Peter has confessed the identify of his master. He has spoken the truth, but has still spoken more than he knew. The Lord is now revealed in His glory to three of his disciples, and the foretaste of glory helps to ameliorate the difficulties of the hard sayings He placed upon them at the end of the last chapter.
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power . . . (Mark 9:1-13).
The first verse belongs with the discourse in the previous chapter, but is referring to the events of this next chapter. Jesus tells His disciples that they must take up the cross and die, but He also encourages them by saying that some of them will not taste death until they see the kingdom come with power (v. 1). The fulfillment of these words shows us in part the nature of this power—the weight and power of glory.
After six days, Jesus leads three of His disciples to a very high mountain. The six days is probably meant to remind us of a similar event in the Old Testament. In Exodus 24:16, the people had to wait for God’s revelation of His will. “And the glory of the Lord abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.”
The Lord’s clothing became white like snow, and yet unlike snow. He came to shine like the sun, or like lightning, and yet unlike these things. This is seen from the reaction of the disciples to all this (v. 3). They were terrified, which no one is terrified just because the sun comes up (v. 6).
From Luke we learn that the transfiguration probably occurred at night, which no doubt made the whole thing more terrifying. Our Lord and Messiah met on the mountain in harmony with Moses, the law, and Elijah, the prophets. Never was there such a Synod as this one — Father, Son, Holy Spirit, the law and prophets, and chief apostles.
Christ met here with types of Christ — the entirety of the Old Testament points to the Lord, but some figures point more clearly. Both Moses and Elijah fasted for forty days in the wilderness like Jesus, both withstood tyranny as Jesus did, both met with God on the mountain as Christ is doing here, both led and delivered their people as the Lord did. Luke makes this connection clear by saying what the three were discussing — the exodus that Christ would accomplish at Jerusalem.
Peter does not know what to say, because of terror, and so he suggests that they build three tabernacles, one for each glorious personage. The suggestion is foolish on one level, but well taken on another, for God Himself comes and builds a tabernacle for them. The glorycloud appears and envelops them. In this baptism of light, the Father speaks as He did at the Lord’s baptism of water (v. 7). And then suddenly the disciples found themselves alone with Jesus (v. 8).
Coming down from the mountain, Jesus tells them not to speak about this until after His resurrection (v. 9). The disciples understood the resurrection at the last day, but they did not comprehend what Jesus meant about His resurrection (v. 10). Jesus confirms to them that the scribes were correct in saying that Elijah has to come first (vv. 11-12). The disciples were puzzled because they have confessed that Jesus is the Christ, and the Father confirmed it from heaven, and yet wasn’t Elijah supposed to come first? Elijah came in the person of John the Baptist, but not in the way expected. The prophecy in Malachi anticipates the possibility of an evil reception, and the land being smitten with a curse. He came, and they mistreated him just the way they wanted to (v. 13).
Peter treasured the memory of this event for many years, and he brings it up in his second letter. Consider the thought presented in 2 Peter 1:16-21. The Word was confirmed with certainty from heaven, and we who have the Scriptures have a more certain word than that. If we think about this for a moment, we should realize we do not really understand our gospel privileges.