Commentary on Mark 9:2-13
The strange event we know as the Transfiguration follows immediately after the confession of Peter about Jesus’ identity as Messiah and the foretelling of his rejection, sufferings and death at the hands of his own people which came as such a shock to the disciples.
Today’s experience seems to be a kind of glimpse of Jesus as the Son of God to prepare them for when the Passion actually takes place. Only the three closest companions of Jesus – Peter, James and John – are chosen for this experience.
They go up a high mountain, traditionally recognised as Mount Tabor, but it does not really matter. Mountains in Scripture are holy places where God is especially present:
Moses received the Law on a mountain; the new Moses, Jesus, gave his Law in the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus is often described as going into the mountains to pray.
Suddenly they see Jesus as they have never seen him before – in dazzling glory. Then on either side appear Elijah and Moses talking with Jesus. The meaning is clear. Moses represents the Law and Elijah the tradition of the prophets. Between them they are the summation of all God’s revelations to his people and they are endorsing Jesus as the continuation of that tradition.
Peter, in his usual impetuosity, gets carried away. “It is wonderful for us to be here.” He wants to set up three shrines: one each for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.
Then a cloud covers everything. In scriptural imagery this clearly speaks of the presence of God himself. Compare the cloud that covered Moses on the mountain as he conversed with God. Compare the pillar of cloud that accompanied the Israelites through the desert.
From within the cloud comes a voice, which can only be the voice of God himself: “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” This is now the endorsement of the Father himself for Jesus. The words that just previously they found difficult to accept they are now being told to listen to very carefully. Jesus, as Son, speaks with the voice of God. We too need to listen to everything that Jesus says both by his words and his actions.
Then everything is suddenly over and they see “only Jesus”. The Jesus of everyday life, looking not very different from anyone else. The way he appears in our life too. But we have to continue listening to him wherever and however we encounter him.
As they come down from the mountain, the disciples are told not to say anything until Jesus is risen from the dead. Jesus does not want any misunderstandings or distortions of what has just happened to be disseminated. The gospel says they observed this instruction even though they were puzzled about what “risen from the dead” might mean.
They also asked about the expected appearance of Elijah before the coming of the Messiah. Jesus the Messiah has come but where was Elijah? Jesus replies that Elijah has come and it is understood Jesus was referring to John the Baptist, who, like Jesus, also suffered.