In Mark 9:1-13 we read about an unparalleled event in the Bible. It is absolutely amazing to let our imaginations wander to consider what the disciples actually witnessed. What a moment it must have been. But what does it actually mean to us? What can we learn from this event?
We are at a point in Jesus’ ministry where he is beginning to make it clear that he will suffer. His first plain teaching on this subject is found in 8:31 after the disciples, via Peter’s voice, have correctly identified him as the Messiah, the Son of God. Immediately, Jesus provides them the details of what will soon happen to the Messiah, and it does not correlate with their expectations of Messiah. They understand that the Messiah will usher in the kingdom. The way he eventually enters Jerusalem to the crowds shouting, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” is what they expected. The way he ultimately exits Jerusalem through his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven was beyond their comprehension and not what they expected.
So, when Jesus tells them plainly that he is going to die, be buried, and rise again (Mark 8:31), Peter rebukes him (8:32-33). Soon, Jesus repeats this same teaching to them partially in 9:12 and fully in 9:31. This time the disciples are quiet because they were afraid to ask questions (9:32). They are having difficulty fully understanding what Jesus is telling them. This struggle will continue for them for the most part until the day of Pentecost. From that point on, their sermons make it clear that they fully understand what Jesus had been trying to tell them.
In the midst of this early struggle in Mark 8:31 and 9:12/31, God gives them “something to hold onto.” He comes down in his glory. They see Jesus transformed into his divine glory, and they hear the Father thunder from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!” The disciples are struggling with what Jesus is saying, so God shows up to remove any doubt. Eventually, this “something to hold onto” will take firm root in their hearts. Peter states in 2 Peter 1:16-21:
“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 honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,(1) with whom I am well pleased,” 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, 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.”
Peter clearly had received “something to hold onto,” only it took awhile for him to fully get a hold of it. Until he and the others fully grasp what Jesus is trying to teach them, they will have many struggles of doubt and fear. However in the end, each of them except for John are martyred. They die for what they come to believe.
What really stands out to me in this story is that God gives them “something to hold onto.” He knows that they need something. He knows that they are in struggle, so he pushes back the veil of heaven and provides them with a glimpse of his glory and a reminder of his eternal purposes. This demonstrates that Jesus’ suffering is not incompatible with his glory. The work of Moses and Elijah is continuing to move forward in Jesus. God is making a way for people to be in eternal relationship with him. That is the larger story of which Peter, the disciples, and even us today, are a part.
So what does this have to do with us? I think that there are several lessons we can learn from this scene in the life of Jesus and his disciples. Consider these truths:
TRUTH #1: As we follow Jesus, he will prepare us to face the next situation in our lives. He is the great I AM who is for us and will be with us.
In the same way that he was preparing the disciples for what was going to happen in their lives, even though they were not able to fully grasp it, Jesus is constantly preparing us for what is in the days before us. He will give us “something to hold onto” as well.
TRUTH #2: As we follow Jesus into our unknown future, it would benefit us to also “listen to him.” His words are for us.
The disciples had preconceived notions of how their future, and that of Jesus, was to unfold, but they needed to place their hopes and expectations in Jesus. We must also put aside our preconceived notions and put our hope in Jesus. We need to listen to him. Today we listen to him by reading our Bibles and resting in the truth of his word. Peter, who witnessed the transfiguration stated, “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). We might like God to show up in his glory in our backyard, but Peter claims that what we have is “the prophetic word more fully confirmed.” Listen to his word.
TRUTH #3: Life is bigger than what our eyes can see.
The disciples were no doubt going through the busyness of life and forgetting that God was at work in the world accomplishing his purposes. They could easily live AS IF GOD IS NOT. So God steps in and gives them a big reminder that there is more going on than meets the eye. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus have a little chat about what God is going to do in Jerusalem through Jesus. This moment served as a reminder to the disciples to live AS IF GOD IS. They needed to abandon their little petty life agendas and turn their attention toward the greater work that God is doing. We must also honestly pay attention to our own lives. We can be prayer-less, full of anxiety, despairing, looking to created things to bring us life, angry at being wronged or not appreciated, frustrated, lacking faith, etc. We can be living AS IF GOD IS NOT. Despite what events happen in this world, Jesus is still in his glory, seated at the right hand of our Father, and he is moving everything forward to accomplish his purposes. Let’s live AS IF GOD IS. Let’s live in light of the bigger story.
TRUTH #4: This glimpse of Jesus in the transfiguration reminds us that this world is not our final home.
In the same way that eternal God’s glory breaks into the kingdom of this world and Jesus is transfigured for just a moment, one day the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord. But not yet. Now, this world is fallen. We face disease. We face death. We live in the throws of sin and feel the effects of it daily. We sin and we are sinned against. There is pain and suffering and sorrow. One day, there will be more, and we are to live with this in mind. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
So, in the days ahead, let’s live with glory in view. God has given us “something to hold onto” as we await the soon return of Jesus. May you be encouraged by being reminded of the bigger picture of what God is doing and may you remain faithful and focused until he completes his purposes and the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord.