I have to admit, well I don’t really have to but I will. I have to admit that this has been a difficult sermon to write. Mainly because it is not an easy passage to understand. I am encouraged by the knowledge that most commentators also find difficulty. There are so many different interpretations and some commentators don’t even try.
I read and re-read the passage. I also looked at Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts. These were really copied and pasted from Mark’s Gospel anyway. Peter also had something to say in his letter.
Having done all that I came up with some sort of sermon. So here goes. Make of it what you will.
I don’t know whether the transfiguration was an invented story, an actual photographable event or a subjective vision of the disciples. I honestly do find the latter difficult to justify given there were three disciples present. It would be unusual for the three of them to have the same experience if it was not, in some way, real.
A very quick summary of the story goes like this. Jesus went up a mountain with Peter, James and John. The appearance of Jesus changed. Moses and Elijah appeared. Peter suggested making three shelters, one for each of them. A cloud appeared and they heard a voice saying, “This is my Son, listen to Him.” The disciples then saw that Jesus was on His own.
What, then, does all this mean? This is what I think. You are quite entitled to disagree. I hope you do. It makes life interesting.
It is often said that the words that the disciples heard were the same as those at Jesus’ baptism. They most certainly are not. At the baptism the words were addressed to Jesus. “You are my son.” At the transfiguration the voice addressed Peter, James and John. “This is my Son.” Jesus was changed in front of them. I think the whole transfiguration was more for the disciples’ education than making Jesus into something different. It seems almost to be confirming what Peter said in Caesarea Philippi, that Jesus was the Messiah. In Peter’s second letter He saw the transfiguration as foretelling the future glory of Jesus.
What about the appearance of Moses and Elijah? I actually think that it is the disappearance of Moses and Elijah that is more significant than their appearance. In the Old Testament Moses had a similar experience with shining light and talking clouds. One major difference was that Moses’ transfiguration was only a reflected glory and then it faded. Not so with Jesus. As a result of Moses playing a fairly big part in the Exodus he became a significant figure in the Jewish faith and culture.
What about Elijah? It seems strange that Elijah occupies such an important place in Judaism. To this day, when celebrating the Seder meal at the Passover a place is set for Elijah in case he returns,, which he is expected to. As a prophet Isaiah seems to have most to say about the forthcoming Messiah. Consequently we have books names after Isaiah but nor one named after Elijah. Peter suggests three tents or shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter was saying that Jesus was equal to Moses and Elijah. He had got it wrong again but for Peter it would have been his way of paying Jesus a compliment. Remember all these people were Jewish and thought like Jews. Moses and Elijah, up to the arrival of Jesus were the key players.
Then the cloud appeared. This, in the Old Testament was usually a sign of God’s presence. As it did with Moses on the mountain and when leading the Israelites through the wilderness. “This is my Son.” Was this yet another rebuke for Peter? Was the message, ‘Hey, you three, Moses and Elijah are not Jesus’ equals.’ I think it was. Particularly when you read what happens next.
Note. Jesus was over there. (Point left). The voice was over there. (Point right). The disciples had to turn towards the voice. When they turned back Moses and Elijah had disappeared. There was just Jesus. Was this a way of saying you can forget Moses and Elijah. It is now all about Jesus.
Funny that! We sing that in one of our songs. ‘It’s all about Jesus.’ There was a further rebuke to come. The voice said, “Listen to him.” Something they hadn’t really been doing. They hadn’t been taking it in that Jesus was going to be killed and after three days rise again. The voice was affirming to Peter, James and John, especially Peter, that Jesus’ teaching was correct. Would this actually make any difference to the disciples’ understanding of what Jesus said? We’ll find out as we work through the rest of Mark.