If I could just be a “fly on the wall” for just one event of Jesus’ ministry, this would be it. Hands down.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain top and was “transfigured” before their very eyes. His clothes became bright white. Light radiated from his flesh. His truest, divine nature is revealed to these three guys.
Then Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain with Jesus and strike up a conversation. (I’ve always wondered how they knew it was Moses and Elijah. They didn’t have pictures of them. I doubt they were wearing name tags. Hmm…)
Finally, after a *facepalm* comment by Peter, a cloud surrounds them and the very voice of God booms out, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!”
Anyway, I asked my teens what questions come to mind when reading this passage. The one question we kept coming back to was “Why?” Specifically, 1)Why was Jesus transfigured?, and 2)Why Moses and Elijah? Here’s what we concluded.
Why did Moses and Elijah appear?
There is always the initial answer that Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets. God is saying that Jesus is greater than the Law and the Prophets. You no longer need to listen to Moses or Elijah. Just listen to Jesus.
And while that is true, I think there is something more going on here.
1) Who comes after Moses? Joshua. Who comes after Elijah? Elisha. Joshua, Elisha, and Jesus are all essentially the same name – God delivers. And that’s exactly what God is doing through Jesus. So it makes perfect sense that the mentors of Joshua and Elisha are now here conversing with Jesus.
2) If you’ve read your Bible enough, you know that God likes to do things on mountains. And mountains played a big role in key moments for both Moses and Elijah.
On Mount Sinai, God’s presence rested at the top in cloud form. After basking in the glory of God, Moses’ face shone so brightly that he had to place a veil over his head. On Mount Sinai the glory of God was revealed more fully than it had ever been.
On Mount Carmel, Elijah went head to head with the prophets of Ba’al. After an day long stand-ff, Elijah prayed to God, and God sent down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice placed on the altar. On Mount Carmel the power of God over other gods was revealed more fully than it had ever been.
The glory of God and the power of God are now coming together to be most fully revealed, if only for a moment, through his Son, Jesus.
Why was Jesus transfigured?
This is just past the half-way point in the book of Mark. Why bother at all? Jesus is going to be resurrected soon and everyone will understand, right? Well, yes, but his disciples needed something more right then.
The transfiguration is sandwiched between two predictions of Jesus’ suffering and death (8:31 and 9:12, 31). The disciples needed to know that this was not the end. Not all the disciples went, though. Just the three leaders and close companions. They needed to know that suffering and death are coming, but the coming glory is infinitely greater.
But, the glory could not come without the suffering. Just like gold cannot be refined unless it is first melted down, so Jesus could not be resurrected and take on his truest form unless he first experienced suffering and death.
You cannot separate glory and suffering.
So it is with us. When we die with Christ in baptism, we put to death our old selves. We bury our past in the water and are resurrected into a new life in which the glory of the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Jesus took the suffering on himself so that we might share his glory.
Glory comes after suffering. And the transfiguration reassures us of that hope.
I believe that Peter, James, and John knew who Moses and Elijah were because when one comes into the presence of God, say by vision, the experience is very telepathic and full of emotion, along with wisdom and/or knowledge.