“Then He said to them, “I assure you: There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God come in power.” After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves to be alone. He was transformed in front of them, and His clothes became dazzling — extremely white as no launderer on earth could whiten them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — because he did not know what he should say, since they were terrified. A cloud appeared, overshadowing them, and a voice came from the cloud: This is My beloved Son; listen to Him! Then suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus alone.” (Mark 9:1-8 HCSB)
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a hearing problem. I spent several years as a young man working in several industries where loud noise was an everyday occurrence. While I wore hearing protection, as required, it wasn’t as effective as it should have been and resulted in some hearing loss in certain frequency ranges and tinnitus (ringing or roaring in my ears) on a constant basis. This has proven to be a real frustration for my wife, Tina. Her voice is in that frequency range that is hard for me to distinguish. I know she is speaking to me but I have difficulty in distinguishing the words. To her great frustration, I often get them wrong or have to ask her to repeat herself.
I think this same thing often happens between us and God. We are spiritually deaf or, at the very least, we have significant hearing problems and difficulty understanding God and His Word. In fact, this is clearly demonstrated in this week’s focal passage and in previous weeks where we encountered Peter’s resistance to Jesus’ statements regarding His rejection, suffering and death. To be honest, I’m not sure we do much better than Peter did. While we have the benefit of hindsight and learning from Peter’s mistakes, we still suffer from hearing loss when it comes to God and His Word.
While I included Mark 9:1 in our reading last week, I didn’t address the questions that arise from it or address any of what it says. So, I’ve included it in this week’s reading and I want to address it and some of the questions that swirl around it. Several commentators refer to it as the most difficult verse in Mark. I think that is only true when you take it out of context and try to make it say more than it does or more than is intended. To start with, notice that it begins “then He said to them” which clearly ties it to the previous verses in Mark 8 and links those verses to the verses and events that follow. In other words, Jesus’ teaching on the path of obedience includes rejection, suffering, death and resurrection and that is directly tied to this statement: “I assure you: There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God come in power.”
What often happens, at this point, is that we begin to try and figure out what event or events is being referenced in the phrase “see the kingdom of God come in power.” Some won’t “taste death”, a phrase that indicates a violent death, until they see the kingdom of God come in power. When will that be and what will they see? There have been lots of ideas proposed over the centuries and they include: the death and resurrection of Jesus, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the establishment of Christ’s church/body/bride, the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem, and, finally, the second coming of Christ at the end of the world. However, the most obvious and most likely reference is the event that immediately follow the announcement, Jesus’ transfiguration.
Perhaps a little more explanation is in order. While I certainly think that the reference to seeing the kingdom of God coming in power is clearly seen in Jesus’ death and resurrection, in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the establishment of Christ’s church and will be fully realized at His second coming at the end of the ages, it seems that Mark is clearly linking this statement to Jesus’ prior statements in Mark 8 and tying them into the transfiguration that immediately follows. But why the “some.. will not taste death” until they see this occur? Because Jesus only took Peter, James and John with Him for this experience. So, the rest did taste death without seeing this demonstration of God’s kingdom come to earth in power.
As mentioned previously, I don’t think Peter was alone in his mistaken understanding of the Messiah and Jesus’ declaration that He must suffer, be rejected, die and then rise on the third day. Clearly, the Jewish religious leadership and experts in the Old Testament law did NOT expect a Messiah like Jesus. This seems to be carried across the religious spectrum and even into the hearts and minds of Jesus’ own family (Mark 3:20-21) and closest disciples (Mark 8:31-33). Unfortunately, it is also born out in the modern church and our response to cultural rejection of Jesus, Christian suffering, death to self and delayed honor and glory in following Jesus.
Last week, I mentioned that Mark was making a turn in how he tells the gospel story of Jesus from this point forward. Jesus is now moving toward Jerusalem, toward increasing conflict with the Pharisees and the cross. Before that happens and six days after His statement regarding these things, He leads Peter, James and John up onto a high mountain to be alone with them.
What happens next defies human words and explanations. “He was transformed in front of them…” His physical appearance dramatically changed, even as they watched. I have no doubt, their eyes were wide and their mouths were hanging open. While Mark doesn’t give us specifics about how Jesus’ physical appearance changed, he does tell us that His clothes also became dazzling white – whiter than any human could possibly make them. I think this gives us an obvious clue as to the physical changes the disciples may have observed. For a few moments, the veil that had hidden His heavenly glory was lowered just enough for these three disciples to witness His deity. Far too briefly, the earthly Son of Man was revealed as the only Son of God.
There it is, again. Very clearly Mark makes a hard right turn…
Jesus is more, SO much more than just a man. He clearly is the Son of Man, as He loves to call Himself. He is physical. He is a man. You can touch Him, hear Him, see Him and He can touch, hear and see you. But He is more, so much more and Mark’s retelling of this event leaves no doubt. Jesus and even His clothing transform and become dazzling white, beyond anything that is humanly possible. Then Elijah and Moses appear and begin talking with Jesus. In Luke’s account, we are told that the three of them talk about Jesus’ impending death in Jerusalem. This display of His glory and the appearance of Elijah and Moses prepare us for what comes next.
Peter steps up, calls Jesus “Rabbi” and suggests that it is good that he and the Zebedee brothers were present and that they would like to build three tents or tabernacles, one for each of them. There is some question as to what kind of structure Peter is suggesting. It could be a small booth similar to what is built for the Feast of Tabernacles or Booths or it could be a tent like the Tabernacle from the Exodus. Either way, notice Mark’s comment: “because he didn’t know what he should say, since they were terrified.”
Like many of us, Peter seems uncomfortable with silence. Instead of just getting quiet in the presence of Jesus’ glory and the sheer wonder of what was happening, he blurts out the first thought that comes into his head. Why? Because they were terrified. They were getting a glimpse at the glory of God and it was terrifying. INCREDIBLE? AMAZING? Absolutely! But also terrifying, as it should be! The glory of God should put us on our faces before Him, in terrifying awe. Therein lies part of our problem. Caught off guard and not expecting what just happened, these disciples react in an inappropriate way. There’s an immediate response…
A cloud appeared, overshadowing them and a voice come from the cloud: “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!”
They needed to hear those words. We need to hear those words. Notice two things: 1) God declares Jesus is His beloved Son; 2) disciples need to listen to Him. Up to this point, Mark has primarily focused on Jesus’ miracles and His claims as the Son of Man. Just six days ago, Peter had called Jesus the Messiah. Now he calls Him, Rabbi. But God declares, this is my BELOVED Son – listen to Him!
That phrase is full of meaning. Jesus had just talked with Moses and Elijah, but God had never called them or anyone else His beloved Son. This story is also full of symbolism. It closely mirrors the events of the Exodus and the life of Moses. But as Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15 HCSB) God concurs and says, “They have spoken well. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. I will put My words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. I will hold accountable whoever does not listen to My words that he speaks in My name.” (Deuteronomy 18:17-19 HCSB)
Listen to Him! God will hold accountable whoever does NOT listen to the words that Jesus speaks in God’s name. Peter, be quiet. Stop! Listen! Listen to Him and obey.
Perhaps you need to hear those words, too. Stop! Get quiet! Listen! Hear what God is saying. I’m afraid that the modern church is a lot like Peter and we get uncomfortable in the silence and we blurt out something, anything, no matter how wrong it might be. We want to argue about how right we are, how much we value scripture and how much we know about God — but we fail to listen. We fail to listen to Him and obey His Word. Baptists often pride themselves in their belief that scripture is inerrant and infallible. We often boast in our orthodoxy (right beliefs) but orthodoxy is just vanity without obedience.
The disciples were exposed to Jesus’ deity and glory and were left terrified. Peter responded by wanting to build something, anything. Something to honor Jesus, as well as Moses and Elijah. God responds, “This is MY beloved Son. LISTEN to Him!”
Like Peter, is our response to Jesus to begin building something? We want to build an edifice, a temple to honor and glorify God. But God doesn’t want our buildings, He wants our bodies. “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 HCSB)
So, let me encourage you to get still. Get quiet, silent before God: This is MY beloved Son, listen to Him!