What is a revelation? How do we know what is from God? Today’s scripture is just such an experience: a theophany (theologese for an experience of the divine). It’s like the Israelites at the foot of the the mountain in the exodus, like the shepherds at the manger; like Elijah in the cave.
Scholars assert that 9:1 is the beginning of the second half of the gospel. It echoes the first part in Mark 1:1-20. Notice the repetition of the kindgom, Elijah, what is written about Elijah and/or John the Baptizer, and the inclusion of Peter, James and John on the mountain and as fishers of people. This is another revelation that God’s power, reign and dominion is no longer in sacred spaces, removed from the world – but here and now in the person of Jesus.
This small group goes up the mountain in verse 2. Mountains, or high places, were considered sacred and holy by the Israelites (compare this to Isaiah 2:2-5; 25:6-10 and Micah 4:1-7). While there Jesus is transfigured. In Greek the word used in v. 2 is “metamorphosey” – can you hear metaphorphosis? Jeus sis changed in an outwardly visible way. The disciples see it. It’s not a figament of their imagination.
Peter jumps in and wants to build three dwellings, or tabernacles, or booths. Moses and Elijah are there. They were both understood as figures to return in Jewish culture, as heralds to prepare the way of the Messiah. (see Deuteronomy 34:5 and Micah 4:5-6. Popular thought then was that God had taken both of those leader-prophets directly to heaven, without them dying physcially. So they could return like this.
Peter is surprised and confused, but wants to help He seems to rank Jesus as only a prophet like Moses and Elijah. What happened to his messianic confession in 8:29? Peter seems to want to hold on to the moment, the reign of God has come into the world. A cloud was the usual symbol of God’s presence in the OT, in particular in the Exodus story (see Exodus 16:10; 19:9; 24:15-16 & 33:10). By building a booth for the three leaders, Peter is suggesting that it’s time for the final celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles – the ultimate celebration of the Temple – the place in which God is present, active and alive in the world.
But as they return from the high place to the normal place, Jesus orders them to remain siltent about it all. They just had the messanic secret reveled – Jesus is the Son of God – and then they are to remain mute? There seems to be a connection to the notion of the Messiah suffering, dying through crucifixion and resurrection. You can’t understand what’s happened until that happens. You can’t talk about what you’ve seen, until you see the power and mystery of the cross. You can’t know God’s glory without the cross and resurrection.
The text seems to be saying that where we thought we could see the power and dominion of God (in the heavens, the high places, the Temple) is no longer sufficient. God is visible not in those places, but in the life of Jesus who is in the world.
Questions for Going Deeper:
- What word, phrase or image shimmers for you in the text?
- How does this intersect or interact with your life today?
- What invitation do you hear from God in this text to act, say, be or do?