9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.
11 And they asked him, “Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”
12 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.”
(Mark 9:9-13 NIV)
In our last text, we saw Jesus transfigure and reveal His glory, meet with Elijah and Moses. We heard the Father speak a blessing over His Son, and command the three disciples to listen to Jesus. The disciples were terrified, fearing death, having experienced God up close and personal.
In today’s passage, we see Jesus and the three disciples coming down the mountain. The text does not say, but my guess is that the first part of the descent was very quiet. Jesus issues a gag order on the three men, telling them they can tell no one about this until Jesus has risen from the dead. The disciples honor and obey Jesus’ command, but are puzzled by what Jesus means when He says “rising from the dead” means. Surely this is not what it sounds like – or is it?
Jesus prohibits the disciples from saying anything because they still don’t fully understand what it means for Jesus to be Messiah. If the disciples told folks about Jesus’ transfiguration, they would feed the popular view of Messiah coming in power to take over the world as a conquering hero, not the reality of a suffering servant.
Finally, someone asks Jesus a question. Their understanding, according to the prophets of old, is that Elijah was supposed to come before the Messiah, to announce His arrival and prepare the way for Him (Malachi 4:5-6). It appears that Messiah has come first. Did they misunderstand what the prophets meant?
Jesus answers their question with grace and follows up with a question of His own. First – the answer. Yes, Elijah’s ministry was fulfilled. Jesus alludes to the fact that John the Baptist fulfilled Elijah’s function and role as the announcer of the Messiah, the one who prepared the way. While Mark’s gospel does not spell this out, Matthew’s gospel does (Matthew 17:11-13).
Jesus then asks His question. Why does the Son of Man (Messiah) have to suffer? Jesus points out that John the Baptist fulfilled Elijah’s role, yet neither Herod nor the Jewish religious authorities recognized him and ultimately mistreated and killed him. By implication, then, if they don’t recognize or respect the forerunner of Messiah, what will they do to Messiah when He does arrive? This points right back to Jesus’ question about Messiah having to suffer.
Jesus was telling His disciples that John the Baptist’s cruel treatment and death at the hand of Herod did not disqualify him from fulfilling Elijah’s ministry. Likewise, Jesus’ suffering does not eliminate Him from being Messiah. The mistreatment and role fulfillment are not mutually exclusive, but in fact, part of a package deal.
While suffering can be from our own sin (and often is), it also can be at the hands of others when no sin on our part was involved. God can still use us and redeem the situation for His glory and good, just as He did through Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and countless others who have gone before us as followers of Christ.
May we walk steadfastly with Him, regardless of the hurts or dire circumstances that come our way.