Lessons from the Transfiguration
“And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves. And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.” (Mark 9:1-13)
We must never fail to consider the context in which something is revealed in Holy Scripture. In Mark 9 we are given a description of our Lord’s transfiguration before Peter, James, and John. It is a passage full of instruction and inspiration. But we are sure to miss much if we do not remember that this story follows, by divine arrangement, our Lord’s comments in Mark 8 about his own suffering and death, and his teaching that if we would be his disciples we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, lose our lives to his dominion, and follow him even unto death.
Now, lest we grow weary in well doing, lest we be tempted to lay down the cross, lest we think self-denial is too demanding, our Lord follows those strong, demanding words with the promise of his kingdom and a sight of his own glory in that kingdom, even giving us a foretaste of the glory awaiting us when our warfare here is ended. When we are tempted to give up the fight and turn from the battle, we ought to seek a fresh vision of Christ’s great glory and of the glory promised to us in him. May God the Holy Spirit enable us to see and hear those things which Peter, James, and John saw and heard when they were with the Lord in the holy mount.
Taste of Death
“And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (v. 1). What a blessed thing it is to read those words “taste of death!” God’s elect only “taste of death.” The wicked are swallowed by it. They are “killed with death” (Revelation 2:23). Believers shall never die (John 11:26). Actually, for the believer death is not death at all, but the beginning of life. The death of a believer’s body is the liberation of his soul; and as soon as our souls are freed from this body of sin and death we shall enter heaven. This is the doctrine of God’s Word (Isaiah 57:1-2). When the righteous perish from the earth, they live in uprightness forever. Those who have been made righteous by the grace of God, being made the righteousness of God in Christ, when they die are taken away from evil. They enter into a world of peace. They rest in their beds, their bodies in the grave and their souls in the arms of Christ. And they live in the uprightness of glorified spirits forever.
As soon as the believer dies he is carried by the angels of God into heaven, “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22-25), the place of endless comfort. At death every repentant sinner is taken to be with Christ in paradise (Luke 23:43). Paradise is heaven, the garden of God (Revelation 2:7). It is that place of assured blessedness promised to sinners who seek the mercy of God in Christ. Our Savior said to the dying thief, “Today,” immediately, “shalt thou,” assuredly, “be with me,” in endless company, “in paradise,” heavenly glory. Death for the believer is infinite, immeasurable, immediate gain (Philippians 1:21-23). Believers, upon leaving this world, lose nothing but sin and sorrow and gain everything good and glorious.
What is the state of the saints’ life between death and the resurrection? I will not say more than God has revealed; but we are assured that God’s saints are not floating around in the sky sleeping! They have gone to a specific place called Heaven where Christ is. There they are assembled as a glorified Church (Hebrews 12:22-23). And their souls exist in a recognizable form, just as surely as Lazarus, Moses, and Elijah exists in a recognized form (Luke 16:23; Mark 9:4). Do God’s saints have a body between death and the resurrection? — A physical body? No. — A spiritual body, a heavenly form, a house for their souls? Most definitely! Read 2 Corinthians 5:1. Every believer as soon as he leaves this body of flesh enters into heaven with Christ. It is this assurance that makes death a desirable thing for the believer to taste.
The Coming of the Kingdom
“And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power” (v. 1). — The disciples were terribly perplexed by our Lord’s declaration described in verse thirty-one of chapter eight that he must be rejected and killed. I do not doubt that they were very concerned about the demands of true discipleship described in the last few verses of that chapter. Here the Lord Jesus promised them that he is indeed God’s Messiah and that the kingdom of God was at hand, so very near at hand that some of them would still be living upon the earth when it came. Our Lord plainly told his disciples that his kingdom was about to be established. He was not talking about a literal, earthly, millennial kingdom to be established in Israel at some distant time in the future. He was talking about something that was about to happen at the time.
It is a great mistake to miss the teaching of Scripture regarding the spiritual, present nature of Christ’s kingdom. We do not look for some future time when the Lord Jesus will establish a carnal millennial kingdom on earth. We who believe are the Israel of God. God’s church is his kingdom, the true Zion. Believers are the children of Abraham. This kingdom began when Christ entered into his glory. All the fanciful nonsense about a secret rapture, a future, literal seven-year tribulation period, a 1000 year Jewish kingdom, the return of Jewish sacrifices, etc. is nothing but human invention, tradition, and religious escapism. When Christ comes the second time, it will not be in secret, it will not be to give the Jews a second chance to receive him, or to rebuild the Jewish priesthood and temple services! When the Son of God comes again, it will be with power and great glory for the ultimate salvation of his people and the destruction of his foes. The Word of God never speaks of Christ coming secretly, or of a secret rapture of the church (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
In this opening verse of Mark 9 our Lord Jesus tells us three things specifically about his kingdom. First, the Savior declared that the kingdom of God would come, and would come so as to be seen. The kingdom of the Messiah was to be set up in the world by the utter destruction of the Jewish nation, both physically and spiritually. In Genesis 49:10 we are told that the scepter of power and the lawgiver would depart from Judah when Shiloh was come. Here Shiloh declares, I have come and the scepter of power as well as the lawgiver shall now depart from Judah. In Romans 9-11 the Holy Spirit explains that it was necessary for God to destroy the Jewish nation and send blindness to that one nation, so that he might send the gospel into all the world and gather his elect out of every nation, kindred, tribe, and tongue. Matthew Henry correctly observed, “This was the restoring of the kingdom of God among men, which had been in a manner lost by the woeful degeneracy both of Jews and Gentiles.”
Second, our Master asserted that his kingdom would come with power, power to make its own way and overcome all the opposition that might stand in its way. It came with power when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon it on the day of Pentecost. It came with power when God sent the Roman armies under the command of Titus through Jerusalem in 70 AD. It came with power when the gospel was brought to chosen, redeemed sinners among the Gentiles, breaking the chains of sin, idolatry, and superstition. And the kingdom of God still comes with power every time the Holy Spirit conquers a rebel sinner’s heart by the gospel.
Third, our Lord Jesus asserted that some who stood with them on the earth at that time would continue to live until he had fulfilled his purpose in coming to the earth in human flesh and returned to glory and poured out his Spirit as the ascended, enthroned King of Zion (Acts 2:36-37). There were some standing there, that did not taste of death, until they saw it. This is virtually the same thing he said in Matthew 24:34. These very same disciples, though they saw and understood very little at this time, he promised would see the kingdom of God, when the others could not discern it to be the kingdom of God, for it comes not with observation. The only people in all the world who can see and enter into this kingdom are those who are born of God (John 3:3-7).
Having made this promise, a promise which seemed altogether unbelievable, six days later our Savior took Peter, James, and John up into a high mountain and showed them some things which they later looked back upon as convincing proofs of his kingdom and glory.
In verses 2-10 we see where Mark describes the Savior’s transfiguration. Though there was an interval of six days, it seems clear that Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit to give his account of the transfiguration as a prophetic vision of that which our Savior declared in verse one. It is given here as a representation of the coming of the kingdom of God and of Christ’s exaltation and glory as our King. Though they were commanded to say nothing about it at the time, both Peter and John gave very clear accounts of what they had seen later (2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1:1-3). Mark 9:2-10 is a picture of the glory our great and glorious Savior now has as our exalted Mediator and King.
The days of his sorrow and humiliation are over forever. Our Lord Jesus is crowned with glory now. When the Scripture says here that he was transfigured before these disciples, the word “transfigured” is translated from the word from which we get our word metamorphosis. It means that he changed before their very eyes. Thus, our Lord showed his disciples the glory awaiting him when he had finished his work of redemption. I am not guessing about this. Peter, James, and John, as they watched this, heard Moses and Elijah talking to him about the death he was to accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:29-31). The Savior’s transfiguration “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow” (1 Peter 1:11).
This vision of Christ’s transfiguration was also a gracious pledge of glorious things which are in store for God’s elect (Colossians 3:1-4). Though reviled and persecuted in this world, though despised and hated for the gospel’s sake, there is a day coming when we shall be clothed with majesty, honor, and glory forever (Ephesians 2:7).
I must not pass this opportunity to point out the fact that Moses and Elijah knew each other, and were known by these disciples, though they lived hundreds of years apart and the disciples had never seen them or even a picture of them before. I am often asked, “Will we know one another in heaven?” Obviously, the answer is, “Yes.” As soon as these bodies close their eyes in death, believers enter into “an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” In that house we will know and converse with one another, as well as with Christ himself. And the primary subject of conversation in heaven will be the death accomplished at Jerusalem by our most glorious Christ.
This vision of our Lord’s transfiguration is also a picture of the fact that Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, find their fulfillment in the substitutionary sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. The law was not given to be nothing more than a code of ethics. It was given to point to Christ. The prophets were not written merely to foretell future events. The books of the prophets were written to proclaim the coming of Christ and to verify his claim as the Christ when he did come.
What great comfort and consolation a sight and apprehension of glory gives to troubled believers! When Peter, speaking for himself, as well as James and John, said, Lord, let us stay right here forever, there is much in the statement which is reprehensible. It showed a terrible slowness to hear the Word of God and great ignorance on his part. The Lord Jesus had just told him a few days earlier that he must be killed at Jerusalem. It showed a very regrettable forgetfulness of his brethren and selfishness on his part. It certainly showed the folly of popping off about things of which we are ignorant. Yet, if I had been there, indeed, if I could be there now, I think I would want the same thing Peter wanted. I would say, “Let’s stay right here on this mountain. I don’t ever again want to go back down to where I was.”
Be that as it may, it will do our hearts good to look forward, and try to get some apprehension of the indescribable pleasure and glory awaiting us when we meet our Savior to part no more. What shall we say when we are made partakers of his glory? What emotions will flood our souls when we enter into his holy company and know that we shall go out no more? What shall it be to enter into his glory? Peter had a foretaste of these things. I suspect that when we experience them we will say with one heart and one voice, “It is good for us to be here.”
Further, the transfiguration gives us another of those plain, clear declarations of our great Savior’s eternal Godhead. While they were with the Savior in the mount, with Moses and Elijah standing in front of them, the Lord God spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son.” Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John were all like us, sinners saved by grace, the sons of God by adoption and grace. Jesus Christ is distinctly God the Son, the Son of God by nature. The man Christ Jesus is himself God! He is God manifest in the flesh. His name is Immanuel, God with us. None but God could redeem us. None but God could put away our sins. None but God could save us by his grace.
And in this vision we are clearly and distinctly taught that all power and authority are in the Lord Jesus Chris, our Savior and King. That same Voice which spoke from heaven at our Master’s baptism and declared our Savior to be God the Son, spoke again at his transfiguration. On both occasions the Voice was the same. On both occasions, the Father owned the Son as the Son. But here two very important words are added. — “Hear him!” In the Church and Kingdom of God there is no voice of authority but his voice. He is our Teacher. If we would be wise, we must learn of him. He is the Light of the world. If we would walk in the light, we must follow him. He is the Head of the church. If we would be members of his body, we must be joined to him. He alone is the Savior of men. If we would be saved, we must look to him. Blessed, eternally blessed are all those sinners who upon this earth are graciously taught of God and learn by his grace to look to Christ and “hear him” (John 10:27-28).
Elijah must Come
The disciples, as they came down off the mountain after seeing the Lord Jesus transfigured before them, after seeing and hearing Moses and Elijah, after hearing God the Father speak from heaven, were specifically told to tell no one about the things they had seen until the Lord Jesus was risen from the dead. Hearing that, they seemed to forget everything else and returned to their usual questions and debates about what the Lord meant. This time, they debated about what he meant by rising from the dead. They still did not believe that the Lord Jesus was really going to die (vv. 9-10). They were, indeed, coming down!
“And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him” (vv. 11-13).
We must never attempt to interpret the Word of God carnally. The Pharisees believed and taught, as many do today, that before Christ comes in his glory and establishes his kingdom Elijah must literally come to the earth again. The disciples were familiar with and confused by the influence of the Pharisees.
The prophecy of Malachi certainly tells us that Messiah’s coming must be preceded and introduced by the coming of Elijah.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”(Malachi 4:5-6)
But we know Malachi’s prophecy did not refer to Elijah literally coming back to the earth, because the Lord Jesus tells us plainly in verse 13 that Malachi’s prophecy was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist. John the Baptist came not in the body of Elijah, but in the spirit and power of Elijah. That was the meaning of Malachi’s message. Let us never attempt to interpret the Word of God carnally. And we should always beware of the influence of false religion. There is no hindrance to the understanding of the Word of God like the prejudice of false religion. Seldom, very seldom is the majority, or the historical opinion of things right. These disciples misunderstood Malachi’s words, because they allowed themselves to be influenced by the carnal doctrine of the Pharisees.
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