Peter, James, and John Didn't Get it At First
Read Mark 9:1-13 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
What do the words in this list have in common?
astonished awed baffled befuddled
dazed mystified gob-smacked startled
stunned surprised addled astounded
dazzled dumbfounded flabbergasted floored
reeling staggered stumped stupefied
thrown agape agog dumbstruck
flipped-out bowled over giddy in a dither
taken aback thunderstruck uncertain unglued
To one degree or another, these words describe Peter’s reaction to seeing Jesus transfigured, conversing with Moses and Elijah, and hearing a voice from God. These terms all describe a state of mind and emotion where we are struggling to keep up, finding it hard to understand what’s going on. They describe the lag time between an experience and our understanding of its significance.
What we’re seeing this Lent is a considerable lag time between Jesus’ teaching about His Resurrection or being resurrected and His followers’ understanding and/or acceptance. This morning we will look at an event that preceded all the events of Jesus’ Passion. In fact, one divine purpose for the Transfiguration was to prepare Jesus’ followers for His Resurrection.
The Three understood enough to recognize the greater importance of the Resurrection.
1. Prologue: A Promise Made. (1)
The chapter break appears at an awkward place. Is it the end of the previous section or the beginning of this section. A reminder: the chapter and verses are not inspired. The original documents did not have these divisions, so we’re free to discuss matters like this.
I believe verse one is meant to be understood as promise and fulfillment? Jesus clearly promised that SOME of His disciples would witness the coming of the Kingdom of God. Here in chapter nine we have a very supernatural event that could easily be understood as THE KINGDOM OF GOD arriving IN GREAT POWER. It was something only three of the disciples beheld: SOME of them.
2. The Transfiguration: A Promise Kept? (2-4)
Just Peter, James, and John were invited. (2) Jesus said “SOME OF YOU,” not “all of you.” These three, for reasons known only to Jesus, were the inner circle of the Twelve, the three disciples closest to Jesus. In Mark 5:37, only these three saw Jairus’ daughter raised from the dead. In Mark 14:33, only these three were commanded to draw nearer to Jesus at Gethsemane.
The location of this event, the MOUNTAIN is not named. The fact that it took place on a HIGH MOUNTAIN may indicate an especially remote place, which fits with Jesus’ command to keep the event secret.
The first supernatural aspect of this event was Jesus’ appearance being transfigured/transformed, though only His clothes were described. (3) They became DAZZLING WHITE. This description is used for the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9, a figure representing God. The garments had a supernatural whiteness, impossible for anyone to achieve by ordinary means.
A second supernatural thing was the appearance of Moses and Elijah – very much alive! (4) These two major Old Testament figures (Moses represented Law, Elijah the prophets) added importance to the moment. Their appearance hints at the resurrection announcement Jesus would make later.
3. The Three Disciples Didn’t Get It. (5-13)
The first indication they didn’t get it was when Peter spoke up a little too quickly. (5-6) The word for MEMORIALS or “tabernacles” or “shelters” recalls the temporary shelters the Jews set up to observe the Feast of Tabernacles, commemorating the years of wandering in the wilderness (Leviticus 23:39-43).
This is no doubt Peter’s unsettled mind trying to cope by seizing on something familiar. To his credit, Peter saw something monumental was happening; you can’t fault him for wanting to put up a monument to it. The text explains Peter’s offer arose out of not knowing how to respond properly to this incredible event, all three of them being more than a little TERRIFIED.
God came to Peter’s rescue in verses seven and eight, clarifying the real purpose of this encounter. (7-8) This is the third supernatural occurrence: God the Father appeared on the scene. He appeared in a way familiar to readers of the Old Testament: “a cloud overshadowed them.”
What’s more is a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” This is like the voice that spoke at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:10-11), with slight differences. At His baptism, the Father’s voice spoke to Jesus, here He speaks to the Three. At His baptism, the voice adds, “with Him I am pleased.” Here the voice says, “listen to Him.” That phrase is identical to a promise made in Deuteronomy 18:15 about a prophet to succeed Moses. This choice of words identifies Jesus as that “true prophet.”
While the Three were considering the testimony of the voice, they looked around and were suddenly aware that Moses and Elijah were gone, only Jesus remained with them. Having made their point, Moses and Elijah were no longer needed and disappeared as suddenly as they’d appeared. The key words here are ONLY JESUS. The implication is that under the New Covenant, ONLY JESUS is needed for salvation.
The second time the disciples didn’t get it was when Jesus predicted His Resurrection. (9-13) Jesus instructed them to keep this event secret. This occurs often in Mark’s Gospel and is referred to as the “Messianic Secret.” There are at least two good reasons for Jesus doing this.
One, Jesus is trying to manage His fame. We know on occasion Jesus’ renown inhibited His ministry: too many people showed up. He couldn’t speak to them all or minister to them all.
Two, the disciples weren’t ready to start preaching Jesus. They hadn’t yet made up their minds and were not sufficiently trained. They would not be ready until after His Resurrection. At this point, it was better for them to be silent than going about speaking in ignorance.
The Three obeyed Jesus’ instruction: THEY KEPT IT TO THEMSELVES. The Greek word for KEPT can also be translated, “to guard,” or “to hold onto something.” They kept it safe.
In that vein, it was Jesus’ Resurrection that the Three discussed among themselves, not the Transfiguration. Though they discussed it OFTEN, one point they didn’t understand was how the usual understanding of Elijah preceding the Messiah fit with the fact they had seen Elijah with Jesus. This shows some theological astuteness on their part as they tried to understand the significance of the event they had witnessed.
Jesus’ answer to their question assures them that everything will happen as God has promised, but not in the way they expected it to. Elijah’s coming is not the main point. He comes to point out the identity of the Messiah. He will need to do this because the Messiah/Son of Man will unexpectedly have to SUFFER AND BE TREATED WITH UTTER CONTEMPT by those who reject the testimony of Elijah.
This is a counterpoint to the glory of Israel restored, which may’ve been on the minds of the three of them as they discussed what “RISING FROM THE DEAD meant.” Making that point, Jesus assured them that “Elijah” had already come (in the person of John the Baptist) and he too would suffer ABUSE as the Scriptures predict.
The Three understood enough to recognize the greater importance of the Resurrection.
Two of the three disciples who witnessed the Transfiguration wrote about it later. Scripture preserves their conclusions on subject and proves that they did, ultimately, “get it.”
John 1:14 =
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
1 John 1:1-4 =
We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.
2 Peter 1:16-18 For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.
While at the time John and Peter did not understand the meaning and significance of things Jesus taught and did, the Holy Spirit later helped them to all understanding and inspired them to write and convey that truth to us. Our faith is based on their faithful testimony to the truth.
List of synonyms for “thunderstruck” borrowed from https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/awe-struck, retrieved on 3 March 23.
Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 11, Matthew, 2005, David L. Turner