put together the big picture painted by the law and the prophets. They needed to grasp the crossand the crown. So must we.

Peter’s Plan

The text tells us that they were “terrified”—literally, scared out of their wits—by what he had seen (v. 6). Anyone would be (see Isaiah 6). But while Isaiah’s response to the glory of the Lord was to be cautious about his mouth, Peter opened his. He apparently interrupted Jesus and his visitors with the suggestion that they build three tabernacles. Why?

Perhaps Peter overheard the discussion of Jesus’ “exodus” and jumped to the conclusion that the predicted second exodus had now come to pass. After all, he had seen Jesus glorified and so certainly this must be the beginning of his rule. And since the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) celebrated the first exodus, it seemed appropriate to duplicate that in connection with the second exodus. But if this was the case, then once again Peter had stumbled at the cross! I can relate. How soon I forget! Too easily I can move from the theology of the cross, which is what we are called to embrace, to the theology of glory, which is what we are called away from. In other words, I too often succumb to a prosperity gospel.

I don’t mean that I believe that God will make me rich and healthy but, in a subtle way, I tend towards the mindset that everything should go my way. I tend towards the idea that suffering is not a part of the Christian life. I lose sight that the Christian life on this side of the grave is difficult and even painful.

I want to rush for the crown while bypassing the cross. I’m in a hurry for the glory and I definitely don’t want the grind or the grief. I want the gain without the pain. Like Peter, I need a better grasp of the Bible. I need the whole counsel of God (see Acts 28:17ff).

I remember, nearly thirty years ago, hearing John MacArthur reminding pastors that we are always working against “the unravelling process.” That is, as soon as the sermon is preached, immediately we all begin the process of forgetting. So it seems here. Peter just could not grasp the necessity of suffering before crowning. Almost as soon as he got a glimpse of Jesus’ glory at this worship service, he forgot what Jesus taught him at the previous worship service. Holding in tension the glory that awaits us and the grief that confronts us is not easy. But we need to do both. The glory that awaits is meant to motivate us to persevere in the often painful here and now.

We Must Hear Jesus

Third, we must hear Jesus: “And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’ And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only” (Mark 9:7–8).

In response to Peter, God speaks, just as Jesus did earlier (8:31ff). The glory of God enveloped Peter and Jesus, and the other two disciples, as they heard his voice, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (v. 7).

A major theme in Mark has been this matter of the disciples properly hearing Jesus. They were not doing very well in this matter. They were dull of hearing and were at times hardened of heart. They did not understand his clear teaching. They had apparently listened well to the prosperity preachers of their day, but they were not listening to the truth of Jesus. In fact, Peter’s suggestion of a building program indicated that they were still not listening too well. But now, having seen his glory, they would be in a better position to hear. So with us.

When we truly see Jesus for who he is, then our perspective changes and we begin to embrace the theology of the cross while abandoning the false theology of glory. We are in a better position to evaluate what is important. We are better equipped to undergo hardship because we know the glory that awaits (Romans 8). We are better guarded from the lure of temporal glory. We are equipped for joy.

Let us ask God for a fresh revelation of Jesus—for us and for our churches.

All Alone

After the exhortation by the Father, “suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.” The significance of this cannot be exaggerated. Those representing the law and the prophets were gone and the one they had pointed to had now arrived (Deuteronomy 18:15). Their job was completed. Jesus alone was sufficient.

If Peter had been confused about the place of these men beside Jesus as co-equals, he now was in a better position to grasp that Jesus is in a category all his own. In fact, Jesus does not require a tabernacle, for he is the Tabernacle. Jesus is the dwelling place of God. The transfiguration proves this.

We Must Heed Jesus

We will consider the second half of this story (vv. 9–13) in a future study, but for now note that these verses highlight the need to heed Jesus:

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

(Mark 9:9–13)

Seeing Jesus’ glory helps us to listen better and, therefore, to learn and to follow much better. The only true listening in the Bible is obedient listening (James 1:22–24). The transfiguration was for their spiritual instruction. But Jesus forbade them, for now, from telling anyone what had happened on the mountain. They did not fully understand it yet, and if they shared it they would send a confused message.

When we see Jesus as God does, then we will listen very carefully to him. This means that we will obey him. This obedience means that we will embrace the fullness of his gospel agenda, not merely the parts that suit us. We will, in other words, embrace the cross and therefore we will embrace our cross. We need such a vision. We need to be transfixed by this vison. When this is the case, then we will find ourselves enabled to follow him closely—regardless of the cost.

AMEN