Mark 9:2-10


The last Sunday after Epiphany is always devoted to the Transfiguration of Jesus. All three Synoptics recorded it. It is very important for several reasons:

  1. The Transfiguration is important just before Ash Wednesday because of what is recorded in Mark 8:27-38. There He asked the disciples: "Who do people say that the Son of man is?" (Matthew 16:13). Peter responded: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."  (Matthew 16:16). But when Jesus (Mark 8:31) then foretold that the Son of man would suffer, die, and rise again, Peter objected and Jesus criticized him severely. Then Jesus spoke of the lot of the Christian, especially about not being ashamed of the Son of man, the suffering and dying Son of man. Jesus was preparing His disciples for His suffering and death.
  2. The Transfiguration is important also because of what Jesus says in Mark 9:1. Some would live to see the Kingdom of God coming in power. Bengel, Fahling and Franzmann were of the opinion that this included the Transfiguration, the first step in seeing the Kingdom of God coming in power.
Stoeckhardt: Both events, Peter's confession and the transfiguration of Christ are closely related because the miraculous occurrence on the mountain was proof that Christ was truly the Son of the Living God. There is also confirmed, through the transfiguration, Jesus' announcement of His coming suffering and death, and of His return to glory.

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

"After six days" since the incident recorded at 8:27-9:1. Note the article with each of the four names. All four are uses of the anaphoric, in each case "the well-known." 

"Mountain," perhaps one of the high mountains between Hermon and Tabor. These are mentioned in antithesis to the people, 8:34, and in antithesis to the nine remaining disciples. These three were Jesus' special witnesses also at Mark 5:37 and Matthew 26:37.

Hendriksen: Jesus took them with him so that after the great event of Easter they might bear witness of what they had seen.

This James was not the author of the Epistle of James. We have no extant writings from the Apostle James. But Peter and John speak about this occasion in their writings: 2 Peter 1:16-18 and John 1:14. They were witnesses not only in their time but also in their recorded writings.

Fahling: They were to witness the Lord's greatest glory on earth as well as His deepest degradation in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Ylvisaker: Both required the fuller faith.

The text goes on to say in all simplicity: "And He was transfigured in their presence." 

Mark 9:3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.

Matthew and Luke speak of Jesus' face and garments, whereas Mark speaks only of Jesus' garments. By the way, good commentators point out that the many details in the account of the Transfiguration indicate that all three Synoptics wrote quite independently of each other. That is the best and soundest view.

Neither Matthew nor Luke was an actual witness. Mark gives us the testimony of Peter. "And His clothing became glistening, exceedingly white, such as no launderer on earth is able to whiten them to such a degree." The translations are interesting. By the way, KJV and NKJV add a variant reading which is not even listed in the Nestle Greek text. NKJV reads: "His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them." With or without the variant, the point is: What happened was supernatural.

We are being told that the human nature of Christ and even His clothing was completely suffused with the brilliance of the divine nature. These could have been the very clothes which were taken from Him on Calvary. Here so brilliant, there so cheap! Here His person so brilliantly transfigured, there so cursed and helpless! What a contrast!

Mark 9:4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Literally "and there was seen by them." The word "appeared" is used of the appearance of angels (Luke 1:11), of God (Acts 7:2) and of Jesus (Acts 9:17). Elijah and Moses truly appeared.

Fahling: Both of these erstwhile prophets and now residents of heaven, whom they probably recognized by the nature of their conversation, stood before them with glorified (Jude 9; Deuteronomy 34:6; 2 Kings 2:11) bodies and were heard talking with Jesus. As their bodies had been preserved from decay, so the body of Jesus should not see corruption (Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27ff). They had been zealous for the Lord and His Law, one as the lawgiver, the other as a fiery reformer; but neither of them had been able to stop the transgression. Now they were talking to Jesus of His decease at Jerusalem and the redemption which He was to accomplish.

With their physical eyes the three disciples and Jesus saw these visitors from heaven. At this point Hendriksen makes a curious remark:

We receive the distinct impression that for Elijah and Moses this speaking with an exalted being like Jesus Christ was not something unusual.

They were not frightened as were the disciples. They were very much at ease, at ease with the Father in heaven, at ease with the glorified Jesus on the mountain.

The last part of verse 4 means: "And they were conversing (speaking informally) with Jesus." Why would saints from heaven speak with the glorified Jesus about His coming suffering, death and resurrection? Like Jesus, both of them had suffered much for the Lord's sake. Obviously, they were strengthening Jesus, somewhat like the angel in the Garden of Gethsemane, in view of His coming ordeal. Did the disciples hear what Moses and Elijah said? Did they hear the conversation among the three? The text says nothing about this but if they were witnesses to what they saw, why not witnesses of what they heard? Jesus in His essential glory, Moses and Elijah in God-given glory, all three speaking victoriously about what was soon to happen.

Mark 9:5 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." 

"Said" means response to the situation. No one had said anything to Peter. Matthew, Mark, Luke have "Teacher, Lord, Master." A plain indication that the Evangelists did not copy from each other, In each instance, high respect. Hendriksen and Lenski explain the differences by saying that each Evangelist translated the original Aramaic with a different, but synonymous, noun.

"That we are here is very good." Bengel likens this to Genesis 1:31, the Hebrew word "very good." 

Mark 9:6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

NIV and NEB makes this a parenthetic statement. This verse is a compound sentence with "for" in each clause. Likely the first is explanatory and the second causal: "You see, he did not know what to say in response (to the situation), because they were so frightened." 

At this point Luke reads: "He did not know what he was saying." LB gives an interpretational translation: "He said this just to be talking, for he didn't know what else to say and they were all terribly frightened." In this life Christians are often a strange mixture of joy and fear or pleasure and fright. Cf. Luke 2:9 and Matthew 28:8. Moses and Elijah were not afraid. They were in the state of glory. But even believers, who are still sinners, fear in the presence of the supernatural because they are sinners.

Jesus was not frightened at Luke 22:43 when an angel appeared to Him. The next verse, 44, tells us that He was in great agony, not because of His own person, but because of our sins.

Jesus did not answer Peter. He disregarded what Peter said.

Mark 9:7 Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!" 

Bengel: The divine majesty is frequently conspicuous in clouds.
Stoeckhardt: As the God of Israel at the time of the old covenant dwelt in a cloud and assured His people of His gracious presence, so also was the brightness of the cloud a shadow, a carrier of the divine grace and glory.

Commentators disagree among themselves as to the antecedent of "them." Was it the disciples or does it refer to all of them? We leave it unanswered. In any case the cloud silently said to the disciples: "The experience is over." 

There was a second answer to what Peter said, but this one in audible words from the Father in heaven: "This is My Son, the Beloved, keep on hearing Him."  Read Deuteronomy 18:15-19, a clear prophecy concerning Jesus. There He was called The Prophet. Here He is called God's Beloved Son. Both have "keep on hearing Him" in common. Moses and Elijah were merely His spokesmen. But He is the author of all Truth.

Peter had not listened when Jesus said (Mark 8:31): "The Son of man must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and the chief-priests and the scribes, and must be killed, and after three days must rise again." Peter objected to that and Jesus rebuked him very sharply. Peter had great pleasure in seeing His Lord transfigured in the presence of glorified saints. But first he must rivet His attention on and learn the meaning of what the Son of man must do in his behalf in suffering, dying and rising again.

Mark 9:8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

Mark uses the adverb "suddenly -- immediately" with high frequency. "They looked around," evidently they expected still to see the heavenly visitors, but not so. Here is a very strong double negative: "absolutely no one any longer." 

"But they did see etc." Bengel remarks "because He was still about to suffer." And on the words "only Jesus" he says: "Hence it is evident that He is the Son, who is to be heard, not Moses, nor Elijah." There is a great lesson in these words: No matter what the circumstances of life, be they of joy or sorrow, Jesus is always saying: "Lo, I am with you." He is always Immanuel, God incarnate, with us. We must listen to His Word.

Mark 9:9 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.

The first five words of this verse are a genitive absolute denoting time. The text implies that at there was silence on the part of all four. It was a very high mountain. Some time, during the descent, Jesus broke the silence. Note the word order: "to no one what they had seen should they tell." There was one exception, denoting time: "except when the Son of man would rise from the dead." 

On the use of the term "the Son of man" look at 8:31 again.

This prohibition surely included the other nine disciples, waiting at the foot of the mountain. This prohibition implies a somber observation on the carnal nature of human thinking. Mankind wants glory without suffering. There is glory alright, but always preceded by suffering, be that of the Messiah or His followers. Read 8:34-38 again. He suffered in our stead. That we cannot suffer. But, suffering for His sake and for the sake of the Gospel are inevitable.

Had the disciples told people what had happened on the mountain, this message would have become distorted. Not only is Jesus bent on saving us but He is also careful to say to us what we need hear at the proper time lest His saving message be lost on us.

Mark 9:10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant.

Mark alone records this verse. It is a very vivid sentence. The meaning is that they obeyed Jesus by telling no one, not even the other disciples. The participle "discussing," which denotes attendant circumstance, is variously translated "questioning, discussing, arguing, disputing." At this point in the life of Jesus we are about nine months from His suffering and death. It must have been difficult for these three to keep this secret.

Several of our translations take the words "rising from the dead" as a direct quotation. AAT is typical: "They kept in mind what He said and argued with one another asking, 'What is this rising from the dead?'" The fact that "rising" is in the present tense indicates that it is a direct quote, for Greek always preserves the tense of the original discourse. Note how the words match the words in verse 9. In their discussions they preserved the very words which He spoke to them. We quote thoughts from the commentators.

Bengel: To those who had no idea that Christ must die, any discourse concerning His resurrection seemed out of place.
Lenski: If Jesus wanted to rise again, why would He permit himself to be killed? . . . The disciples wrestled with this problem, but could not get into the clear regarding it.
Hendriksen: They were utterly baffled. As if the very idea of the Messiah being tormented and even put to death were not sufficiently exasperating, their minds had now been burdened by this added conundrum: that same Messiah rising again!

This does not mean that the disciples denied the resurrection of the dead. They were not Sadducees. They were mystified by the fact that the Son of God would have to die and rise again. The person and work of the Messiah is indeed a deep mystery. We've heard it so often that it becomes meaningless to us. The "problem" of these three disciples was somewhat akin to that of the Emmaus disciples, Luke 24:18-27. In their dullness they simply could not fathom the love of God in sending His Son to die for sinful man and to rise again for our justification. All synergism is gone here. Man has no innate powers with which to believe what God says. Only the Gospel can bring faith to believe what the Gospel says.

Though the Gospels do not record instances of Peter, James and John telling the others this well-kept secret, there surely were occasions on Easter Sunday and thereafter when they did tell it. Read 2 Peter 1: 16-19, an example of what they must have said. And they must have pondered the mystery of the Transfiguration, just as we still do today.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 57-60. Used with permission.

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