Christianity 201

September 22, 2014

Peter’s Sensory Overload at the Transfiguration

(Mark 9, HCSB) 

The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves to be alone. He was transformed in front of them, and His clothes became dazzling—extremely white as no launderer on earth could whiten them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— because he did not know what he should say, since they were terrified.

A cloud appeared, overshadowing them, and a voice came from the cloud:

This is My beloved Son;
listen to Him!

Then suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain, He ordered them to tell no one what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept this word to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

11 Then they began to question Him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”

12 “Elijah does come first and restores everything,” He replied. “How then is it written about the Son of Man that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah really has come, and they did whatever they pleased to him, just as it is written about him.”

I’m currently most of the way through Michael Card’s 2012 book on the gospel of Mark titled Mark: The Gospel of Passion (InterVarsity Press). The series of four books on each gospel is called Biblical Imagination, and he certainly brings that gift to this look at the transfiguration of Jesus in Mark chapter 9.


 

Of all Peter experienced with Jesus, the transfiguration is the only event he refers to in his writings.  He understood that he had witnessed a picture of the coming kingdom:

For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, a voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory:

This is My beloved Son.
I take delight in Him!

And we heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with Him on the holy mountain.  (2 Pet 1:17-18)

It is absolutely vital to understand that the transfiguration took place after Peter’s confession.  It was not proof of Jesus identity.  Petr and the others had begun to grasp the truth the only way it can be grasped:  by faith.

After the four have made their way up the unidentified mountain, we are told with typical Markan abruptness that Jesus was “transfigured” (metamorphoo).  Paul uses the same word twice in his writings to describe the process by which the Holy Spirit works in us to transform and renew our minds (Rom 12:2; 2 Cor 3:18).  Strictly speaking, Jesus is not transformed but transfigured.  A veil is momentarily lifted and the three disciples see who Jesus has been all along.  It is a continuation of the progressive opening of their eyes.

Michael Card - Biblical Imagination Series - IVPPeter’s somewhat homespun description, that Jesus’ clothes appeared whiter than any launderer could wash them, appears only in Mark’s account.  With Jesus in the brilliant light appear Moses and Elijah, the only two prophets who ascended Sinai and met with God (Ex 19:1-3; 1 Kings 19:8-18 – Sinai is referred to as “Horeb” in the 1 Kings passage).  The two patriarchs represent the Law and the Prophets.  They represent all those who have suffered because of their obedience to the Father.  They represent the two categories of citizens of the kingdom of God:  those who die and those who will be taken up before they die.  Moses and Elijah are talking with Jesus.  Only Luke hints at the content of their conversation.  He says they are talking about Jesus’ death (Lk 9:31).

Only Peter speaks.  This account is his remembrance.  In order to best understand this moment, we must remember the context.  Mark says the disciples are terrified.  Panic is behind each of Peter’s confused words.  His statement is better understood as a question:  “Rabbi, is it good for us to be here?”  As far as Peter is concerned, it is not a good thing for him to be there.  If this radiance is the light of God’s glory, he thinks he is about to taste the death Jesus has spoken of in Mark 9:1 (see Ex 33:20).  Perhaps he thinks this is the final coming itself.

Engage with your imagination for a moment.  Here is an observant Jewish man facing Moses and Elijah, bathed in a radiant light that all his life he has been told will kill him.  Perhaps he is dying.  Perhaps the kingdom is breaking in at that very moment!  The parenthetical statement in Mark 9:6, that Peter did not know what to say, is a sure indication that what he does eventually say will be the wrong thing.

Peter asks if they might erect three “tabernacles” (Mk 9:5).  The Greek word, which appears in all three accounts of the transfiguration, is skene.  It simply means “tent” and is sometimes translated as “shelter.”  Might Peter in his moment of terror have been asking to build tents for the three luminous characters in order that he and his companions be “sheltered” from their potentially lethal light?  It does not make perfect sense, but Peter confesses that he might not have been making perfect sense at the moment.  The context is Sinai, terror, impending doom and radiant splendor.

Peter needn’t have worried about shelter.  At that moment God shelters them all with a cloud, and the same voice that echoed at Sinai speaks the words both Peter and Jesus need to hear.  The progressive opening of Peter’s eyes and ears leaps ahead light years as God’s voice identifies Jesus as his “beloved Son.”  Then God, perhaps as frustrated with the disciples as Jesus has been, urges, “Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7).

~Michael Card; Mark: The Gospel of Passion; pp 115-117; IVP Books

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