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God’s Word for You

Mark 9:8-13 Elijah must come first

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, March 28, 2020

8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. 9 While they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

After the Father’s command to listen to his beloved Son, the disciples suddenly saw that it was over. Moses and Elijah were no longer there. The shining brightness of Jesus was at an end (they would surely have remarked about it if some vestige of his transfiguration remained as it had when Moses came down from Sinai). The cloud, the Glory of the Lord, no longer overshadowed them. There they were on the mountaintop with Jesus, all alone as before.

With Jesus’ steps downward, back toward Caesarea Philippi where they had left the others, his final trip to Jerusalem began. The disciples weren’t even aware of what was happening, but as the weeks ahead became months, and as winter turned to spring, Jesus would remind them again and again that the end was approaching fast. Just now, Jesus also had in mind to orchestrate precisely when he would lay down his life, and so he told the three disciples not to reveal what they had seen until later, after he had risen from the dead. Mark records a special conditional phrase here, and nothing would please me more than to explain the significance of the aorist subjunctive in this clause, except that the disciples missed the point so entirely that we should move along to what they were saying. But before we do, let me point out that Jesus was asserting the certainty, the truth, of his prophecy that he himself would rise from the dead. But rather than fix upon their Lord, they fixated on a detail…

10 But then they seized upon the term and were arguing with one another about what ‘rising from the dead’ means.

The phrase here is not, as many translations have it, that the disciples did indeed “keep the matter” as he asked, but that they “grabbed on the term” that he used, that is to say, they just started arguing about what “rising from the dead” means. We don’t need to make a list of the various possibilities. We can well imagine that Peter thought one thing, John another, and James yet another. And all three may have heard other speculations. There are plenty of preachers still today who get this wrong and who imagine some sort of spiritual awakening or memorial of those who are dead. We don’t need to waste time on them, nor would we even acknowledge them outside of Proverbs 10:14, except for their poor congregations whose faith is wrecked by the unbelief of their shepherds. What matters is how Jesus answered his disciples.

11 They asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 And he answered them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. But why is it written that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected? 13 But I say to you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they wanted to, just as it is written about him.”

Malachi 4:5 says, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” Jesus had already said that John the Baptist was “the Elijah who was to come” (Matthew 11:14). But what does Jesus mean, that this ‘Elijah’ will “come first to restore all things”? This is just what was prophesied by Malachi: “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers,” etc. (Malachi 4:6). This is similar to what Amos said: “I will restore David’s fallen tent and build it as it used to be” (Amos 9:11). The turning of the heart that Malachi prophesied is the turning of repentance. This is what it means “to restore all things” (Mark 9:12) and “to build it as it used to be.”

What they did with John the Baptist, “whatever they wanted to,” was his death at the hands of Herod and his stepdaughter. It was a glimpse of things to come and the end of the journey Jesus had now begun, the long road from the Mount of Transfiguration to Calvary. They would do to Jesus whatever they wanted, but when they did, he would use it as the right moment to be lifted up as the sacrifice of the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the whole world.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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