Jesus glows in a Transfiguration
- 9:1 Jesus said, “Some of you standing here right now will live to see the awesome arrival of God’s Kingdom. True.”
- 9:2 Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John on a walk by themselves. They climbed a mountain. There, right in front of the three disciples, Jesus changed into another form.1
- 9:3 His clothes beamed a dazzling white, beyond anything a good washing with elbow grease could do.
- 9:4 Suddenly, Elijah appeared. Moses, too. They started talking with Jesus.
- 9:5 Peter couldn’t keep quiet. He said to Jesus, “Teacher, it’s wonderful that we’re here to see this. We’d like to set up three tents. One for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”2
- 9:6 He just blurted it out because he didn’t know what to say. They were all too scared to know what to do.
- 9:7 A cloud rolled in and hovered above them. A voice inside the cloud said, “This is my Son. He is well loved. Listen to him.”
- 9:8 In that moment, Moses and Elijah vanished. The disciples were alone again with Jesus.
- 9:9 As they walked back down the hill, Jesus told the men not to tell anyone what they saw until after he rose from the dead.
- 9:10 So the three disciples kept the secret. They had no idea what Jesus meant by rising from the dead. It made no sense at all.
- 9:11 They asked Jesus, “Why do the scholars3 say Elijah has to come before the Messiah comes?”4
- 9:12 Jesus said, “They’re right. Elijah does come first. He gets everything ready. But what does the Bible say about the Son of Humans? It says he’s going to suffer a lot and people are going to treat him like someone they hate.
- 9:13 But I’m telling you now, Elijah has already come. People mistreated him however they wanted, just as the Bible predicted.
Jesus, super exorcist
- 9:14 When they met back up with the other disciples, they saw that a large crowd had gathered around the disciples. Jewish religion scholars called scribes were arguing with the people.
- 9:15 When the crowd caught sight of Jesus they raced toward him. Excited as all get out, they welcomed him.
- 9:16 He asked the folks, “What are you arguing about with those people?”
- 9:17 Someone in the crowd said, “Teacher, I brought my son here to you. He has a spirit in him that keeps him from talking.
- 9:18 Whenever the spirit takes hold of him, it knocks him down. Then my son starts foaming at the mouth and grinding his teeth. His entire body gets stiff. I asked your disciples to order this spirit out of my son. But they couldn’t do it.”
- 9:19 Jesus said, “My goodness, you people have so little faith. How much longer do I have to stay with you? How much longer do I have to put up with you? Bring the boy over here to me.”
- 9:20 They brought the boy to Jesus. When the evil spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into convulsions, slamming him to the ground. The boy started rolling around and foaming at the mouth.
- 9:21 Jesus asked the boy’s dad, “How long has this been going on?” The dad said, “Since he was a little boy.
- 9:22 I’m telling you, this spirit has even tried to kill him. It has thrown him into the fire. Sometimes it throws him into the water. Please, if there’s anything you can do to help us, have mercy on us.”
- 9:23 Jesus said, “If there’s anything I can do? What’s with the ‘If’? Anything is possible when a person has faith.”
- 9:24 Instantly, the boy’s dad pleaded, “I believe. Help me when I can’t.”
- 9:25 Jesus saw the crowd was getting bigger faster. So he called out the demon. Jesus said, “Spirit that has turned this boy deaf and unable to speak, I’m ordering you to come out of him. And never come back.”
- 9:26 The spirit screamed and threw the boy into violent convulsions as it came out of him. The boy stopped moving. He looked like a corpse. Many people watching said, “He’s dead.”
- 9:27 Jesus took the boy by the hand and guided him up until the boy was standing beside him.
- 9:28 Jesus and his disciples went into the house.5 Finally alone with Jesus, his disciples asked, “Why couldn’t we order that evil spirit out?”
- 9:29 Jesus said, “A spirit like this has to be prayed out of the person.”
Jesus: People will kill me
- 9:30 Jesus and the disciples left and traveled throughout Galilee. This was a private trip. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know about it.
- 9:31 He wanted to spend this time teaching his disciples. He told them, “The Son of Humans is going to get arrested by people who will kill him. Three days after he dies, he will rise.”6
- 9:32 The disciples had no idea what to make of this. They couldn’t figure it out, and they were too afraid to ask.
A true leader is last and least
- 9:33 Jesus and the disciples went back to Capernaum. When they were inside the house Jesus asked them, “What were you talking about on the way here?”
- 9:34 Everyone kept quiet. No one wanted to admit they were arguing about which one of them was most important.
- 9:35 Jesus sat down with the 12 disciples and said, “Anyone who wants to be first and foremost has to be last and least. They need to be someone willing to serve everyone.”
- 9:36 Jesus brought a child into the meeting. Took the child in his arms, turned to the disciples, and said,
- 9:37 “If you welcome a little child like this because of me, you’re welcoming me. And if you welcome me, I’m not coming alone. I’m bringing the One who sent me.”7
If they’re not against us, they’re with us
- 9:38 John the disciple said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone performing exorcisms by using your name, as though he had your authority to do it. We tried to stop him because he’s not in our group that follows you.”
- 9:39 Jesus said, “Don’t stop him. No one who does a big and marvelous thing like that by invoking my name is going to say anything bad about me in the near future.
- 9:40 If they’re not against us, they’re with us.
- 9:41 Anyone who gives you a drink of water because you’re linked to the name Christ, that person has a reward coming. And that’s the truth.
If it tempts you to sin, cut it out of your life
- 9:42 Take a look at these little kids who believe in me. I’ll tell you something about anyone who convinces little children like these to sin. People like that would be better off thrown into the sea with one of those grain-grinding millstones tied around their neck.
- 9:43 If your hand is what makes you sin, cut that thing off.8
It’s better to go one-handed into heaven9 than two-fisted into hell.10
There, the fire never stops.
- 9:44 There, worms11 don’t die and the fire won’t stop.12
- 9:45 If your foot is what makes you sin, cut it off.
It’s better to go crippled into heaven13 than dancing into hell,
which is where you’ll get tossed with both feet.
- 9:46 There, worms don’t die and the fire won’t stop.14
- 9:47 If your eye makes you sin, pull it out and throw it away.
It’s better to go into God’s Kingdom with one eye
than to see what hell is like with both eyes.
- 9:48 There, worms don’t die and the fire won’t stop.15
- 9:49 Everyone is going to get salted16—purified with fire.17
- 9:50 Salt is good, until it becomes good for nothing. When it goes stale, how’s it going to get its flavor back? Keep yourself salted—pure and holy, devoted to God.18 And live peacefully with each other.
The Greek word for what happened to Jesus is metamorphoo, from which we get the word “metamorphosis.” This event is most often called the Transfiguration.
Why three tents? Since this happened less than a week after Jesus predicted the coming of God’s Kingdom (9:1), Peter may have thought the kingdom had come. The tents may have been to commemorate the event, much like Jews commemorated the exodus out of slavery in Egypt. They did this by building small huts and living in them for seven days. It’s called the Feast of Tabernacles. Jews not only used this time to reflect on where they came from. They looked forward to the day they would be freed again, this time from Roman occupation. Many expected that the Messiah would lead the way as a warrior king. Big surprise: the Messiah is a pacifist rabbi.
See footnote for 8:28.
Possibly Peter’s house in Capernaum, which became the ministry headquarters of Jesus.
This would have been a tough lesson to explain to the disciples. Bible experts say Jesus probably spent some of this time reminding them of Old Testament prophecies describing the suffering and death he would experience. One of the most famous passages is known as the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53.
Some Bible experts say Jesus is using this illustration of a child to drive home the point he made in 9:35, which is essentially this: if we want to be a leader of people, we don’t think of ourselves as the boss of all those people. We think of all those people as the boss of us.
Heads up. Not heads off. Jesus would not encourage us to cut our heads off if our heads make us sin. Ditto for hands, feet, and eyes. Bible scholars agree Jesus is using hyperbole in 9:43-48. It’s an exaggerated way of talking about self-discipline, and about the strategies we need to use to distance ourselves from temptation. Some people in ancient times as well as modern have taken these words of Jesus literally. They have cut off important body parts. That’s missing the point Jesus is trying to make, scholars say. Temptation doesn’t start with those body parts. It comes from deep within, and has to be dealt with there, long before the body parts get involved.
More literally “life,” referring to eternal life.
Jesus uses the word often translated as “hell.” But the word is literally Gehenna, Aramaic for “Valley of Hinnom,” on the south side of Jerusalem. It was, for a time, the constantly smoldering city dump. But in Old Testament times, some Jews sacrificed to idols there. King Manasseh (reigned 696-642 BC), Hezekiah’s son, “sacrificed his own sons in the fire in Hinnom Valley” (2 Chronicles 33:6). Later, in 586 BC, Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq arrived in 586 BC. They leveled the Jewish cities including Jerusalem, and erased the Jewish nation from the world map. Some Jews considered that God’s judgment on their nation’s lingering idolatry. For the Jews, Hinnom Valley became a synonym for God’s judgment, much like 9/11, for Americans, refers to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the twin towers in New York City.
The Greek word for “worm,” skōlēx, can mean an earthworm, maggot, or grub. In many ancient stories, worms like these show up to feed on buried corpses.
This phrase, repeated in 9:44, 46, 48, is deleted from many Bible translations because it doesn’t show up in some of the oldest copies of the Gospel of Mark.
The saying, more literally, is that everyone will be “salted with fire.” No explanation about what that means. Bible experts make their guesses. One guess is that the salt is a metaphor that comes from Leviticus 2:13. “Season all your grain offerings with salt to remind you of God’s eternal covenant. Never forget to add salt to your grain offerings” (NLT). Salt is part of what it took to make an offering pure and holy, acceptable to God. Some ancient copies preserve the phrase this way: “every sacrifice will be salted with salt.” Which might leave some people confused with confusion.
It’s not clear what “purified with fire” means. In some cases, the fire could refer to hardships and persecution. In this case, some Bible experts say the fire might refer more to the process of purification. It could come from Old Testament Bible passages such as Malachi 3:2-3. “He will be like a purifying fire…Like someone who heats and purifies silver, he will purify the Levites and make them pure like gold” (NCV).
Jesus, more literally, simply says “Have salt in yourselves.” In Old Testament sacrificial rituals, salt was used for purification. Mixed with spices, it produced incense that was “pure and holy” (Exodus 30:35 NLT). Whatever salt symbolized for Jesus, it was a symbol of something Jesus wanted to see in his followers (see Luke 14:34-35).
Jesus told his disciples, “Some of you standing here right now will live to see the awesome arrival of God’s Kingdom” (9:1). People normally associate the coming of God’s Kingdom with the Second Coming of Jesus. As far as we know, Jesus hasn’t come back yet. But all of the disciples died. No one seems to know for sure what Jesus was talking about with the “arrival of God’s Kingdom.” If he was referring to something before the disciples died, what contenders would you put on a brainstorming list?
In the Transfiguration story, Mark says two Old Testament figures met with Jesus on a mountain: Moses and Elijah. The prophet Malachi predicted the return of Elijah (Malachi 3:1; 4:5). Jesus said John the Baptist, at least figuratively, fulfilled that prophecy (Matthew 11:10). So what do you think was the point of having the authentic Elijah show up in the Transfiguration?
What do you think is going on in the story of the Transfiguration? Why does Jesus apparently tell the disciples not to say anything about it? And when they are finally allowed to tell the story, what do you think is the message of the story?
Mark says that after Elijah and Moses showed up, “They started talking with Jesus” (9:4). What do you think they might have said to Jesus?
What do you think irritated Jesus so much that it provoked him to tell a group of folks, “My goodness, you people have so little faith. How much longer do I have to stay with you? How much longer do I have to put up with you?” (9:19).
To settle an argument about which disciple was most important—it was Peter by the way, who always gets listed first when the Holy Dozen show up in the Bible—Jesus uses a little child to make his point. What point do you think he was trying to make?
Clearly, Jesus told his disciples he was going to die: “The Son of Humans is going to get arrested by people who will kill him. Three days after he dies, he will rise” (9:31; see also Luke 9:22). Yet the crucifixion will seem to catch them completely off guard. Why do you think they didn’t get what Jesus said?
When we read about Jesus telling his disciples that he is going to be killed but that after three days “he will rise” (9:31), we know he’s talking about rising from the dead. All we know about the disciples is that they didn’t know what Jesus was talking about, and “they were too afraid to ask” (9:32). What do you think they may have thought he was talking about?
Jesus tells his followers, “If your hand is what makes you sin, cut that thing off” (9:42). Then Jesus moves along to other body parts, saying we should cut off the foot that leads us into sin and pull out the offensive eyeball. Throughout history, people have literally done that. They have cut off other important body parts, too. What do you think Jesus was trying to tell his disciples?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus said, “Keep yourself salted—pure and holy, devoted to God” (9:50). He adds, “Salt is good, until it becomes good for nothing. When it goes stale, how’s it going to get its flavor back?” The footnote to that verse says salt may be symbolizing purity, holiness, and devotion to God. If salt is a reference to godly character traits in people of faith, how does our salt go stale or get diluted and diminished?
LIFE APPLICATION. Jesus has a beautiful exchange with the father of a boy who needed healed. The father asks Jesus to help, “if there’s anything you can do” (9:22). Jesus comes back with, “If there’s anything I can do? What’s with the ‘If’”? (9:23). Then Jesus says anything’s possible for a person who has faith. And the dad says, “I believe. Help me when I can’t” (9:24). That’s often translated, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” What are some situations in life that make it hard to put our trust in the life and teachings and death and resurrection of Jesus?
LIFE APPLICATION. God gave the disciples the ability to perform miracles such as healing people and performing exorcisms to cast out demons. But they couldn’t cast out one evil spirit that produced symptoms that sound a lot like epilepsy (9:18). Jesus healed the person and then explained to the disciples “A spirit like this has to be prayed out of the person” (9:29). If there is any message in there for people today, what do you think it would be?