God’s Word for You
Mark 9:1-4 The Transfiguration
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 26, 2020
9 And he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”
This is a passage that troubles many readers. How shall we take Jesus’ words? Let’s establish right away that he is not talking about the end of the world, since in his state of humiliation he had set aside his knowledge of when that would take place (Mark 13:32). Could it be the physical reign of Christ as King over the earth? This was not why Jesus came into the world, although the disciples still wondered about it as late as the day Jesus ascended (Acts 1:6). In light of the current chapter, could Jesus mean the transfiguration? This doesn’t seem to be the case, either, since Jesus is talking about the coming of his kingdom in power, that is, the power of the gospel in the world to build the church.
The best way to understand Jesus’ words is the spread of Christ’s kingdom in the world through the preaching of the gospel. This was the way the kingdom would grow, and although some (such as Judas Iscariot) would not live to see it happen, most of the others would. The kingdom through the word of God spread throughout Judea, Samaria, and into the rest of the world very soon after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:8).
2 And after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain. They were all alone there, and he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became bright shining white. No one cleaning laundry on earth could ever bleach them that white.
I have attempted to translate verse 3 as close to the Greek as I can while retaining English idioms. Bleach (or lye) was well-known in ancient times. It was made by mixing the ashes from a wood fire with water. Fabric soaked in this substance will lighten in color after a while, but leaving fabric in the solution for too long will destroy the fabric. Jesus’ clothes in the transfiguration were an color that might have seemed impossible for the time; so impossible that Mark, perhaps writing down Peter’s memories, makes a point of it for us.
Leaving nine of the disciples behind in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus took these three up “a high mountain.” Since the village sits on the slope of Mount Hermon, it may well have been that mountain that they climbed, but any number of other heights in the region would fit the words of the text. While there, Jesus’ appearance changed. What changed? His face looked different (shining, Matthew 17:2), and his clothes became dazzling white. Three writers say it three different ways: “as white as light” (Matthew 17:2), “as white as a flash of lightning” (Luke 9:29), and “bright shining white; no one cleaning laundry on earth could ever bleach them that white” (Mark 9:3).
Moses radiated this way when he came down from the mountain (Exodus 34:29), although in his case it was only his face that was shining. Jesus was shining so brightly that he was hard to look at. We are reminded of the Lord when he appeared with the three men in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:25). He was displaying his glory, the glory of the Lord, and therefore he was showing his divinity for his disciples to see. It is what we will see of Jesus in heaven, where “the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” (Revelation 21:23).
4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses. They were talking to Jesus.
The appearance of Elijah does not trouble readers, since the prophet was taken physically into heaven with his body (2 Kings 2:11). But what about Moses? There are some who think that Moses’ body was being taken into heaven when the events of Jude 9 took place, but we can’t be certain. Also, it’s entirely within the realm of the possible (or probable) that within the sphere of the Glory of the Lord, the apostles were gifted with some of the blessings of heaven, such as being able to recognize men from heaven whom they had never met. It shouldn’t trouble us. The purpose for their being on the mountain is expressed in Luke: “They appeared in glory and were talking about his departure (“exodus”), which he was soon going to bring about in Jerusalem. This was the way Jesus’ ministry was to end, with his death to atone for the sins of all mankind, with his burial to fulfill the prophecies about him, with his resurrection to prove his victory and the triumph of his sacrifice, and his ascension to return to the Father’s side in heaven. Moses and Elijah represent the entire Old Testament congregation of believers, looking forward to the exodus of Christ as infinitely more valuable than the exodus (departure) of Elijah or even the Exodus of Moses. What Jesus was about to do would rescue us all.
Pastor Timothy Smith