Sunday, February 11th, is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, when we have heard gospels about the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God. Fittingly it features Mark’s gospel of the Transfiguration, (Mark 9:2-9) the penultimate revelation of Jesus as God’s son.  


Sunday’s gospel opens with the words, Six days later…that is, six days after he had told his disciples that the Son of Man must die (Mark 8:31) and that, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mark 8:34-35) Taken together his prediction of his cruel death and his urging to others to take up their own crosses were sobering instructions.

He had fed a crowd of four thousand with a few loaves and fish, (Mark 8:1-9) and developed a following based on his miracles, his care and feeding for the multitude and his teaching. But fame and popularity are not the same as commitment. And crucifixion was probably not what these followers imagined or sought. Even those who were closest to him may have been taken aback.


Nevertheless, some stayed with him. From among those,

…Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

Peter, James and John were Jesus’ inner circle. Along with Andrew, they were the first disciples Jesus had chosen (Mark 1:19).

The high mountain could refer to Mount Hermon (at 2,814 m the tallest near the current borders of Syria and Lebanon), Mount Carmel (525 m: north of the Sea of Galilee) or Mount Tabor roughly half way between Nazareth and the southern end of the Sea of Galilee (575 m: the traditional site of the Transfiguration). More important than the specific mountain is that mountains are traditional places of communication with divine beings or divine revelation. Think of Abraham binding Isaac on Mount Moriah, (Genesis 22) or God and Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19).

Jesus may have intended the transfiguration as a form of reassurance that death was only a portal to something much greater: only a part of the larger story. He wanted these three to understand the truth of this, not only by his words, but by experiencing something of the afterlife.

His dazzling white clothes indicated an otherworldly aspect of the event because no one on earth could bleach them that bright.


And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Beyond their individual personages, Elijah was emblematic of the prophets and Moses symbolized the law. Their presence points to the fulfillment of God’s promises in the Old Testament.

The appearance of these two ancients after they had been thought dead provided a different dimension to the transfiguration. In 2 Kings 2:11, Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven, so his appearance also conveyed a sense of the transcendence of the present age. For his part, Moses, the servant of the Lord, (had) died there in the land of Moab... He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. (Deut 34: 5-6) By their reappearance after so many centuries, they showed a timeless dimension to Jesus.


Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’

He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Some might see Peter’s response as dim-witted, but the situation was so far from the norm, even in their experience of Jesus, that it is hard to imagine what one would say if we were put in his place. It was ‘good for them to be there.’ It was a moment that Peter wanted to hold onto, so asking if he could make three dwellings, or tents, for them, made sense.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’

Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.

Listen to him conveyed the voice’s authority on Jesus. Jesus was God’s own Word: the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6).

In addition, the voice echoed the words of Mark 1:11 when Jesus came out of the Jordan following his baptism: a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ These three disciples had not been present at that moment, so the words, especially the instruction to listen to him were meant for them. If they had had doubts about the wisdom of following Jesus to the cross, this instruction and the event itself may have bolstered their commitment.


Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

In his instruction to these three, Jesus linked his transfiguration with the ultimate epiphany….his resurrection from the dead. While resurrection from the dead was part of Pharisaic belief, it referred to return to life at the end of the world at the time of the final judgment, not in the present times. Beyond that, resurrection was thought of as a collective experience rather than an individual one. So Jesus’ talk about his personal rising from the dead in the near term may well have puzzled them.

Here, as on the three other occasions in Mark, when Jesus spoke of his death and resurrection, he used of Son of Man as a self-reference. He began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and after three days rise again.(Mark 8:31) He was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands and they will kill him and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ (Mark 9:31) and we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’ (Mark 10:33-34) While the Son of Man clearly referred to Daniel 7:13-14 it also emphasized the human and divine nature of Jesus as the Christ.

However, instructing them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead, seems mysterious. Perhaps Jesus did not want to upset the other disciples by giving them the sense that they had been left out. When they had seen the resurrection, the omission would seem minor.


  • · How do you think of the Transfiguration? Have you seen someone transformed – with joy or love – in a way that helps you imagine the event? Or, is it something literally unimaginable?
  • Does a connection with Elijah and Moses give this story depth? Does it evoke holy mystery? Do they validate Jesus in some specific way? How would you explain their presence?
  • Do you find the juxtaposition of Jesus’ death and resurrection in this gospel jarring? Or is it so familiar from hearing it over the years that it symbolizes Jesus Christ…part of your faith? Try to re-read the gospel as a contemporary account of events, without knowing what was to come, other than by Jesus’ words. Does it leave you with a sense of mystery? Of awe? Of curiosity about how each of the disciples would have experienced the event?