And he said to them, “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.” 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, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. (Mark 9:1-3)
Sunday’s passage records a narrative that takes place merely six days after our last narrative, in which Jesus dropped a “truth bomb” to his disciples and all his would-be followers. Recall that a call to come to Jesus is a call to die – to die first to self, to die in Christ, and to be ready to physically die if following Christ results in such a fate. With such high stakes, why would anyone sign up?
Modern readers have much more context with which to understand these hard sayings. We have histories of martyrdom. We have 2,000 years of Christian witness in the world. We have stories of those who have persevered prison and torture for Christ. We have seen the gospel’s power permeate and impact the world. The original 12 disciples and the crowds that followed Jesus had none of those things.
Truly, they had everything they needed just as we do; they had the Lord Jesus himself and his trustworthy words. But Christ knew their hearts. He knew they needed the encouragement that comes from seeing. Yes, they already saw miracles. But now, armed with the “correct answer” that Jesus is the Christ, the disciples were ready to see a glimpse of his glory which would validate Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom of God is coming in power. The transfiguration serves as that glimpse.
Verse 1 of chapter 9 has been wrestled with over the years by commentators. When Jesus says that some who were alive then would see the kingdom coming in power, what did he mean? Did he mean the end of all things, the consummation of the kingdom, or something else? Many commentators believe that this verse is precisely referring to the transfiguration of Christ that we will consider this Sunday. That Christ was seen, if but for a moment, in his radiant glory affirms that he is the Son of God and that everything he said about the kingdom is coming true.
If we take this interpretative approach, we see more clearly the connection between Jesus’ hard statements on discipleship and the transfiguration event. The event is an encouraging affirmation that to come and die in Christ is not the end-all, but rather the beginning of a new, powerful, more glorious age that God will give to all those who deny themselves to follow Christ.