“The Fulfillment Has Come” (Mark 9:2-10)
The Transfiguration of our Lord (February 14, 2021)
Have you ever had the nagging suspicion that you missed something really important, yet, for the life of you, you just can’t seem to remember what it was? It weighs on your heart and mind all day long almost immobilizing you from carrying out your daily tasks. Perhaps you even toss and turn all night, agonizing that whatever it was you forgot, once you find out it will be too late and you will regret it for the rest of your life.
Now, perhaps it could be said that there is nothing in this life that is that crucial that if you missed it the first time you won’t ever have a chance to see or experience it again. Maybe that’s true, but certainly at the moment you realize you missed it, it does seem like the end of the world.
The Transfiguration of Jesus is actually God’s way of making sure that you and I, and our fellow earth dwellers, will never have to live in what can definitely be eternal regret. You see, it is one thing to forget an important meeting, miss a deadline at work, or even miss an opportunity to make a vast fortune. You and I will survive to live another day. But if you and I miss knowing in faith who Jesus of Nazareth truly is, then we will suffer endless days and nights in hell agonizing over what could have been.
Chances are very good that the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain is not something that any of you is not at least somewhat familiar. After all, the Christian church has focused on Jesus’ transfiguration the last Sunday of the Epiphany season, every year, for centuries now. Therefore, unless you are totally new to the Christian faith, have just never read the Bible or attended church services, or have lived under a rock your whole life, then I’m pretty sure you can recite almost from memory what happened that day on the mountain.
There is an important reason we give Jesus’ transfiguration our annual attention. It is not just a miraculous display to dazzle us. It is not, as some seem to treat it, just one more event in the life of Jesus that has no bearing on our salvation or relationship with God. When you have two prominent prophets of old who, at the time, had been long gone from this earth, appear next to Jesus and you have the voice of God boom out from the cloud, testifying to Jesus, then this is no inconsequential event. What happened on that mountain that day had never happened before or since.
So important is the event that all three of the Synoptic Gospels; Matthew, Mark, and Luke, give a full account of it, and John references it in the very first chapter of his Gospel by delineating the theological import of it by saying, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ “) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:14-18).
This year we have before us Mark’s account of Jesus’ transfiguration. Some theologians insist that this is the only eyewitness account of what took place. Neither Matthew nor Luke were with Jesus on the mount. As all three Gospel accounts report, Jesus only took with Him on that mountain the three apostles: Peter, James and John. Of course, Mark was also not on the mountain, but Mark was an associate of Peter, and according to a second century Christian named Papias, whose own teacher was instructed by the Apostle John, Mark recorded Peter’s sermons. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, therefore, we are allowed to see the event through Peter’s own eyes.
In order to get at the heart of what Jesus’ transfiguration is telling us, I would like to focus on several features that are unique to Mark, or should I say, Peter’s account. First of all, within the context of the Gospel of Mark, the transfiguration account immediately follows Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ at Ceasarea Philippi, as well as, Jesus’ first prediction to His disciples of his ultimate suffering, death and resurrection (Paul Philip, CJ, Vol. 35 No. 1, p. 73). Mark makes the connection to these preceding events for his hearers by beginning this account with these words: “And after six days.”
Another significant feature of the context is that immediately after the three disciples accompany Jesus down off the mountain, they ask Him about the prophet Malachi’s prophecy that before the Lord’s Messiah would come and restore all things, it would be necessary that Elijah would return (Mal. 4:5). Jesus then informs them that, indeed, Elijah “had already come”. He, of course, was speaking about John the Baptist, who in the true spirit of Elijah had already come to prepare the way into people’s hearts and lives for the reign of Christ.
In Mark’s account, therefore, three things clearly coalesce at Jesus’ transfiguration: the prophecy of the Lord’s coming, the presence of Elijah, who himself is a subject of that prophecy, and Jesus’ transfigured presence. The unifying and clarifying element is the Voice from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” The event of Jesus’ transfiguration says loud and clear: “The fulfillment of all that God has promised has come in Jesus! God has come to deliver His people in the flesh of Jesus just as the prophets had said.”
How does Moses fit into this picture? Moses is, of course, a central figure to the faith. He was God’s first Deliverer. It is through Moses that God rescued His Old Covenant people from their bondage and slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land of Canaan, foreshadowing the work of the LORD’s Christ who would deliver us all from the bondage to sin and lead us to everlasting life.
It was also to Moses alone that the LORD God spoke directly, or as the holy record states, “face to face.” It is to Moses that God manifested Himself on the holy mountain in a cloud and burning bush. Moses was God’s chosen prophet (mouth piece) to speak to His people. Through Moses God gave His written Law. It was also through Moses we hear this prophecy: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him” (Deut. 18:15).
It is no coincidence, then, that the Voice from the cloud commands concerning Jesus, “Listen to Him!” That is to say, “This Jesus is the prophet of whom Moses spoke! He is the One who speaks my word. In fact, He is the Word of God made flesh!”
What a sight to see, then: Moses and Jesus standing together! The 1500 years that separated them had vanished. God’s deliverers stand as one unified deliverance of His people. As the Holy apostle proclaims, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.” The victory song of the delivered saints of God, as sung in celebration of God’s rescue of His people through Moses (Ex. 15:1ff), has now become one with those delivered in Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, as delineated for us in the Book of Revelation, “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? …for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
Truly Moses and Jesus are book ends of God’s saving work as well as God’s full revelation. As the holy writer to Hebrews states: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb. 1:1,2).
But Elijah’s appearance with Moses and Jesus is more than simply a complement to the Law Giver Moses as a representative of all the prophets. If that were the case, then Isaiah would have been a much better representative. After all, Isaiah’s book is 66 chapters long and has manifold prophesies concerning the Messiah. We don’t even have a book of the prophecies of Elijah in our cannon.
Perhaps this is why, unlike Matthew and Luke, who list Moses first, Mark mentions Elijah first. He says, “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking to Jesus.” Elijah’s appearance at first was shocking to Peter and the others.
But Elijah’s appearance makes perfect sense. As I mentioned earlier, Elijah is unique among the prophets. The prophecy of his return on the scene is intimately connected with the coming of the Messiah Himself and the fulfillment of all things. Elijah’s presence with Jesus and Moses, therefore, seals the eschatological (end of days) emphasis of Jesus’ transfiguration. It signals that the fulfillment of all prophecy, in fact, the fulfillment of all things is completed in Jesus.
Jesus’ metamorphosis before Peter, James and John, further bears out what Moses and Elijah’s presence with Him is proclaiming. Jesus’ dazzling appearance, as Peter witnessed it and as Mark relates it to us, is beyond this world.
While Matthew and Luke mention Jesus’ face gleaming like the sun, Mark focuses on Jesus’ clothing. He says they “became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.” Behind the veneer of Jesus’ human vesture exists God in all His radiance. This transfiguration made it clear that in Jesus’ flesh the Son of God Himself has come to reveal God’s heart of grace and deliver sinners in His loving sacrifice in their place.
The whole sight was much more than anyone could ever take in during the brief interval that it was all visible. No wonder poor Peter was so overwhelmed he didn’t really know what to say but blurted out what seemed right at the time, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” As Mark states, Peter and the others were terrified. The whole scene made it clear to them that God had come to dwell among them in the person of Jesus. They hadn’t really seen Jesus in that light before. Their relationship with Him would never be the same again.
But Peter’s plan of constructing booths, no matter how well meaning, had no validity in reality. The fulfillment of all things had come. The Son of God had not come to be “enshrined” on this mountain or any other mountain by a few admirers. Instead, He had come to make His way to another mountain, Calvary, and to be exposed before the whole world as a bloody sacrifice for sinners. There was no place for present glory. The fulfillment of the salvation of sinners would come only through the shame of the cross through which the Son of God was accomplishing the redemption of all people as God had promised through His prophets. On this mountain of transfiguration God revealed more than the divinity of Jesus. He revealed that the culmination of all things had come in Jesus.
In the transfiguration of Jesus, God has indeed made sure that you have not missed out on the single most, eternally, important thing ever. For even though you were not eyewitnesses to Jesus’ transfiguration like Peter, through Mark and the other Gospel writers you have been graced to see through the eyewitnesses’ eyes that Jesus does not merely have the answers but that He is your Answer….to see that He is not just a revelation of God, but He is the very substance and fulfillment of the Revelation of God for you… to see that Jesus is not another lawgiver but the very fulfillment of the Law for you…. to see that Jesus is not just someone who has come to save you but that He is your salvation… to see that the world will not some day be judged but that in Jesus it is already being judged… And, to borrow from the sentiments of this 14th of February, to see that in the person of Jesus God has revealed His eternal Valentine to you; wrapped in human flesh His underserved and sacrificial love for you!
I close with these words of Peter the eyewitness himself: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased," we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…” (2 Peter 1:16-19).