The Transfiguration (9:1-13)
(Matthew 16:28; 17:1-13; Luke 9:27-36)
1 Jesus said, “… some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.” The kingdom of God in this verse means Jesus Himself (see Mark 1:14 and comment). According to Matthew 16:28, Jesus said, “… some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man (Christ) coming in his kingdom.” Therefore, by comparing these corresponding verses in Matthew and Mark, we can understand that the “kingdom of God coming with power” is the same as the “Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Christ not only has brought the kingdom of God to earth; He is Himself the kingdom of God. When Christ lives in us, the kingdom of God lives in us also (Luke 17:20-21). And when Jesus comes again, then the kingdom of God will be established forever both in heaven and on earth.
What did Jesus mean when He said, “… before they see the kingdom of God come with power”? To what event does the expression “kingdom of God coming with power” refer to? There are two possible answers. Some Bible scholars say that the expression means Jesus’ transfiguration, which is described by Mark, Matthew, and Luke immediately after Jesus made this statement. The transfiguration was indeed a manifestation of the kingdom of God—of the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
But other scholars believe that the expression means the resurrection of Christ, His ascent into heaven, and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). Through the Holy Spirit, Christ established the kingdom of God in the hearts of believers. In the person of the Holy Spirit, the kingdom of God has indeed come with power.
In other verses in the New Testament, such as Matthew 25:31 and Mark 8:38; 13:26, the “coming of the Son of Man” means the second coming of Christ at the end of the world. However, this cannot be the meaning in this verse, because Jesus says here that some will not taste death before the kingdom of God comes with power. Since the end of the world has not yet come, and since all the people who heard Jesus speak these words have died, Jesus cannot have been talking about His second coming in this verse or in Matthew 16:28.
2-3 Six days later Peter, James, and John60 saw Jesus changed into a glorified form. Having confessed that Jesus was truly the Christ (Mark 8:29), now Jesus confirmed the disciples’ faith by appearing to three of them as the glorified Son of God.
4 Moses and Elijah (see Mark 6:15) also appeared with Jesus in glorious splendor (Luke 9:31). According to Luke’s account, they talked with Jesus about His coming departure—that is, about His coming death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven (Luke 9:31).
From this we clearly see that the saints of God who have left this earth do not die; they only sleep (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). Christ easily awakens them. Just as the disciples recognized Moses and Elijah, so shall we recognize each other in heaven.
5-6 Peter said, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.” Peter thought that he should make three shelters for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus to stay in. He thought that Moses and Elijah would remain on the mountain with Jesus. The three disciples didn’t really understand what was happening.
7-8 The transfiguration was a sign that Christ was the Son of God. This was further confirmed by God Himself speaking from a cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (see Matthew 17:5; Mark 1:11; 2 Peter 1:17-18). From now on, let the disciples have no doubt who Jesus is. And let them listen to Him! Peter especially had not been ready to listen to Jesus before (Mark 8:32). Those who want to know the mind of God must listen to Christ.
At the sound of God’s voice, the three disciples fell on their faces in fear. But Jesus said to them, “Get up. … Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 17:6-7).
9 See Mark 8:30 and comment.
10 The disciples didn’t know what Jesus meant when He talked about “rising from the dead” in verse 9. They still didn’t understand that the Son of God first had to suffer and die and only then would He rise from the dead (see Luke 24:25-27,45-46).
11 Having seen Elijah on the mountain with Jesus, the disciples recalled that in the Old Testament the prophet Malachi wrote that Elijah would come to earth again before the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5). If Jesus was the Messiah, why hadn’t Elijah come, the disciples wanted to know. The Jews believed that Elijah would come to anoint the Messiah as king of Israel.
12 Jesus answered the three disciples: “Yes, Elijah must come before the Messiah and restore all things.” “All things” are restored through repentance and forgiveness. This is the meaning of the next verse of Malachi’s prophecy (Malachi 4:6).
But Jesus knew His disciples did not understand why He had to suffer much and be rejected. They had forgotten Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah (Isaiah 53:1-12). In their minds was this question: If Elijah was going to restore all things, why should the Messiah still have to suffer?
13 Then Jesus gave the answer: Elijah had already come again in the form of John the Baptist61 (Matthew 11:13-14; 17:13). The teachers of the law had said that Elijah must come again, and they were correct in this. But when he did come, they didn’t recognize him (Matthew 17:11-12). They could repeat scripture, but they could not recognize the signs of the kingdom of God (Matthew 16:3).
The Old Testament Elijah had been rejected (1 Kings 19:1-3,9-10). So also had John the Baptist been rejected, and finally killed. In the same way, Jesus’ calling would be fulfilled through suffering and death. The road to glory is always through suffering.
The Healing of a Boy With an Evil Spirit (9:14-32)
(Matthew 17:14-23; Luke 9:37-45)
14-18 Here we see the tremendous contrast between the top of the mountain of transfiguration and the valley below. Down at the foot of the mountain we see the devil’s attack on a poor child, the father’s anguish, the impotence of nine disciples who had earlier been given power to cast out demons (Mark 3:14-15; 6:7) but this time could not. And finally, the teachers of the law, the religious authorities, were there arguing. They weren’t healing the child; they were only criticizing and talking. What an exact picture of our world!
19 Jesus rebuked His disciples for their lack of faith. It was because of lack of faith that they could not cast out the demon (Matthew 17:20). Jesus asked: “How long shall I put up with you? How long must I endure your faithlessness?” In saying this, Jesus was not only rebuking the disciples; He was also rebuking the father of the demon-possessed boy and the teachers of the law for their lack of faith. “O unbelieving generation.”
20-22 The father said to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
The father asked Jesus the wrong question: “… if you can do anything.” Jesus can do everything! His power is infinite.
23 “‘If you can’,” said Jesus. “I can indeed heal your son. But the question is: Can you believe? Everything is possible for him who believes.”
The boy’s healing did not depend on Jesus’ power. His power is always sufficient; it is without limit. Rather, the boy’s healing depended on the father’s faith in Jesus. Without faith on the father’s part, Jesus’ power in this case would not work. With the father’s faith, Jesus’ power could do anything.
24 Then the father said, “I do believe. But my faith is not sufficient; help me overcome my unbelief.”
This is the plea of every Christian. We all have some faith, but it is mixed with unbelief, with doubt. We must continually ask Jesus to increase our faith, so that our doubt and unbelief might be overcome. It is mainly because of unbelief that we receive so little from Christ and that our work for Christ is so weak and ineffective.
25-29 After Jesus had healed the demon-possessed boy, the disciples asked Him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” One reason they already knew: lack of faith.62 But Jesus gave them two other reasons: They hadn’t prayed enough, and they hadn’t fasted63 (see Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29). Prayer is the means of receiving power. We must combine prayer with faith. Without faith, our prayers are ineffective; without prayer, our faith is ineffective. For effective praying, faith is necessary; and to obtain faith, prayer is necessary. The more we pray, the more will be our faith. The more we believe, the more effective our prayers will be. In Matthew 9:29, Jesus says: “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Praying in faith is like turning on the switch of an engine: if we do not turn it on, the engine will not run.
In some situations it is necessary to fast in order to receive our request from God. Many Christians have experienced greater results from prayer—more power, more blessing, more guidance—when they have fasted.
To fast does not mean merely to go without eating for a period. Fasting is a demonstration of our desire to control our bodily appetites and put aside all worldly thoughts and desires in order to gain some spiritual benefit. Fasting is a sign of our readiness to offer ourselves fully to God so that His will might be accomplished. It is a sign that we are willing to give up even legitimate things such as food in order to better concentrate on serving Him. When, by fasting, we show God that we are serious about offering ourselves to Him, then He will respond to our prayers by giving us a greater measure of power and wisdom and spiritual blessing.
30-32 Here Mark records the second time Jesus predicted His death and resurrection (see Mark 8:31 and comment). Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to Him. He knew that God was going to deliver Him into the hands of evil men, and that after three days God would raise Him up (see Acts 2:22-24). But the disciples still could not understand Jesus’ meaning.
Who Is the Greatest? (9:33-41)
33-34 The disciples began to discuss among themselves which of them was greatest. When Jesus asked them what they were talking about they were embarrassed, because they had been discussing who among them would be the leader if Jesus died. But Jesus knew what they had been discussing, and He knew that it was because of pride that they were arguing about who was greatest among themselves. The disciples were eager to reign in Christ’s kingdom, but, as events would soon prove, they were not so eager to labor and suffer for Him.
35 Then Jesus gave them another very important teaching: If anyone wants to be a leader, he must become a servant (see Mark 10:43-44). The first shall be last, and the last shall be first (Mark 10:31). No one should ever seek to be first. God will appoint leaders from among those who have put themselves last. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:12). Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:4).
Again we see that the teaching of Christ is the opposite of the teaching of the world. Worldly men64 seek to be first; spiritual men seek to be last. Those who are last in the eyes of the world are often first in the eyes of God. That which is highly valued among men is detestable to God (Luke 16:15). The world is the opposite of the kingdom of God. The world is opposed to God; the flesh is opposed to the Spirit (Galatians 5:17).
Those who seek worldly gain will suffer spiritual loss; those who suffer worldly loss for Christ’s sake will receive spiritual gain (see Mark 8:35 and comment).
36-37 Having said that those who want to be first must be servants, Jesus took a little child into His arms as an example of what He was talking about. In the Aramaic language, which was the language Jesus spoke, the word for “servant” and “child” is the same. Thus Jesus here was saying that to be a servant (or a disciple), one must become like a child. A small child is innocent. A small child does not try to make himself great. Rather, he tries to please others (see Matthew 18:1-5 and comment).
Then Jesus said that whoever receives a child—that is, a disciple—in His name receives Him. And whoever receives Jesus receives God, who sent Him (see Matthew 10:40; John 12:44-45; 13:20 and comments). Those who make themselves like children, like humble servants, Jesus will make His representatives. Thus those who receive Jesus’ representatives receive Jesus; those who reject His representatives reject both Jesus and God (Luke 10:16). It is a great honor to be the representative, the ambassador of Christ, the Son of God; but only the humble and childlike will obtain that honor.
38 Here Mark describes a mistake made by the disciples, a mistake Christians have been making ever since Jesus’ time. The disciples thought that only their group, their party, were true followers of Jesus. When they saw someone who was not one of their group, they tried to stop him from driving out demons in Jesus’ name. “Only we are true disciples,” they thought. “Only we have the authority to work in Jesus’ name.” From this kind of attitude have come divisions and controversy in the church. If someone is doing good work in Jesus’ name, we must not oppose him, or else we will find ourselves opposing Jesus Himself.
39-40 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said to His disciples. “Such a man is on my side; for whoever is not against us is for us.”
We must consider that all who do not oppose Jesus are on His side. No one can remain neutral in the great conflict between Satan and Christ. Therefore, those who do not oppose Jesus must be for Him. Others may have different ways of serving Jesus. They may be of another group, another denomination, but if they work in His name we must accept them as brothers and fellow servants of Christ65 (see Matthew 12:30; Mark 3:27 and comment).
41 All who serve Christ will receive a reward for what they have done (Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Christ will not forget even the smallest work done in His name—even giving a disciple a cup of water (Matthew 10:42). Christ will reward us not according to the size of the gift but according to the love with which we give it (see Mark 12:42-44).
Causing to Sin (9:42-50)
(Matthew 18:6-9; Luke 17:1-2)
42 To cause a brother to stumble—that is, to sin—is a very great sin in God’s sight. One of these little ones means any humble, childlike servant of Christ. Perhaps the disciples had caused the man driving out demons (verse 38) to stumble, to sin. Perhaps they had discouraged him and driven him away from Jesus. Let us remember this warning and take great care that we do nothing that in any way might cause our brother to stumble, to sin (see Romans 14:13,21). Whenever we discourage our brother or lead him into any kind of temptation, we are causing him to sin. The man who continues causing his brother to stumble in this way would be better off being drowned in the sea, because on the day of judgment God is going to punish him for the evil he has done.
43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. Jesus did not mean that we should take a knife and actually cut off our hand. The hand is only an instrument of sin. We need to cut the sin out of our heart. If we desire to steal, it is not our hand that is evil, but our heart. We must do whatever is necessary to remove that sin, that evil desire, from our heart. Just as a surgeon cuts off a diseased hand or foot in order to save the patient’s life, so must we cut away the sin from our lives in order to save our souls. We must be ready to part with what is dearest to us if it leads us to sin.
Removing sin from our heart may be very painful—like cutting off a hand, or a foot (verse 45). But we must do it if we would enter life—that is, life with God in heaven. We cannot take sin with us into the kingdom of God (see Matthew 5:29-30; Romans 8:13; 13:14; Colossians 3:5-6; Revelation 21:27 and comments).
44-48 Here the same teaching is repeated using the foot and eye as examples of sinful members. If our foot causes us to flee from Christ, to walk on the wrong road, then we must “cut it off.” If our eye causes us to lust after a woman, to commit adultery, we must “pluck it out” (see Matthew 5:29-30). That is, we must do whatever is necessary to remove that sin from our lives.
Jesus clearly taught that hell was a very bad place. It is a place of eternal torment, or fire, of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:40-42).
In verse 48 Jesus quotes from Isaiah 66:12. Their worm does not die. The destruction, the decay of those sent to hell goes on forever.
It is our chief enemy Satan who is the author of our destruction, and his main instrument is sin. Therefore, we can also say that our chief enemy is sin. Unrepented sin separates us forever from God and heaven.
Since sin is the enemy that condemns us to hell, we must not let it remain in our lives. If it enters and remains in us, it will destroy us. We must not let even the tiniest sin remain in our lives. Even the tiniest hole in the bottom of a boat will eventually allow the boat to fill with water and sink. In the same way, if we let even a tiny sin into our lives, it will grow and eventually destroy us.
49 Everyone will be salted with fire. “Fire” in this verse means persecution. Our faith is tested by fire (1 Peter 1:6-7). To be salted means to be made effective. Thus it is through persecution that disciples are made effective, made strong for Christ.
50 Salt is essential for life. There is salt in our blood, in our bodies. Faith is like salt in the world. We must remain “salty”—that is, faithful and obedient. Otherwise we will be worthless, tasteless (see Matthew 5:13 and comment).
It is the Holy Spirit who makes us salty. If the Holy Spirit goes out of our lives, how will we be salty again? We must keep the salt of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
If the Holy Spirit is in us, we shall be of one spirit and one mind. Instead of trying to be greater than others (verse 34), we should be at peace with each other.