PassageIn the last passage Jesus had made a comment that some people would not taste death before they saw the kingdom of God come in power; the most common interpretation of that comment that I’ve heard is that he was referring to the event that takes place in this passage: The Transfiguration.
Jesus brings Peter, James and John up onto a high mountain, and is transfigured before them. We’re not told all of the details about what is different in Jesus’ appearance; Mark focuses on the fact that his clothes have become intensely white, whiter than anyone could possibly bleach them.
Not only has Jesus’ appearance changed, but Elijah and Moses also appear, and are talking to Jesus. The whole situation is terrifying to Peter, James and John, and Peter, not knowing what to say, offers to make three tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.
I don’t know how long Moses and Elijah are there talking with Jesus, or how long his appearance is transfigured, but at some point a cloud overshadows them and a voice comes out of it, saying, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (verse 7 (ESV)). With that, everything goes back to normal and when the disciples look around they see that Elijah and Moses are gone.
As the come back down the mountain Jesus charges them to tell nobody what they’ve seen “until the Son of Man [has] risen from the dead,” but the disciples don’t understand “what this rising from the dead might mean” (verses 9–10 (ESV)). They don’t ask Jesus about that, though, instead they ask him a different question:
And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” (verses 11–13 (ESV))
ThoughtsAlthough we are not told much about Jesus’ appearance in this passage (other than his clothes), it seems obvious to me that what the disciples are seeing is Jesus as He truly is: the Son of God. Or, if not fully as he is, they’re at least seeing a glimpse of it; more than they usually see.
When Elijah and Moses appear, in a sense they are representing all of Old Testament history up to this point; Elijah representing the prophets and Moses representing the Law. (It’s not an original thought to me, but I’ve heard it mentioned that this is Moses’ chance to finally step foot in the Promised Land, since he was originally denied entry by God for his sin.)
When it comes to the disciples understanding (or not understanding) the events that were about to happen with Jesus’ crucifixion, it is becoming painfully obvious that the Spirit isn’t opening their eyes to what is about to happen; I think of God “hardening Pharoah’s heart” in Exodus, as a similar example. Jesus is telling the disciples plainly, over and over, that he is going to be executed and rise on the third day; in the last passage he told them so plainly that the rebuked him, thinking that could never happen, yet here he is mentioning that is is going to rise from the dead and they still don’t understand. When this keeps happening over and over again, it makes it impossible to think that I’m smarter than them, or that they were just stupid; this is obviously the work (or lack thereof) of God.
When Jesus says that Elijah has come, he doesn’t seem to be referring to the appearance of Elijah that we just saw a few minutes ago on the mountain, he is actually talking about John the Baptist. That would probably be more clear if Jesus hadn’t, literally, been physically talking to Elijah shortly before, but the fact that Jesus is mentioning that “they did to Elijah whatever they pleased,” which didn’t happen a few minutes ago on the mountain, makes it clear that Jesus is referring to something/someone else.