And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only. – Mark 9:2-8
God not only travels on the clouds (Ps. 104:3), but His glory comes as a cloud (2 Chronicles 5:14; 1 Kings 8:11; Ezekiel 10:4; Exodus 40:35.) All the way back in Exodus 13 God leads the Israelites in the cloud by day. This cloud descends on the mountain where Moses receives the Ten Commandments. There are plenty of examples, but in the passage above we find Jesus and 3 disciples on a mountain with a cloud (probably Mt. Hermon since Caesarea Philippi is at its base).
All of a sudden Jesus’ “clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.” This must have been quite a scene! Peter, who tends to talk unproductively when he gets nervous, suggests they make tents as though this were the Feast of Booths. In his anxiety he deems Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to be co-equals. And then the cloud! “A voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’ And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.”
When Moses experienced the cloud, he glowed. His glow was a reflection of God. But Jesus does not reflect light, He produces it. The voice speaks from the cloud of the one producing light and Moses and Elijah are completely off the stage. Let there be no mistake: Jesus is the only one to follow and hear. A common error pops up here frequently. This passage is not about Jesus’ deity. More than one preacher has tripped up exegetically and taught that. Contrary to Wesley’s otherwise great carol, Jesus is not the Godhead “veiled in flesh.” The Godhead is manifested in the flesh of Jesus. He was not God in disguise until the mask was removed here at the Transfiguration. Jesus always reveals God and never veils or disguises Him. Jesus tells Philip who was not present at the Transfiguration, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
Rather than revealing true deity, this scene exhibits true humanity. When we were created, we were supposed to reflect the glory of God. That’s why Moses’ face glowed after he beheld God in the cloud. Stephen sees Jesus at the Right Hand when the heavens opened above the Sanhedrin and his face shone like an angel. We were made to glow the glory of God, but sin has dimmed us. Jesus is redeeming that.
It is also notable that the cloud came down on the disciples and they did not die. That may not shock us, but it should. Moses had to be hidden in the cleft of the rock, but Peter, James, and John were “overshadowed” and lived to tell about it. What does this tell us about Jesus? Moses (and all he represents) is gone; Elijah (and all he presents) is gone, and now Jesus gives what Moses could not and Elijah could not. Jesus is the tabernacle Peter suggested; He is the temple to end all temples and the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the priest, king, and prophet to end all priests, kings and prophets. And that’s the gospel!
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” – Mark 8:31-9:1
Jesus asked the question so many need to answer: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter, on behalf of the disciples, gives a glorious and correct answer, “You are the Christ.” The word Christos had come to mean the Anointed One (a christening is an anointing), the Messiah, the King to end all kings. And Jesus accepts the title. This is great: there is no need to wonder anymore if Jesus is the Messiah. Let the festival begin!
Well, maybe not just yet. “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Um, are you sure about that? Mark makes it abundantly clear, “And he said this plainly.” Wow! This is unexpected. We connect the Suffering Servant from Isaiah with the Messiah, but they did not. Nobody in Israel was thinking that the Messiah who would be God’s agent in bringing the kingdom, in sorting out the mess Israel was in, and putting the Gentiles in their place, would suffer and be killed. This is shocking and scandalous.
Peter knows just what to do. This is a great moment for the team and it should not be sullied, so “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” We saw in the passage just before this one that when Jesus gave sight to the blind man, it wasn’t all at once. Here the disciples have received sight (“You are the Christ.”), but there’s still a lot of sight to be gained. Jesus does not mince words: “But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’”
Curiously Jesus attributes Peter’s view to Satan himself! The verb for “rebuked” is used elsewhere for what Jesus does to demons. There is more going on that meets the eye. It’s easy to understand Peter’s reaction though. Jesus’ statement that He must suffer probably went against everything Peter had been taught about Messiah from everyone in his life—perhaps even from his own mother. Yet Jesus is saying that He is the Messiah, the King, but He came not to live but to die. He is going to lose His life and all who follow Him must follow in the same way.
What the disciples are about to learn is that death, which has come because of sin, is close to defeat. Jesus will go to the cross and die, and that will be victory. This turns the values of this world on their head. Jesus did not come to bring the kingdom through an army, cultural compromise, or isolationism. He didn’t take power; He gave it up. And this is victory—both for Him and all who follow in His way. And that’s the gospel!
Don’t miss worship this SATURDAY at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner. This is an annual July tradition for Redeemer.
And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. – Mark 8:22-30
Jesus is presented with a blind man, and the people beg Jesus to heal him. Jesus has shown in Mark’s gospel that He can heal a person with a word, with meaningful touch, with their touching His garment, or with the person not even present. He performs healings in the presence of crowds, in the presence of the disciples, or in private. We can see that the place and situation do not change the efficacy of the miracle, but Jesus uses place and situation to give meaning to the miracle.
In the passage above He takes the man from Bethsaida, which is on the northern part of the Sea of Galilee, and takes him out of the village, on the way to Caesarea Philippi. That would have been a long walk! It’s about an hour’s drive today on well-paved roads at full speed. It’s not clear how far He took the man outside the village, but the miracle was performed along this journey, and the journey matters a great deal.
Both the account of the blind man and the account of going to the uppermost point of the Jordan River work hand-in-hand. Just as the blind man receives His sight, so the disciples gain their own kind of sight (or insight). Just as Jesus takes the blind man away from the village, so Jesus takes the disciples away from the sea and the crowds. And just as He insists that the newly-sighted man not go back and tell people, so Jesus insists the same for the disciples. The kingdom-mission has become revealed as the Messiah-mission, and things must happen as secretly as possible at this point.
Both the blind man and the disciples receive their sight in a two-stage process. The blind man sees “men, but they look like trees, walking.” Jesus has made clear that His healings are like parables. The parables are Jesus’ commentary on the crisis brought about by His own presence and work. In this miracle Jesus is revealing to the disciples something about themselves. Earlier in Mark’s gospel, Jesus promised that they could see and hear the mysteries of the Kingdom, but then He told them that they were blind. They see, but they do not see clearly. That will take more work.
Jesus does more work with the man, and the man sees clearly. Jesus does more work with the disciples by asking “Who do people say that I am?” Peter, speaking for the disciples, “You are the Messiah!” (Christ is another word for Messiah.) Now, at last their eyes are opened. Everything is different now because the road from the top of Israel to Jerusalem is going to be full of many more eye-openers. Expectations will need to be adjusted since, where the first half of the gospel has been revealing the Son of God, they now will begin to see the dying Son of God.
One of the great things about Mark’s gospel is that it helps us answer the question about who Jesus is. We are not to answer according to our ideas, but according to who He said He is along with what the apostles tell us. The disciples weren’t expecting a divine redeemer; they were longing for a king. Their eyes are so newly opened that they do not yet know they’ve found Him, but we do. Jesus is not just announcing God’s kingdom; He is in fact its King. And that’s the gospel!
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.
Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” – Mark 8:11-21
The Pharisees don’t understand. Of course if they understood, then they’d repent of their traditions and follow Jesus. Do we have some traditions of which we need to repent? Just asking.
Jesus has done amazing signs. It must have been in their day like movies and miracle plays today, but the Pharisees come asking for yet another sign. This is proof, of course, that signs and wonders are not sufficient to heal the human heart or even open spiritually blind eyes. Jesus flatly refuses their request, condemns them along with the generation they represent, then He up and leaves them standing there, unsuccessful in their endeavor.
The passage that follows this one is the miracle healing of the blind man. The Pharisees and the generation they represent suffer blindness. Jesus must restore Israel’s sight if they are ever going to see. The healing miracle before this passage was with the deaf mute. Jesus said that the scribes in chapter 7, “honor [God] with their lips, but their heart is far from [Him],” and they “revile” or “speak evil.” We see Jesus diagnosing these maladies with the spiritual manifesting the physical and correcting them symbolically. But certainly the scribes and Pharisees don’t get it. We should be struck with the fact that the disciples don’t really get it either!
Jesus is revealing the answers in this passage, except, as the Good Teacher He is, not all at once. The work it takes to get the right answer is a big part of His teaching method. He does tell them plainly to “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” It would seem at first blush that the Pharisees and Herod would not be lumped together very often. But here they go together perfectly because they each have a kingdom-vision for the future that involves political power. The Pharisees want a kingdom of powerful Jews who can observe the traditions with great strictness while stomping on everyone else. Herod wants a powerful royal family as the true king of Israel. “This generation” is led astray by both Pharisees and Herod. Jesus’ kingdom-vision is completely different and gives life for the world.
Additionally, we find here the third boat-ride incident. Like the others, there is confusion, although this one doesn’t have bad weather like the other two. Interestingly, Jesus quotes from Jeremiah 5:21, “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.” If you know the chapter, you know that Jeremiah also includes a reference to Israel’s inability to understand God’s power over the sea and over the weather. This theme of God’s power over the sea remains prominent because the sea is used as a symbol to reveal the hardness of the disciples’ hearts. And let us consider well and bear in mind that the One who has power over the sea also has power to take hard hearts of stone, full of misunderstanding, and make them soft hearts of flesh who can discern the truth. And that’s the gospel!
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. – Mark 8:1-10
This passage begins a new section in Mark. Jesus is still in the predominantly Gentile area where He conquered the army of demons and healed the deaf mute. In both cases there was a great deal of spreading the good news of Jesus’ work (despite His objections!). Now a crowded had gathered and apparently they have had something like a 3-day bible conference. I wish the gospel writers had told us more about how that worked, but they didn’t.
This feeding of the 4,000 looks very similar to the prior feeding of the 5,000 men. Even the conversation with the disciples is strikingly parallel. This has led some to suggest such ridiculous ideas as a later editor inserting the story at some point using a different source. Mark is a careful and particular writer and the book itself has amazing literary structure and form. This is a different event entirely, but the disciples are the same men they were before, and there is even more urgency.
Mark calls attention to the length of time (3 days) they had been together and that there were no towns or villages close by where they could go to get food. The people were so famished as to be ready to “faint on the way” if they walked back to their homes.
Mark is setting the scene for a theme that emerges far more prominently in this gospel account, viz., the disciples fail to understand what Jesus is doing at almost every turn. Granted, nothing like this had ever happened before, so they are hardly to blame. But Mark uses their slowness to understand as a way to show how Jesus’ identity, as Israel’s true Messiah, was being unveiled. While I can’t think of any prophecies that say Jesus would multiply bread and fish, bread and fish as symbols tell us a great deal about the work of Jesus the Messiah. I’m looking forward to exploring that in the sermon on Sunday.
For now, we wouldn’t want to miss the similarity of Jesus’ compassion in both miracle stories. Jesus makes plain to His Jewish disciples, “I have compassion on the crowd.” In that crowd are many Gentiles. At the previous mass feeding Mark says, “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” In this second feeding, Matthew and Luke record that Jesus gave them the Lord’s Prayer. Mark doesn’t, but He makes sure we know that it is Jesus who gives us our daily bread. It is easy in our world of industrial food production to forget that the Lord has a personal concern for us, even in the provision of food.
Another similarity is that in both accounts, it is the disciples who do the feeding. Jesus is the host, but His disciples distribute the food. There are accounts of “magicians” in the ancient world who performed tricks for money and fame, but Jesus’ disciples are nothing like that. He brings them into the word in which He is engaged. What a fellowship and joy divine to know that we are not only fed by Jesus, but that He uses us to extend His compassion and food to the world! And that’s the gospel!