During Jesus’ earthly ministry His disciples struggled to comprehend who He was as the Messiah – the One anointed by God to bring about His kingdom of salvation. Jesus continuously emphasized that before the Messiah would enter into His estate of glory and exaltation He must first suffer and die—then be raised from the dead in order to be exalted in glory.
To help three of His disciples understand these two estates of Messiah – first suffering, and then glory – Jesus took them up on a mountain where His body was transfigured (or transformed) before their eyes. They beheld His glory as a preview of His resurrection-glory.
Immediately after this revelation of Messiah’s glory, we read the following:
“And as they were coming down from the mountain He ordered them not to tell anyone what they saw except at the time when the Son of Man would be raised from the dead. So they kept this matter to themselves, questioning ‘What is this thing, to rise from the dead?’” (Mark 9:9-10)
This command infers a few things about who Jesus is, what His transfiguration was all about, and how His transfiguration relates to His two estates (or stages) of suffering and glory:
- The first inference is that Jesus being “transformed” (μεταμορφόω) in which His garments became radiant – exceedingly bright – (Mark 9:2-3) was actually a preview of His post-resurrection glory.
What the disciples saw was a glimpse of the majestic splendor of the Messiah which He will have “at the time when the Son of Man has risen from the dead,” and which He will fully manifest at His Second Coming, when He comes in glory.
Jesus’ resurrection-glory was so “other” that the disciples were “terrified” (ἔκφοβος, 9:6)! They had never seen Jesus appear in His glory before. In His estate of humiliation (from incarnation until death) Jesus’ appearance is described as undesirable, non-majestic, containing non-splendor (Isa. 53:2b). In the fullness of His suffering, His appearance will have a disfigurement of face such that is beyond human recognition (Isa. 52:14). Paul describes this “natural” pre-resurrection body which Jesus had in His estate of humiliation as having the characteristics of being perishable, dishonorable, and weak (1 Cor. 15:42-44).
- The disciples must not tell what they saw regarding Jesus’ transfigured glory-body until the time that He was raised from the dead with a permanent, transfigured glory-body.
In other words, the disciples were not allowed to talk about the preview of the main attraction—until the main attraction was released! Why? Because first the Son of Man must suffer death—as a sin-atoning sacrifice in the place of His people—then, when He’s raised “from the dead ones” (ἐκ νεκρῶν), then the proclamation of Messiah’s resurrection glory can go forth. Until then, Jesus knew the crowds, the surrounding districts, the religious leaders, and even the disciples, could not handle the reality of His glory to follow. Since the disciples had not yet been equipped with the glorious power of the Spirit which would only fall upon them after Jesus is ascended, they were not able to proclaim this message.
The disciples were not to proclaim the Messiah’s estate of exaltation because He was still in His estate of humiliation. Up to this point in His ministry, when Jesus defined what it meant for Him to be the Messiah, He repeated how He must first suffer many things, be rejected by the religious leaders, and then be killed—only to rise from the dead (Mark 8:29-31). Thus the disciples must not proclaim Jesus’ resurrection-glory until He enters that glory.
- The disciples were not to announce the resurrection-glory of Christ “except at the time that the Son of Man has risen from the dead” because the resurrection would begin to launch the global proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
What does Jesus call Himself here, and most often in the gospels? “The Son of Man.” Jesus is identifying Himself with the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14 who would be given dominion, glory, and a kingdom when He would ascend to His Heavenly Father and be crowned the King of kings and Lord of lords. Then He would receive the Holy Spirit from the Father as the royal anointing oil poured upon His head, which Jesus would then pour out on His body—the Church (Acts 2:33).
In this way, what the disciples beheld on the mountain of transfiguration was a foretaste of “the kingdom of God coming in power” (9:1). The inspired author, Mark, likely put the adverb ὧδε (“here”) as a marker for the reader to make the connection from 9:1 to 9:5:
“And (Jesus) said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here (ὧδε) who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1).
“And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi it is good that we are here (ὧδε). Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’” (Mark 9:5)
What Jesus was referring to in 9:1, with regards to Peter, James, and John seeing His kingdom coming in power—was the revelation of Messiah’s kingdom-glory in the transfiguration. Seeing the King of kingdom radiant in glory was a prequel to the coming of the kingdom in power. Thus the glory that the disciples saw is correlated with the power of the resurrected, ascended, and returning Messiah. In 8:30 the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father; in 9:1 the kingdom will come in power. For this reason, Paul will say that “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6:4). Christ’s resurrection body is described as being imperishable, and having glory and power (1 Cor. 15:42-44).
When Jesus is resurrected in His glory-body, then He will pour out the resurrection-power of His Holy Spirit on these very disciples—Peter, James, and John—who would then be empowered to proclaim the Messiah’s glorious kingdom. What is inferred by Jesus’ command in Mark 9:9 is that the proclamation of His estate of glory was not to go forth yet—because that proclamation would actually be empowered by the power and glory of Christ in His exalted state!
- Lastly, Mark 9:9 infers that the Son of Man has indeed been raised from the dead.
How so? The proclamation of the glory of Christ eventually did go out – not only verbally through the preaching of the Apostles—but it went out through the writing of the Gospel of Mark (and the other Gospels). The proclamation, therefore, has documentation. The telling Jesus referred to in 9:9 has writing, which is the Word of God. The very documentation of what happened on the mountain of transfiguration only occurred because Jesus’ disciples obeyed His command: they waited until Jesus rose from the dead to “tell” and “describe” (διηγέομαι) His glory. This means the account of the transfiguration, written by Mark as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, proves that Jesus is alive, and reigning now in His glory, and will soon come again to bring the fullness of the Kingdom of God, in all His glory and power. Every eye will see Him. The question for you is, whether you will have a joyful awe in worship at the sight of His appearance, or a dreadful fear.
Therefore, Jesus the Messiah calls you to come to Him now, by faith. All who come to Him in repentance and dependence have been rescued out of the authority of darkness, and have been transferred into the kingdom of God’s Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, that is, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13-14). If you have put your trust in Messiah as your crucified and resurrected Savior-King, then you too will be raised up when He returns, in an imperishable body of power and glory. Then your garments and your face will shine with exceeding brightness, as you behold His glorious face. Until then, go and tell everyone of His glory – for the Son of Man has been raised from the dead!
To hear a song on the glory of Christ in the Transfiguration, listen to “Eschatological Prophet” by timothy brindle, from his album, The Unfolding. To read timothy’s exegesis of Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, see chapter 8 of The Unfolding book.