Sunday, September 17th, 2023
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.
2 And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. 3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them. 4 And there appeared unto them Elias with Moses: and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 6 For he wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid. 7 And there was a cloud that overshadowed them: and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. 8 And suddenly, when they had looked round about, they saw no man any more, save Jesus only with themselves.
9 And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. 10 And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean. 11 And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? 12 And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. 13 But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him.
Father, we thank you for the transfiguration of Your Son, this foretaste of divine glory that has been recorded and written down for our encouragement. We ask that you would give us insight and understanding of these things, and that as we behold you in truth, we might be transformed into your image. We ask for your cloud to descend upon us, in Jesus name, Amen.
Last week we were given some hard and challenging words from the Lord Jesus. We were told that the only way to attain to everlasting life is by denying ourselves, taking up the cross, and following Jesus to a painful crucifixion. The cross is a great symbol of shame, it is an announcement of our death and union with Christ, and of our death to the world and its lusts which are passing away. At the same time, the cross is also a great symbol of victory and conquest, because Christ died and rose from the dead victorious over Satan, sin, and death, for the Christian the cross is turned into a symbol of glory (we make jewelry out of it). It is the crown we wear upon our head at the same time we feel its heavy burden upon our back. The cross is the tree of life that we can only partake of if we are first crucified on it together with Jesus.
The cross is a window into the mystery of the gospel. The Apostle Paul calls it a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles. It is an embarrassment to those who expect the messiah to take the kingdoms of this world unscathed, and it is an embarrassment to those who laud human wisdom and human strength.
As Jesus says to the Pharisees in Luke 16:15, “For that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
And likewise in Isaiah 55:8 God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”
The way that God chose to save the world is through death and resurrection. By taking the thing that is most fearful to men, namely death and shame (being stripped naked before the world) and He turns it inside out. Death and resurrection is the very pattern and sequence that God has woven into the fabric of reality. And so the gospel is something we are immersed in and surrounded by, and yet too often blind to.
There is evening and then morning. Darkness before light.
There is sleep and then waking. Weariness before the renewing of our strength.
There is the coldness of winter before the warmth of spring.
There is the caterpillar in the cocoon, before it becomes a butterfly.
There is seedtime and harvest, sowing before reaping.
Obviously, you should know that if there is death, there is also a resurrection.
The Apostle Paul makes this point in 1 Corinthians 15:36. And he saysthat you are fool if you do not recognize that a seed must die before it can become fruitful. And from this he goes on to prove the nature of our resurrection bodies.
“So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-44).
If you want glory, honor, and immortality, if you want to upgrade your very weak and frail and at times very sick body, for something that can never get sick, never suffers, and never dies, that does not need food or exercise to maintain it in perfect strength, well Jesus gives us in our text this morning, a preview of that future glory. A preview of what we will look if we follow him all the way.
What is the destination for those who follow Christ?
Jesus has made clear that there are some hard stops along the way. There are the trials of youth and puberty, there are the trials of finding your calling, your vocation, finding a spouse, there are mid-life crises, there are health crises, there are financial crises. There are many trials along the way. But where do all of these trials lead? They lead to death, but even that is only a rest stop. The ultimate destination for the Christian is resurrection unto glory. It is entrance into a New Heavens and New Earth in which righteousness dwells.
So why all this talk about resurrection here, in the middle of Mark’s gospel? Because it is the purpose of our text this morning to stir us up to a living hope.
What does the transfiguration of Jesus give us?
It gives us a certain hope of the glory that awaits us after the cross.
God knows our frame. And He knows that if He asks us to die, we should have something to look forward to beyond the grave. So God is not asking anyone to take a blind leap of faith into the dark. No.
Jesus comes as light into the world, and he tells us in plain speech, in the open light of day who He is, and where He is going. He is the Son of God, and He is going to die and rise again for our sins. And just in case you had some doubts about the resurrection, well the transfiguration is a preview of the other side.
The transfiguration is what happens when the soul that sees God pours forth into the body. Jesus shows us what is shining in His soul behind the veil. A glory and radiance that is whiter and brighter than the sun.
So that is the purpose of this text, to give us hope, so let us consider these verses together.
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.
This is a continuation and conclusion of Jesus teaching the disciples and the crowds about the cost of discipleship. The verse right before this, Mark 8:38 says, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
And then he says unto that group, that some of them standing there, listening to him, especially the disciples, some of them will not die, before the kingdom of God comes with power. To what does this refer?
When did the kingdom of God come with power?
Well according to Jesus, it is going to come during the disciples’ lifetime, but some of them are going to die before its arrival, while some will live to see it.
Some have suggested that the kingdom coming with power refers to Pentecost, and while that is possible, I think it’s unlikely because all of the apostles except for Judas was alive at that time. So although it could be that the some refers to everyone except Judas, I think there is a much better option that has a lot more biblical support.
A few chapters from now, in Mark 13, Jesus is going to prophesy about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the old world. He says in Mark 13:24-26, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, 25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. 26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.”
We’ll get into this in greater depth when we get to Mark 13, but this is not a reference to the end of human history. This “coming in the clouds” is not a reference to the bodily return of Christ in final judgment. Rather, it is the coming of the saints in union with Christ to receive the kingdom from the Father. We know this because it is a direct quote from Daniel 7, and there we are told the Son of Man is the saints coming up to the Ancient of Days, not Christ coming down to earth.
Furthermore, this language in Mark 13 of the stars falling from heaven and the powers being shaken is not about our solar system collapsing, it is about the end of a spiritual-political administration. And more specifically, it is the end of the four kingdoms spoken of in the book of Daniel. This can be proved from many passages, but I’ll give you just two:
1. This is exact same language used in Isaiah (and elsewhere) to refer to the fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persians.
Isaiah 13 says, “For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine…I will shake the heavens, And the earth shall remove out of her place…Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, The beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Is. 13:10, 13, 17, 19).
So the falling of stars, and the darkening of sun and moon, the earth being removed, are a reference to the fall of a king and his kingdom, along with the spiritual or demonic powers behind them. You can this see even more explicitly if you read through Daniel and Revelation.
2. The second reason we know this is not about the end of human history is because Jesus says that all this great tribulation and cosmic upheaval is going to take place within one generation, that is within roughly 40 years of his prophecy.
So a few verses later in Mark 13:30, Jesus says,
“Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.” And the all these things there includes, the spread of the gospel, the great tribulation, the coming of antichrists, the stars falling, and the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heavens.
All these events took place in the 1st century (within one generation), just like Jesus said they would, and just like church history attests to. By 70 AD, some of the apostles had died, but some (like John) were still alive. And that is when the kingdom came with power.
To deny this is to in effect call Jesus a false prophet. Jesus says, “Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.”
John records this moment in Revelation 11:15 where it says, “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
There’s a whole lot more to say about this, and we’ll address it in greater detail when we get to chapter 13, but there’s your preview.
So having giving this promise, in verses 2-8 we then ascend the mountain for Christ’s transfiguration.
2 And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. 3 And his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow; so as no fuller on earth can white them.
Here we have the fulfillment of multiple Old Testament prophecies that reveal who Jesus is.
First, we see that Jesus is clothed in light, “his raiment became shining, exceeding white as snow.” In Matthew’s version of this same event it says, “his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.”
Who is Jesus if he is emanating light such that it extends even to his clothing?
Psalm 104 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment.”
God wears light as a garment. So who is Jesus that he wears the same?
We see also that Jesus is fulfilling the prophecies of Malachi 3 and 4. There we are told of two messengers. One is Elijah (John the Baptist), who prepares the way for the Lord, and the other messenger is the Lord Himself.
Malachi 3:2-3 says, But who may abide the day of his [the Lord’s] coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: And he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
Notice that the Lord is said to come and purify his people like “fuller’s soap.” A fuller is like a professional dry cleaner or bleacher. And Malachi prophesies that the Lord will come with a kind of “divine bleach.” So Mark draws our attention to this by saying that Jesus’ clothes were so white “as no fuller on earth can white them.”
Who is Jesus? He is the one who comes to make His people divinely white, pure, and spotless. He comes to elevate human nature to what God had always intended for us.
This is the glory that radiates from who Jesus is, not only as the Divine Son of God, but as the heavenly Son of Man, who is perfect in his humanity.
And what this means for you and I who are united to Jesus Christ, is that this is what we are going to look like when we put on the resurrection.
Daniel 12:3 says, “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”
When the kingdom of Christ comes with power, and the stars fall from the heavens (those old angelic powers). It is the saints who replace them. We are the stars. Paul says in Ephesians that we are presently seated with Christ in heavenly places.
He says in 1 Corinthians 6:3, that we are going to judge angels.
This is also why he says in Philippians 2:14-15, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as stars in the world.”
Jesus is revealing the majesty that awaits us, and the glory that we already have growing inside of us.
Romans 8 says that all creation is groaning for our glory to be revealed.
Romans 8:18-19 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.”
Creation is groaning for the transfiguration of your body. And so as we groan and suffer in this life, keep your hope firmly fixed on this glory Christ reveals and shall give us.
Now after Jesus is transfigured, Elijah and Moses appear (verse 4). Why these two men (of all the people Jesus could have appeared with)?
To start it might be because both Moses and Elijah were forerunners, Moses preceded Joshua, Elijah preceded Elisha.
Both men were prophets who faced down kings and were persecuted by them, Moses by Pharoah, Elijah by Ahab and Jezebel.
Both men also had visions of God on the top of a mountain.
There are a lot of similarities between these two men.
But I think the primary reason for their appearance with Jesus is to make them into witnesses that Jesus is the Son of God.
We saw earlier that some people thought Jesus was Elijah, and so this appearance clearly distinguishes the two. He’s not Elijah, he’s someone greater.
It also turns the Jews greatest authority, Moses, into a personal witness to Christ. So if you say you follow Moses but not Jesus, well then you are not actually following Moses. Moses and Elijah are both witnesses to Christ.
They are especially witnesses to the voice of God from the cloud that says, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.”
This moment in Jesus’ ministry is a sequel to his baptism, it is a kind of second anointing. At his baptism, the Father said, “You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And now here for a second time, with Moses and Elijah, and the three disciples present, the Father declares, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.”
So will you listen to Jesus? Will you hear him? That is the one sentence the Father gives, the one command he issues to the disciples. “This is my beloved Son: hear him.”
This is the climax of the entire first half of Mark’s gospel. We ascend the mountain and see Christ’s glory, and now we go back down.
9 And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead. 10 And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.
Despite this revelation, the disciples are even more confused. They appear to be wondering, if Jesus is so powerful, if he is the Son of God, then why would he rise from the dead? Why would he die in the first place? Is this a metaphorical rising from the dead, kind of like the metaphor of bread and leaven? They are genuinely confused by this.
So in verse 11 they ask Jesus…
Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? 12 And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought [treated with contempt]. 13 But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they wanted, as it is written of him.
The disciples are aware (via the scribes) of some of these prophecies about Elijah and the resurrection from the dead. And there was debate, just like there is today, about how to interpret these different prophecies and whether they are figurative or literal and when they will happen. To give you just two examples of this:
Ezekiel 37 is a prophesy about the dry bones of Israel coming to life, and this is a reference to the nation being resurrected and placed back into the land. It is a figurative resurrection for the nation. Maybe this is what the disciples think Jesus is talking about.
In Luke 2:34, when Jesus is a newborn baby, brought to the temple, Simeon says to Mary, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel.” So there is some kind of death and resurrection that Jesus brings about by his earthly ministry. What kind of death and resurrection is it?
So what the disciples and the Jews in general expected from the Messiah was that he would bring about a national resurrection, he would restore the kingdom to Israel, and establish God’s justice on earth. What they did not expect, was a literal death and resurrection in the middle of history. In their minds, a literal-bodily resurrection was only for the very end of time. So they wonder, why do the scribes say Elijah must come first, if Jesus is talking about a resurrection now? How can there be a resurrection before Elijah comes?
And Jesus says, Elijah did come, and they missed it. It was John the Baptist. And when John baptized the nation and baptized Christ, he restored all things. Because in Jesus, the entire government of the kingdom, priestly, kingly, and prophetic offices, were finally restored.
It says in 1 John 3:2-3, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
The gospels give us the transfiguration of Jesus, to show us the glory that is to come. And although we do not see it now with our mortal eyes, we hope for it by faith, and in the meantime, John says, whoever has this hope in Him, purifies himself, just as He is pure.
So behold the purity of the Lord Jesus. And cast aside your filth, your sin, the dirt that clings so closely. Put on the garments of the Lord Jesus, that you might share in his righteousness.
This is what the death and resurrection of Christ accomplishes for us. So look to him in hope.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.