The Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-8)
In Mark 9:1-8 we have a fore view of the glory to be revealed at the second coming of the Lord Jesus. The first verse contains what must have been to the disciples a very startling declaration. Jesus said that among those standing with Him were some who would not die until they actually had seen the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory. His words were fulfilled a week later. The apostle Peter referred to this event—the transfiguration—when he told us that the disciples had not followed cunningly devised fables when they made known the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but had been eyewitnesses of His majesty when they were with Him in the holy mount (2 Peter 1:16-17).
“He was transfigured before them.” The transcendent glory of His deity shone out through the veil of His flesh. His appearance was changed in such a way as to fill His disciples with amazement and impress them with a sense of His mysterious personality. His very garments appeared to be etherealized and glowed with a brilliance no fuller could produce. The word translated “fuller” originally meant a dresser of skins or hides, but came to be applied in a wider sense to a worker in linen or other material used for apparel.
“Elias [Elijah] with Moses…were talking with Jesus.” These worthies had been in paradise for many centuries. They were living, conscious, and capable of conversing with the Lord and with one another. They stand as the representatives of the law and the prophets. They also represent two classes of believers: those who will die before the Lord returns and those who will be caught up (or raptured) when He returns (John 11:25-26).
Peter was so overwhelmed with what he saw and heard that he proposed to honor the three who appeared in glory by building for them special booths. He did not realize the incongruity involved in putting even the greatest of God’s servants on a level, as it were, with the Lord Jesus Himself. Moreover, he did not recognize the transitory character of the scene that enthralled him. He wanted to erect three tabernacles in order to give some permanent place of dwelling to each of the three who conversed together. How many since Peter’s day have thought to honor Christ by giving special prominence to His servants—whether prophets, apostles, saints, or angels—and have never realized that in thus recognizing them as worthy of such homage they have actually dishonored the Master Himself!
“He [Peter] wist not what to say.” How much better if he had been content to remain silent! But Peter was of that restless character which made him feel he must say something, and he spoke out of place and out of line with the mind of God. The Father would not have others occupying the hearts of His people in such a way as to detract from the glory that belongs to Christ alone. What seems like piety and humility is oftentimes a subtle form of pride and unbelief (Colossians 2:18-19).
“This is my beloved Son: hear him.” It is Christ whom the Father delights to honor. He would have all men recognize and obey Him. When Moses and Elijah disappeared, Jesus Christ alone remained to be worshiped and adored.
This beautiful and inspiring picture of the coming kingdom is worthy of the most careful examination. Consider the various characters and note how they picture the different persons or groups who will have their places at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
First of all we see Him revealed in His glory as the center of all the Father’s counsels. Then we have the two men who talked with Him of His death (Luke 9:31), which is the foundation of all our blessing and will be the theme of our praise forever (Revelation 5:9). Moses and Elijah are archetypal men. Moses had died long before, but he appeared in his resurrection body. He represents all who will die before Christ’s return, but who will hear His voice and be raised in incorruptible bodies when He descends from Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:52). Elijah had been taken up to Heaven without passing through death, and so he represents all who will be “alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15). These people will never die at all, but will be changed in a moment and caught up to meet the Lord in the air. At His coming in glory all those represented by Moses and Elijah will be revealed with Christ. They form the heavenly side of the kingdom. On the earth there will be saints in their natural bodies. These are represented by the three apostles, who beheld the glory, but were themselves still in bodies of flesh and blood. They were all of Israel, and these will be the first to enter into the kingdom when set up on earth. The nations that have been torn and rent by Satanic power will then find deliverance, and so enter into that reign of peace and righteousness. This is suggested by what took place at the foot of the mountain (Mark 9:17-29).
Explanation of the Coming of Elijah (Mark 9:9-16)
As the little party descended from the mountain where they spent the night, which was probably mount Hermon, the Lord Jesus charged them to say nothing whatever concerning that which they had seen until after He had been raised from the dead. The resurrection was still a mystery to them. Although the Lord had spoken on several previous occasions of His dying and rising again on the third day, they could not seem to understand. As they went down the mountain they questioned one another as to what the expression “rising from the dead” could possibly mean.
Evidently they were assured in their hearts that Jesus was Messiah. But a question arose about Malachi’s prophecy which declared that Elijah would be sent before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Familiar with the Scriptures, the scribes taught the people to look not primarily for Messiah but first for Elijah, and so the disciples asked Jesus, “Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?” Jesus declared, “Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.” The disciples understood then that He was referring to John the Baptist (Matthew 17:13). John’s ministry was Elijah-like. He came denouncing sin and calling the people to repentance, that they might be in condition to receive Messiah when He appeared. Elsewhere we are told that Jesus said, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come” (Matthew 11:14). John the Baptist was not received by all, and his ministry did not have the effect it should have had on the entire nation because of their unbelief.
Some would suggest that there is yet to be a further fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy, and that in the days of the great tribulation after the rapture of the church another Elijah-like minister will be raised up of God to prepare the remnant of Israel to receive the anointed One. This may indeed be true.
Reaching the plain, Jesus immediately noticed a great multitude gathered about the nine disciples who had not been with Him that night in the mount. Some of the scribes were talking with them, evidently debating certain questions having to do with the possible messiahship of Jesus. When He appeared the multitude turned toward Him, and we are told that they “were greatly amazed, and running to him saluted him.” Just what amazed them we may not be able to say with certainty, but the suggestion has been made that there was still something of the glory shining in His face, even as when Moses came down from the mountain after spending forty days with God. Turning to the scribes He asked them, “What question ye with them?”
Healing of the Demon-Possessed (Mark 9:17-29)
A man in the multitude spoke up and pleaded for help for his afflicted son who was possessed by a demon. The poor father’s heart was torn with anguish as he told of the distressing condition under which the poor lad lived. In his desire to see his son relieved the father had brought him to the disciples. The father pleaded with them to deliver the boy, but they could not cast out the demon.
Jesus had already empowered the disciples to do that very thing, and as they moved about the cities of Galilee they had on various occasions cast out demons, but in this instance they seemed utterly powerless. Turning to them Jesus rebuked them, saying, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you?”
Then turning to the father, He said, “Bring him unto me.” The lad was brought to Jesus, and when He looked upon the boy, the evil spirit that was in him immediately threw him to the ground in a convulsion—like one in an epileptic fit. The Savior looked down on the lad with compassion and asked the father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?” The father replied, “Of a child,” and looking to Jesus, he made the pitiable plea, “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.” It is evident that his faith was very imperfect. He believed in his heart that Jesus might be able to help, but he was not sure that He would be willing to do so.
“If thou canst believe.” Jesus turned things completely around. The “if” was on the seeker’s part. Where there is genuine faith “all things are possible to him that believeth.” As the tears streamed from his eyes, the anxious father asserted his faith; yet recognizing its weakness, he cried for increased confidence, that the Lord might undertake on his behalf.
With a voice of authority Jesus commanded the demon to release his victim and never to control him again. So strenuous was the convulsion as the evil, malignant fiend withdrew that the lad fell to the ground as though dead, so that many supposed he was actually gone. But it proved to be the demon’s last act before the boy was completely freed from his malign influence. Reaching out His hand, Jesus held that of the unconscious youth and, as He did so, consciousness and physical strength returned. To the father’s joy his son came to his feet—healed and in his right mind.
Leaving the crowd the Master and His disciples entered a house, probably that of Peter, and when they were alone the disciples asked Him privately, “Why could not we cast him out?” Jesus answered, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” Some manuscripts omit the last two words, and yet there seems to be evidence that these words should be included. Anyway, the great point the Savior made was this: no one can have power over unclean spirits unless he is in intimate touch with God.
The Definition of True Greatness (Mark 9:30-41)
Leaving Capernaum where the healing of the demon-possessed son took place, Jesus and His disciples moved on to other parts of Galilee. The Lord endeavored to avoid anything like vulgar publicity. As they walked along the roads He continued to expound the truths of the kingdom to the disciples, and once more told them of the death He was soon to die. Jesus said, “The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.” One would have thought no language could be clearer than this, and that anyone hearing it would have comprehended that which the Lord was seeking to make so plain. But we are told in verse 32 that the disciples felt reticent about exposing their own ignorance concerning a matter of which the Lord had spoken so frequently, but whose meaning they could not understand. Doubtless the reason was that their minds were so set on the thought of the coming earthly glory that the rejection and death of Him whom they believed to be Messiah seemed incredible. (See Matthew 17:22-23 and Luke 9:43-45.)
Returning to Capernaum Jesus asked the disciples, “What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?” They did not realize that their thoughts were known to Him. He did not need to hear their words to know what was in their hearts. Failing to recognize the true character of the kingdom of God, they thought of it as a place for worldly advancement. So they contended with each other as to their respective merits and likelihood of prominence when the kingdom would actually be set up.
“If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.” He who will be most highly honored in the kingdom of God is the one who seeks no honor for himself, but lays himself out for the blessing of others.
“He took a child, and set him in the midst of them.” Children felt they could trust the Lord Jesus. His very grace and gentleness attracted them. So the little one came at His bidding and wonderingly took his place among the surprised disciples. The child was Christ’s representative, for Christ’s kingdom is one of love and lowliness. And when He is received, the Father who sent Him is received. It is in the heart of the meek and contrite that God loves to dwell (Isaiah 66:1-2).
In spite of Jesus’ implied rebuke, the disciples desired to emphasize their loyalty to Christ. John spoke up and told how they had forbidden a man to cast out demons because he was not of their company. Such an attitude is common to many today who think more of sectarian affiliation than of carrying on the work of the Lord. We are all prone to overestimate the importance of our own particular group and to underrate others who do not see eye to eye with us. But the supreme test is the heart’s attitude toward Christ. God is not dealing with any party to the exclusion of others. His presence, by the Spirit, is not confined to any one special company of believers, however sound they may be. He recognizes all as His children who trust His Son, whatever their associations may be, although we on our part are responsible to separate from all known evil.
“There is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.” The very fact that this man acted in the name of Jesus Christ indicated his faith in Him. Where Christ’s name is acknowledged, He will be loved and honored, at least in measure.
It is so easy to be sectarian in spirit. Jesus declared a great truth that we should never forget when He said, “He that is not against us is on our part.” On another occasion He said, “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). That is positive, but in Mark 9:40 He speaks negatively. If one is not definitely arrayed against Christ then he is to be considered as on Christ’s side. This is something most of us forget. But the Lord never spurns anyone who is seeking to know Him and to do His will.
“Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ… shall not lose his reward.” Notice that expression, “because ye belong to Christ.” It is not a question of whether one belongs to our particular group, or whether he follows our ways, but whether he belongs to Christ. Whatever is done for the follower of Christ in the name of the Lord cannot fail of reward.
The Importance of Faithfulness and Integrity (Mark 9:42-50)
A fearful responsibility rests on those who profess to know Christ to do all they can to help rather than to hinder children. To cause one of the little ones who believe in Jesus to stumble is in His eyes a heinous offense. What a terrible thing it is to injure deliberately or mislead a little child—or, if one uses the term little one in a spiritual sense, a young convert. If one is tempted to injure them in any way let him keep in mind the solemn words of Mark 9:42-48.
If the hand would cause one to sin, let it be cut off, for “it is better… to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell”—that is, into Gehenna, the place of eternal judgment. “If thy foot offend thee, cut it off.” If the feet would lead one into paths of sin, it would be far better to be footless and enter into life, than having two feet to be cast into the Gehenna of fire. Or if the eye would cause one to sin—and oh, how often sin enters through the eye—pluck it out. It is far better to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna of fire.
Notice how the Lord reiterates the expression, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Though He was the tenderest and most gracious man who ever walked on this earth, He had more to say about the awfulness of eternal punishment for the finally unrepentant than anyone else whose teachings appear in the holy Scriptures. This description of Hell was possibly based on what was constantly visible at the lower part of the valley of the son of Hinnom, where all the refuse of the city was cast. In this valley perpetual fires were kept burning and there the carcasses of dead animals were thrown. Those passing by would see the gnawing worms and the unquenchable fire. It is an awful picture of the judgment that awaits the Christ-rejecter.
Some ancient manuscripts omit the latter part of verse 49, retaining only the words, “For every one shall be salted with fire.” The thought is clear, however, even though the remainder of the verse might not rest on the best authority. “Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt.” God had said concerning the sacrifices, “Neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking” (Leviticus 2:13). Salt preserves from corruption, and it would appear that the Lord is insisting here on that preservative power of righteousness which alone will deliver one from the judgment that sin so richly deserves.
Jesus had already spoken of His disciples as the salt of the earth, and in Mark 9:50 He adds, “Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it?” Flavorless salt is utterly useless. And so a professed believer who is not characterized by righteousness has no testimony whatever for God. The Lord said, “Have salt in yourselves”—that is, let there be in your life and behavior that righteousness which glorifies God. Instead of seeking your own interest, seek the good of others, and thus “have peace one with another.”