19 February 2011

Mark 9:2-13

"This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!" (v. 7)


A 21st-century reader is likely to ask questions about this passage to which there is no answer. Was this a vision or a happening in the 'real' world? How was Peter able to recognise Elijah and Moses? Where did they come from (or go to)? Such puzzles, which evidently did not bother the Gospel-writer Mark, can easily distract us from the message he wishes to get across.

At this point in the Gospel, attention is focused on who Jesus really is. The previous chapter has contained a note of opinions people were entertaining about him followed by Peter's confession, "You are the Messiah" (Mark 8:27-30). Then comes the shocking news that Jesus is to suffer rejection, death and resurrection (verse 31). Today's reading redresses the balance, by reaffirming that the one to be crucified is indeed the Son of God. The light of Jesus' glory, otherwise hidden, shines out here.

There is evidence of a belief at the time that like Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-12) Moses also had been taken up alive to heaven. Elijah was expected to reappear to announce the coming of God's kingdom (see verse 11 and Malachi 4:5). So their appearance, representing perhaps the two great strands in the Old Testament, the law and the prophets, is an important indication of Jesus' importance. More important still is the cloud, which represents the presence of God, and the message the disciples hear, which reaffirms what readers of the Gospel already know (Mark 1:1, 11).

As elsewhere in Mark's Gospel, Jesus imposes silence on his followers, and this time suggests a reason. His death and resurrection are part of God's plan and popular acclaim might prevent it happening. What then of the Malachi prophecy about the coming of Elijah? John the Baptist's preaching and death, recorded earlier in Mark 1:1-86:17-29, are its fulfilment. The stage is set for Jesus.

To Ponder

Mark describes a moment of illumination when things could be seen in their true colours. Reflect on any moment of insight you have had which enabled you to see things differently. What lasting difference has this made on you?

What do you think it means to affirm that Jesus is the Son of God?

How do we 'listen' to Jesus today?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..