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Reactions to Jesus' Transfiguration (Mark 9:9-13)

Analysis and Commentary


Jesus' Transfiguration

Jesus' Transfiguration

    9 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. 10 And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. 11 And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? 12 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. 13 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.

Jesus, Elijah, and John the Baptist

As Jesus returns from the mountaintop with the three apostles, the connection between Jews and Elijah is made more explicit. It is interesting that this is the relationship focused upon most of all and not the relationship with Moses, even though both Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain with Jesus. It is also interesting that Jesus refers to himself here as “Son of man” again — twice, in fact.

In the past Jesus has been thought by others to be Elijah come again (6:15, 8:28, Luke 9:19), but here Jesus identifies John the Baptist with Elijah. What is Elijah’s importance here? In the Old Testament Elijah is treated as a supreme teacher who rebuked both national leaders and the people as a whole when they fell away from the path God had laid out for them.

More important, however, is the prophecy of Malachi that Elijah would come again to signal the arrival of the Messiah, both of which were alluded to at the very beginning of Mark: “As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (2-3)

Jews of first century Palestine appear to have been expecting Elijah to rise from the dead and prepare Israel to receive their Messiah. The actual lines from Malachi are:

    Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. (3:1)
    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. (4:5-6)

Was John the Baptist Elijah, as Jesus appears to claim? Some Pharisees asked John the Baptist if he was indeed Elijah (John 1:25), but he denied this. He was, he claimed, actually “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord” prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3). This would be consistent with John the Baptist actually conducting his own ministry independent of Jesus’ — something that the followers of Jesus would have wanted to deny.

What does the transfiguration mean? What is it exactly that Jesus was transfigured into? That’s been a matter of some debate within the Christian community. Some have argued that this represents Jesus’ divine nature “breaking through” his human nature and revealing itself completely for the first time.

Others have argued that this is actually a vision of Jesus in his full glory as he will appear at the “end times” when Satan will finally be defeated (Parousia) and the kingdom of God is fully realized (here we have the connection to the ending of the previous scene).

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