by Sam E. Stone
Bible students like to guess just where the transfiguration took place. Mark tells us only that it was a high mountain. Jesus and the disciples had been in northern Galilee. This event came about a week after Peter made his good confession near Caesarea Philippi. Some suggest Mt. Tabor as the probable site, but it is not a high mountain. Its elevation is only about 1,800 feet above sea level. Mt. Hermon, however, is the highest mountain in Syria (almost 10,000 feet).
As on other occasions Jesus singled out Peter, James, and John to accompany him (compare Luke 8:51; Mark 14:33). Luke adds that the purpose of the trip was “to pray” (Luke 9:28). Jesus often prayed alone, away from all people. This time he had with him three of his closest disciples who could later bear witness to the miraculous event that followed.
The Transfiguration/Mark 9:2, 3
High on a mountain, he was transfigured before them. His appearance was suddenly changed. Matthew notes that his face shone like the sun (17:2). Something similar happened with Moses when he came down from the mount (Exodus 34:29, 30). His clothes became dazzling white. Years later Peter described the event like this: “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father . . . .
We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18). The Christian can anticipate a similar change one day (1 John 3:2).
The Visitors/Mark 9:4-8
Suddenly two figures appeared with Jesus and the three disciples—Elijah and Moses. Lewis Foster wrote,
Are they the most important figures from the Old Testament period? This may be. Does one represent the law as the lawgiver and the other represent the prophets as the outstanding example? This may be. Or could it be that these two at death went to Heaven, but their bodies were not found to be buried by men, and this has something to do with their coming back at this transfiguration scene? We cannot say the precise reason for the choice, but we can trust God’s wisdom and see ample grounds for his selection (Commentary on Luke).
As often happened, Peter spoke without thinking. “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.” Some feel his suggestion came as he remembered the tent of meeting where the Lord met the children of Israel during their wilderness wandering. Others feel he was thinking of the booths used at the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:42). Whatever the reason, it was a bad idea. God made that clear!
A bright cloud appeared and enveloped them. This suggests the very presence of God, the Shekinah glory (see Exodus 13:21, 22; 19:9, 18). At Jesus’ baptism God also spoke aloud—”This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This time God added, “Listen to him!” As important and significant as Moses and Elijah had been in God’s plan, they could not be compared to his only Son. As one preacher observed, “The law and the prophets were only temporary; the gospel of Christ is final and eternal.” Then the two visitors vanished and only Jesus and the three disciples remained.
The Significance/Mark 9:9-13
As they descended the mountain, Jesus warned them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. This was not the first time Jesus had predicted his resurrection (see Mark 8:31-33), but they still did not understand. As Jews, they had heard of the resurrection, but they could not relate this to the Son of Man. A suffering Messiah was not what they were expecting.
The apostles raised a question. “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?” They saw the coming of Elijah as the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (4:5, 6). If Jesus is the Messiah, why would Elijah leave now before telling everyone? Jesus answered, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. . . . Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.” John the Baptist was the “Elijah” spoken of in the Old Testament prophecy (see Matthew 17:13). He prepared the way for Jesus. Like John, the Messiah himself would soon suffer and die.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.