9 And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” – Mark 9:9-13 ESV
Being a disciple of Jesus must have been a roller-coaster ride of emotions and experiences. Every day for three years, these 12 men had been exposed to mind-blowing displays of never-before-seen miracles. And these relatively uneducated men had received a daily dose of profound and difficult-to-understand teaching that left even the scribes and Pharisees dumbfounded. Their time with Jesus had been an adventure but also a head-spinning whirlwind of cryptic sayings and confounding experiences.
As Peter, James, and John made their way down the mountain, their minds must have been reeling from what they had just witnessed. Just minutes earlier, they had watched as Jesus was transformed right before their eyes. Suddenly, without warning or explanation, Jesus began to emanate a brilliant light. Mark described it this way: “his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them” (Mark 9:3 NLT). These three men had seen Jesus do a lot of inexplicable and unprecedented things over the last three years, but nothing quite like this. When they had witnessed Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a storm, it had made a distinct impression. In fact, they had initially thought He was some kind of ghostly apparition. So, what must have been going through their minds as they took in the transfiguration of Jesus?
But when the long-departed prophets, Moses and Elijah, had suddenly appeared on the scene, it seems that the disciples began to put two and two together. They knew that something spectacular was happening. And as they took in the scene transpiring before them, they must have wondered if this was it – was Jesus getting ready to usher in His Kingdom? Had Moses, the great deliverer come to assist Jesus in His quest to release the people of Israel from their captivity to the Romans? And was the appearance of Elijah proof that the time had come? Was this the fulfillment of the long-awaited prophecy?
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” – Malachi 4:5-6 ESV
But the miracle on the mountain had ended just as fast as it had started. Suddenly, Elijah and Moses were gone and Jesus stood before them just as He had been before. The glory was gone but the impact of the moment lingered with the disciples. And they must have been bursting at the seams, eager to tell the other nine disciples all that they had seen. But Jesus threw cold water on their plans, commanding them to keep it all to themselves until the proper time.
…he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. – Mark 9:9 NLT
Now stop and think about this statement for a second. The disciples had just witnessed Jesus speaking to Moses and Elijah. Their minds must have been filled with thoughts of the coming Kingdom. Their hopes and dreams of Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah were about to come true. And yet, He brings up the subject of death again. This was the same topic He had raised before the transfiguration.
Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead. – Mark 8:31 NLT
Peter had found this news unacceptable and had told Jesus so. But his verbal dismissal of Jesus’ words had earned him a stern rebuke. Now Peter, James, and John were hearing Jesus bring up the same incomprehensible and objectionable subject again. And Mark makes it clear that they had no idea what Jesus was talking about.
…they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. – Mark 9:10 ESV
It wasn’t that the disciples had no concept of the resurrection. As Jews, they believed in a future resurrection of the dead. They would have been familiar with the writings of Isaiah and Daniel.
Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the earth will give birth to the dead. – Isaiah 26:19 ESV
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. – Daniel 12:2-3 ESV
In a later scene from Jesus’ life, He would tell Martha that her dead brother Lazarus would “rise again” (John 11:23 ESV). And her response would be: “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24 ESV). She believed in a future resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. So did the disciples. But they were having difficulty understanding what any of this had to do with Jesus establishing His Kingdom.
Confused by Jesus’ words, the disciples simply ignore them and turn their attention back to the scene they had witnessed on the mountain top. They had seen Elijah with their own eyes and this most likely had led them to believe that the prophecy of Malachi was being fulfilled. So, they asked Jesus for clarification.
“Why do the teachers of religious law insist that Elijah must return before the Messiah comes?” – Mark 9:11 NLT
Their question has a purpose behind it. They had just seen Elijah, so they were asking Jesus to confirm that His messiahship was about to begin. One thing was meant to follow the other. Elijah had appeared, now it was time for Jesus to do His part. The disciples had to have been thinking about another familiar Messianic passage from the pen of Malachi.
“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past.” – Malachi 3:1-4 NLT
You can see the imagery used by Malachi that supported what the disciples had seen on the mountain top. The blazing Messiah, reigning from His temple and restoring the nation of Israel to its former glory.
It seems that the disciples had linked their siting of Elijah with the timing of the Messiah’s appearance. They had just seen Elijah, so it must be time for Jesus to drop the charade and reveal Himself for who He really was: The Messiah of Israel. It was time for Him to get down to the serious business of ruling and reigning from the throne of David. The time for miracles and difficult-to-understand messages was over.
But Jesus revealed that the scribes had interpreted Malachi correctly. Elijah would precede the Messiah.
“Elijah is indeed coming first to get everything ready.” – Mark 9:12 NLT
But the scribes and the disciples had left out a very important part of the prophecy. Not only was Elijah to come first, but the Messiah was going to endure great suffering. The people of Israel had conveniently ignored the many Old Testament passages that alluded to the Messiah’s death. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, King David had written about the Messiah’s treatment at the hands of men.
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” – Psalm 22:6-8 ESV
And Matthew records the fulfillment of this prophecy.
So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” – Matthew 27:41-43 ESV
The prophet Isaiah predicted the tremendous suffering and agony that the Messiah would have to endure at the hands of sinful men.
See, my servant will prosper;
he will be highly exalted.
But many were amazed when they saw him.
His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human,
and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man. – Isaiah 52:13-14 NLT
He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care. – Isaiah 53:3 NLT
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT
He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. – Isaiah 53:7 NLT
Jesus wants His disciples to know that the very same Scriptures that predict the coming of Elijah also predict the suffering of the Son of Man. So, He asks them, “why do the Scriptures say that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be treated with utter contempt?” (Mark 9:12 NLT). There is a divine order to things. God has a plan and every detail of that plan must take place in order, including the suffering of the Savior.
Then Jesus dropped the real news that must have exploded like a bombshell on the unsuspecting disciples.
“But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they chose to abuse him, just as the Scriptures predicted.” – Mark 9:13 NLT
And Jesus wasn’t referring to the same Elijah they saw on the mountain top. He was speaking of John the Baptist. This was confirmed by the angel who visited Zechariah and informed him that his wife would give birth to a son.
Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.” – Luke 1:13-17 NLT
At the time when Jesus and His disciples were descending the mountain, John the Baptist was dead, a victim of the wrath of Herod. And Jesus let the disciples know that the death of John would precede His own death.
“…they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” – Matthew 17:12 ESV
The disciples’ experience on the mountain had left them eagerly anticipating that Jesus was about to establish His Kingdom. But something else had to happen first. The Son of Man must suffer.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.