Thursday evening the Life group which meets in my wife’s and my home studied another key event in Peter’s life, his witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus. The event is described in Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36. We studied Mark’s account of it because Serendipity Bible for Groups contains a questionnaire for beginning groups for it. Here is Mark’s account from the English Standard Version (ESV):
2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.
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.”
I observed that Matthew and Luke include these extra details:
(between verses 4 and 5)
who [Moses and Elijah] appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him (Luke 9:31-33a, ESV)
(between verses 7 and 8)
When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” (Matthew 17:6-7, ESV)
I also observed that this was not the only occasion in which Peter was one of only three or four disciples involved. Others were Jesus’ raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Matthew 9:23-26; Mark 5:37-43; Luke 8:51-56), Jesus’ discourse on the Mount of Olives on the signs of the end of the age (Matthew 24:3-25:46; Mark 13:3-37; Luke 21:7-36), and Jesus’ praying in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:21-42; Luke 22:39-46).
In our previous meeting I’d distributed copies of the questionnaire and of the DIG questions on Mark 9:2-13 given in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups (Zondervan Publishing House, 1988, page 1306), my having permission from Serendipity House to reproduce material from Serendipity Bible for Groups for small group use. We shared our answers to the Looking into the Scripture part of the questionnaire, discussed the DIG questions, and shared our answers to the My Own Story of the questionnaire.
In answering Looking into the Scripture,:
1. We were divided between being impressed by Peter’s enthusiasm and being impressed by his quick thinking in a threatening situation.
2. We were divided on why Jesus took time for this long trip into the mountains just a few weeks before his death being to spend time with God, to prepare himself for the cross, and to strengthen his disciples.
3. We were divided on how we would have felt if we had been Peter when Moses and Elijah appeared, our dominate choice being that we would have been totally awed.
4. We were divided on why Peter wanted to build three shelters, our dominate choice being that he wanted to honour Elijah, Moses, and Jesus. I mentioned a possibility that wasn’t included in the options given in the questionnaire, that Peter wanted to keep Moses and Elijah there longer. However, as David E. Garland points out, “one can only guess at what Peter intended” (The NIV Application \Commentary: Mark, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996, page 345).
5. We agreed that “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” means “The splendour you have seen is proof that Jesus is my Son.”
6. We were divided on the disciples’ conclusion was when they reached the base of the mountain being it makes sense, it doesn’t make sense, and it conflicts with what we know about the Son of Man.
7. We were divided on how we would have felt if we had been Peter after this experience between awed, elated/ecstatic, very special, and bursting with a secret.
The questions in My Own Story asked about our mountaintop experiences with God. Since our answers were personal, I won’t share them here although we shared them in the group.
These are the DIG Questions, each accompanied by what I can remember from our discussion of it:
1. What is the connection between 9:1 and this event?
Mark 9:1 records Jesus as saying, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” We thought that Jesus may have been thinking of the transfiguration when he said this, three of the disciples seeing in it what Jesus will be like when he comes again.
2. What do you imagine this scene was like? What is the significance of Moses’ and Elijah’s presence? Of the voice (see 1:11)? Why would this be important for Jesus at this stage of his ministry? Why would it be important for the disciples?
Among the things which we observed in discussing this question were that Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the Prophets, indicating that both the Law and the Prophets supported Jesus’ ministry, and that God’s describing Jesus as His Son and saying that He loved him would provide encouragement to Jesus as he approached his apparent abandonment by God (Mark 15:34).
3. Why did Jesus tell the three if he didn’t want them to tell anyone what happened (see also 6:32)?
I can’t remember what suggestions we made in discussing this question.
4. Who played the role of Elijah (see Mt 17:10-13)? With what result (6:14-29)? How could John the Baptist’s experience help the disciples understand the nature of Jesus’ Messiahship?
John the Baptist played the role of Elijah. As a result, John the Baptist told King Herod that it was unlawful for him to marry his brother’s wife and Herod had him arrested and then beheaded. We said John the Baptist’s experience may have helped the disciples realize that Jesus’ Messiahship could include suffering.
We closed our study of Mark 9:2-13 by observing that Peter showed that the transfiguration was of lasting significance to him by what he says about it in 2 Peter 1:16-18:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” (ESV)