Elijah and Moses

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Mark 9:2-8

Of all the many encounters Jesus had with different people during the course of his public ministry, none was as remarkable as the mountaintop meeting involving two prophets and three disciples.

The Gospel of Mark is both the earliest and simplest of the four Gospels. It tells the story of Jesus’ public life in a brief, straightforward narrative. According to reliable Christian tradition, Mark received his information about the events of Jesus’ life and ministry directly from Peter himself. What a thrill it must have been for Mark to spend time with Peter, listening to his stories of Jesus and asking questions about all that Jesus said and did. One of the most amazing stories of all was one that Peter had to keep secret for a time even from his fellow disciples. It involved a remarkable encounter that Jesus’ three closest friends, Peter, James and John, witnessed one day on a mountaintop in Palestine. Here is Mark’s account:

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. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

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.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

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

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

Mark 9:2-8, niv

A MOUNTAINTOP EXPERIENCE

Christians call this unusual incident the Transfiguration of Jesus. The Transfiguration is both mysterious and awe-inspiring; all things considered, it is one of the most intriguing events in Jesus’ entire life. Jesus had taken his disciples north out of Galilee into the region around the city of Caesarea Philippi, a gentile area. He needed some time alone with them, away from the crowds, so that he could begin preparing them for what lay ahead. Jesus wanted to talk privately to his closest followers about his true identity and mission. He asked them who they thought he was. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Peter answered for them all. He was right. But then Jesus immediately began speaking about his coming suffering. He was indeed the long-awaited Messiah, the Mighty Deliverer who would save God’s people from their enemies, but he would not be the kind of Messiah most of them were expecting. Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world. He had not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus was going to be lifted up and glorified in Jerusalem, but he would ascend his royal throne by way of the cross. His glorious exaltation would come in the form of crucifixion.

These were all difficult truths for Jesus’ disciples to understand and accept. They were only just starting to grasp who Jesus was when he began to stretch their minds by redefining their notion of Messiahship. How could this be? The Messiah was supposed to be a glorious king who would restore Israel’s greatness. How is it that as soon as Peter makes an open confession of belief in Jesus as the Christ, Jesus immediately begins to talk about being humiliated, rejected, beaten, and finally being put to a shameful death? To Peter’s way of thinking – and the rest of the disciples as well – if Jesus was the Messiah, he could never suffer and die; and if Jesus suffered and died, he could not be the Messiah. Was it possible that Peter had made a mistake about Jesus? No, there was no mistake. Jesus’ glorious transfiguration on the mountain, which occurred just six days after Peter’s great confession, settled the issue once and for all. It confirmed to Peter and the others Christ’s true identity. It revealed his intrinsic glory. Above all, it underscored his authority, as God himself spoke from heaven to insure that the disciples would listen to and believe everything Jesus said to them.

THE GLORY OF THE SON

So what exactly was going on at the Transfiguration of Jesus? Mark says that “Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone” (v. 2). Only Jesus’ “inner circle” – Peter and the two sons of Zebedee – were allowed to witness his temporary glorification on the mountain. As on a number of other special occasions, Jesus chose to share this unique experience with just these three disciples. For reasons that aren’t spelled out in the Gospel, Peter, James and John were privileged to witness things the other disciples only heard about later (in the case of the transfiguration, much later – after Jesus’ resurrection, in fact). Perhaps we can conclude that the most sacred moments are best shared with only a small number.

As Peter, James and John stood there with Jesus on the mountain, suddenly they witnessed a dramatic change overtake him. His face and clothes began to shine with a dazzling whiteness: “like the sun, white as the light” (Matthew); “whiter than anyone could bleach them” (Mark); “like lightening” (Luke). And then the disciples saw two figures conversing with the Lord. Somehow they knew that these were Moses and Elijah, the great Lawgiver and the greatest of the prophets. Elijah and Moses represent the best of the Old Testament. This association with Jesus underscores the truth of his statement that he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. The appearing of Moses and Elijah served both to honor the Lord Jesus and also to encourage him as he faced the lonely, painful way of the cross. What were they talking about there on the Mount of Transfiguration? Was their conversation about the plan of God for saving lost people through the sacrifice of his Son? Were Elijah and Moses given the inestimable privilege of learning from the Lord’s own lips exactly how the Old Testament promises would be fulfilled? We can only wonder.

As Peter, James and John watched this extraordinary conversation between Jesus and the two Old Testament heroes, they were understandably disconcerted. In fact, they were scared stiff, and didn’t know what to do. Peter jumped up – as usual, in a crisis he felt like he had to do something, even if it was wrong – and suggested that he build each one of them a shelter there on the mountain. That really didn’t make a lot of sense. Perhaps Peter thought they could all spend more time together enjoying this mountaintop experience. But in fact, Mark says they were all so frightened that Peter really didn’t know what he was saying, so he just blurted something out (see Mark 9:6).

But what happened next filled them with even more awe and wonder. A bright cloud enveloped the mountaintop. It was the shekinah, the cloud of God’s glory which represented his personal presence. And out of the cloud came a voice saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him.” The disciples fell to the earth in utter terror, and when they looked up, it was all over. They were alone again with Jesus on the mountain.

THIS IS MY BELOVED SON”

The testimony of the voice of God to Jesus his beloved Son is the most important element of the transfiguration experience. This was what Peter himself remembered about it. Years later when he wrote about the Transfiguration in his second epistle, Peter didn’t mention the dazzling light or the shining white clothing or even Elijah and Moses. What he recalled was the sound of the voice from the cloud and what it said:

We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

2 Peter 1:16-18

At the Transfiguration God himself confirmed in the most direct way possible both the identity and the authority of Jesus. He showered honor and glory upon his believed Son. Who is Jesus? Not merely another religious pretender, not another in the long list of human prophets and gurus, not a human teacher who had some intriguing things to say about life. No. This is the Son of God, the beloved Son with whom the Father is well pleased. Don’t be fooled by his human lowliness and humble circumstances. Don’t be misled by the humiliating death he’s going to undergo on the cross. That won’t change anything. He remains the Son, a man who is also God, utterly and absolutely unique. What must we do with Jesus? “Listen to him!” says God. Don’t ignore his words. Don’t reject his teaching because it doesn’t fit your preconceived notions. Don’t class anything he says alongside anything anyone else says, because Jesus is in a class all by himself. His every word must be heard, believed, obeyed.

So, blessed are those who don’t take offense at Jesus Christ. Blessed are those who see clearly who he is, who realize his uniqueness, who honor him as the Father’s only begotten Son, who listen to his words with delight and who practice them with diligence. If you ask me to explain the meaning of the story of the transfiguration, I would say that it confirms the true identity of Jesus as the divine Son of God and it reveals his natural glory and authority.

If you ask me the purpose of the story, I would answer in one word: encouragement. The glorious change that came over Jesus on the mountain is actually a preview of what’s ahead, not only for Jesus but for everyone who belongs to Jesus as well. When the way is hard, and our walk with Christ takes us through the valley of the shadow of death, take heart! There’s glory ahead. We are heirs with Christ of the glory of God, provided first we suffer with him just a little while (see Rom.8:17).

The glory of Christ, and of those who are Christ’s, does not yet appear in the world. Many people – most people – laugh at him, or live with casual indifference to his words and deeds. But don’t be misled by this. Our glory is real, and someday it will be revealed to all. So be encouraged in your love and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Are you tempted to sometimes doubt whether God cares about you? Are you worried perhaps about your own acceptance? Don’t be. Jesus is the Father’s beloved Son and anyone who trusts in him is also loved by God, fully accepted in the beloved One. God is as well pleased with us in Christ as he is with his own dear Son. So take heart. Every word that Jesus spoke is the absolute Word of God. Every promise is firm and unshakable, every statement true, every command fitting like an easy yoke. Listen to him! Feed on his words. Memorize them. Live by them, and never be afraid.